Sign Language

1 August 2017 – “Handpoked with love” (see Walk & Gawk) does not exhaust the sign language currently enchanting me around here.

I am on the 3rd floor of downtown government offices, seeking directions to the correct Ministry to tidy up one final e-registration, as I change provinces.

Right by the elevator, a sign.

No, that’s not my Ministry. But I am charmed to think I live in a province with an official Ministry of Red Tape Reduction. And, to be fair, when I find the right office for my own purposes, the registration is completed very quickly.

I spend yesterday on near-by Bowen Island with friends. We do a respectable amount of hiking up-trail and down; eat our backpack lunches overlooking a pretty inlet with bobbing boats (and bobbing Canada Geese on shore); and then — of course! — seek a café for seriously swell coffee.

There is always a tip jar. (I don’t understand this royal pairing, either. I just like it.)

And, these days, there is usually, if not always, a uni-sex washroom.

Which, as we discover, can prompt new ideas about protocol.

Somewhere along the line, Sal calls on her old CBC “streeter” instincts — we are all three one-time CBC journalists — and asks a passing Bowen Island resident the best place for ice cream. “Branch & Butter,” he instantly replies. The name makes no sense, but we don’t care. Priorities! The priority is: find ice cream. So we take careful note of his directions, ask his name (Sven) so we can give due credit, and follow his waving hand to the other-dock-over-there. (Not to be confused with this-dock-right-here.)

Branch & Toast, says the big sign on a rooftop. “A gourmet toast & ice cream snack bar,” it promises us. “???” we ask ourselves.

Another sign, on the building wall, very slightly explains.

So we are yet again charmed.

And would have been even more charmed, had the snack bar been open! Alas, we are there on a Monday, when they are open “by chance.” Chance is not our friend, this particular Monday. So we press our noses longingly against the glass, but never get to tell anybody that Sven sent us. (Say that, three times quickly…)

Wind-blown, sun-stunned, walking the last block back home that evening, I pass a line-up of familiar retail shops. Including Black Dog. Whose line of business I know, and whose current sidewalk sign, therefore, confuses me.

Until I read the small print.

You got it. Ice cream specialists across the street; videos right here. Yuk yuk. Ho ho.

Into the Multicultural Garden

3 April 2014 — Better known as Danforth Avenue, and it’s not until the Tuesday Walking Society alights at the Victoria Park subway station that we read the message and learn the phrase.

But I get ahead of myself. Before I can join Phyllis on the Bloor subway line for our ride east, I have to walk up to Bloor St., don’t I? And on the way, I’ll explore alleys, won’t I?

The first bit of amusement is pre-alley, I’m still at Gerrard E. & Seaton. Big, bold mural art echoing the music studio inside. I’ve seen it often, still get a kick out of it, so here’s a look for you.

Last post, piano keys; this time, brass.

music studio, Gerrard & Seaton

I dive into Woodward Evans Lane, no alley art, but a deft touch on the otherwise-drab protective pole where this lane joins Central Hospital Lane:

Woodward Evans & Central Hospital lanes

I pass a generously tattooed young woman walking her dog. I know the extent of the tattooing because — brave young thing that she is, or perhaps just totally fed to the teeth with winter — she is in shorts, with an open jacket over a scoop-neck T-shirt. Dog poops, she scoops; you don’t have to be middle-aged & plain-vanilla to respect the environment. Yay her.

Lots of residential life, back here in Central Hospital Lane. As I take this next photo, a young man emerges from a neighbouring doorway, carefully adjusts his bike helmet, hops aboard & pedals away.

in Central Hospital Lane

This is a bit reminiscent of an alley intersection I showed you in my previous post. I’m getting into these unadorned, back-lane streetscapes. I like the textures, the angles, the colours smudged & battered by time.

Then a laugh. I’m used to rude Rob Ford stencil art around town, here’s some Stephen Harper (our prime minister) for you.

PM Stephen Harper stencil art

Yes indeed-y, those in power will have a quieter life if the rest of us are quiet too.

A final bit of back-alley streetscape (in a different alley) before I rejoin Sherbourne and enter the subway station at Bloor. Big contrast with the look & mood of those earlier alleys.

Out on Sherbourne, the boarded up front façades at least have bright product & performance posters all over them to give the appearance of life and cheer. Here, behind the scenes, the buildings are literally falling apart as they await demolition.

behind Sherbourne nr Bloor E

Then into the subway station, where by luck I position myself in exactly the right spot on the platform. A train pulls in, Phyllis jumps off, grabs my elbow and we — zip! — hop aboard again before the doors can close.

We dismount ‘way east at Victoria Park, where we’ll hit the street and start walking back west.

This station is where we meet the “multicultural garden.” These are the final words in a long message above the tiled artwork of a huge tree, its roots, trunk and branches filling one entire stairwell, bottom to top, side to side.

Toronto, a city where those with diverse roots can grow and intermingle into a complex and exciting multicultural garden.

I’m not totally wowed by the phrasing & syntax, but I love the message.

It reflects the circular tile artwork on platform walls, where the word “welcome” appears in more languages than I can count, let alone recognize, and again in the “roots” artwork just outside the station door by the bike racks.

multicultural tree, Vic Park subway station

And so we head west, into the multicultural garden. All the way back, street signs support the promise of that message. (I would not have been so acutely aware of the mix, but for the message.)

First up…

Danforth shop nr Vic Park

Heavily Bangladeshi here, but not uniquely. Soon, this…

carpet shop, with hookahs, Danforth

Such a rotten photo! Please enjoy the content and forgive the presentation. This is just one of a whole multitude of carpet stores along the Danforth, this one — for reasons best known to the shop-keeper — featuring hookah pipes as well.

We pass Gerry’s Newfoundland Corner, are disillusioned to see nothing particularly Newfie about the handwritten menu in the window, and I take no photo.

Then this plaque.

maple tree plaque, Danforth Av

It’s on the wall of a clothing/accessories store, where we’ve just admired some very handsome purses hand-stitched in India.

There’s no sign of a maple tree along the street. We peer down the narrow slice of alley between this building and its neighbour. Ummm…. there’s a big, raggedly pruned tree at the back, but deciduous, so no leaves to help us decide if this is the maple that the community managed to save, 15 years ago.

Some blocks on, we dive into a baking-accessories store, with all the types of pans you could imagine and every other tool and gadget. Phyllis is an amazing baker, she knows what she’s looking at and strokes some of the items very appreciatively indeed. I am charmed by the variety and quantity, and the dedication of the store-owner to this one specialized category of the cooking arts.

She’s a lively young Oriental woman, but there’s nothing particularly oriental about the store, except this, next to the cash register…

in a bakery accessory shop, Danforth Av

I take a moment to read the card on the cash register If you want to use a credit card, you have to spend at least $20. A debit card? Easy-peasy, anything north of 10 cents.

Farther west again, ick-yikes, all the creepy-crawlies that can attack you and your home. An exterminator has samples of their destruction (e.g. a wooden beam, post-termite) in his window, plus images of the critters themselves. For example…

an exterminator's window, Danforth Av

Enough of all that, one last shudder & we move on, back to the varied delights of the multicultural garden.

on Danforth Av

This reminds me of a TV documentary I saw about the yearly championships, held of course in Ireland, but featuring troupes from all over the world. I was intent on the music and dance, but learned a lot as well, on the way through.

I’m still telling Phyllis about the doc when we almost trip over this invitation…

on Danforth Av

… but we don’t succumb. We walk on, walk on, and finally reward ourselves with sensational coffee & treats at Leonidas, corner of Pape.

Then, warmed & treated, we head onward & home.

Speaking of Coffee

The F’Coffee photo last time, even with my arch reference to “final pronounced vowels,” managed to remain a mystery for some of my readers — all with as many brains as I have, but obviously with fewer rude words in their vocabularies. So. Delete the “ee” and pronounce what’s left. There.


Signs, Portents & the Occasional Purple Bear

16 January 2014 — Last time around, I put “signs and portents” in Gaia’s mouth; this time I want them for myself. Both seemed much in evidence during our Tuesday outing to Roncesvalles and Queen West — fortunately of a happier kind than last week’s examples of volatile weather. Today, they are all about street art.

Shall we start with a purple bear?

graffiti Roncesvalles & Howard Park

There he is, looming over Roncesvalles Av. at Howard Park, and what fun. (He’s also fuzzier than he should be. Sorry.)

Roncesvalles is always good for creative people, great signs and — when you’re lucky — quite glorious juxtapositions. Like all these flowers, at the corner of Roncy & Neepawa.

flowers! Roncy & Neepawa

The truck’s flowers will probably last longer than the ones displayed at the corner store…

Phyllis and I — the Tuesday Walking Society in full complement — turn east on Grenadier Road. No particular reason, we just decide we’d like to zigzag a bit as we head south to Queen St. West. Grenadier is residential, so we don’t expect any interesting signage until we again head south on the next main street over, Sorauren.

Which just shows how wrong you can be.

King George VI identifies a home...

How nice of King George (“His Majesty’s Highway”) to identify the street number of a Toronto home.

We’re still chuckling when we are stopped, just a few doors farther down the street, by a gentleman who has just parked his van. He asks, “May I help you?”

Turns out he lives at no 23, and he is now very politely wondering what I was doing halfway up his front walk. I explain. He laughs. Yes, it’s an old provincial highway sign; yes, he found it in a collectibles shop outside the city somewhere; and no, he doesn’t know where this particular highway is (or perhaps was) to be found.

Another sign, this time on the edge of an alley just off Queen West near Dufferin St. It’s as arresting as Highway 23 and equally unofficial, but touching rather than whimsical. Later, online, I read the obit: Paul Quinn died, “too young,” of cystic fibrosis.

side alley, Queen W nr Dufferin

Another sign, still on Queen West but farther east, between Trinity Bellwoods Park and Bathurst. At first I nod at it vaguely, a trendy shop’s trendy sidewalk promo, whatever-whatever… Then I read it. Then I do a double-take. Then I spot the “most handsome guy” they’re talking about.

754 Queen St. West

Yup. He’s the one all wrapped up in Golden Lab golden fur, snoozing peacefully in the shop window. This Toronto outlet of the English gentlemen’s shop will sell you the finest suits, shirts and accessories. (Or you could just wrap yourself in golden fur.)

From signs to portents. Here I go cheerfully out on a limb, ‘way out, because this is just my own theory. It is also my own definition of portent, I must add. Dictionaries say the word means a sign or warning of a calamitous event; I choose to use it in a neutral sense, simply to mean sign-of-the-times.

(And who am I to go around redefining words? William Zinsser, author of the 1976 style classic, On Writing Well, defended his judgments with the observation: “It’s my book.” Well, it’s my blog…)

Right. Back to portents. Signs of what’s trending. Either more and more shops are commissioning work by street artists, or I’m just noticing more and more of it. I’m certainly asking more store owners about it, and here’s an example from early in our walk, at Queen West & Sorauren.

Troy Lovegates mural, 1590 Queen W

Stunning! In I go. Kirk, owner of West End Comics, explains that the deal came to him. A local organization phoned to ask if he’d agree to have his side wall painted, and though the initial plan fell through, another eventually worked out. “Troy Lovegates — that’s his street name — was looking for a wall, he’s a local artist, I was happy to say yes.”

Now I’m on the lookout for more examples. The style of the art, of course, varies with the shop or organization offering the wall. Take Sanko Japanese Foods & Gift Shop, Queen West & Clarendon…

730 Queen St. West

Then there’s the side wall of a tattoo parlour at Queen West just east of Bathurst …

522 Queen St West

… and the EMS facility at Queen West & Noble.

EMS parking, Queen West & Noble

Finally, my total, hands-down favourite of the day.

It takes us back to the animal world, even though it’s draped all over an artisan ice cream shop, the Boreal Gelato Café at Queen West near Dufferin. First the doorway bear …

Boreal Gelato mural, Jeff Blackburn, 1312 Queen W

… then the owl, peering down wisely from between two windows…

Blackburn's owl, Boreal Gelato

… and finally the pop-eyed lemur, clutching a convenient cable against the far wall.

Blackburn's lemur, Boreal Gelato

I must confess I first took that lemur for a raccoon. Well? Which seems more likely, in Toronto?

And just when I thought the signs, happy portents and furry animals were done and dusted for the day… one more purple bear.

Jeff Blackburn's Pink Grizzly, Queen W & St. Patrick

We began with one, we end with one — and this guy (Pink Grizzly traffic signal box), like those animals wrapped around the Boreal Gelato Café (Monsters and Ice Cream), is the work of Toronto artist Jeff Blackburn.



    "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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