You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

July 23rd, 201010:12 pm @ Jay Palter


100724_beach_jazzMy first trip back to Toronto, my hometown of 46 years, has certainly been an interesting experience in contrasts over the past week.

The old familiar streets and neighbourhoods are here, but there are new developments. And the old construction projects are now finished and looking like new, while completely new projects are being started. When you live in a place, the changes are gradual and you don’t notice as much. (It is the same with the passage of time and the changes that take place in the people in your life.)

There is also an odd sense of disconnection. My old city feels like home, but it’s not. My sense of home is now split between the place where I live that still feels new (no matter how comfortable) and the place that feels comfortable (no matter how much it’s changed in my absence) . My old house used to feel like home, but now it has lime green walls in the kitchen which makes it feel like someone else’ s home. Which, in fact, it is. Strange feeling.

There are surprises and unexpected realizations upon returning to a place after having moved away. Here are some of the things I miss that I was not aware of when we left…

  • 100724_peachThose magnificient late summer Ontario freestone peaches. As they soften to the touch, I stand over the sink and can eat six at a time.
  • The Beaches Jazz Festival on Queen Street has to be one of the best music scenes in North America. They call it jazz, but I heard four distinct types of blues, rock, rockabilly, R&B, big band, bebop, urban, drum and bass – it was all there at the “jazz” festival. Thousands of people of all ages, dancing and partying in the streets. Amazing.
  • The jumbo twisted bagels from Harbord Bakery are burned into my memory from two decades ago. So when I happened past the bakery this week, I had to stop. No butter or spread, no toasting or heating, just freshly torn apart and devoured. I think I need to go by there again next week.
  • The hot, humid summer nights are lovely. The days can be horribly uncomfortable, but at night it cools down to the mid-twenties and the still air makes for great outdoor activities long into the night.
  • The Great Lakes are more important to me than I ever thought. They were there since I was a small boy and they’ve been an integral part of my geography and history. They were the first place I visited when we got here and may well be the last place we visit before we leave. They play a role in stabilizing weather patterns and contribute to the humidity that makes southern Ontario summers (and winters, for that matter) what they are. (Hmm, that was an interesting revelation.)

There are also some surprises in the things I don’t miss. These could almost be billed as the reasons I might never end up back in Toronto.

  • The traffic is abysmal. It is thick and irrational and frustrating. It destroys quality in your life. The stress probably kills some people faster. I hate it.
  • Summer construction is a reality in any climate with a winter. But when you turn onto a local street to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic and run straight into a construction detour – well, you curse the construction in the same breath as the traffic.
  • The smell of garbage juice evaporating from the sidewalk. Garbage juice is all the liquid that oozes out of the bags while they sit on the sidewalk at night. In the morning and sometimes well into the lunch hour, the air is pungent with the smell of that liquid as the sidewalks heat up. (Yeah, I know, I should have warned you to pop a Gravol before reading that.)

So, a week into the Toronto sojourn, there has been much to think about. I’m looking forward to the second week.

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