Saturday, 26 February 2011

A bite of Montréal love

I've always been fascinated with Montréal, QC. I am still trying to figure out if it's the special blend of postcolonial ambiance and character, or if it's the simple fact that it's so accessible that enhances my love for it. Regardless, I think it goes without saying that I could easily become quite comfortable here. Especially within the downtown core.

Downtown Montréal is nothing like downtown Toronto. The only way to describe the layout of this lovely core is to say it's stacked. Every street that runs parallel to Rue Sherbrooke going south, contains unique gems and are of equal importance. From the relaxing cafés along Boulevard de Maisonneuve to the bustling shopping hub that is Rue Sainte Catherine, there's just so much you can see and do -- and quite comfortably, without the fear of getting lost.

My past trips to Montréal weren't as filled with discovery as this one has been. On my first day here, I joined a friend in a long walk through the city. We started off at the Eaton Centre (yes, Toronto - Montréal has one too), and found ourselves walking all the way down to the Old Port. If you look at a map of the city, the thought of walking all that way might seem quite daunting, but it was actually rather lovely (and easy). The streets are well marked and navigating is a piece of cake as long as you know how to read.

I think I should mention here that my favourite hub is the historic district of Old Montréal. I've visited the Notre Dame Basilica each time I've been here, and can get lost in the beauties found along the cobblestone streets for hours. Really though, how can anyone hate cobblestone? I'll be writing more about Old Port and this historic district in another post, so please stay tuned.

But in the meanwhile, no trip to Montréal is complete without two essential meals -- nothing fancy, just the basic (and pretty legendary) Montréal smoked meat sandwich... and, of course, poutine.

My friend and I stopped by Montréal Poutine on Rue Saint-Paul for a delicious smoked meat sandwich, after our long walk through the city. This small yet delicious treat set the bar for future smoked meat sandwiches, that's for sure. It was quite filling and so tasty, that I craved it again for dinner that night. I wish I'd tried the poutine there, but since it never happened, another visit is definitely in the cards. I've heard nothing but good things about it.

The next day, my friend took me to La Belle Province -- a fast food chain within the city, where the ambiance resembles that of 50s diner. Now, I'm sure this wasn't the best poutine in the province (what, with it being a fast food chain and all), but it sure beat anything else outside the city.

They say that in order to get the best of the best, you must go to the source... and they (whoever 'they' were) weren't kidding. I've tried poutine in Toronto, and also at a couple of restaurants in South Korea -- (Hey, people are catching on to this delicious (and deadly) comfort food.) -- and nothing compares to the fantastic explosion of squeaky cheese curds, gravy and fries in your mouth, like that of the poutine in Montréal, regardless of whether you're eating in a fast food restaurant, or a gourmet café. That's all I have to say about that. You simply have to try it for yourself, if you haven't already.

As my short trip to this beautiful city wraps up,  I'm left feeling rather hopeful that my next visit will take place sooner than later. Perhaps I'll be back for the jazz festival this year. That's another thing... smooth and soothing jazz croons flow out of almost every café, restaurant and shop in this city. And I'm not complaining. There's nothing like sitting back with a glass of red wine and indulging in some fabulous wisdom courtesy of Ms. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

J'adore Montréal! See you soon.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Gimme a break!

I'm heading up to Montreal for a few days to visit one of the besties. I'm really looking forward to the min-break from Toronto. As much as I love this city, it's starting to make me restless. I haven't left it in five months. I never imagined five months as being a long time, but it is. Things I like about it are starting to annoy me right now. I think it has more to do with my state of mind at the moment, rather than the characteristics itself.

Sometimes stepping away helps bring an image into focus and perspective. And that's what I'm hoping will happen during my time away. Since moving back to Toronto, I've been on this hectic train ride trying to keep up with a life I imagined. I've been trying to chase down something that's felt pretty out of reach so far. And it's time to recharge the battery.

One of my favourite spots in Old Montreal - the Notre Dame Basilica. The architecture is so magnificent and haunting, all the same. I go here every time I visit the city.

I've been to Montreal a handful of times in the past, (both, in the winter and summer months), and I absolutely adore the city and its pulse. There's not a lot I want to see and do there, but I've always appreciated the shift in pace that comes with stepping into a new space. Truly, for all I know, I'll be vegging on my friend's couch, lost in glasses of red wine and stories of a far less complicated life. And that sounds perfectly delightful to me.

My life will be waiting for me when I get back. Just like it was waiting for me when I got back at the end of August. If there's one thing I learned in the months since I've been back, it's that everything you take a break from from will always be waiting for you upon your return. And sometimes it will magnify. The best thing to do is just... deal with it in any way you know how. Even if it doesn't make sense half the time.

So I'll deal with you, dear Toronto life. I'll get back and deal with you next week.


Image courtesy of Google Images

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I love TED and you should too

I attended the first ever TEDxToronto salon this past Friday. For those of you unaware of TED and the reasons for its existence, I encourage you to check out their website. The tag line pretty much sums it all up: Ideas worth sharing.

The nonprofit organization highlights speakers from all walks of life, and all ends of the planet. They feature everyone from former vice presidents of the United States (Al Gore) to technology gurus like Steve Jobs. And though the talks range from the absurd to the hilarious, they all share simple yet common goals - to engage and inspire others, to challenge the ways in which we view the world, and to ultimately create a global community that seeks to foster the good in society.

I was fortunate enough to meet and listen to two Canadian speakers featured on TED at this event -- Drew Dudley (creator of Nuance Leadership Development Services Inc.) and Neil Pasricha (creator of And they were both nothing short of fascinating and inspiring.

I first became aware of TED when I listened to a talk by acclaimed author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love fame). While in Korea, I stumbled across a video of her speaking about this idea of nurturing creativity. As a writer  myself, I was enamoured by her visions and took a lot of what she said to heart. But the best part about the whole thing is that it exposed me to TED and to the unique and fascinating people on there, who literally have ideas worth sharing. Listening to TED talks soon became a guilty pleasure, and I found myself turning to them during moments of hopelessness and for bursts of inspiration. And an even better aspect of all this was that I could listen to the talks for free, in the comfort of my own home.

I was thrilled when I found out TEDxToronto was having its first salon. I was even more excited when I realized who the guest speakers would be. Drew Dudley is possibly one of the most engaging people I've ever met. He has a way of making things not only seem simple, but also quite attainable. When he talks, you can't help but listen. And when he's done talking, you want to leap out of your stance and go out and do something good.

Neil Pasricha inspires me. His blog started off as a simple idea meant to help him work through a rough patch in his own life. It turns out, a lot of other people were seeking the same medicine he'd created for himself. His website,, now helps millions of visitors by reminding them that life isn't all that bad. He focuses on the brighter side of life, and encourages others to take comfort in everyday joys and luxuries.

The theme of this salon was 'The Big Goal'. Everyone who attended was encouraged to write down their goal on a piece of paper, and stick it to a board where it could be shared with others. In fact, the night wrapped up with a few individuals stepping in front of the audience to vocalize their goals. I didn't get a chance to do this myself, but I wrote mine on the piece of paper. It seemed a lot simpler than what others wrote (including one which read, "TO NOT DIE"), but I was happy with my choice.

Mine was, "To focus my energy on the positives rather than the negatives in my life."

And as I expressed to Drew Dudley, this is partially why I started the Note This Moment project. I needed to create a space where I'd be forced to look at all the simple joys in my own life, and be thankful. Now friends are contributing to the site as well, and I'm looking forward to the participation of others (like you!). I guess you could call it a hopeful project, meant to engage others in positivity. And if you haven't yet checked it out, I encourage you to please do so.

I walked away from the TEDxToronto salon with a renewed sense of hope that there are other like-minded individuals out there who are doing their best to create a better tomorrow. I'm glad I had a chance to participate in this meetup. It put a lot of things into perspective for me... namely that I'm quite capable of a lot of things. And that I should stop asking people for their opinions and advice when it comes to decisions about my own life.

As Neil Pasricha puts it, "If its right, you'll feel it in your bones." And that's the best advice anyone can ever need.

Thanks for reading!


Be sure to check out The 3 A's of Awesome by Neil and Leading with Lollipops by Drew, when you have a moment. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Creative room

I'd like to tell you the story about my creative room.

When my brother and I were kids, my mum designated one room in the house for all our future pursuits. This was the room where I learned the alphabet, where my brother learned to count to 100, where I practiced what I thought look like amazing calligraphy (yes, at the ripe age of three), and where I became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'd grow up to become a teacher just like my mother. Or perhaps a pharmacist.

I wish I had a photo of that room to share with you. But since I don't, please allow me to put into words the image that's ingrained in my mind.

It wasn't a big room by any means. In fact, it was probably the smallest room in the house. It had a small bed in it, an antique clock and a buffet-style table along one wall, and a dinning table that converted into our study area as we got older. Oh, and the room also had a window, which in those peaceful days, overlooked a small wooded area - home to many a stray cats, each with their own designated name.

As you might imagine, this was a living room of sorts for us. In the evenings, my brother (tamer and more civilized than I'll ever be) would come home from school and sit at the table to do his homework and read his Archie comics, while mum would drink her cup of piping hot tea and grade test papers. In those days I hadn't started school yet, but I was fully aware of what mum did... and what my brother was starting to do. And I wanted in!

The green crayon

Green. That was the choice colour, it seems. As I sit here and think back to that special place, I can't see white walls. I can only see scribbles. Lots of scribbles. I would watch my mother and try to copy her actions as she studied her students papers with intensity. Every check mark on a paper would mean a check mark on the wall. If a student had the misfortune of receiving a big X through an answer, then so would a porcelain white spot on the wall. Alphabets and numbers were scrawled all over the chalky white canvases, including pictures from my mind, begging for expression, even though I could barely put a coherent thought together.

And through all of that, mum never got upset. She was always aware of the insane toddler running around the room thinking she was Picasso incarnate; and yet, she never once lost her temper. As the years passed by, the walls in that room became covered with all sorts of strange musings. I think there were some nursery rhymes in picture form as well. One section even looked like those stick figures that archeologists find on cave walls. I'll never know what went through our minds in those times.

Creating comfort

That particular room always brought me a sense of comfort as I got older. In fact, my mum even taught me to tell time with the help of that antique clock.

I remember the day we decided to paint over all the walls in the house. I walked into the room with my mum and we stared at all the years of 'creativity' etched into the paint.

"How come you never stopped me?" I asked her. "This looks like the work of a crazy person. You let me keep going and going..."

"If you didn't have this space, you'd probably have attacked all the walls in the house," she said, with a laugh. "Not that it stopped you, anyway."

I grinned knowingly.

In the end, I was sad to see a fresh coat of bougainvillea pink cover a decade of memories. But I was glad my mum gave us that space to test drive our dreams. Those walls held truths and secrets of innocent minds. My brother and I were allowed to believe, imagine, create and hope in that space, without worries of the outside world. It was a sanctuary filled with so much love and happiness.

And even though I ran around with my crayons, believing I was getting away with some sort of illegal act, my mum always knew. She was around. She sipped her tea and graded her papers, and she always made sure she knew.

And now, as I look back, I know.

If you've got children in your life, I hope you give them creative room.

Image courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Banksy and the Balloon Girl

Those of you familiar with Banksy's graffiti art will recognize this picture with ease. Balloon Girl has been one of my favourite pieces for quite some time now, and I was recently reminded of it when a friend posted it as her Facebook profile photo.

I love the simplicity and innocence of it. Every time I look at the picture, I consider two questions: is she embracing love? Or is love leaving her?

In one way she looks like she's reaching out and trying to grab the love balloon. Or at least willing it towards her. I imagine she's reaching out for love. If only it were that easy, huh? Wishing for love is clearly a different thing than actually having it.

It could also be that she has intentionally let go of the love balloon. Perhaps holding onto it became too painful. Maybe she feared that it would pop and fade to a million pieces if she held on to it too tightly, so she decided to let it go.

Another way of looking at it (and this is the hopeless optimist in me speaking), is that she filled the balloon up with all the love she had to give, and sent it out into the world for everyone else to share. Hmm... perhaps.

You know, as I sit here typing this, the image above cuts out just above her head, and it looks as though she's just reaching out into the air. I don't see the balloon. It seems like she's just reaching out for... something.

It's interesting, really. If you check out the actually graffiti of this image, you'll see a line that reads, 'There is always hope'. And I suppose that's what it comes down to, huh? I've always said hope fuels humanity, and if this simple image doesn't demonstrate just that, then I don't know what does.

Banksy's work intrigues me, and I'm sure a lot of you feel the same way about it. I guess what's more fascinating is that no one really knows who he is. I adore that there's people like him in our world. They see things differently, and in some way, they also put life into perspective. They hold a mirror up to humanity and provide the reality checks we so often need.

Cheers, Banksy! You're a fascinating fellow.

Image courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Is beauty really pain?

It’s an idea women have been conditioned with since the time they were little girls: If you want to look beautiful, you will bear the pain.

I remember being a student at the University of Toronto and having to trudge through the cold winter nights for my evening classes. I would be layered up like the abominable snowman’s wife because of the cold. But it was never the idea of beauty that remained at the forefront of my mind; it was practicality and my desire to stay warm.

During those same months I remember watching international students – mostly women – who, in the same frigid temperatures would wear heels that were five inches or higher, stockings and a thin jacket with not much else. They would walk and they would fall. But they would get right back up and continue to walk... and fall. I never understood what went through their minds… until I spent a year in Seoul, Korea.

I spent a lot of time in the city with my eyes glued to the ground. Not because I was shy or because I had a serious case of the ‘I can’t make eye contact with you’ syndrome. It was simply more fascinating watching feet in that country than it was to watch faces. On any given day, regardless of whether was snowing or sunny, you were guaranteed to find a plethora of heels (or keels, as they called them there… ‘killer heels’) hitting the pavement.

Now, for anyone that’s visited Korea, you’ll know that it’s anything but flat. Regardless, women would march up and down roads in shoes designed for European runways, and not the winding, uneven streets of Seoul.

I always argued that heels before breakfast never made sense (unless of course, you still had them on from the night before), so catching on to this fascinating idea of fashion was quite eyeopening.

With this information in hand, I took a chance and quizzed some of my female students on their reasons for donning these beautiful torture devices from sunrise to sunset, with no breaks for sneakers or flats.

“If you didn’t have to wear your uniform, what would you wear?” I asked them.

“Teacher! Skinny jeans, hoodies and keels,” they replied, almost unanimously.

“Why? They're so painful!” I said, face scrunched up for emphasis.

After looking at me with blank expressions, like I was the strange one in the room, one girl simply said, “But it makes women beautiful. And that is a good thing.”

For beauty, they were willing to bear the pain. And while most women pick up on this with time and age, these youngsters we exposed to the cardinal rule of fashion from the time they were tots. The obsession with long legs isn’t simply directed from men to women anymore. Women inflict this upon themselves, even when no one expects them to.

So the next time you ride the subway or find yourself in a public space, drop your gaze to the floor, and have a look at what people are wearing. Practicality overshadows beauty in Canada, so you may not find the keels I saw on a daily basis. But you might better appreciate living in a society where sneakers and flats before sunset are not only accepted, but also encouraged.

Note: originally featured this article on their website.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...