Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?


Hello, TDOT

28 February 2018 – I emerge onto Bloor St. West from the rapid transit link between the airport and downtown Toronto, and start to laugh. Right there on that busy sidewalk, with traffic whooping by in the railway underpass.

“Hello TDOT,” I say to myself, and take the photo.

A whole riot of street art, running through the underpass. Definitely Toronto. (And thank you Barb, for this bit of local slang: Toronto aka T.O.; i.e. tee-dot-oh-dot; thus TDOT.)

That’s yesterday.

Today I’m walking around a bit of Riverdale, mostly on Pape between The Danforth and Gerrard. And yessir, TDOT just keeps kicking up more street art.

A fish threatens to swallow a phone box …

and he might as well, having already swallowed the phone.

A car makes a coffee-brake, right over the Schmooz café …

which I extra-love, since I made that same coffee brake pun in a post last October.

A guy eats an ice-cream cone, and clearly doesn’t like the taste …

which is fair enough, since the owner of this now-closed corner store has pinned a furious handwritten note to his store door, making clear he really doesn’t like the graffito.

On the other hand, a very spiffy meat & deli shop just south of Danforth not only accepts the mural on its side wall …

but the owner probably commissioned it, since it bears his store name in bold block caps.

About face, I’m heading south again. Some homeowner loves poppies, right there on his front porch.

Maybe painted them himself? (Or herself, come to that.)

Monkeys on a utility box, beside the Lucky Coin Laundry …

and, under the laundry’s neon logo, a beautiful poem by 14h-c. Persian poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz.

Forget washing your clothes! It’s dog-wash time at the Fur Factory …

and, if you get close to that vertical line of thumbnail images, cats are also acknowledged.

Another dog under the adjacent Atomic Age comix store, looking back in some amazement — as well he might — at the red techno-monster behind him. And robot dog.

It’s cat-and-dog time farther south as well.

Be sure to read both signs …

and if you think the second one says, “Beware of the dog,” read it again.

I know. I had to read it twice myself.

Your reward for close scrutiny is …

a flower.

Tacked to a utility pole that has clearly had many other things tacked to it in its time.

But none as pretty, I bet.



Cat Tales (& Tails)

14 April 2017 – It’s a bright afternoon.

Neighbourhood pussycats are lying in the warming earth of front yard gardens …

stretching their bodies — from toes to belly to ear-tips — to the sun.

I leave the groomed residential street, & tuck myself into a nearby scruffy commercial alley.

Unless something dire has happened, I am about to revisit one of my favourite pussycats.

And there he is.

“Live, Love, Paint”

There’s Elizabeth Gilbert, American author … and then there’s Spud1, Toronto street artist.

I don’t see his garage mural with this upper-left-corner mantra until later in my walk, but, belated or not, it perfectly sets my theme.

detail, spud1 garage mural nr Danforth & Pape

I’m walking east on Danforth, heading for Main St. or farther, but of course soon find myself wiggling around alleys just north of Danforth. Lively as the street always is, I am endlessly curious about what might be going on behind its store-fronts.

Lots is going on, is the answer. Even in this modest little stretch between Logan & Greenwood.

I’m attracted by this long line of colour blocking. No rambunctious alley art here, just pure hits of colour.

Red. Black. Turquoise. White.

nr Logan & Danforth

I reach the far side of the white building, look left, & start to laugh.

It’s time for rambunctious!

alley off Danforth

The fish in that right-hand garage is particularly splendid.

detail, right-hand garage

Next comes Spud1 — aka Spud, and, especially earlier, Spudbomb, when he was mostly known for his happy-face hand grenades. He’s been branching out in style more recently, and isn’t this a fine example? First I see a curled-up fox; later I see his name.spud1 garage mural

Mantra as promised, upper-left corner.

Some other Big Names in these alleys, including Cruz1art.

I’d like to call this a pink panther, with a bow to Inspector Clouseau, but suspect he’s more likely a tiger. Or something else. (I’m the one who called a baboon a lion in All Along the Milky Way & had to be gently corrected by DJ in a comment, so what do I know?)

Anyway, he’s pink, & he’s pretty certainly a Big Cat, let’s go with that.

cruz1art garage mural

Then there’s haunting lady with mattresses …

artist name covered, if there

Usually alley mattresses are grubby & potentially crawling with life you’d rather not meet. These are pristine, each tidily wrapped, per bed-bug bylaws. Another mystery of alley life.

A whole fence of drip art, over by Donlands.

Look at this, think how ugly the underlying fence really is, and join me in thanking whoever decided to make it, instead, a work of art.

nr Donlands & Danforth

Some sort of Big Cat earlier; three more cats to round out the tour.

I’m practically at Jones when I see The Jazz Cats. This is wonderful! I first saw this cheeky image several winters ago, and here he still is. A little battered — but what true alley cat is anything else?

high on a wall nr Jones

A much sketchier alley cat, but also quite gloriously battered.

guarding an alley intersection...

And, to close, my favourite cat of all.

He is alive-alive-o, sashaying down the alley like he’s channelled Mae West, passing one garage mural & another, and another, and another … and then he makes his choice.

He sits.

the cat that got the canary...

Of course he chooses the canary. (Oh that Uber 5000.)


Summer & Winter … and Paris

18 November 2015 – An in-between season, when summer & winter jostle each other for control. Summer has had an amazingly long run, we are all properly grateful. And in some forms, of course, it can last all year ’round.

detail, Buck Teeth Girls Club mural, 56 Berkeley St

Such as a tropical-themed wall mural, for example.

Phyllis & I are heading south on Berkeley, early stage of a walk to the lake then north to Danfoth & west again, when we see yet another contribution to street life by the Buck Teeth Girls Club. Marked 2015, & it surely is. So pristine!

full view, same mural, 56 Berkeley

Also, I’m pretty sure, commissioned by the design studio on whose wall it sits — which may account for the atypical (but striking) use of charcoal & white.

In my experience, the Girls normally run to colour, riotous amounts of the stuff — one example the alley doorway in my previous post; another this goofy-happy scene up on Croft St., which I discovered last April.

more Buck Teeth Girls, on Croft St.

But I’m a sucker for more than street art.

Heritage architecture, especially when sympathetically repurposed, always stops me in my tracks as well. One favourite: the 1889 Consumers’ Gas building at Berkeley & Front, now the Berkeley Street Theatre.

Berkeley St. Theatre, Berkeley & Front

Head east one block to Parliament & Front, & you can enjoy its younger sibling, the 1899 Consumers’ Gas Purifying Plant that now serves as 51 Division for the Toronto Police. The family resemblance is unmistakable.

51 Division at Parliament & Front, originally Consumers' Gas 1899

See what I mean? Other siblings are strewn around town, all of them industrial examples of (I read somewhere) the Renaissance Revival style. Catch anybody reviving the renaissance today, for a gas purifying plant!

Solid old buildings like that, restored & maintained, are good for any season, not just summer.

Which is more than one can say for these woebegone tropical plants on Trinity St., clearly wishing somebody had taken them inside months earlier. Or sent them to Florida for the winter. Whichever.

sad summer plants on Trinity!

Oh dear, oh dear.

And we are definitely heading toward winter.

By the time the Tuesday Walking Society reaches the Keating Channel, partway down Cherry St. toward Cherry Beach, the inlet is dark & blustery. [Later correction, thanks to the sharp eyes of follower Larry Webb: This is the Ship Channel, not the Keating Channel. I know that! But, somehow, I misremembered while writing this post.]

view east fro bridge over Keating Channel, Cherry St.

At lake edge, we watch a couple of heroic workmen slog around in the water — the very chilly water — putting the lifeguard station’s dock to rights before it has to face winter storms.

1930s lifeguard station, Cherry Beach

Brrr. Even if they are in wet suits.

Ah, but what am I saying? We are rough-tough Canadians, are we not? Winter is our season, is it not? And our sport is …

on a Logan Av front porch


Just look at that clutch of hockey sticks, neatly stacked up on a Logan Av. porch, all eager to get out there & start whacking pucks around.

Another sign of winter-readiness: someone, also on Logan, who got her fur coat out of storage in good time for the dipping temperatures.

Which allows her to loll on the bench, oblivious to the nip in the air.

Logan St. cat, snug in her fur coat

We try to sweet-talk her into opening her eyes, for some texture contrast in the photo. One narrow glance, & we are dismissed. (As if we had expected anything else.)

Up & up Logan — me secretly wishing I were as well dressed for the day as Madame Cat — and there we are, on Danforth at last. A quick stop to pick up my new computer glasses (don’t I live an exciting life?) and we carry on west, ready to patronize a terrific café. Preferably soon. We’re at 11 km-plus in this walk; we agree we have earned a treat.

Which we find in Dough, a bake shop that, along with the treats, offers very fine coffee.

Going in, I see they have added a new top line to the near side of their sidewalk advertising blackboard.

sidewalk blackboard on Danforth Av.

Coming out, I see the far side.

Dough sidewalk billboard, Danforth Av.

Throughout Toronto, throughout the world, one message.

Tattered Cats & Glorious Weeds

12 March 2015 – With a big splash in between: Cats – SPLASH – weeds. Like that.

Except it begins with a musical fence.

lane s. of RR tracks leading to Craven Rd.

The Tuesday  Walking Society is out in full force once again, that’s two bodies & four (count ’em) healthy knees. Hurray! Welcome back, Phyllis.

So we are celebrating, both good health & above-zero weather with sun. The vague plan is to walk south on Coxwell all the way from the Danforth subway station to the lake, & see what happens next. We are soon diverted. Just south of the RR tracks, we suddenly remember that if we deke up those tiny steps, & follow that tiny lane at train-track edge, we’ll come to Tiny Town.

The musical fence is on the lane along the train tracks; Tiny Town is around the corner, under its official name of Craven Rd. It consists of tiny homes (under 46 sq metres) on one side and the city’s longest wooden fence on the other. See?

Craven Rd., looking south from immediately south of the RR tracks

Start of the 20th c., people on Ashdale Av. to the west began taking advantage of their extra-deep lots by allowing very small homes to be built at the eastern end. Land squabbles soon followed, are you surprised? In 1910 the City severed the land, built a wooden fence along the now-truncated Ashdale properties and beyond that a narrow road — Craven Rd. — for those back-yard houses that finally had a street of their very own.

We start down the street, eyeing the fence. We are indifferent to its much-quoted status as “the city’s longest wooden fence” (alas, no numbers are ever attached to the claim). Our interest is artistic.

Will it still be the city’s longest wooden fence outdoor art gallery?

We first discovered the art in November 2013 and I blogged about it then — some works signed, some anonymous, and nothing to explain how the tradition arose. Now we are hoping that the tradition continues.

It does!

Craven Rd fence art, north of Queen

More trees follow …

Craven Rd fence art

… and then a painting I admired hugely in 2013: Very Tattered Cat. Tattered even then, but indomitable. Even more tattered now, even more (in my besotted eyes) wonderful.

on the Craven Rd fence

Another cat nearby, one we don’t remember from 2013, not as tattered but equally full of attitude.

on Craven Rd fence

So that’s good, we’ve had our Craven Rd. fix, and from Queen St. East we walk on south to the lake. We hear sirens a few times en route, don’t think much of it — big city, sirens, there you go. Then, in Ashbridge’s Bay, we see they have all congregated right here in the parking lot: fire, police, ambulance, the works.

Meanwhile, nothing but wintery peace along Lake Ontario. Semi-exposed boardwalk, snow fences & snow, ice, open water beyond the ice, and one woman striding by on her cross-country skis, oblivious to the excitement.

XC skiing along Lake Ontario, nr Ashbridge's Bay

Phyllis & I are not oblivious, our eyes are huge & our ears flapping for information. By now the event causing the excitement — the big SPLASH — is over and the hero, the passerby who called 911 & first tried to help, is being interviewed by local news teams.

Somebody had been silly enough to walk his dog out onto the now-rotting ice on the lake. They both fell through. A passing policeman tells us they will be fine, but we care only about the dog. Shame on that stupid man, endangering his dog like that.

I query Phyllis about her knee; she replies it is behaving itself. We walk east along Queen, eventually stop in a pretty shop called Bobette & Belle that promises “artisanal pastries,” and — after suitable taste tests — agree their wares are very good indeed. There’s even a free recipe on the wall.

Bobette & Belle, 1121 Queen St. East

Phyllis eventually puts her knee aboard a passing streetcar. I hoof on, pausing briefly for a cherub on a door whose surroundings do not suggest a likely home for cherubim.

Wicked Club, coming to Queen S. E.

Nor is it. The grand-opening notice advertises a “sophisticated hedonistic” private club. It’s their description & you must take it on faith — not being a member, I can’t access any part of the website that might irrefutably support the claim.

Don’t care. I’m off to see a Golden Girl. A sophisticated, hedonistic golden girl, I dare add.

Like Tattered Cat on Craven Rd., she too has adorned her wall (this one just N/W of Sherbourne & Queen) for quite a while, and I’m as fond of her as I am of the cat.

laneway wall behind 332 Queen E.

Let’s pretend she is pointing to weeds. In another month or two, she undoubtedly will be; at the moment, this calls for an electronic leap of the imagination.

Glorious Weeds

Thanks to my dear friend DJ for the link, whose recommendations are always worth following. She is not just DJ, she’s Dr. DJ, as in Doctor-of-Ethnobotany DJ, so she knows her plants and she knows her weeds.

She also knows art, and when the two collide, she spreads the news.

Chapeau to San Francisco artist Mona Caron!


Street Bear, Alley Cat, & the Group of Seven

13 November 2014 – All this, because I decide to take a streetcar north & west to Dufferin & St. Clair Av. West, and then walk home!

But the adventure doesn’t start with the bear, the cat or the renowned Group of Seven.

I’m stopped flat on a street corner by this much-abused phone box.

phone box, St. Clair West

Thanks to that saving streak of sunlight, it becomes — if temporarily — a laser-art installation. A phone graphic, within a phone box shadow-box.

It is indeed sunny today, and mild. Predicted high of 14C. Tomorrow? Windy & a high of 4C. You bet I’m glad to be out here today!

Unfortunately, I’m somehow just not enjoying St. Clair West as much as I’m enjoying the weather. Can’t account for it, surely my fault not the fault of the street, but there it is. Anyway, I do like the artwork that decorates each streetcar stop.

Oakwood street car stop

I remember a huge uproar while these dedicated tracks were being installed along St. Clair West — cost, length of time, disruption — but now the streetcars do whiz right along. And each stop, like Oakwood above, is fun to look at.

So is Street Bear.

outside Cocoalatte

He’s great at catching our attention, maybe less terrific at spelling, but who cares, those macaroons still seem tempting. Gluten-free to boot. I read more menu options in the window. The sopa del día (the only Spanish on the sign) is advertised as gluten-free, transfat-free, vegan & organic. I can’t decide whether to be impressed, or roll my eyes. Both, I think.

Just east of Spadina Rd., I temporarily escape the city by entering Sir Winston Churchill Park (aka Reservoir Park, because that’s what’s beneath this flat surface). I’m amazed I’ve never explored it before, never followed its trails down the ravine edge east of Casa Loma, even though I once lived just blocks from here.

Reservoir Park, St. Clair W & Spadina Rd

This is the level top-land, with the CN Tower & other downtown landmarks beckoning from the south. Joggers, serious runners, cyclists, dog-walkers, off-leash dog park, mummies & toddlers, all the usual activity.

I finally pick a trail & start down the slope.  I look back north & I’m delighted, as always, at the way our ravines offer us this constant interaction of city & nature.

trail in Reservoir Park, condos to north

Those are almost surely condo towers. But look — a few more bends in my trail, & I find a residence right here in Nordheimer Ravine.

tent in Nordheimer Ravine

I can see it’s  a shiny new, upmarket tent, not the worn last resort of some homeless person seeking shelter as best he may. So I am curious, but I don’t investigate. Still, I wonder.

And then I forget the tent, because I’m struck by this display of split-rail fencing, with its punch of golden fall leaves.

edge, Glen Edyth Wetlands

A plaque tells me this is one corner of Glen Edyth Wetland, created in 1998 as “part of an ongoing effort to restore critical wetland functions to the Don River Watershed.” It segues into the Roycroft Wetland, also 1998, both of them bearing witness to the now-buried Castle Frank Brook, which once ran freely through the ravine. (Another of our lost rivers.)

I marvel at tree roots, somehow keeping these trees upright. How much longer?

in Nordheimer Ravine

And I finally emerge onto Boulton Drive, then onto Davenport Rd. as it ducks beneath train tracks to join Dupont. Artwork both sides of the underpass, here’s the more arresting of the two, viewed from the south.

Synethesia, by Paul Aloisi

This is Synethesia Interactive Public Artwork 2014, by Paul Aloisi, who (on the signboard) explains that the design is “the result of translating audio recordings of trains passing over the Davenport Rd. underpass into an abstract visual composition.”

I’m still headed east & south, cutting through some alleys just south of the train tracks.

Where I meet Alley Cat, taking the noon-day sun.

alley cat!

I croon, he wails, we part.

A restorative latte on Yonge Street, then down into the Rosedale Valley Ravine, with a quick detour on tiny little Severn St. to pay my respects to this building. It now butts against towers & open-cut subway tracks, but was once entirely surrounded by nature.

Group of Seven studios, Severn St.

It is the first purpose-built artists’ workshops & residence in Canada, financed in 1913 by painter Lauren Harrris & art patron Dr. James MacCallum.

Of course it was built for artists! Look at all those north-facing windows. It has been home to many artists over the decades, initially & most notably Tom Thomson and members of the Group of Seven. I am happy to see it in good shape, and unaltered. Fittingly, its immediate setting is now called the Lauren Harris Park.

A bit farther east I finally abandon the ravine, climb some steep steps & emerge from woodland onto the dead-end end of a very short street, still residential despite commercial buildings all around.

I see this — smack against the fence of one of those commercial giants — and I laugh.

hockey net on Collier St.

A hockey net, you bet. There are still geraniums blooming in the tub next door, but we are not fooled. We know where the weather is headed.




In Pursuit of Beauty & Boots – Part 1: “Beauty”

28 April 2014 – And the pursuit brought me happiness, reinforcing my belief that happiness is something like a cat. Do not pursue it directly — instead, pursue something else, something well-chosen, and it will come to you.

Walking is always well-chosen, right? On Saturday, I was walking my way to two other objectives. First target, beauty: go admire two vases by a friend of mine, featured in the “Spring Awakening Vase Sale” at the Gardiner Museum. After that, boots: I’ve walked my way to a larger size (Penny Plod, that’s me), and hope Mountain Equipment Co-op will have something wonderful.

It makes a perfect, 12-km walking loop. Up to the Gardiner at Bloor & Avenue Rd., then down  to MEC at King near Spadina, and home.

Lots of street/alley options along the way, and — who knows? — perhaps I’ll luck into some extra hits of beauty as well. (I really don’t expect to trip over any additional boot possibilities.)

Bell Box Mural, Isabelle & Jarvis

A beautiful sheath for a Bell telephone box, at Isabella & Jarvis. It’s a 2011 addition by D. Walsh to the on-going Bell Box Murals project that each year brings community groups, artists, in-kind donors and dedicated organizer Michael Cavanaugh together to turn more of these boxes into hand-painted, local works of art.

I’ve already stopped to admire some of the Victorian streetscapes in the area, including this terrific example on Earl St. of the 2nd-storey enclosed balcony that is a vernacular touch to a design otherwise quite faithful to its English origins.

Earl St. Victoriana, nr Sherbourne

At first I’m zigzagging at will, my route roughly north-west but its turns dictated as much by traffic lights as by any plan of my own. Once I cross Yonge St., I deliberately choose to make my final east-west approach along Charles St. West. It will bring me out on Queen’s Park Cres. just south of the Gardiner, and enroute take me past…

McKinsey & Company, 110 Charles St. West

What a beauty. This is the Toronto headquarters of McKinsey & Company, completed in 1999, the work of Hariri Pontarini Architects. Three storeys of copper, Algonquin limestone, glass, and teak & mahogany, wrapped U-shaped around a quiet courtyard. Serene, I think, not for the first time; it is so serene. And this, despite the towers now looming to the north, and scampering U of Toronto students all about, for we are intermingled here with the university campus.

The architects’ website describe this project as a “contemporary response” to its much older neighbours.

This one, for example, just a few doors to the west.

Annesley Hall, 95 Queen's Park Cres.

I admit I have to get my eye in, for this one… Reading the plaque helps enormously, because it provides context.

This is Annesley Hall, built in 1903 as Canada’s first university residence for female students. The style is Queen Anne Revival, the intention was to create “a home-like setting through the harmony of its massed composition, bay windows and shaped Flemish gables”… resulting in “the domestic grandeur thought proper for young women students in the early 20th century.”

I round the corner onto Queen’s Park Cres. and head north the short half-block toward Bloor St. West. Next comes the Gardiner Museum, but I deliberately overshoot because it, like the McKinsey building, is in call-&-response with its neighbours. To the south, Annesley Hall. To the north, the U of T’s Lillian Massey Building.

I cross the street for a better look. No Queen Anne style here, this is a neo-classical structure with “1908” and “Department of Household Science” carved above its massive, pillar-ed entranceway.

Lillian Massey Bldg U of T

These days it houses Medieval Studies, Classics, and something called “University Advancement.” (No, I have no idea.) It also houses — along the retail-oriented Bloor St. side — a branch of Club Monaco. Yes! Really!

Finally, and after so much beauty along the way, my target beauty stop of the day: the Gardiner Museum, devoted to ceramic art (including historical collections starting with pre-Colombian Central & South America).

Gardiner Museum, 111 Queen's Park

See? Lillian Massey to the north (L); Annesley Hall to the south (R). In between, today’s Gardiner Museum — this very handsome, 2006 expansion and reimagining by KPMB Architects of the 1983 Keith Wagland original. Just like the McKinsey architects, KPMB talks about responding to their location, about “setting the Gardiner in dialogue” with its neighbours.

Quite like the way a good art exhibition is hung, don’t you think? Pieces chosen and placed, to compare/contrast/complement, in an act of curation that respects the larger context as well as the individual item.

I take that thought with me into the Gardiner. I don’t have time to visit the museum itself — I have boots to buy, remember — so I head straight for the gift shop, with its spring-sale theme of vases. I am given permission to photograph the two by my friend, ceramist (and raku specialist) Gerri Orwin.

fine art vases, Gerri Orwin

Somehow, ceramic art seems especially appropriate for spring. These pieces, like flowers, also rise from the earth.

And then, I go on my way. Thank you, beauty. Time for boots.

Silly me, to think there’s be no more beauty!

Or other adventures. Like…

alley-cat! off Peter St., s. of Queen West

… this pussy-cat. Who you may or may not think beautiful, but must agree is adventurous.

And then there’s Fire Guy. And what I discover as I stare at MEC’s wall of boots. And…

Just wait. All in my next post.




    "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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