It’s funny to see anything you know well through the eyes of someone else. I say this because I recently had the opportunity to look at Toronto through the eyes of a tourist. Two of them, actually.
A few weeks back, I recommitted myself to being a part of Couchsurfing.org, which I’d been involved in most heavily in 2006 and 2007. This past weekend I hosted my first ‘surfers in quite a while: Dana and Maria from Columbus, Ohio.
Maria had been to Canada (Montréal), but not Toronto. Dana hadn’t been anywhere in Canada. They came up this past weekend to celebrate Dana’s birthday, and I put them up largely because it’s tough finding a surf spot for more than one person. Also, Dana (whom I interacted with on the site) seemed cool.
Turns out they were both cool IRL — generous, funny, interesting, and spirited. Our Friday night consisted of Dana’s birthday dinner at Zocalo (my favourite restaurant in Toronto), drinks at Bar Neon, and then drinks and revelry back here with the assistance of my downstairs neighbour, their beer, and their dog Oliver.
Saturday was mostly theirs (Lauren and I hit up the last a la carte dinner service at Keriwa — her Instagram shot is pictured above), but we reconvened with enough time for me to join the last few moments of their pizza dinner at Pizzeria Libretto, and then introduce them to Crooked Star (and the Caesar, which I dubbed “The National Drink of Canada”), and then the Three Speed. Sunday morning we brunched at Three Speed and then they were on their way.
The whole time they were here, and I was with them, I felt as though I was an ambassador of Toronto, as if it were incumbent upon me to talk up the city, to sell it as a destination and a locale. Which I did. And in so doing, it turned out that I too got a greater appreciation of Toronto as a place worth visiting. And, more to the point, worth living in.
Over coffee today, my friend Jess and I discussed how most of the population of the world lives in conditions that are, well, less than ideal — from abject third-world poverty to, like, abject living-in-Cincinnati. Toronto is not and will never be one of these places, no matter how awful Mayor Ford is, how expensive parking is, how douchey Liberty Village is, or how frustrating the TTC can sometimes be. This crystallized this past weekend. I looked at the 416 as a place I had to big-up, and I found that quite easy.
When you look at Toronto objectively, we’ve an embarrassment of riches — and richness — here. It’s an excellent place. It’s (mostly) safe, pretty damn clean, and undeniably culturally rich and relevant. The food scene is remarkable even if our sports teams suck the bag. People mostly get along regardless of race, class, creed, religion, or whatever. It’s a hell of a place, to be honest, and I wonder how many of us Torontonians really take pause to reflect on that fact.
I know I wouldn’t have were it not for Dana and Maria. They offered me copious amounts of thanks for my hospitality this weekend, but as it turns out, it’s me that needs to thank them. I need to thank them for reintroducing me to my hometown. And despite the fact that I often (honestly) say that Montréal is where my heart is (which is undeniably true), I’m pretty happy to be living in Toronto.
Toronto’s so much better than a “just okay” place to live. Our problems are relatively few and far between. Our city, for all its faults, is a pretty wonderful place. We should all of us spend more time celebrating that.