You know you're in city of wusses when the line up at Starbucks, trading their Wilfred Laurier banknotes* in exchange for their Very Berry Hibiscus Refreshers are collectively whining on a breezy 35 degree sun-kissed day that... "Whaaa! It's sooooo Hot!"
Oh sister, cry me a spilt Mocha Frappucino.
Quick segue. Can you believe that the photo above is one of the latest gag-gifts available for the low price of $9.32? That 'frappucino' is solid resin! Guaranteed laughs with every bottle!
For Canadians, talking about the weather is a national collective trait. Whether by nature or nurture, or perhaps living in the shadow of our
obnoxious loud Uncle Sam, Canucks are raised with the obligatory expectation to be unerringly polite. This means making small talk in line ups, usually about the weather.
Geographically speaking this shouldn't come as a big surprise. Canada has four distinct Seasons that swing in a pendulum of extremes. Compared to equatorial parts of the world where the hours of sunlight, the temperature of the air, and the overall appearance of the natural landscape can remain fairly constant, living in Canada necessitates the requirement to live like a chameleon, and quickly adapt to a constantly changing climate and landscape.
If Canadians reflected on the diversity of our weather, rather than complain about its extremes, I think the consensus would be unequivocal gratitude for the privilege of living amidst the magic of four seasons. After all, the life of a Canadian is intrinsically linked to our Canadian climate, where each season is accompanied by its very own traditions and rituals unique to that time of year. Where we go, what we wear, and how we do it is inherently dependent on the 'when' and its weather. Autumn isn't Autumn without having to open your closet, reunite with your favourite
fleece cashmere sweater, and stroll under a canopy of Maple Trees ablaze in their symphony of changing colours. Winter, in a perfect Kodak moment, is drinking your hot chocolate without spilling it on your white down-filled parka while skating on an outdoor ice rink in the arms of a lover. Spring is believing you can sit in your shorts on an outdoor patio just because you can finally smell the earth thawing and see a handful of crocuses straining to bud and bloom. And then there's Summer where, in Toronto, the sun doesn't set for upwards of 15 hours since rising, the temperature can climb to 40C degrees, and everyone lives life outdoors as much as humanly possible.
I love all the things I can do in Summer. But my favourites are the ones I do repeatedly year after year which prompt me to stop, take a reflective moment, and quietly acknowledge that this is one of the perfect 78.89** Summers I will enjoy.
For me, the passage of Summer includes several distinctly Canadian rituals, many which are celebrated in Canadian beer commercials. My favourite classic, as I'm sure it is for many Canucks, is sitting on a lake dock at sunset where the water has become very still, the landscape soft and serene when, in the distance, you hear the cry of a loon. I consider this a sacred moment.
In downtown Toronto, summer living is far from tranquil, especially at night when the city oscillates at a frequency much higher than other times of the year. Torontonians, acutely aware that a cooler season looms only weeks away, let the heat of our hot summer days fuel our night time forays. The main streets become a circus of bumper to bumper bass-thumping cars and honking cabs. The sidewalks are a fashion parade of stiletto heels and little black dresses amidst a sea of flip flop spectators. Every restaurant, cafe and club has its street facade open and patio crammed, where the grease from the fryer, the stench of the beer keg, and the reek of cigarettes make their olfactory assaults on passersby. With every speaker cranked, prompting everyone to shriek, we literally fire on the cylinders of all five senses.
I have a special fondness for the daily rituals of summer that I rarely think about, until three seasons have passed and they return like an old familiar friend. One of these includes my love/hate relationship with the tinny tune that emits from the speakers of those battered and dented ice cream trucks that roam the city side streets in search of innocent children still sporting all their teeth eager to spend their allowance. The 'music', if one can call a 15-second barrage of grating nursery sounding notes, plays on an endless loop of stop and go gas fumes blaring in a cacophonic shrill which bounces off the buildings in an echoing din. By the end of the season you might see me running inside, cowering in a corner rocking back and forth with my ears covered begging the universe to make it stop. Eventually it does. And come the next summer I instinctively smile when I hear it, thinking "Aw, summer is now here", oblivious to the fact that within twelve weeks I will once again be demented.
Another of summer's small daily rituals is smelling the delicious scent of the waffle cone. Living in Little Italy, all summer long my nose will dance as I stroll past the six gelato and ice cream parlours that line the six blocks of my College Street neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the elixir of the waffle cone is frequently accompanied by a dollop of envy and a large serving of the bittersweet. Out front of any one of these shops I'll inevitably encounter any number of multi-generational families commandeering the sidewalk with the unwitting precision of a military blockade. Licking their three scoop waffle cones with the glazed eyes and goofy smiles associated with sugary bliss, they remain catatonically oblivious to those of us struggling home after a long day of work and a Tic Tac lunch. Carrying my grocery bags laden with low-fat yogurt, rice cakes and carrot sticks, I grit my teeth and curl my lips into the best fake smile I can muster, while squeezing between the parking meters and the delights of their saccharine joy.
I reek with envy.
I wonder if they can smell it?
At least once each Summer I launch my own missile of summer liberation in homage to my youth. If I can stay awake, I still adore the heady intoxication that accompanies leaving a night club in the wee hours of the morning, spilling onto the street with my laughing gaggle of friends free from the blistering heat of a thousand disco spotlights, a thundering bass, and the sweat of too many beautiful people who have chosen to ignore me. In the moments that follow I relish how the hot night air feels cool on my skin, cherish how the crush of a pulsing crowd has been replaced by the camaraderie of friends, while blissfully savouring my charred-to-order veggie dog on a toasted bun with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. The poignancy of this ritual doesn't announce itself when I'm in the company of others, but later. Arriving home alone, but not lonely, surrounded by a solitude that accompanies the stillness of the hour and a blanket of morning dew, I hear it and smile. It is the sound of the day's first birdsong. For me it is a perfect summer tradition.
Another magical more family-friendly Toronto summer ritual I adore is the Canadian Stage production of William Shakespeare’s classic comedy "A Midsummer Night’s Dream', performed under the stars for the past 30 years in Toronto's bucolic High Park. High Park, located west of the downtown core, is a mixed recreational and natural park, with sporting facilities, cultural facilities, educational facilities, gardens, playgrounds and, unless funding runs out, a zoo. One third of the park remains in a natural state, with a rare oak savannah ecology. Opened to the public in 1876, it is the largest park entirely within the city, bordered by the neighbourhoods of Roncesvalles Village, High Park, Bloor West Village and Swansea.
I relish this 'pay-as-you-can' annual event. Set in a natural ravine deep in the park away from the lights and sounds of the city, the outdoor amphitheatre of stone benches (bring your blanket!) is surrounded by a copse of trees.
As the evening transitions to night, the bird song, crickets and cicadas become nature's ethereal acoustic accompaniment to the eloquence of Shakespeare's words. Under a blanket of stars one is literally transported into the mystery and enchantment of 'The Midsummer Night's Dream'. Although the production starts at 8pm, on a warm clear summer night the seats can fill up fast. I recommend arriving at 7pm or earlier with a comfy soft blanket, a picnic of nibblies, and a generous flask of crisp white wine. Click the image below for more details. This year the production runs until September 2nd.
Incidentally, if you lived HERE, you could stroll to this production, and the rest of High Park's 400 acres, every Summer at your whim. Wouldn't that be amazing?
Wishing you a splendid Summer!
* for those of you who are uninitiated or unobservant, a Wilfred Laurier is a $5 Canadian bill
** based on the 2012 life expectancy of a Canadian male