Magic, Reality, & the Meaning of Life

30 January 2017 – There it is, the meaning of life, aero-sprayed on an alley doorway.

But that comes last, an editorial gloss on my discoveries in this dogleg alley, just south-west of College & Spadina, wandering my way into Kensington Market territory.

I’m in the alley by whim (as I so often am), a momentary detour as I walk home from a Hot Docs presentation of Gabo, an extraordinarily moving & informative documentary about the life & impact of Gabriel García Márquez.

Given the evocative brew of magic & reality in which I have just been immersed, I am perfectly happy to be welcomed into the alley by a pair of very large bunny-rabbits.

Poser bunnies, alley between Oxford & Nassau, S/W of College & Spadina

Poser‘s work, of course.

I notice, too, the neat message (by another hand, I think) in the upper left corner: “Tante Terri, stay strong!” The bunnies are magic, the message is a sliver of someone’s reality.

I barely have time to think about this; I become aware of the growing decibel level of a background voice, clearly drawing closer. I also become aware of a … well … a sound. Hard to define.

Until I look over my shoulder, to see that it is a tire-turned-hoop, rolling merrily in my direction as man-behind-the-hoop yips with delight.

same alley

I yip, too. How could you not?

‘Round the bend in the dogleg, into the public parking segment, & I muse at Lovebot & ANSER, up there with the parking rules & regs.

Muse at the remnants of the artists’ work, perhaps? A very partial little Lovebot, up high, and just the one element of the famous ANSER face below. Did he, or someone else, reduce it to eyes? I think of eyes framed by a veil, with a bindi in-between.

Lovebot & Anser, same alley

Or maybe I’m making far too much of it all. Still, that’s art at its best, right? Art that sets you musing, interacting.

Enough musing; time to laugh.

And what better stimulus than a shocking-pink Poser bunny.

Power-cum-Chagall, same alley

There he is, floating over the city. I think of Marc Chagall’s Over Vitebsk — only a 21-st-c. street artist version, armed with spray-can not knapsack — & I start to giggle.

All this, packed into such a small space!

Everything so unexpected, so engaging, that this final image, as I leave the alley, offers the perfect philosophic framework for it all.

same alley

Meanwhile, Mr. Man With Hoop is still rolling his hoop. We cross paths again as I head out to Spadina. A final shared laugh, a final thumb’s-up, and I’m gone.



Street Talk

22 November 2016 – Chatter-chatter-chatter, three examples in quick succession as I march north just east of Church St. and then hook eastward on Dundas.

And each example a slightly different twist on text & visual.

First up, text later rejected by visual …

on Mutual St.

then pure visual, the only text being the thought bubble in your own mind (“Aha, his Project Gallery show & now this, ANSER is playing with his trademark image”) …


on Mutual St.


and, finally, pure text.

Filmores, Dundas St East

Even a strip joint like Filmores has standards.

Into the Market

18 April 2016 – On Sunday I had a terrific time being guided through a walk, instead of inventing one of my own. (Small tip of the hat here to Jackie, of Tour Guys.)

The day is gloriously warm & sunny, everyone in the group is silly with pleasure as we cluster at our meeting spot, Henry Moore’s Two Forms outside the AGO. But this is just the meeting spot, soon we’re in neighbouring Chinatown, and ultimately spend most of our time in …

at Augusta & College

Now you get the “Market” reference.

Factoid about these Ken Market elevated signs: each features two of only three symbols — a globe, a chair, a cat. I’ve often enjoyed the signs, never before noticed the pattern. See? Tours can be wonderful.

Now a quick back-up into a Chinatown alley. Jackie wants everyone in the group to see & appreciate graffiti, tags, throw-ups, street art & the rest of the terminology — and the corresponding realities, right here on walls & doors.

ANSER eyes on a Chinatown alley wall

ANSER eyes for sure, but not that mouth!

We spend a lot of time in … if not always exactly alleys, certainly very-very-very narrow-&-hidden little streets. Where sheer streetscape can itself be a form of street art.

With prayer flags, for example …

inside Kensington Market

or an ode to means of transportation.

in a Kin Market back street

Oh, go ahead, start counting. One canoe, with wheels; several bicycles; one wagon; one bright red come-along. And I may have missed something. (Surely not all needed to transport Chinese herbs from hither to yon?)

Then again, sometimes the alley/street is not about streetscape at all. It’s total street art, in every direction.

Like this.

in a Kin Market back alley

Multiple works of art, and multiple mail boxes too!

Around another corner, and the unmistakable work of one of the city’s most unmistakable artists: Birdo.

wall mural by Birdo, In Ken Market

This one looks curiously like a muzzled dog.

The next Birdo creation, around a few more corners, gets me thinking instead about lobsters & parrots. Then I shake my head & just let it be whatever it wants to be.

by Birdo, in an alley N/W of Queen & Bathurst

By now our tour is finished, I’m just N/W of Queen & Bathurst, and I nip through an alley onto Bathurst itself.

Where I see an old fave.

on Bathurst, just n. of Queen West

I hope you get a kick out of it …


Stones & Street Art

16 March 2016 – I have a mid-afternoon appointment out St. Clair Av. West near Caledonia, & this sets our Tuesday walk direction. North from Yonge & Eglinton, we decide; pick up the Kay Gardiner Belt Line Park somewhere to the west, and keep exploring our way west until we reach Caledonia and can work our way south to St. Clair via Prospect Cemetery.

As it happens, we pretty well start the walk with a cemetery.

stones on a Roselawn Av. cemetery tomstone

Cemeteries, plural. Phyllis guides us to Roselawn Av., which we follow west past a number of Jewish cemeteries, each belonging to a particular congregation or association. I like the tradition of placing pebbles on a tombstone very much — the simplicity and collective beauty of the stones greatly appeal to me.

same tombstone, full length

Phyllis comments on some other cultures with the same tradition; I add the Inuit, remembering a visit to Jessie Oonark’s hilltop gravesite in Baker Lake (now Qamani’tuaq) in Nunavut, where each of us added another pebble as a token of respect.

We walk through a number of the cemeteries. All exude the same air of peace, perhaps due to (or so I personally feel) the lack of fussy adornment.

one of the cemeteries on Roselawn Av

Somewhere around Bathurst, we join the Kay Gardner Belt Line Park, a linear park tracing the route of the one-time railway line serving the city’s earliest suburbs. This photo does justice to the drizzly weather, but not to the Park! It is much more appealing than I make it look …

one access to Kay Gardner Belt Line Park

Big laugh as we cross over the Allen Road. See all the traffic? See those signs on the overpass in the distance? See the one on the right, white letters on a black background?

traffic on the Allen Road

It says, as every traffic-stalled motorist has time to find out: “If you can read this, you should have taken the TTC.” (That’s our public transit system, as you have undoubtedly guessed.)

Some noggin-scratching after that. My increasingly tattered map (Exploring Toronto’s Parks & Trails) shows where we have to swerve a little to stay with the Belt Line, but we can’t quite find the magic connection. Never mind, we console ourselves; we can for sure pick it up again at Dufferin St., where the trail uses an overpass.

And sure enough, we are slightly off-course, and also sure enough, it is easy to set ourselves right at Dufferin. The overpass is close by; its edges brilliantly painted.

Belt Line overpass at Dufferin St.

Up the steps we go, across the overpass we go, and on west.

And soon screech to a halt at Fairmont, where all this trail-side street art smacks us in the eye. Look at that great mad stuff all along the wall, culminating (right) in a huge green Jeff Blackburn tiger …

from Belt Line nr. Fairmont

and around the corner, an Elvis-ish dude with Hawaii in his eyes.

same Fairmont location

Farther west in this tangle of artists and murals, three great ANSER faces dominate a wall.

ANSER plus other art

They completely overshadow, until you come up close, a very amateur but totally charming little canary above the doorway on the left below. Definitely not an UBER canary, no name-brand cachet here, but I think he is wonderful just the same.

no-name canary, same wall

It gets fishy after that …

same Fairmont location

a theme continued with Mr.Happy Croc around the corner.

same location

OK, and also a POSER bunny, not fishy at all. Just goofy as usual, and happy to turn up anywhere.

We walk a whole bunch more, including through Prospect Cemetery as planned — such a contrast to the Jewish cemeteries, with its abundance of wreaths, ornaments & flower baskets.

By the time we hit St. Clair and turn east again, we feel quite virtuous. Finding just the right place for a noon-time snack adds another few kilometres to the walk, allowing for a very respectable total of just over 15 km.

Hurray for us!


Gita in the Underpass

1 February 2016 – I didn’t expect to find chapter 3, verse 35 of the Bhagavad Gita in a Dupont St. underpass. Who would? Nor would I have known I had found it, but for the fact that I did my Saturday walk with my friend Gauri, just back from a month visiting family & friends in India.

We don’t start the walk on Dupont, we’re up on St. Clair West near Dufferin. I have food slightly on the mind. Before we set off, Gauri shows me some photos from her trip, including a close-up of a succulent dish traditionally prepared for Marathi weddings, but — because she loves it so — prepared in her honour during her visit.

Perhaps that’s why I interpret the central image in this street-corner montage as a jar of jam.

Lauder Av at St. Clair West

It seems singularly drab, compared to the Marathi feast. Still, the two heads are lively enough …

We walk, we talk, we laugh, we stop for coffee a bit farther west & finally head south, angling across Davenport to Lansdowne. More laughter as we go, being with Gauri involves lots of laughter, but we fall silent at the intersection.

Davenport at Lansdowne

We contemplate the “ghost bike,”  a white bike marking the spot where a cyclist has died. This young man died in November 2012; the bicycle has been here for years, but these are new floral tributes.

Down Lansdowne, more public art, yet another mood. These graphics swoop along the underpass that guides us all beneath railway tracks. It’s another StART (Street Art Toronto) project, perhaps a commentary on the construction above?

Lansdowne n of Dupont

We defy death — death, I tell you — to scamper across Lansdowne in order to see that graphic as a whole. “I’m just back from India,” boasts Gauri. “This is nothing!” I scuttle along in her wake.

Barely through the underpass, and we see another image, this one small enough that we consider recrossing the street to see it up close. Then we assess the increased traffic, plus the jump involved in getting ourselves down to street level — and chicken out.

So here is Green Lady. From afar. In the gloom. (Sorry.)

Lansdowne n of Dupont

Now we’re at Dupont, and I drag Gauri westward. There’s a small gallery along here I like to check out — and another much-decorated underpass along the way.

I know this underpass, I’ve seen these images before, but … wait a minute … is this something new?

Right here next to an EGR face … is that an Anser tease? Just a few elements of his distinctive flowing face-graphic, woven into somebody else’s design?

Dupont w of Lansdowne, n side

Not sure, but what do you think? Here, for comparison, is a full-blown, for-sure Anser (photographed a year ago in the Distillery District).

Anser face, Distillery District

I’m still squinting at the maybe-Anser on Dupont. Gauri has moved on, very slightly. I join her. She reads a dramatic triangular panel, and says: “Gita!”


Bhagavad Gita,” she says.

Dupont underpass w. of Lansdowne

It’s a translation of a verse, she explains, and then quotes the Sanskrit. (“My grade 10 Sanskrit!”)

I demand a transliteration, which she supplies right there on the spot — and later supplements with the link for this verse online, complete with quotation, transliteration, anvaya and translation, all four.

Gauri’s transliteration is very good indeed. Let’s hear it for grade 10 Sanskrit classes (and her excellent memory).

The online translation is rather more fulsome than the Dupont St. version.

Performing one’s natural prescribed duty tinged with faults is far better than performing another’s prescribed duty perfectly; even death in performing one’s natural prescribed duty is better; for performing prescribed duties of others is fraught with danger.

An advantage of the online version: it completes the final thought, blanked out by someone’s aluminum paint on the Dupont St. version.

After this, the gallery show is an anticlimax.







    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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