Mom vs. The Matador

It’s nights like these when I love the art of discussion … and putting a bug in my mother’s ear and she can’t get rid of it.

We just finished this spirited conversation about places in Toronto she doesn’t know, or believe, exist.

Actually, it started when I mentioned I was going to miss tomorrow’s annual Nuit Blanche event in Toronto. I went last year, and it was pretty good. But I have a wedding to go to the same night, so I don’t think traipsing around the city with (a) a change of clothes or (b) a dress and a pair of heels if I don’t take said change of clothes, is going to happen.

I added, “And I really wanted to go see the art exhibit they’re putting on inside Lower Bay St. Station.” The last time they opened it was for the Doors Open event back in the spring.

So my mom was asking all these questions, like where the lower station was actually located, where did it lead to, what was its original use, etc. And she said that, many years ago, a former co-worker had told her about the station, but she didn’t believe him and told him he was making it up.

So then I mentioned, “Well, there’s lots of places like that around Toronto. Take for instance that place, the Matador.”

Anyone in my age bracket or below, who knows their city well, knows what I’m talking about.

The Coles Notes version for the rest of you: The Matador is probably the longest-standing, dive-iest booze-can our great city has to offer. It used to be a dancehall during WWII, then a bowling alley in the early 1960s before two women bought it and remade it as a country music bar. Over the years, it’s played host to musicians, bikers, Harrison Ford, etc. Leonard Cohen has written a song about it.

Its most recent incarnation, however, has been the constantly raided, non-licensed after-hours establishment its patrons know and love.

The latest development, via this article: the city is trying to buy the place from the owners, tear it down and put up a parking lot, which some advocates say would be great for the YMCA diagonally across the intersection from it.

People who think it’s an institution are up in arms and want to try anything they can to stop the possibly impending buyout and demolition.

The co-owners are tired and about ready to sell … but have rejected the city’s offer.

My brother thinks it’s a dump and tearing it down is overdue. (He also drives a Volkswagen and extols the virtue of all digital devices Apple Inc., so you know where his heart lies.)

I’ve had this burning desire to go there and actually get inside. The closest I got was sometime in 2004, when I made it almost as far as the front door, to find out it was “closed” because cops were circling the area. So I KNOW it exists.

I’ve told my mother on another occasion about this place. But it was like telling her I saw The Great Pumpkin.

And here’s the kicker: way back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she lived a couple of blocks away from this place. And she passed it to and from work everyday.

For five. Entire. Years.

She can name every OTHER building on every other corner of this particular intersection.

Except this one.

Which, for the moment, makes me her fantastical-liar-crack-smoking-first-born child.

Tonight, I tried again. She didn’t believe me. Surprise. She told me what was in the area, and I told her where this place was. Nuh-uh. She opened the Yellow Pages, which comes with handy maps of the city. Nuttin’.

I introduced her to the world of Google Maps and showed her where the building is situated. And then where SHE used to live. I showed her a picture of the sign, for crying out loud. The SIGN. It’s old, rusty and dilapidated enough for her to recognize.

“Well, it kind of looks familiar,” she said. (Insert forehead smack here.)

I even read part of an article, where people who live, like, 10 doors down know about the place and its reputation for being, well … quiet for a booze-can.

So I made my case. Although now my mom – who considers midtown Yonge and Eglinton “downtown” – wants to take a field excursion to see for herself if this place is for real. I think she’s joking. She says she’s going call her friend, who used to live nearby. But she probably won’t know, either.

But if she’s not kidding, I want to go with her, if only for (1) safety reasons, ’cause I don’t want her falling in a dumpster somewhere, and (2) to see the look on her face so I know I’ve won the argument.

Yes, I’m petty. But I’m RIGHT.

It also goes to show why we need to leave our neighbourhoods and explore our city more often.

(Image courtesy of Spacing Toronto. I hope it’s okay, guys.)

Apparently, I Owe You About $60

Do you remember, way back in grade school, how every so often, your teacher would give you those monthly Scholastic book club catalogues, from which you could pick out books, posters and other literary knick-knacks only elementary students think are oh-so-cool?

One time I remember ordering, in addition to a couple of books, a Garfield horoscope bookmark. I forgot the glowing qualities behind my sign, but I remember the final sentence:

“Do not lend this person money.”

I used to laugh at this because I never considered the last line to be true in my case. Well, that, and it was actually supposed to be funny in that cheesy-sarcastic kind of way.

Now, I’m beginning to think the tattered piece of cardboard – which I’m sure has since been tossed in the garbage and has congealed with the leachate of whatever landfill it’s ended up in – is fulfilling its own prophecy and having the last laugh (or gurgle) on me.

Ever since I returned from vacation, I feel as if I’m bleeding money. I’m sure I’ve made more withdrawals than deposits or payments lately. And as I’m slowly starting to pay off the dent made in my credit card, I’m finding out how much money I’m owing some people.

And this is coming from someone who is used to having people borrow money from her.

Apparently I still owe a friend money for expenses from a friend’s surprise birthday-party cook-out over five months ago.

And then sitting at the kitchen table with my mom several days ago, she said, “You know, you owe me a LOT of money.”

I thought she was referring to the hundreds of thousands of dollars I’ve probably taken from her in over the last 30 years in diapers, baby food, clothes, lunch money, extracurricular activities, post-secondary education and corresponding student rent payments, so I said, “Of COURSE I owe you a lot. I know that.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, all those things I bought for you for your trip.” And then she made note of the travel-related items she bought for me, plus whatever money I somehow forgot to pay her for other things over the course of the summer. So I was adding it up out loud, and she joked, “I see you’re getting better with the math.”

I thought, I’d better be. This is costing me a LOT.

So right now, I’m trying to pay off my debt. In installments, mind you. But man, is it ever hurting the wallet.

Spain: The Epilogue.

So I’ve been home now for about eight, almost nine days.

This week was was my first week back at work. And for whatever reason, it’s been half-crappy. I’ve started getting those rashes that mysteriously cleared themselves up when I was away.

And it’s made me miss Spain immensely.

I miss not knowing who I’ll meet next … and when I do meet those people, what stories they have to tell.

I miss the fact that time actually slowed down, so that a day actually felt like a day. There was more length, more weight. I didn’t blink and have the day evaporate. I didn’t have to rush anywhere if I didn’t want to.

I miss not having a routine or people asking things of me.

And most of all – especially today – I missed the heat.

When I go back in my mind and try to think of images that stand out for me … there are so many.

Like the tiny, snowy-haired nun who looked up and smiled at me as I let her pass on a narrow sidewalk in Granada, when I felt at my loneliest.

Or the cute little kids who were with their parents everywhere I went.

Or the views of cities from belltowers, or parks high up.

Or the design and architecture of the buildings in the south.

Or the palm trees. Ah, the palm trees.

If I had the language and the gumption, I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I would go to smaller towns to explore and to beaches to sun myself. Maybe I’d write more and Facebook less. (Wait … who am I kidding?)

I know that, if I had the option, I would have kept going, at least for another week. I wanted to wander and explore, just like all those other backpackers.

This has probably been the first time in the longest time that I haven’t felt complacent about something I’ve done. When people mention travelling, I get excited. I want to hear their stories, and I love it when I pick up pieces of advice for travelling amidst it all.

Now I have to wait until at least next spring to wander again. Maybe this time I’ll get to go with a friend.

But who knows what the next six months will hold?

Anything can happen, right?

Readjusting … To Toronto


I’m back in the homeland, just trying to readjust to everything.

Actually I’m at work, and in hindsight, I should have called in sick. Oh, well.

In between seeing old faces and attending V-Fest on Saturday, I’ll try and write a post-Spain post (or two) soon.

Stay tuned.

Madrid, Concluded.

Tonight´s my last night here.

I seriously can´t believe it. I don´t *want* to believe it.

It almost feels like that time when I was six years old and went to Jamaica for the first time, and at the end of the three weeks when I was told we had to leave, I cried and cried the night before we left, saying how much I didn´t want to leave. (I won´t cry. Promise.)

But things have been so good. I gained a friend and a sightseeing buddy from the States named Jesse, and we´ve out for the last few days. We´ve been to art galleries, cooled our heels at a park, taken in bullfights and flamenco, and had tapas with fellow travellers.

Today, we became a trio, joined by a guy from Vancouver, named Jeremy. We went to the Royal Palace, where we went from room to room, making jokes and snickering to ourselves. Then we walked on in search of gelato, which we eventually found. SO. GOOD.

Next was shopping … which was kinda short-lived. I did get a cute sweater from H & M, though.

And we decided between the three of us to cook a huge pasta dinner, so we went supermarket shopping.

Vancouver Dude (Jeremy) and I then accompanied Jesse from Portland to Chamartín train station, but not before having one awkward moment on the metro. A Spanish man, who´d been eyeing our American friend from his seat, approached us, and asked him, ¨Are you American?¨

Sensing a confrontation, Jesse instantly said, ¨Canadian.¨ I didn’t get what was going on at first, but later it became clear this man wanted to rant, and when he ¨discovered¨ we were all Canadian, his demeanor changed … and his ignorance of Canada – based on whatever stereotypes he picked up – showed loud and clear. We just smiled and nodded until he got off at his stop.

We talked about it afterwards, and reflecting on it, I have to shake my head at how much that must suck for genuinely nice people from the States who get harrassed travelling.

Jeremy also experienced an awkward moment trying to buy a couple train tickets. He asked a security guard for help, and asked if she spoke any English, only to have her respond in perfect English that (a) she didn´t speak any, (b) the travel centre was closing, and (c) he could buy tickets either by phone or the Internet. (Hmmm … you know, if she came to Canada and was in the same situation, no doubt the person she was asking for help would be waaay nicer about it.) In any case, he somehow worked it out and got one of them.

Meanwhile, Jesse is now on his way to Portugal. I think he´s uneasy about the unknown, travelling through the night in a sleeper car, not knowing what he´ll see when he wakes up tomorrow. But I think he´ll be just fine, especially when he gets down to the beach and dips his feet in that Atlantic water.

And now, with a minute to midnight Spanish time, my turn approaches. I am so not ready to return. But perhaps what I return to will be better than what I expect.

And besides … I´ve already reserved three guidebooks from the library on South Africa. So that might keep me busy when I get back :).

Lost in Sticky, Sweet Seville

Sorry I´ve not been blogging lately. I´ve just not had the motivation over the last couple days. The intense Andalucian heat here probably has something to do with it.

I guess you could say the theme for my time in Seville was that I got lost, literally and figuratively. The first afternoon when I arrived, and I tried to find the place where I was staying (which was a bit separate from the main hostel), I got a bit lost trying to find my way back. Same with my expedition to and from the grocery store. (And after getting lost so much in Granada, I was getting weary of going in circles.)

I also felt kinda lost at the hostel at first, too. Trying to adjust from being in my own room to a dorm room with bunk beds (and dealing with construction noise at 7am in the morning, on top of the crazy heat) …

Even trying to fit myself into a crowd of fellow travellers didn´t seem to come as easy as it did in Valencia. This felt like a bit more work involved. I actually almost asked myself, ¨why did I pay the whole amount for this place? It´s not as great as people are making it out to be …¨

But things slowly started working themselves out. I actually also got a few decent nights out, out of it, and met some interesting people. Two Canadians from Kelowna making a Spanish pit stop in their year-long travels around the world. A Nigerian who lives in Barcelona and decided to vacation in Seville. An guy from Belfast who´s a former journalist but is now a writer (and has a black but wicked sense of humour, to boot). A handful of Australians and a couple Kiwis. And I also ran into a small number of Americans – some living or about to return to the States, others new or recent expatriates.

spain-2007-240Sightseeing-wise, I managed to redeem myself in Seville a bit for not seeing as much in Granada. I got to see the enormous Catedral and Giralda (the belltower which was a former Muslim minaret from the Almohad mosque of Seville), and the Alcázar (the royal palace – beautiful!) … I walked past the bullring, went down to the Guadalquivir River, walked around the Torre de Oro (literally – I couldn´t figure out how to get in!) … walked in and out of streets covered by these huge canopies to keep the heat off … saw the Plaza de España … I could go on.

Two things I didn´t do, even though I said I would:

1) A boat tour of the Guadalquivir River. It would have been nice, but I just didn´t feel like I had the time, or enough energy to tackle it …

2) I broke the vow to myself to see some real flamenco. The hostel I stayed at had a tapas and flamenco night, but they were all local places, very small. And last night – which would have been the night I would have gone – I spent most of it in the pool on the roof terrace of the hostel, then napping, then out for tapas. I think the travelling and pushing myself to try and do as much as possible finally caught up to me. I couldn´t help it, though. It was so nice just to sit there and feel the sun on my back and legs. Oh well. Can´t win them all, right? I hear there might be flamenco I could try and take in while I´m here in Madrid, so maybe I can fit that and a bullfight in there somewhere. But I have to do at least one of the two, otherwise I won´t forgive myself.

So that´s all for now, kids. I´ve now reached my last destination before home, and am in my new hostel (which is in the city centre, brand new, and really nice from what I can see so far). I really didn´t want to leave Seville just yet, and now I´m trying to process that this trip is almost over for me and that I´ll have to return to reality and all that entails.

Hopefully I can end this trip with a big bang.