| Letter From Toronto
July 13, 2005
Thoughts from north of the border
Once upon a time, when I was younger, I lived for a brief
and happy time in Toronto. With my college roommate, Ron,
I had an apartment here and with the help of him and his fiancés
friends, I had quite a nice little life in Toronto. For the
better part of six months it was home base. It has always
had a warm spot in my heart since then.
This week I am back here. It is the beginning of the Where
in the world is Mat? game that will be played out over
the next eight weeks.
I have only been here twice now, since Ive been an
adult. I have often wondered about that as I seemed
to studiously avoid a city I had loved. I realize now that
it was because it was a siren song and that easily I could
have moved here; being here has always made me want to be
When I was in my early twenties, I decided at some point
I was an American. I avoided Toronto because it was the greatest
temptation I had to not be an American. It is a civilized
city; not perfect but good. It is in some ways more cosmopolitan
than even New York it has wonderful neighborhoods of
ethnic singularity. Last night the hotel was filled with a
fascinating group of Canadian citizens of Indian extraction
sorting out their lives in the hotels meeting rooms.
It was the place where I first experienced what it meant
to not be in America, though I had already once been in Central
America. Somehow being here was different. It was a western
but different culture. Radio and television were in English
and French as well as in other languages.
I learned to drink tea here and understood from my time in
Toronto that the world is a very big place.
My soul has always been filled with wanderlust, for as long
as I remember. It was fine for other folks to stay in Minneapolis
and there was a part of me that wanted to but I couldnt.
To stay would have denied some part of myself that was as
necessary to me as the air I breathe. Luckily, events in my
life pushed me out into the world and sometimes I have been
happiest out here on the road, learning about new cities,
new places, attempting to see places as they are not
as I might wish them to be.
It also, now, makes me appreciate what I have even more
the little house on the creek in Claverack, which is the place
we have owned the longest. Moving about, I have bought and
sold home after home and now I suspect Im finished with
that. Claverack is home; the point from which all roads will
lead and return.
Toronto is still a siren song. Being here, even for a few
days of doing business, makes me hunger to be here more.
I like the Canadian spirit and their civilized civility.
This is the fifth largest city on the continent after Mexico
City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Only since Guiliani
has New York regained its basic sense of civility. Chicago
has it because it is Mid-Western. Mexico City I shall learn
about next week.
Toronto, interestingly, strikes me as the most integrated
of cities to which I have been. It, like most of Canada, takes
things in stride and moves on. It embraces everything from
a variety of cultures to gay marriage and works to make not
too big a deal of any of it. It is a city that wants to show
the world how to get along.
I am here in Toronto in the wake of the bombings in Britain,
an event that strikes them very deeply as this country and
this city is more deeply tied to London and England than we
are, connected by the experience of having been part of the
Empire, of long having been a colony of Britain, still connected.
Elizabeth IIs face graces their currency and many Canadians
have spent time living in England. So they are deeply engaged
in the London bombings.
Their newspapers are publicly wrestling with the concept
that this country may too become a terrorist target; it may
not, in this new world and this new war, matter that this
country was not on the ground in Iraq and disapproved of the
invasion. It may only matter that this is a western country
and that being a city and a country that wants to show the
world how to get along may be an affront to the terrorists,
enough of a one to make an non-combatant an unwilling victim.