Fragments of Toronto: Kay Gardner Beltline Park

View of Allen Road and path leading to Beltline Park

Path off Allen Road leading to Beltline Park

Hidden behind the sound barrier off Allen Road and Eglinton St West, is a path that leads to one of Toronto’s most curious parks.

Running from that point (just north of Eglinton West subway station) in a narrow eastward strip that ends at Yonge & Davisville, is a green belt created on top of a former railway line.

Built in 1892, the Belt Line railway through then-suburbs of Moore Park and Forest Hill closed its passenger service after only two years of operation. Sections of the railway still had freight service until the 1960′s, while other parts were sold off to various land developers. After the freight service ceased, the railway was abandoned for years until in 1972 the city purchased this land in order to create a park.

A wooded urban trail

Park trail behind a large houseThe Kay Gardner Park is a walking and biking trail through the heart – or rather the back yards – of Midtown Toronto. Along this trail you can get a glimpse of the back porches and swing sets of Forest Hill, one of Toronto’s richest neighbourhoods and a place of some extraordinarily large examples of domestic architecture.

(I also loved visiting a similar but elevated park in Paris, likewise built on top of an old railway)

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Favourite books series: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Beautifully evocative and captivatingly strange imagery is densely woven throughout the poetic and complex narrative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The novel that won its author a Nobel Prize and defined the genre of magical realism, this book has had a firm and lasting grip on my imagination since I first read it in Russian translation in my early teens.

The lives and deaths of the generations of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo are full of wonders that are taken in stride and miracles that are commonplace. The mundane and the magical intertwine, passions rise and dampen, children are born and die, girls of unspeakable beauty ascend into the sky amid laundered sheets, young men elope with gypsies, prophesies come true, time is fluid, history is forgotten and repeats itself inescapably.

One of the novel’s most vivid and visually expressive episodes for me has always been the story of the deluge – the period in Macondo’s history during which it rains “for four years, eleven months, and two days.”  The continuous rainfall interrupts the normal order of life, uproots banana groves, kills the crops and the animals, rusts all machinery. Houses sag and walls cave in from the damp and rot, clothing sprouts moss, and people turn a greenish hue from algae growing on their skin.

The image of the swampy streets in which abandoned furniture and animal skeletons lie covered with red lilies was particularly evocative for me, echoing both the devastation and tenacity of life that characterize this part of the story.

Stained glass mosaic of a cow skeleton from which red lilies are growing lying in the rain in a flooded street

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Crowdsourcing happiness

One of the crucial inspirations and sources of strength behind my decision, earlier this year, to trade corporate employment for trying to make a living as an artist, was a growing awareness of the spirit of mutual support and cooperation infectiously spreading through Internet communities.

Rolling Jubilee logo with contribution counterMore and more collaborative, knowledge sharing, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding initiatives are starting up and succeeding, with small individual contributions from people around the world, at getting the most remarkable things done.

For example, a recently launched Strike Debt project Rolling Jubilee aims to buy up people’s outstanding charged-off loans for pennies on the dollar and … forgive them.  For every $1 you contribute, they will wipe out $20 of some random stranger’s unmanageable debt. Only American strangers, of course, but I still pitched in. Crowdsourcing good will just feels right.

Wikipedia, of course, is a fantastic resource created through volunteer collaboration that we often take for granted. I use it most often as a bibliography of first-stop sources for any new topic. Given that googling anything results in an avalanche of noise that still needs to be sifted to extract relevant signal, the external references section at the bottom of Wikipedia articles functions as a curated list of links, hand-picked by others out of the noise.

With the quality and accuracy matching and often surpassing that of commercially produced encyclopaedias, Wikipedia is an indispensable resource that is not only free, but also advertising-free, and aims to stay that way. A non-profit undertaking, intending to remain objective and independent of advertising revenue, they are currently running their annual campaign for donations.

I donated this morning, and found the thank-you letter very personable and well-written in getting to the heart of what makes Wikipedia awesome and worth supporting, so I thought I’d share it here:

“Dear Natalie,
Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!
It’s easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I’m really glad you didn’t. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills — people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.
People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it’s not perfect, they know it’s written for them. Wikipedia isn’t meant to advance somebody’s PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that’s not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.
You should know: your donation isn’t just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.

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Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra at the Phoenix, Toronto

Having just wrapped up the European leg of her Theatre is Evil tour, and still recovering from bronchitis, Amanda Palmer put on a lavishly energetic, masterful rock show for an enthusiastic crowd at the Phoenix Concert Theatre last night.

Driven by the confident and charismatic singer, who was clearly in her element, the show felt both like a big hot glam punk performance and an intimate house party.

Introducing her first opening act – bass player Jherek Bischoff’s solo project – in a kimono, and doing a warm-up dance with the second, Amanda chatted affably with the audience, spoke warmly of her band members “who are not only great musicians but also beautiful people,” and complimented Toronto and “that place with the donuts and the coffee,” which the band had visited “at least three times” in the one day they’ve been in the city.

Jherek Bischoff, Amanda Palmer, The Simple Pleasure stretching arms up

Amanda Palmer warming up for “crancing” with the The Simple Pleasure.

She also shared proudly the fact that, minutes before the show, Trent Reznor tweeted a laconic compliment to her just-released “Do It with a Rockstar” video (NSFW).

The all-white clad Grand Theft Orchestra launched into the main part of the show with the instrumental “Grand Theft Intermission”, backed up by a string section enlisted from local Toronto violinists and cellists – a customary invitation Amanda extends to local musicians on every stop of her tour. One of the violinists set the record last night for the youngest person to play with GTO onstage, at 15 years old.

Three violinists in background, Amanda Palmer on keyboard on stage

Local Toronto violinists backing up AFP & GTO onstage at the Phoenix

With hit singles from the new record, Theatre is Evil, and older songs both from AFP’s first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and her former band The Dresden Dolls, there was a satisfying musical variety of hard rock, pop rock and ballads in the set list. Visually stunning crowd surf performance during “Bottomfeeder” (see gorgeous pictures of it from the NYC show here) and slapstick band member changeover routine during “Missed Me” made for great entertainment. Often biting, but always thoughtful lyrics that dig deep under the surfaces of relationships made for an emotional experience.

intense AFP & GTO performance

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