Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 24, 2010: Toronto - Art Gallery of Ontario

After picking up a free pass to the AGO from the Toronto Public Library, I enjoyed a short visit to see the new Julian Schnabel exhibition. It was reasonably good - he's a very energetic painter, if a bit unfocused. But it reminded me of how much more extraordinary was his movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". He doesn't paint like he makes movies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 23, 2010: Toronto - Jeremy Rifkin

There was a design and green building conference on in Toronto for which I managed to get a free pass, although only to the exhibit hall with the vendors. But, since that was where the keynote speakers were talking, it was worth it.

Jeremy Rifkin spoke about his new book, "The empathic civilization : the race to global consciousness in a world in crisis". It was really inspiring - a very concrete plan for how the world will need to change in order to deal with global warming, and how many European countries, particularly Germany, are well on their way to working on the solutions.

I definitely want to read this book now! I'm only at 131 on the Toronto Public Library holds list; I may have to break down and buy it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 18, 2010: New York City - First Sushi, High Line

I've always avoided sushi, other than vegetarian, due to my childhood fish allergies. But after recent visits to an allergy specialist, I've been encouraged to try eating some fish, since it looks like any reactions I'm likely to have won't be serious.

So Jenn took me for my first sushi meal. All in all it was quite good - I was surprised by the delicate texture and taste of the tuna and salmon. I also had the eel, which was cooked, and very savoury.

After lunch we visited the High Line Park, which I was excited to see more than a year after my first visit, when it had just opened. It's amazing how much the plants have filled in - some spots are positively forest-like with the trees and undergrowth. There must be a pretty extensive irrigation system - the park is basically a green roof over the open roadway space beneath, since it's all built on a former elevated rail line.

It was just as busy and lively as last year, with people clearly enjoying the way this green space passes through and contrasts with the industrial buildings surrounding it. There are a number of art works installed along the way that call attention to these built urban features; the viewing gallery suspended over the busy street was also packed with people watching cars pass underneath - I love how the park isn't a space that ignores where it's situated.

At the end is a map of the future planned park land - there's still lots more rail line to convert. It will be fantastic when the park stretches for miles on end.

September 17, 2010: New York City - The Met And Big Bambu, Tunnel People

While Jenn was at work I spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I revisited some old favourites, and some some new work. On the roof was an installation by Doug and Mike Starn - Big Bambu. It was a conglomeration of bamboo poles tied together to create spiraling ramps through a thicket of sweeping patterns. They're constantly working on it, adding pieces and reshaping. There were also tours to walk up on the ramps, but they required advance reservations and large-ish quantities of money, so I just bought a sandwich, sat down on a bench, and enjoyed the sun while watching others troop through.

After work Jenn and I went to a talk by Teun Voeten, on his book about the Tunnel People of New York. It was surprisingly non-sensationalist - he really approached the project as an anthropologist, living with them for months and learning about their sub-culture. At times he almost made it sound pretty good - far better than living on the streets or in some dismal shelter - the tunnels had a fair amount of space, had easy access to parkland above via the emergency exits, and the danger from passing trains was quite manageable. But then he talked about the rats, which made me rethink things.

September 16, 2010: New York City - Green Roofs

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities was running a 'boot camp' on green roofs in New York City, and since one of my sabbatical goals is to learn more about them, I signed up for the first day.

I took the bus down and stayed with my friend Jenn at her new place in the Bronx. It's a great neighbourhood - people walking dogs, some cute restaurants and take-out places, and a good-quality grocery store - which can be a rarity in the Bronx. It's also convenient to two different subway lines, which is great for getting around the city.

Day 1 of Green Roof boot camp was good. I'd been doing a fair bit of reading over the summer, so I didn't learn anything radically new, but it was very encouraging to hear how excited everyone there was that I live in Toronto. It turns out Toronto is well-regarded in North America for its governmental support for the growing green roof industry. There was a mix of attendees - a landscape architect leading the course, a horticulturalist from Colombia (where living walls are the big thing), a couple of nursery growers, a roofing specialist, and some generally interested consumers like myself. One thing I come away convinced of is the importance of good waterproofing, and the need to have experts work on it. The other is the great benefit to municipalities of using green roofs to mitigate and control storm water run-off. If that was the only thing green roofs were good for, it would be enough, but air quality, cooling, insulating and habitat improvement benefits also add to their value.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 11, 2010: Toronto - Edible Tree Tour

Mark and I went on an Edible Tree Tour, organized by LEAF and Not Far From the Tree. What a great idea!

We started at a public park at the Eglinton West subway station where a community orchard has been planted - fruit trees that, as they mature, will be harvested. Hard to believe, but some neighbours vigorously protested the fruit trees, concerned that there would be bees swarming the park. Joe Pantalone was instrumental in helping to navigate the unusual request by a community group to plant fruit trees in a public park - I want Joe to be our mayor.

Next was a walk through parkland, noting edible trees and plants en route. We ended up in a residential neighbourhood, historically Italian, where everyone was excited to note fruit trees in people's yards. Not Far From the Tree was harvesting one apple tree, on a property where the fruit would have otherwise fallen to the ground and gone to waste.

September 10, 2010: Toronto - Terracotta Warriors, Semi-New Bat Cave

With a free pass to the ROM in hand (courtesy of Toronto Public Library's Museum Arts Pass program) I went to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Pretty good, although they missed out on the opportunity to convey the feeling of discovering all the thousands of warrior statues massed together, which is one of the most extraordinary things about the find. I can understand that they couldn't transport thousands of statues overseas, but why not include some sort of photographic imagery or multimedia display that would give that same feeling? Isolated individual statues just didn't have the same impact, as their quality isn't that high. The Crystal, as always, was an irritating space to visit - chopped up in weird angles, with dispiriting, confusing staircases to get anywhere. It's a building that doesn't like people. Or art.

Friday, September 3, 2010

September 2, 2010: Port Stanley

While home for a visit with my mother we took a day trip to Port Stanley. It's a pretty sleepy little town now on the shore of Lake Erie, but in its heyday it was a bustling beach destination, with a train line direct from London for the party crowd. The Stork Club was the biggest dance hall in North America, with all the big band musicians playing there. Mom remembers staying in a rented cottage next to the club when she was a little girl, but it's been torn down since. However, we had the good luck to ask a man passing by if he knew where it used to stand - turns out his family owns Mackie's (99 years of serving hotdogs, ice cream, etc) and they had photos and memorabilia from the good old days up on the walls at their restaurant.