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Urban gadfly

Have you read a poem lately?

By April 28, 2017 Books, Performance, Urban gadfly

April is National Poetry Month.
We almost missed it, didn’t we? There are so many distractions in this fine city. Last night I was at Hot Docs 2017, with Last Men in Aleppo. There are two more screenings of this. Highly recommended. I cannot think of anything else this morning.

Thank goodness for Henry, a clever boy I love, who gave me one of my most favourite gifts ever last year: a collection of his own poetry.

Meet the under ten set’s new poet laureate.

Hooray for Henry, you’re our Friday inspiration.

For more on poetry…

from a year ago:

The profane and the sublime

While you wait, make eggs. Read poetry.

from two years ago:

Whale breath

from three years ago:

Unclogging the air

from four years ago:

Pack a rock

from five years ago:

We were all children once

Happy weekend.

PS. The Handmaid’s Tale begins this Sunday on Bravo!


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Mango Crisp

By March 27, 2017 Recipes, Urban gadfly

I love weekend brunch. It’s my favourite meal to host, but so too is sitting down to a latte bowl made by someone else at a tiny gem in your own city. Hitting the Toronto brunch scene used to be a rare thing for us. You try hauling teenagers out of bed on a weekend morning, let alone waiting for them to get dressed and ready for a family outing. Now the Friendly Greek and I play tourist in our own town and smile as we ask “table for two, please.” Read More

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Chutzpah is a good winter diet

By February 2, 2017 Film, Performance, Urban gadfly

It’s been a hell of a week out there. Reading and absorbing news is deadly. For now, a prescription of sorts:

Make coffee. Take dog for walk. Note the sunlight on the scant snow.  Try to work. Try to remember that work is meaning. Seek out seeds of growth and creative bursts that colour a black sky. Find them in art, in fiction, on the screen and stage. A million stories to reframe the day as one to embrace instead of despair.  Read More

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Service please, after you rest.

By November 10, 2015 Urban gadfly

Restaurants open past last call are crucial to foodie cities. Shift workers rely on them, as do university students, theatre hounds, tourists with jet lag.   Our on last visit to NYC, we arrived late due to delays and traffic, and dumped our bags and headed straight for the Blue Ribbon, first discovered over a decade ago after a chef pointed us there: It’s where we go after we finish our shifts, he told us. We’ve been going back ever since, often in the wee hours. There may be better paella or fried chicken and collards. I haven’t found any place yet in NYC I like as much.

Here in Toronto, late night diners just lost one option from one of our best. Beginning this week, Bar Isabel is closing at midnight through the week to give their staff a rest.

What? Quality of life?  In the restaurant world?

If it comes from this guy, I’d say we’re on to something.

courtesy Toronto Life

courtesy Toronto Life

The man’s sense of what Toronto craves has been impeccable. His food manages to fit the moment and the city with perfect accord.

-Stephen Marche, Toronto Life.

Meanwhile, another hot Toronto dining talent is also making waves for his consideration of staff. Hemant Bhagwani is ditching tipping to give staff more wages and let them share profits in his company. The chef and owner of the Amaya chain of restaurants will instead charge a 12 per cent administrative fee on every bill at his newly opened Indian Street Food Company on Bayview in Leaside.

I’ve always felt the dishwasher in the restaurant works the hardest and gets the lowest money. I want them to feel a part of the restaurant. It’s theirs as much as it is mine. That was key for me.

-Hemant Bhagwani

Retaining excellent staff is clearly important to both men, a consideration surely on the mind of Danny Meyer of the Union Square Hospitality Group south of the border. This month, Meyer will begin a roll-out to eliminate tips at all of the group’s full service spots.  Meyer would like to see his country switch to a European-style all inclusive system.

To him, “hospitality” includes more than service. Meyer considers the front of house staff — the servers, bartenders, and runners who directly interact with diners — to be the diplomats in a much larger body politic. These emissaries are the face of an entire group of individuals providing hospitality, one that includes every member of the restaurant’s staff, from dishwashers to expediters to hosts. To him, “Hospitality included” means this won’t be a semantic game where a tip is just called by another name, and still goes only to the service staff’s bottom line — it means every individual employed by the restaurant benefits.

-Ryan Sutton,


Higher prices are inevitable as money has to come from somewhere. Will diners be scared off? What about workers used to tips? Meyer is behind two of my favourite spots in Manhattan: The Modern and Gramercy Tavern. Both excel in service, or so has been my experience.

For this amateur cook, service is everything. Good food and shiny decor mean little without some shred of courtesy. Neither was evident on a recent outing to the famed tea room at the Windsor Arms in Toronto.

We had booked a reservation earlier in the week for “Twilight Tea” online through Open Table. A harried hostess in the lobby couldn’t find our reservation or an apology. A wedding reception was underway, and there was little sense of anything but guests milling about in a cocktail cacophony. Eventually we were ushered into the back room where a table was hastily set. There was no one else around.

A server named Cindy arrived and took our tea order then returned to advise us that our food would take some time.  She was sweet enough; it’s not her fault things were off. Piped-in music featured a noisy blast of incongruent classics. Behind us, a group of girls shuffled into the room from the bar-they were hoping to get a group selfie. Forty five minutes later, we had our tea sandwiches and those infamous scones.


By then we had sipped enough tea. My daughter ventured out to the ladies room and overhead the hostess whining about the drama queens in the tea room. Back at the table in our corner,  we laughed it off and considered air conducting along to the William Tell overture. It was Saturday after all. We had each other and time off to play. Raspberry jam and scones are hardly incentives to weep.



The Windsor Arms is still a lovely place but they might want to take a note from the other tea services offered in town: scones will only get you so far and weary staff are likely looking for an exit. There are eateries who care about their staff and the service they provide. Options abound. For them…and for us.

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Ok. Blue Jays. We. Had. Fun.

By October 27, 2015 Life, Urban gadfly

What’s with the hat? Since when are you a baseball fan?


No surprise moves in middle age?

Go back to your cave, whiner.

Today is Blue Jays Appreciation Day, says Toronto Mayor John Tory.


I remember another such day a few decades ago, before a baseball strike wearied and wore down this fangirl.


I was a newlywed. A very attractive Joe Carter lived in our tower at the foot of Yonge Street. As incongruous as those two statements appear, it was a trippy time. I considered sending in stories of my meetings in elevators with Joe to magazines, you know the ones your male buddies said they read just for the articles inside; except we weren’t fated to meet, but for a chance sighting in the front driveway.  Also considered was a dash after his sleek vehicle, shouting Hey neighbour! A dominant klutz gene prevented me from any impropriety.

Ah, newlywed bliss.



We took our girls to the games then, before ballet lessons, basketball tournaments, and other teenage pursuits crowded the calendar.


And then we forgot about the game. Other games prevailed. Soccer, soccer, and did I say soccer?



So was it mere nostalgia for those years that had me glued to every game in this recent heart-stopping pennant race?

Hell, no. We just needed to cheer about something.  A federal election had exhausted the nation-this writer too. We needed to gather at the national hearth.


What’s that? There isn’t one?

Oh yes there is.


Watching the Jays games, sharing the excitement with neighbours, friends and strangers on the subway made us shed our Pod People postures. We became a village again.
I’ll leave the game details to the sports writers who show off their romantic sides during baseball playoffs.

Thanks for the ride. We had a blast.





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Winged words

By October 20, 2015 Urban gadfly

The morning after: there are the bags under my eyes, bigger than the weekly garbage hauled out to the curb. Add them to the new map on my face of every joy, every crushing defeat, etched in new and bewildering patterns on my face. There is also this little thing of knowing. Suddenly knowing a thing or two.  Is this what they call wisdom?

Aging means being surprised less-you’ve been there, done that, seen that, ready for the rock and the roll, and yet, when real surprises do come around, the effect is dazzling.

I didn’t make history tonight. You did.

We did it. We embraced change. Nobody really likes change.  We all say we want to clean out the wardrobe but then we buy the same sweater on our first outing.  Poor Justin, prince of collegial politicking , will soon discover that once he’s PM.

But let’s go back to last night. I’m stuck on it, enjoying those gorgeous gooey Big Statements stuffed into Justin Trudeau’s speech last night.

Words have wings so speak good things, says the button on my office board.

We know Pierre taught his son the weight of words in their house of books (I come from one of those, albeit one less celebrated and thankfully far from the public eye).

“He spent the last summers of his father’s life reading the dying man’s favourite plays to him-Shakespeare, Racine, Corneille, writers who saw by the light of the mind.”

-Ian Brown, In search of the real Justin Trudeau

As a literature major at McGill ( my turf but there was no Justin pretty boys in my vintage, just one Friendly Greek), the young Justin mucked about with words aplenty. His friends usually respond what most people don’t know about him is how much he reads, or how he can recite poetry in any given situation.

“A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream, it can be a powerful force for change.”

None of this makes a good leader necessarily.  It does mean he understands a fundamental human need.

Maya Angelou knew it. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what they did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

We were made to feel special by the Trudeau campaign and in his victory speech last night: our “better angels” felt soothed. Stephen Harper either forgot this essential rule, or he didn’t care. The first thing out of his mouth in his concession speech last night: he came into politics because he believed hard-working Canadians should keep more of the money they earn because government should manage money the way people manage their own.  Really? You want to go out talking about our wallets?  Before he left office, Harper and his campaign team spent $25 million on attack ads.  As it turns out, Canadians wanted a different script, free of divisive sideshows. Those attacks stoked our shadow sides. Icky. Harper may have been a clever politician yet his words and wedge issues have wounded the Canadian soul.

The confinements ahead for our new PM are considerable. Special interests. Competing agendas. Hidden undermining. An ambitious newly-elected group who need direction and steady leadership. None will be won over by tone alone.

It’s a harsh world. Diplomacy is about tone.

Tone matters. Words matter.

Let’s sit and enjoy them awhile.

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Cheer for the dreamers

By October 19, 2015 Urban gadfly

They’re everywhere.  A little breathless, apple-cheeked, stacks in hand.  Street to street, neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

Volunteers getting the vote out. Every single one counts today.

I want to roll down my window as I drive by and cheer for them.

Cheer for the hope in their gait.

Cheer for the heart that pumps bigger and better.

Cheer for the faith in systems, in the wheel turning in the right direction.

Cheering is better than griping.



Advance poll results indicate a huge increase in voting. This thrills me. We are not deadened pod people after all.

Today is a day for the dreamers.

Put away your faded flags.

It’s a good day to be Canadian.


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Cheeky public art

By May 19, 2015 Urban gadfly

The Olympics of art, the 56th Venice Biennale, opened this month. Always provocative, this century old festival is the most prestigious contemporary art celebration in the world. Eighty five invited nations take part by unveiling works in pavilions and exhibition spaces around the city. Canada’s presentation, in the Giardini di Castello, comes from the artist-collective BGL of Quebec City, who turned the tiny Canadian pavilion into a dépanneur (corner store for the rest of Canada), a wink to the working artist’s need for a sideline to survive.


It felt more reminiscent of Saturday-night lineups on the night’s last cigarette run than your average wander-in corner-store experience. But then again, nothing is average in Venice. Half cheeseball amusement park, half natural splendour, the city is a befitting location for this work, which is so thoroughly and distractingly amusing while, at its essence, making a biting statement about the moneyed art scene it serves.

-Canadian Art

Forgot to buy your ticket to Venice? Me too.

We can console ourselves with Outings, also an international initiative, but one that involves “freeing” anonymous figures from historical art to street art. Now appearing in more than a dozen cities around the world, these works, from digital prints pasted with transparent wallpaper glue, are meant to bring art to neglected corners of cities. Anyone can participate so get busy. Here’s how.


San Francisco artist George Zisiadis designs for the streets too. His latest, “Bench Go Round” re-imagines boring city benches to create real connection and play between strangers. I vote for these to dot all our Toronto streets and send cell phones flying to the curb.

Here in Toronto, a giant photographic mural has been installed at the waterfront that transforms a dull city block into a stunning image. Canadian artist Sarah Anne Johnson used both photography and painting to create Best Beach, mounted on the west side of the Westin Harbour Castle at the foot of Bay Street.This brilliant initiative, on view for the next two years, comes thanks to lead sponsor, Partners in Art, who teamed up with StreetARTToronto and the Contact Photography Festival.  Kudos to all. More please.



Not inspired yet? Try making your own spectacular mural in this Toronto funhouse.

Grab some chalk. The sidewalks are waiting.



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I see the world in your eyes

By May 1, 2015 Urban gadfly

What are you doing this weekend?

I am planning to make eye contact with my other half.

Read More

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Craft show gems

By April 7, 2015 Urban gadfly

I know they offer a service of convenience to many but living in a city affords me the luxury of avoiding huge shopping malls. I feel trapped and get irritable-and that’s just from the parking alone, before I’ve stepped into the place.  If I need something, I’ll find it quickly and make a swift escape. Shopping is not leisure for me-there is a WHOLE WIDE WORLD OUT THERE OF THINGS TO SEE AND DO. But for excursions with my girls, I would avoid it altogether, kitchen stores notwithstanding.
I’ll make an exception though for the giant craft fairs held every year in Toronto. Inspiration is in the bones of the One of Kind Craft Show and who doesn’t need a jolt of that? Read More

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