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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Slipping through the spectacle

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People in Toronto like to drag their parties out onto the streets. It gives the rest of us a chance to sneak in and crash them, or participate, or just watch.

One summer evening I was walking through Seaton Village and passed through the Olive Street Block Party. Residents had brought their kitchen tables out and were all sitting there, in the street, eating and drinking wine. There were little tables for the children, and a couple of long tables where the neighbourhood potluck dishes were sitting. I felt like I was passing through their dining rooms.

Recently I walked through another block party, this time on one of the streets to the east of Withrow Park. Sort of the same idea, but there was more activity. In contrast to Olive Street's civilized discourse, the Riverdale party was full of screaming children (maybe they were playing, I couldn't tell) and a father and son fighting on a front lawn with what looked like real swords. Maybe they were still angry about the Withrow Park dog poisonings.

When Greece won the Euro 2004 championship this past summer I took off on foot for the Danforth at around 9pm. There had been a big rainstorm that day, and a 100-metre stretch of the Prince Edward Viaduct's curb lane was flooded. Pedestrians had to time their walk in between sets of westbound cars to avoid being splashed. I miscalculated and a honking car with Greek flags nailed me with a tidal wave of water.

The Danforth itself was closed to traffic and packed with people. Around the Chester and Logan area the street was so clogged that it was difficult to walk more than three steps in a straight line. Greek boys were sticking roman candles in planters, lighting them, and running away as flaming balls shot into the crowd.

As I was walking along watching all this, a guy next to me bit into his sausage and a stream of hot pork juice squirted out of it and onto me. Later, in the bathroom of Tim Hortons, a cop spilled his coffee on me. I was wet, dirty and mad at Greece so I left and walked back home to Dupont Street.

The night Canada won the World Cup of Hockey I thought I would make my way over to Yonge Street to see what was going on. First, I passed in front of Holt Renfrew on Bloor where the Vanity Fair film festival party was taking place. The entire building was covered, Christo-like, in a weird pink material with the word "Vinyl" printed on the side. I guess it was an allusion to DJ Culture. Most DJs I've seen don't dress in hot pink though.

They had closed off Bloor and the crowd of stargazers was 10 deep in places. A massive LED television hung from a crane out front, allowing those of us behind the riot fence to see the magic happening inside. Wyclef Jean was performing. I only found that out later: at the time I thought it was a bad Jimmy Cliff cover-band fit only for sad weddings. Also visible on the TV were terrible women in leather pants dancing with their arms over their heads.

Outside, people were being dropped off on the red carpet. The stars and the sycophants and the moneyed nobodies don't use limos anymore, but rather giant black Cadillac Escalades. I never understood the allure of the limo anyway. People don't look very comfortable in them. Photographs of stars sitting low in their seats always look awkward and not terribly sexy. Except for maybe Bryan Ferry — he can pull it off.

Walking the hundred metres over to Yonge was like crossing the River Styx. YSL suits gave way to hockey jerseys. Yonge Street was gridlocked: cars packed mostly with guys crawled along and honked their horns. The police walked down the middle of the street checking for alcohol. Flags were everywhere. Topless women with big cans of Heineken ran down Yonge, followed by packs of Roots-clad frat boys. The women would pose, again with arms in the air, for cameras and camcorders. It was nice of them; it preempted having to hear "show us your tits" over and over.

It got louder as I moved closer to Dundas Square. At 506 Yonge the little guy who runs the Truly Canadian Discount Store was on the floor frantically sorting through a massive pile of flags. Out on the street there was a South Asian family in a minivan crawling along with both sliding doors open. It looked like the entire family — mom, dad, aunt, and untold number of kids — had piled into the van. The driver, the dad, was honking the horn. The kids were waving Canadian flags. Two of the young boys were following the lead of the Roots Army by getting out of the van to kick garbage cans and newspaper boxes along the way. It is good to see our traditions passed on down the generations.

Dundas Square itself was a frothy mix of Canadian youth, the police, and me. I sat down on those big stone benches by the Hard Rock Café to watch. The fountains were working, and some of the boys would push their mini-skirted girlfriends into the water, causing the skirts (and cheers) to go up. Some of the boys would also wrestle each other into the fountains, while others would squat over the nozzles and give themselves public enemas. A big fella standing next to me with a Canada pennant said, "If I could do cartwheels I would."