Christmas is around the corner – and so are the carollers! At least in my Toronto neighbourhood, well, neighbourhood adjacent: Bloor-Yorkville. The Bloor-Yorkville BIA is bringing this quartet of festive singers to this upscale stretch of Bloor Street every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. till Christmas. That means they’re strolling along Bloor right now, bedecked in Dickens-inspired winter wear!
But don’t fret if you miss them on the street. Last weekend I came upon them singing “O Christmas Tree” under this oh so giant Christmas tree in front of the Manulife Centre. So, sooner or later, you’ll find them there, sharing some Christmas cheer with the bustling crowds.
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OK, so summer’s half over and I’m only posting about this year’s TIFF in the Park screwball comedy-themed lineup now. But I’ve missed all the July classics thanks to my lovely camping adventures in northern Ontario (hello, Algonquin Park!), so I only got my first taste of this summer’s superpopular lineup last night.
And was I ever surprised to discover David Pecaut Square – the go-to green space for free outdoor entertainment, including my famous IDD flashmob – totally packed with movie lovers and freebie fanatics alike.
Sure, last year’s crowds were big, too, but the free outdoor film series presented by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the Entertainment District BIA seems bigger than ever. It’s now in its third year, and I remember being one of a handful sitting on the grass three summers ago, watching Casablanca (see photo below), Cairo Time, Dragon Hunters and more. (Of course, I jest. There were more than a handful of us that first summer, but certainly the few of us there were generously spread out, with lots of green space in between.)
Since TIFF started curating its outdoor summer selection last year (I still can’t figure out what the first year’s theme was), TIFF in the Park has been attracting more and more attendees. Last summer, with wonderful, colourful classic movie musicals, like Umbrellas of Cherbourg (see photo below), Mary Poppins, Singing in the Rain, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl and The Sound of Music (my ultimate Christmas movie fave), it became increasingly difficult to find a prime spot – middle centre – if you didn’t get there by 8 p.m.! Apparently, Toronto, movie musicals aren’t just for geeks like me!
And as I witnessed last night, Torontonians love their black-and-white screwball comedies as much as they relish their classic movie musicals! Who knew? Like last year, if you don’t get there well in advance of the start time (generally it’s 9 p.m., but by mid-August, it’s 8:30 p.m.), you’ll have to squeeze into the sidelines, with nary a green patch free. Be warned: Film fans start staking out their spot a good hour before the screening, spreading out blankets, freeing themselves of sandals and gathering with friends for a pre-film picnic. Some even bring their dogs!
As if to acknowledge just how popular TIFF in the Park has become, this year TIFF even has concession stand volunteers walking around the park! There’s one in the photo below, offering popcorn for sale as last night’s film, Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, begins – for those last-minute munchies, natch. You can also visit the concession stand at the far end of the park till about 30 minutes into the film, or you can dash over to any number of nearby restos, cafes, or the always-a-long-lineup Tim Hortons at the corner of John and King.
I’ve raved about Toronto’s boom of outdoor cinemas before, from the Toronto Port Authority’s Sail-In Cinema (here and here) and the Open Roof Festival to Harbourfront Free Flicks and TIFF in the Park, among others, and Fresh Air Cinema has been part of many of those screenings. The company’s inflatable screens – a double-sided one is used for the Sail-In Cinema! – are quick to set up and quick to tear down. As soon as the film ended last night, the screen deflated in seconds and the magic of TIFF in the Park seemingly went with it.
So, cinephiles, you still have four more weeks of free films to watch at my favourite outdoor cinema! I’m sure the finalé, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, will draw the largest crowd of the summer. Be sure to get there early!
What: TIFF in the Park, the FREE outdoor summer film series presented by TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and the Entertainment District BIA. This summer’s theme is classic screwball comedies.
Where: TIFF in the Park takes place in David Pecaut Square, the lovely parkette nestled between Roy Thomson Hall and Metro Hall, near King and John.
When: Every Wednesday night all summer long. Start times vary (see below).
Schedule: There are still four more films screening this summer!
Aug. 8 at 9 p.m.: The Philadelphia Story (1940), Katharine Hepburn,
Cary Grant, James Stewart
Aug. 15 at 9 p.m.: What’s Up, Doc? (1972), Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal
Aug. 22 at 8:30 p.m.: The Lady Eve (1941), Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda
Aug. 29 at 8:30 p.m.: It Happened One Night (1934), Clark Gable,
Why: Who doesn’t enjoy spending a lovely balmy night under the stars, watching classic screwball comedies?
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It’s baaaack! The Toronto Port Authority’s Sail-In Cinema, Toronto’s most creative outdoor screening event, gracing the stretch of land – and water – beside Sugar Beach at Corus Quay, is back for its second year of nautical-themed movies screened under the stars and on the lake.
As I wrote last year, the Sail-In Cinema is one of my favourite outdoor screenings in the city. And that says a lot, since Toronto has enough FREE outdoor screenings for every night of the week and then some: take your pick, say, on Wednesdays between Harbourfront and TIFF in the Park, or on Sundays between the west-end’s Christie Pits Film Festival and the east-end’s Movies in the Park at Riverdale Park, or do Tuesday’s Cult Classics at Yonge-Dundas Square, Friday’s Movies Under the Stars at Downsview Park, or Saturday’s Backyard Cinema at Green Space on Church.
But it’s the unique aspect of this waterfront-friendly film series that makes it a big fish in a big pond, um, lake.
That’s because the inflatable double-sided screen (from Fresh Air Cinema) floats on Lake Ontario, so land lovers can watch from shore while those blessed with boats can sail up to the screen, tune into the audio via radio, and watch from the luxury of their deck! You read right! The Sail-In Cinema is special indeed!
Last year, the Friday night screening of Jaws was the huge draw (see photo above), with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Finding Nemo attracting a smaller (and younger) set.
This year, cinephiles have until tonight to cast their vote for the three flicks they want to catch this year. Jaws is leading the pack so far, but Creature from the Black Lagoon and Hook are close behind.
And really, who wouldn’t want to see Creature from the Black Lagoon while looking out onto the water, in the dark, under a blanket of stars? Cast your vote today!
And then visit the site from July 25th to request your free tickets!
[UPDATE: The 2012 Sail-In Cinema picks are below. Get your FREE tickets now!]
Thursday, Aug. 16: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Friday, Aug. 17: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Saturday, Aug. 18: Hook (1991)
One by one, these Canada geese cautiously stepped in front of my mom’s car tonight, as we were driving back to Toronto after a daytrip up at Lake Simcoe. We were slowly cruising when my brother noticed the flock grazing on the swath of grass on the right side of the road.
And so we stopped.
And then the first one inched forward, very tentatively followed by another and another. All the while, we were laughing at how the geese know how to cross so that they don’t get run over – and how drivers so willingly comply by patiently stopping as they do so.
We noticed that as cars approached, some of the geese in this flock flapped their wings and extended their necks, seeming larger and more imposing while drawing attention to themselves crossing as a group. They were fully aware of traffic and proceeded cautiously. It was a fascinating sight indeed.
And what, exactly, did these grazing birds do when they got to the other side of the road? Why, eat dinner, of course!
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Ahhh, summer in Toronto has arrived! And the heatwave of the past few days has finally subsided. Too bad the thunderstorms that brought tonight’s cooler climes (yes, these days 26°C is cool!) also brought the Open Roof Festival indoors – that is, not so open and def not outdoors.
But thanks to tonight’s looming deluge, Open Roof Festival organizers announced at 6 p.m. this evening that the opening-night outdoor screening ($15 per ticket; see schedule below) would be moved indoors. Conveniently, the building beside the lot houses a 250-person industrial event space, complete with a permanent screen, a wee stage and washrooms…. In. A. Brewery.
The Amsterdam Brewing Company, that is. Kicking off its third season tonight, the awesome outdoor summer-long music and film fest that is Open Roof is basically a weekly Thursday night party in the Amsterdam Brewing Company’s parking lot, which can hold more than 600 people (capacity is one of many reasons to wish for good weather).
But this empty parking lot, a sunken space ringed with grass and covered with gravel, is transformed as night falls and festival goers pour in, under the stars, with the CN Tower and illuminated downtown skyscrapers creating a beautiful backdrop.
Pretty cool, eh?
(The area does, in fact, get quite cool at night, since it’s a couple of blocks from the lake, so sweaters, jackets and the like are a must.)
Cooler still are the Canadian indie bands opening each of the summer-long festival’s 10 films (check out the list of both below). That’s right! Ticket holders enter at 7:30 p.m., just in time to catch the band at 8 p.m. as they perform on the ground right in front of the screen. How music-fest authentic, with bands within arm’s reach!
And what’s a music (and film) fest without cold beer and flavourful food? (I’m thinking about my beloved Hillside and its support of local food vendors varying from vegetarian to ethnic to meat lover to baked goods to organic ice cream!)
Given that Open Roof takes place on Amsterdam Brewing Company property, beer from Toronto’s first craft brewery abounds. Be aware that you must purchase drink tickets and can only consume alcohol bought on the microbrewery’s lot. As the brewery store will be open till 11 p.m., beer can be bought at the shop, but it cannot be brought onto the festival grounds, since no outside beverages or food are allowed. Absolutely no glass containers, either.
Pair your drinks (nonalcoholic beverages will be available, too) with the featured local food vendor suited to that movie’s theme. Hungry patrons at this week’s film, Marley, about Jamaican musician Bob Marley, were treated to Jamaican food. Yum!
And what really gets me excited about the fest is that Cycle Toronto (formerly known as the Toronto Cyclists Union) is offering free bike valet parking on site! Majorly handy, since there’s little bike parking at the brewery. Plus, it encourages cycling to the event. Heart.
Now, if you’re spending summer in the city, doesn’t the Open Roof Festival sound like a fun Thursday night out in Toronto? Live music, indie films, beer, food and bikes! I’m so there. Really. I’m a volunteer!
What: Open Roof Festival, a music and fest celebrating bands and films.
When: Thursdays all summer long (June 21 to Aug. 23, 2012). Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the band plays at 8 p.m. and the film screens at 9 p.m.
Cost: $15 per film. See TIP below about purchasing tickets.
Where: The Amsterdam Brewing Company parking lot. It’s a tad out of the way at 21 Bathurst Street, but still accessible by streetcar, bike and foot. The parking lot, BTW, won’t be used as a parking lot, so bike, walk or TTC it.
Bonus: There’s a free valet bike parking! Thanks, Cycle Toronto!
TIP: Don’t fret if tickets sell out in advance. Organizers limit preshow sales in case the film screens indoors, but they’ll still release tickets the day of.
Films + bands:
June 21 > Marley > performance by Friendlyness & the Human Rights
June 28 > Charles Bradley Soul of America > performance by Army Girls
July 5 > Fat Kid Rules The World > performance by The Magic
July 12 > China Heavyweight > performance by The Little Black Dress
July 19 > Herman’s House > performance by Stacey Bulmer
July 26 > Undefeated > performance by Run with the Kittens
August 2 > Hysteria > performance by Eucalyptus
August 9 > Indie Game > performance by Parlovr
August 16 > Moonrise Kingdom > performance by Dusted
August 23 > Beasts of the Southern Wild > performance by Bruce Peninsula
Think the outdoor cinema is the coolest? Read all about these other outdoor film screenings in Toronto:
TIFF’s Outdoor Cinema Takes Over David Pecaut Square
The Toronto Port Authority’s Cool Sail-in Cinema Makes Waves
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After spending an entire day flying from Toronto to Paris to Madrid and then bussing it 5 hours from Madrid to León, I was knackered on arrival, so relaxing my first night was a must. But my friend Leanne, whom I’d flown there to meet, had the brilliant idea of taking the bus 50 kilometres from León to Astorga, saving us a day of walking and giving me a day to get over my jetlag.
Now, believe me when I say I was keen on setting out on foot on Day 2, as I was determined to do the full 300 kilometres from León to Santiago de Compostela. But I also was wiped from the flights and bus ride, so I wasn’t about to fight Leanne about not walking outta León à pied.
Despite deeming it our lazy day, we still were in pilgrim mode, waking up at the crack of dawn. LESSON 2: Whether you want to or not, you’ll wake up before sunrise, when all the other pilgrims in your dorm stop snoring and start rustling their sleeping bags, getting dressed and chatting to their friends. If you’re blessed with super-awesome earplugs, you might block out the noise enough so you can sleep in till 7 or 7:30 a.m. But by 8 a.m., the albergue manager will flick the lights on and come barging through your dorm yelling “Buen Camino!” to signal it’s time you hit the road!
The lovely manager at the Albergue del Monasterio de las Benedictinas (Santa Maria de Carabajal) did that around 6 a.m.! By then, most of the 28-some people in my mixed dorm had fled to the trail, leaving me and Leanne behind to eat our humble breakfast of yogurt, milk and leftover snacks from my flights. It gave me time to snap pics of the convent entry, mainly the bin of walking sticks (an albergue entryway staple) and the heavy wood doors.
Day 2 being my first real Camino day, I couldn’t resist a shot of Leanne’s backpack, complete with requisite pilgrim’s shell featuring the cross of St. James. At the time, I was a tad jealous that I didn’t have that same shell, but it’s so ubiquitous on the Camino, it has a massmarket feel to it and I’m glad I waited to find the right shell for me.
And I just noticed now that there’s a yellow Camino arrow on the ground, pointing to the convent door (see photo above)! In fact, there are 2 arrows (see below), just to make sure pilgrims don’t walk right past the Nuns’ Hostel.
Not spotting the yellow arrows was something I did quite well those first few days on the Camino. You’d think, because they’re everywhere, it’s something you’d notice upon first glance. But it really does take some getting used to, the looking for the yellow arrows that direct you where to walk.
LESSON 3: The Camino is all about intuition. Whether it’s learning to spot the yellow arrows or understanding the trail so you know where to go even when there isn’t an arrow in sight, walking the Camino is about being in tune with your surroundings. It’s finding your own way of walking – how fast or slow your pace is, how often and when and where you take breaks (and why! it could be just to take in the views from a mountaintop!), which towns or villages you want to sleep in, where and what you want to eat.
There’s a common saying among pilgrims: everyone has their own way of walking.
Some people think pilgrims need to suffer a bit – painful blistered feet will attest to that. Others think that pilgrims walk for many reasons and each has their own way, and lest you judge the pilgrim who stays in fancy hotels or takes cabs or buses or has their bags shuttled from hostel to hostel.
When I started out, I didn’t think much about either camp. I was there to walk with a friend, experience a different culture and landscape, and take a pause from everyday life. So my first full day on the Camino was indeed a lazy day, and it began with a stroll from the convent to León’s famous cathedral.
Up until that morning, I hadn’t really thought of myself as a pilgrim, and even though I’d dined and shared a dorm with pilgrims, I hadn’t seen one (aside from Leanne) in full form. By 8 a.m., there were still some stragglers making their way through León, and so I had my first glimpse of pilgrims.
As we approached the cathedral, I spotted my first shells! There’s a pedestrian-only street in León that’s embedded with bronze shells, so pilgrims making their way to the cathedral walk over the pilgrims’ symbol.
The pedestrian street also features bronze pilgrims’ footprints surrounded by stone mosaics. I was sincerely stunned by the sublime sight of this footprint as I took my first steps as a pilgrim.
The cathedral was still closed when we got there, so we wandered a bit more, admiring the unusual street art by this stone archway.
I also saw my first giant stork, which I actually thought was art because it was sooo large! Those storks are everywhere on this stretch of the Camino, building their ginormous nests on church steeples. I honestly couldn’t stop taking pictures of each stork I saw – that’s how awed I was by their size.
And when we finally got back round to cathedral, I actually forgot to take pictures! I think I wasn’t quite clueing in to the age of the cathedral, but I was awestruck by the gothic architecture and 1,800-square metres of stained glass windows.
After poking around the cathedral, we had our third breakfast of the day. Our first was at the albergue, our second was on a bench beside the cathedral, when we were waiting for it to open, and our third was at a café. This habit of having multiple breakfasts is a Camino thing, as pilgrims start out so early and need lots of fuel, plus it’s always a treat to chill at a café.
But on our way to the café, we spotted this awesome bike share service. It’s funny, but I was more floored by the bikes than I was by the cathedral. I honestly don’t know much about the bike share program, except we found out from a gentleman there that it’s free and only for residents of that neighbourhood. Free bike share! We so need that in Toronto!
So much activity, and it was only about 10:30 a.m.! For a lazy day, we sure packed in a lot in the morning. After having our croissants and cafe con leche at a cafe, we headed to the bus station to catch a bus to Astorga. I sure appreciated the nap on the bus, and woke up ready to explore the city known for it’s Gaudi architecture as much as it is for its macarons: Astorga!
For that, you must read on!
And for more on my Camino, check out:
Leon, Spain: My First Steps on the Camino de Santiago
Camino Albergues: Where to Stay Between León and Ponferrada, Spain
The Way of the Lightweight Backpacker
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Happy belated May Day! Every May 1, or May Day, Morris dancers bring the spring celebration to the streets of Toronto, usually in front of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), as these delightful dancers did yesterday afternoon.
I came upon them as I was walking along Bloor Street, having just finished watching Nina Conti’s Her Master’s Voice at Hot Docs, an international documentary film fest I volunteer at. Crossing the street was a man with a big bass drum strapped to his chest, colourful streamers billowing from his body, and rows of brass bells decorating his shins (check him out below!). Bemused at the thought that hoards of oddly dressed one-man bands were congregating out front of the ROM, I continued on my way home, desperate to nap between films.
But when I spied a few more ribbon-bedecked people merrily marching their way along Bloor, I just had to ask one what was going on.
Morris dancers! They were Morris dancers! In truth, that meant nothing to me when she said it, as I’d no clue what Morris dancers are. After questioning a performer, I learned that Morris dancing is a traditional English folk dance based on stepping (that was obvious from watching them) and performed throughout the month of May. The dancers carry white handkerchiefs and wooden sticks in their hands and jingle bells (bell pads) on their legs as they step and hop about.
Dressed in torn strips of vibrantly hued fabric outfits called tatter jackets, these dancers were delightfully twirling around one another and whacking their sticks in time to the tunes played by their wee band: two drummers, two accordionists, an oboeist and even a girl skilled with an ugly stick (a traditional Newfoundland instrument made from an old mop handle, bottle caps and bells).
The colourful costumes really were a sight to behold and are historically based on the part of England the dancers are from. This one (below) looks like it’s made from recycled ties and shirts.
The dancers before the tatter-jacket-wearing group were still vibrantly hued, but a tad more subdued in traditional green vests or crossed baldrics (shoulder belts), crisp white shirts and black pants. They too were dancing up a storm with the wooden sticks, white kerchiefs and jingley bells!
Their dances were much more like the stepping I’m familiar with, with the dancers aligned in rows and performing in pairs.
It was such a fun and fabulous sight to come across, seemingly random but not random at all. In fact, various groups of Morris dancers can be spotted performing all around Toronto in spring and fall, particularly on May Day (as seen here) and on Labour Day. They practice year-round for these performances, which are akin to flashmobs, given that they came together unannounced and performed for about half an hour before just as promptly dispersing.
Abd when they were done dancing, traces of them walking in front of the Crystal was all that was left of them.
I’m going to keep an eye out for these mischievous musicians and dancers over the next few months. What a wonderful way to start the merry month of May (my birthday month, of course)!
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Out bike riding the other day, I came upon this mural featuring the final words of the Honourable Jack Layton’s letter to Canadians, written just hours before the leader of the New Democratic Party and Official Opposition passed away of cancer last summer. The mural wraps around part of a Toronto playground tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood not far from the bustle of Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue.
The mural’s colourful figures – each tagged with the name of what is presumably a student at the grade school – are simple and playful. Recalling artist Keith Haring’s style of painting, the bold, active figures convey a sense of unity, embodying the loving, hopeful and optimistic spirit that Layton called for in his letter:
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
Jack Layton’s final words are words to live by and continue to inspire all Canadians today. When I saw this mural, I almost walked by without noticing the quote, but when I recognized it, I sat down and just paused, soaking in the vision of this community of children full of love, hope and optimism, working and playing together to create a better Canada and a better world.
And I wanted to cry.
Because I do believe that’s possible. And the act of filling a public playground with such an optimistic quote truly was inspiring.