Monday, 22 July 2013

A day at the beach

Yesterday I did exactly what I've always said I hate doing most...I sat on a beach. All day. Doing nothing very much. 

In fairness I was following my usual philosophy of never saying no without good reason to any offer of a new experience or place to see. It was also the first time I've surfaced and actually left the apartment before mid afternoon for at least a fortnight and it was a little cooler than it has been for the last week which also made it more appealing to be outside during daylight hours. I don’t know what the heat back home has been like, but here the humidity has been a killer and it’s made me lethargic and irritable.

So I got a lift with a friend and some people she knew (of sorts) who turned out to be very friendly, and I found myself at the beach with a group of fourteen Albanian Canadian’s who have lived here since childhood. This wasn't just any beach though, this was Wasaga Beach, something that I’d heard people here mention on numerous occasions during the recent heatwave as if it were a mythical place where everyone in the city longed to escape to.  

I guess it was ok as beaches go, but it wasn’t the long stretches of golden sand and clear blue water that I’d pictured. For a start this is a freshwater beach of course, at the southern point of Georgian Bay and, in fact, the longest freshwater beach in the world at 14km long, but the recent storms here have given it a somewhat dirty appearance and the water wasn’t the crystal clear oasis I’d expected from the sales pitches I’d heard, more of a muddy grey colour.

The sand though was the main problem. Not usually one to complain, I quickly learned the error of my ways when I tried to reapply sunscreen for a second time an hour or so after we arrived. This wasn’t sand so much as sand-dust and the first application of sunscreen combined with the gentle breeze had turned me into walking human sandpaper. And this stuff doesn’t brush off. It sticks like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m surprised they don’t market it as an exfoliating spa treatment and slap a huge price tag on it. I certainly feel like I’ve lost a layer or two of skin as a result of the experience and I’m not sure I’ll ever get the stuff out of my towel!

It was an interesting place though for people watching. Aside from the families having barbecues in the dunes, the beach was full of beautiful people. Photo-shopped people, like a scene out of Baywatch. Bikini clad girls with perfect figures and perfect tans, guys subconsciously competing with each other, posturing and demonstrating their football and volleyball skills. As a place to just sit and watch people and ponder the whole psychology of their interactions, it was well worth the visit. It was also amusing to see the groups of people huddling around their cool boxes keeping a vigilant eye out for the RV patrol vehicles that came past every 20 minutes or so trying to catch out anyone breaking the law and drinking alcohol on the beach and thus, reportedly, earning them a slap on the wrist and a 180CAD fine. All in all it was an interesting experience, but it did confirm to me that my initial instinct was right when it comes to sitting aimlessly on beaches all day. By 7pm I was bored and hungry and ready to leave. Luckily an hour later everyone else was too.

After stopping at St Louis Wings & Ribs, a chain-type diner place in Barrie for some food (and enjoying the hilarity that followed seeing them desperately trying to find enough food to feed sixteen hungry people unexpectedly just before closing on a Sunday night) we got back to Toronto around midnight and for the first time since I’ve been here all I wanted to do was sleep.

It’s funny, my friend summed up the day perfectly – she said that whilst she had enjoyed doing something different, it reminded her of exactly what she had left back home and why she had decided to travel in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking anyone for enjoying simple pleasures in life such as relaxing on the beach with friends during a break from the weekday 9-5, in fact I wish at times I could be content with that, but it reaffirmed for me too that going out and seeing what else is out there was the right thing for me to do.

And as a random musical footnote, a song that seemed to come up a lot on someone's ipod shuffle during our trip for some reason...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Music, rain and rainbows

So I guess I should write something really. I mean, I’ve been here a couple of weeks my first observations of this country?

Let me start by saying I love Toronto. I love everything about this city - its people, its attitude, its whole vibe. It’s a night time city, a totally different place between the hours of 11pm and 6am to how it is during the day. At a time when in England last orders are being called, here people are just starting to emerge and start their night. Up all night, sleep all day. It’s how everywhere should be and suits my nocturnal tendencies perfectly.  Avoiding the oppressive heat of day and enjoying the relative cool of night.

So what have I been up to? Quite a lot actually. I’ve spent time with friends old and new, and met some cool people, including a crazy German who was just at the end of a year of cycling 16,000km around North America, and I’ve seen some great music. 
I’ve been to the Toronto Pride Parade with its mix of colour and random public nakedness and joined patriotic Canadians in celebrating the countries 146th birthday.

This was no flag waving 4th July style party a la their southern cousins though. There’s something quite reserved about Canadians and it’s cute. Of course there were flags and lots of red and white and copious amounts of poutine, but there’s no flamboyant over the top attitude to go with it. In fact this comes across in just about everything I’ve seen here so far. Canadians are reserved, respectful, friendly and just plain nice.

Take Canada Day for example. After a day or music and merriment and when the fireworks on the beach at Ashbridges Bay Park were done, people queued politely for the buses to take them downtown. There was no pushing and shoving, despite the fact there would be an obvious wait. If anyone cheekily tried to jump the queue they were gently chastised, asked not to and for the most part they willingly obliged and moved back. When the buses came and the friendly local police officers asked people to wait before boarding the bus, again people waited patiently. Everything here seems to come with a cheerful acceptance and a sense of logic. I haven’t driven through motorway roadworks here yet, but when I do I guarantee that cars will filter politely when the lanes are reduced - one from the right, one from the left. Things like that just work here.

The much maligned local transit system (TTC) runs in much the same way too. Wherever you want to go generally there’s one option. You use a combination of subway (think very primitive version of London Underground with only two main lines – one east to west and another that loops north to south in the middle plus a couple of tiny branches), streetcars and buses to get around the city. After a certain time of night the subway stops and buses appear instead. Like everything else here, it’s logical and it works. Or you walk, because nowhere is really that far. Except when it’s raining, which it seems to be doing an abnormal amount of time for the time of year according to anyone I’ve asked. I even bought an umbrella today, ironically to walk home in a storm that proved to be the worst Toronto has seen since Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Last weekend I spent at the inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF). A strangely titled event perhaps given that it has nothing really urban or roots about it. Nevertheless it was a sweet indie music festival and again a chance for Canadians to show they know how to behave. There was virtually no litter anywhere, no sea of empty cans and plastic cups – people actually used the bins - and polite and friendly security guys and girls smiled when you arrived, apologetically glanced into your bag, and warmly wished you a safe journey home as you left. Brixton Academy staff could certainly learn a thing of two from these guys. Even on the last night in the pouring rain, having been soaking wet and up my ankles in mud for 4 hours, nothing could dampen the spirit of anyone there. 

Highlights for anyone wanting to check out new music - The Cat Empire on Sunday afternoon were phenomenal in the rain and kept spirits high. They’re a band I did look at once before because I think I heard a random song of theirs I liked, but I didn’t really get into them. They were probably my favourite band of the weekend in terms of energy and definitely something I’ll revisit. The Sadies and The Barr Brothers were pretty damn amazing at their late night Lee’s Palace shows, as was Xavier Rudd during the brief sunshine break on Sunday afternoon. Local band, Arkells were fun, especially the sing-along motown review part of their set. Neko Case was impressive too and more than redeemed herself following her lacklustre performance a couple of years back when I saw her play with the New Pornographers, as did Kurt Vile (although to be fair I think my lack of enjoyment last time I saw him was more down to my tiredness and lack of connection than anything he did wrong).

Other than that most bands I saw were old favourites or people who had been on my wish list for a long time – Yo La Tengo did some incredible things with feedback and to hear Autumn Sweater and Stockholm Syndrome live was amazing. The Felice Brothers were great as usual, Camera Obscura were tight, but the icing on the cake had to be Belle and Sebastian closing the festival. I know, they’ve been around for donkey’s years now but I’ve never seen them live until now. I knew they’d put on a good show, but to get a setlist that included Piazza, New York Catcher, Lord Anthony and I’m a Cuckoo from Dear Catastrophe Waitress (my favourite album) as well as Stars of Track and Field (dedicated to Andy Murray) and Judyand the Dream of Horses from If You’re Feeling Sinister was perfect. The only thing that would have topped it off was throwing Roy Walker into the mix but then that’s just me being greedy. 

After seeing John Grant play a beautiful show at a tiny place to a very respectful crowd earlier in the week in the size of venue I never thought I’d get the chance to see him in again, I’d say music wise this has been a week that’ll be hard to beat for a while.