Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yonge and Bloor

William Gibson, poet of cities (Chiba, New York Sprawl, Moscow, Naughties London) dreams of phantom Toronto:

It consisted largely, I found, of the most amiable sort of repurposed
semi-ruins. A vast Victorian colonial seashell of blackened brick, shot through
with big, grim grey bones of earnest civic Modernism. I marvelled that such an
odd place could have existed without my having heard of it. North of New
England, all this baroque, mad brick; sandstone gargoyles, red trams, the
Queen's portrait everywhere.

New-found friends, often as not, rented high-ceilinged rooms in crumbling townhouses, their slate rooflines fenced with rusting traceries of cast-iron, curlicues I'd only seen in Charles Addams cartoons. Everything painted a uniform dead green, like the face of a corpse in those same Addams cartoons. If you took a penknife and scraped a little of the green away, you discovered marvels: brown marble shot with paler veins, ornate bronze fixtures, carved oak. In the more stygian reaches of cellar, in such places, there were still to be found fully connected gaslight fixtures, forgotten, protruding from dank plaster like fairy pipes, each with a little flowered twist-key to stop the gas.

This was mid-town, walking distance in various directions from Yonge and Bloor.

In my twenties, it always seemed that my friends lived in exactly these sorts of townhouses around Columbus (German Village, Victorian Village, Grandview). Grand, decaying, repurposed, sublet. Ornamental stairways made for midnight conversations, grubby marble bathrooms with eccentric plumbing. They're the Great Lakes version of loft apartments.

I seem to remember going to a lot of parties at these houses, talking to strangers (friends of friends of friends). Girls in black kilts & cat eye glasses and dudes in rock band t-shirts & week-old shaves. Home-dyed hair and beastie boots. The smell of old vinyl and cardboard from childhood record collections. Cigarettes and multicolored candles in big ceramic ashtrays.

How many of those parties did I actually go to? How many more do I just remember because someone told me about them? That was my Bohemia.

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