The 8 things I love about you

Almost 1.5 years into the relationship, it’s time to write my Miley Cyrus-esque ode to you. So here it goes, Toronto – the things that I love about you..

  1. It is a city. It is a village. It is what you want it to be!

Back in India, I have lived everywhere from a tiny village to a metropolis. Each place had its charm. The cities had the amenities, the village had its natural beauty. Toronto is a combination of all the good things from all the places I have lived in before. And so so much more.

It is full of natural beauty – it has an extensive ravine system and when ambling in one, I forget that I am in one of the major cities in the world. I live ten minutes walking distance from one of the ravines.

Toronto is built around a lake and has great parks and beaches. At the same time, it has glamourous skyscrapers, stylish buildings, mega malls, the night lights – the razzmatazz. My office is on the shore of Lake Ontario and I have a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline as well as the lake. It’s a delightful confluence of the two aspects of Toronto – nature and human advancement.

I love how both aspects are equally accessible and equally define Toronto.

  • A click at the Taylor Creek Park, which is a part of the Toronto ravine system and is a stone's throw from my house.
  • The park has the eponymous creek flowing through it and looks like one of the computer wallpapers from my childhood come alive.
  • One of the bridges over the creek. I walk down from a staircase at the edge of a flyover to enter the park. It feels like entering Narnia - the scene changes completely.
  • Enjoying the glory of the Cherry Blossom season in Toronto. The blossoms last for just a few days but they are a breathtaking site.
  • I came across these wild mushrooms on one of my walks through the ravines. The ravines are home to multiple plant, animal, and bird species.
  • Two red-winged black birds in the marsh
  • Nathan Phillips Square with Toronto City Hall in the background
  • Old City Hall
  • Two architectural styles are visible in this picture - the older concrete architecture at the front and the newer glass buildings in the back.
  • A glimpse of CN Tower from the balcony of the Lightbox - the home of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The view from this balcony is mesmerizing.
  • The multi-level balcony of the Lightbox
  • CN Tower from a distance
  • View from my office window. Lake Ontario and the Billy Bishop Airport on the island are visible.
  1. Culture and art and sports  

Toronto is a culture and art powerhouse.

  • A slew of chart-topping music stars have a stop in Toronto for their concerts. Olivia Rodrigo, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber – all have tour stops this year. I am attending a Dua Lipa concert this month. Diljit Dosanjh was here not too long ago.
  • It is the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I recently attended two concerts showcasing Brahms and Mahler symphonies. I had loved the conductor persona on the show Mozart in the Jungle and was thrilled to see a conductor do his thing in real life – guiding an orchestra according to his whims. I am not well versed in classical music and Toronto has given me the opportunity to experience the beauty of it and educate myself about it.
  • Two of the world’s biggest film festivals – Toronto International Film Festival and the Hot Docs Festival (for documentaries) are based here. I love attending premieres and seeing film stars and directors talk about their movie after the screening. In fact, I have not attended a regular movie show since I moved here. They have all been festival films.
  • It has a ton of free cultural events – outdoor movie nights, mural openings, dance parties, open-air concerts. I work in a newsroom, so, many times, I get to know about these events before everyone else.
  • It has multiple museums specializing in different subjects. I went to the Aga Khan Museum in May. It showcased the history of Islamic civilizations throughout the world. I have another ticket already booked to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Last year, everything was closed for a major part of the year, so I am slowly catching up on things-to-do.
  • I try to attend at least one meditation camp every year. The meditation centre of the tradition in which I practise called the Ontario Vipassana Centre is nearby, just outside the city, in the woods. So, I am not even missing out on things I did back in India.
  • There is still so much more to discover – ballets (I attended Swan Lake last month), plays (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is playing in Toronto), CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, and many other things I don’t even know about yet.
  • The curved building is the Roy Thomson Hall - the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It is a multipurpose hall and also acts as one of the venues of TIFF.
  • The symphony hall. I attended a pre-concert where I was seated opposite the main seating area, which is visible in the picture.
  • The view from the audience seats. The pre-concert audience seats can be seen behind the orchestra. Clicking pictures is not allowed during the show. I clicked this one in the intermission.
  • TIFF Bell Lightbox - the home of the Toronto International Film Festival
  • Ted Rogers Cinema - the home of the Hot Docs Festival
  • Movie premieres are followed by a Q&A with the cast and director. Here the director of Navalny(left) and one of the principal subjects Christo Grozev (renowned journalist from Bellingcat) discuss the thrilling events of the movie.
  • The Aga Khan Museum. The place has a serene vibe - the cream exterior, the infinity pools, the trees, the walkways.
  • And there were Canada Geese gliding on the infinity pools!
  • The inside view of the Aga Khan Museum
  • The kitchen of Ontario Vipassana Centre
  • Curtain call for Swan Lake
  • Toronto Pride Parade
  • Cast of Six Check Flicks at Toronto Fringe Festival

Toronto is also a sports lover’s dream – it is home of three of the prominent teams in Canada – Blue Jays (baseball), Maple Leafs (ice hockey), and Raptors (basketball). I have not attended a game till now but I have experienced the fandom in the city. I am looking forward to attending a game just to get the feel of the atmosphere. I get tingly thinking that the best basketball players in the world – Lebron James, Stephen Curry et al – come to Toronto to play.

Toronto is like a goody bag which keeps on giving.

There is an app called Canoo which offers free/discounted access to many of these events to new permanent residents for one year. I am always excited to open the app and see what new offers they have.

Toronto is the very embodiment of FOMO because there are a zillion interesting things happening at the same time.

  1. The magic one-stop shop – Toronto Public Library

Toronto has a first-rate library system (the largest in Canada) with 100 branches across the city. Anyone living or working in Toronto can get a library card for free which is valid for one year.

I can book a book through their website and choose any outlet for pickup. I can also return the books at any branch. Recently, they stopped charging any fines for late returns! What more could I ask for? I am an avid reader, so the library is a big part of my life.

But the library here does not just issue books. It is like Google – it has an answer for whatever I need.

Some of the features of the library

  • Substantial repository of online courses

After I moved here, I wanted to do a small part-time writing course through the University of Toronto. When I discovered all these online courses, I dropped the idea. Everything I wanted to learn was available for free. They offer LinkedIn Learning and courses from many other sources such as Gale and HSTalks.

  • Free passes for museums and art galleries

I have availed one pass (to visit the Aga Khan Museum) as I was curious about it. One pass accommodates 2 adults and 4 children. It’s an amazing resource for newcomers (as well as low-income families) who may not have the money to spare to experience culture. (Keep count – Canoo app, the library – of how newcomers have access to culture in Toronto without charge).

  • Free digital subscriptions for New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

They also give free access to the digital version of every newspaper published in Canada. I am a huge news nerd, so this excites me a lot. 

  • They have subscriptions for all popular and niche magazines.

When I got to know about this feature, I issued out 10 magazines all at once. I felt like a kid with candy as I walked out of the library with them. The library provides free access to their digital versions as well.

  • Free movie/music/comic/tv series streaming services called Kanopy and Hoopla

I have not been a subscriber of any streaming platform since I became a library member. Their catalogue is not as extensive as, say, Netflix. But I prefer that, since their collection is curated. I just watch a movie or two a month and I have some nice playlists on these platforms for that.

  • Movie DVDs

I borrowed one and when I inserted it into my laptop, it eventually stopped working – my laptop!  Turns out my DVD player had not been in use for such a long time that it had become dysfunctional and made my entire laptop stop working. Hence, no DVDs for me. But in case you have a DVD player that works, the library will delight you.

The library hires experts for fixed periods of time. They conduct online webinars (they call them crowdcasts) on their area of expertise and are also available for 1-on-1 counselling and guidance for free.

I availed these sessions with the career coach and artist mentor-in-residence. They helped me in exploring various options for moving towards my goals.   

  • They also have writer-in-residence, entrepreneur-in residence, environmentalist-in-residence from time to time. I am especially looking forward to getting feedback from the writer-in-residence, whose tenure has started recently.
  • Crowdcasts about every relevant topic

    The library is really good at anticipating the needs of its members. Sometimes I do not even know I need a webinar till I stumble on it. For example –
    1. I had to file my first tax return in Canada this year and I had no clue what to do
      The library had invited Canada Revenue Agency agents to do a step-by-step guide on filing taxes. They also answered every question I had about my specific situation. It was super easy after that. I filed the tax return myself.
    2. I wished to invest my money and know about the instruments available to do that
      A financial specialist did an explainer on different investment options. They also provided resources for further research.
    3. I wanted to polish my resume, cover letter, interview skills, LinkedIn profile to take the next step in my career
      These topics come under the purview of the career coach (the library has three right now). They had crowdcasts about each of these aspects.
    4. The beauty products in Canada confounded me. There are so many of them and there is so much advertising, I didn’t know what is essential and what to choose
      The library had an excellent webinar by a skin specialist about which products and brands are good for basic skin care. This one was so helpful that I shared it with my friends and re-watched it three times. Not only that, I shot off many emails to the skin specialist with my doubts. She answered every single one of them in detail.

There are features that I have still not used but am excited about –

  • Professional software like Final Cut Pro 
  • 3D printers
  • A professional film and recording studio. Think about that!

All these services are also free, so to say publicly funded.

to be contd.

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