Mutating city of immigrants


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Category: Travel Date: 25 Aug 02


Cozy in pajamas and a blanket wrapped around for extra warmth (it is 4įC tonight), I am looking out from my hotel window at a Canadian sky as I write this.  The moon, tonight in Vancouver a dramatic globe of dull gold, is a spotlight in a wide expanse of black. An occasional, lonely roar of a vehicle breaks the silence that also, if silence had a shape, is wide, huge.


Toronto where our perambulations began was muggy, hotter than Trinidad.  The risk of driving on the wrong side of the road was doubled make that trebled as cyclists jostled for space and my husband made it clear they were trying to run him over and furthermore, felt it necessary to drive with one eye on a map (since it universally goes against a mysterious male honour system to ask for directions).  The children to whom the city was fresh and new perked up at the sight of Torontoís CN Tower, and despite my attempts to distract my daughter with the information that it was the highest building in the world, she spent the rest of the trip asking every tour guide since her parents were clearly deficient in this knowledge if it was the thinnest.  To her gratification, everybody said it was a good question from an eight year old, but they still couldnít give her an accurate answer.


The endlessly fascinating curiosity in Toronto, as it is for major cities in North America and Europe, is not its skyline but its amoeba-like mutating history of immigration.  There is a story behind every face, a collective history, a subculture, the clash and mesh of world cultures, of older immigrants and their Canadian offspring, of pop and subculture, of hybrid identities manifested in the blonde ponytail on an oriental face, or a long queue of the descendants of European settlers for Sunday Dim Sum in Chinatown.


It is impossible for the visitor to guess at the nuances of the lives of people looking like they could be in any exotic part of the world hurrying to work, sauntering with strollers, stepping out of a Mercedes, walking arm in arm, in falling-down pants or smart suits, animated teenagers in groups.  Their lives are endlessly interesting to speculate over, because there are so few assumptions you can make about immigrant communities, so much to learn.


Toronto isnít an incredibly exciting city, as our Canadian friends told us self-effacingly over dinner one endless sunset night, where the sun cast its glow on us till 9 or 10 oíclock and a refreshing chill took over the days heat, isnít particularly cutting edge, but itís comfortable.  The politics is uneventful (apart from a little hiccup over a prime minister who recently tussled for and barely won leadership over his own party) and we were told jokingly - change the names of the premier every 20 years, and the rest remains the same.


The economy hasnít suffered terribly from the effects of September 11, primarily because its major companies are resource based (oil, lumber).  Health care is comprehensive always a key indicator to a successful country, and a high percentage of their high school graduates go on to university (another key indicator).


We got the impression that although they are friendly laid-back people, Canadians, living as they do under the shadow of the US, are wary of control and manipulation by politicians and multi-national companies.  As a result, they have a highly developed sense of social justice, their power as a people and their rights.


This doesnít mean we were spared the human element of error, ignorance and greed here either, the usual frustrations, booking a car company that never showed up, blocked international phone lines, over charging hoteliers, a woman who couldnít believe I learned to speak English in India.


Driving around allowed us a less myopic glimpse at the city, so we saw not simply its smart shopping areas, its handsome brick-red colonial buildings, and museums, parks and squares, club and theaters, but also its dreary, wide-spread suburbs, wretched and squalid immigrant areas where people havenít had a chance to catch themselves yet.


But walking out late one night in the unending summer twilight to the 7/11 convenience shop for some fruit and water with my children in tow, as people roller-skated their shopping home and biked by, as I looked up to see peopleís window boxes filled with colourful summer flowers, I realized my overwhelming feeling was not excitement of holidaying in another country, but that of a quiet safety on the streets.


That sense of safety alone and that, too, in a city at night, granted me a moment of beauty, the streetlamps appeared to turn the leaves of tall trees into halos of gold.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur