I was 21 years old the first time I lived in Toronto for a two-year period from 1988 through 1990 in an area called Bloor West Village. It's a great community with a large Eastern European population, though perhaps not so much now as twenty years ago when I lived on Windermere. In 1995, I returned to the city again after graduating university with my Joint Honours English/Drama B.A., hoping to pursue an acting career in theatre and film.
This time, I lived East of the Don Valley Parkway at Broadview and Danforth, another great spot. This area, known as Greektown, is home to some amazing Greek restaurants, but it's where you can also find some classic Toronto landmarks like the Danforth Music Hall and Allen's, a truly authentic Irish restaurant-slash-home-away-from-home, whose owner, John Maxwell, sprouted another Irish gem, the Dora Keogh pub, right next door.
The Dora hosts Irish traditional music jam sessions on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Sonshine and I make a brief visit to Bloor West village (and Bread and Roses bakery) before heading out to my other old stomping grounds, the Danforth and the Dora Keogh pub. This beautiful, Irish haven was crawling distance (thankfully) from where I lived for 5 years on Ingham Avenue in a duplex my twin sister and I purchased together, when housing was still affordable in Toronto; a sort of secondary womb for us for a time. And the Dora is where he and I head yesterday to meet with some lovely friends from my past.
The first to show is Darren who directed me in a feature film he also wrote over a decade ago now. The film was an amazing experience and, no surprise, ended up winning Best Feature at the Planet Indie film festival that year. Our shared Celtic heritage served as a kind of "crazy glue" with my sailormouth causing much laughter and catharsis in between takes, apparently. Mutual Irish wit does make for fast friends!
The last time I saw Darren, he and his friend took an autumnal motorcycle ride out of Toronto to visit myself and my ex-husband at our rural abode when we first moved here, maybe 9 years ago now. We kept in touch for a bit after that, but only recently reconnected again after a long absence from communication. Darren is still a truly soulful and insightful guy. We talk as though no time has passed at all, though we've plenty more catching up to do! Sitting there, sipping a pint of Guinness with him over copper tables to the sound of some good Irish fiddle, I realize how much I've missed him over the years and how great it feels to have old friends who never change whenever you reconnect with them. I mean, of course, they change or are changed. Hell knows I've changed! Life happens and events, emotions: so much can make you grow, stretch and transform over Time. But, at the heart's core, old friends whom you value in your life do not change so much. Instead, they remain a continuous thread in the tapestry of your days. It can be woven into different colours or patterns over Time, but also serves as a kind of throughline: a consistency and strength which helps maintain the friendship as special and intact.
Another recent reconnection is with my friend Kate, from university days. Kate shows up at the Dora pub with her husband, Cam, and all three fuss over my wee little laddie and put on a good show: entertaining him with tales, swinging him around and inventing funny faces and sounds. He is in heaven with so much attention showered on him not just from his mum for once! He falls asleep just before Darren splits to catch Where the Wild Things Are and for Kate and Cam and myself to pop next door for a fine dinner at Allen's over some really yummy, Ontario-grown, organic cab-merlot from Frogpond Farm, a Niagara-based vineyard. Lochie sleeps through the entire meal and bubbly conversation, not stirring a peep even amidst quite raucous cackling at moments. What an easy baby he is! And the wonderful company we have meeting up again with these old friends of mine makes the day just about perfect.
Before leaving the city, I speak with a Dora bartender as well as a waitress at Allen's, both new to the city only months ago and they each wax in their sweet, Irish lilt about their love of Toronto, how safe, how varied it is, how welcoming to many cultures, how exciting. As much as I love living rurally and value what the countryside offers me on a daily basis, I make a vow not to make my jaunts to my former urban haunts, or the rest of this amazing city, so few and far between anymore. Toronto is one vast and wondrous melting pot of a creative and artistic place and offers so much for diversion and exploration.
After all these years, I find The Big Smoke still holds its allure. Not the least of which is being home to some of the best people I've met in my life whom I am thrilled to still call my good friends. Midnight has come and gone as we leave the brightness of city lights. The indigo of night turns to stars by the time the wheels hit my gravel driveway again. I step out under a blanket of them as I lift my sleeping son from his carseat into my arms and gaze skyward. Life is good.
Music: Bobcaygeon, Tragically Hip
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