Saturday, June 28, 2008
This one's for my friend, Belle, with love.
Kensington Market in the heart of Toronto is infamous for its year-round vendors selling everything from fresh fish to chilies and everything in between. Small houses set among labyrinthine streets with murals, sculptures, tiny restaurants, vintage clothiers are a mishmash of unique urban adventure. With a rich European cultural heritage and several main streets occupied by family shops that have been there for generations it was a really great place to live.
It was the kind of place where one of your friend's four year old daughter could fall in love with a bunny in a cage and your friend would agree that it was a bunny worth having as a pet so she'd pay for it and they'd come back later to take it home. Later she'd have to deal with her daughter's hysteria when the bunny was presented skinned and gutted. The butcher shops didn't deal in sentimentality.
It was the kind of place that if you had another friend who was a confirmed shoplifter you remembered never to go marketing with her again after she'd shoved purloined fruit and veggies into your bag while she tasted various delicacies and argued with the vendor about the price. Being chased down Augusta Ave. by an angry Zorba the Greek was not my idea of fun.
Tall brick built houses from the 20's were well decorated with gingerbread moldings, multiple little windows and the most outrageous outside paint jobs you could imagine. Houses were often divided down the apparent middle with one side painted lime green with yellow trim and the other side colored lavender and red. I often wondered if the people living inside them ever talked to each other. Estate gardens may be a new idea here but old Toronto neighborhoods like Kensington have been growing vegetables in their tiny front yards from day one.
The vintage stores were filled with flapper dresses, kimonos, real silk Hawaiian shirts, beaded jackets, shadow dyed silk dresses from the 30's, tailored WWII women's suits and lots of shoes, beads, feathers, jewelry and general finery. I never wore clothes made in the 60's or the 70's either unless I made them myself but that's another story.
In the late 60's three of us moved into an apartment on the second floor of a house owned by a middle-aged Chinese couple. It was a nice enough place with a big living room at the front, a big kitchen and porch at the back and a long corridor in between with bedrooms and a bathroom off to one side. The only unusual feature was a tiny bed sitter apartment on the third floor that was accessed through our place. It had a little kitchen but no bathroom so whoever lived there shared ours which was no problem so long as the teenage runaway lovers from Thunder Bay lived there.. or somebody else we knew.
We got right into the spirit of the times (as well as that of the neighborhood) and painted all of the rooms ceilings to floorboards in color vibrating panels, swirls, lightning bolts, circles, moons, stars and rainbows. Our friends came by to visit at all hours to smoke dope, drink wine, listen to music, play music, joke, laugh, tell stories, plan adventures and generally have fun. We couldn't understand why the owners would peek upstairs through the window in the lower door or through their curtains whenever we went out but decided that was just their inscrutable way.
One day the kids upstairs packed their suitcases and left after telling us they were going to hitch-hike to BC. We didn't think much about it but decided we'd ask around to see if anybody might want to share the space with us and then went away ourselves for a weekend in the country. We got back late on the Sunday evening not noticing anything unusual.
Next morning I got up early to get ready for work and found the bathroom door locked. Well, that was a bit of a problem but I had my coffee and waited out on the porch which was when I noticed the sounds of splashing from the open bathroom window. Maybe Terry was up earlier than usual but he hadn't mentioned plans. I got on with washing my hair and the rest of me in the kitchen sink but the splashing sounds continued and I was getting more curious by the minute. I went down the hall, peeked into Terry's room and found him sleeping. Larry was asleep as I'd left him. As I dressed I was still wondering who could be in the bathroom? I mean there was one thing I needed to do that couldn't be done in the kitchen sink.
The bathroom door had a little hook inside for a lock so I went to the kitchen, got a butter knife and went back to the bathroom. I knocked. Splashing. I knocked again. More splashing. Time for the butter knife. I unlatched the door, flipped up the hook and looked inside where to my surprise I discovered a very tiny, very old, fully dressed Oriental lady sitting in our bathtub with laundry. There were towels, pants, socks, sheets, underwear, dresses, shirts all dripping from the shower rail and her sitting smiling in the midst of a tub filled with water and more clothes. Weird. I closed the door and went to work.
When I got home later the boys told me a family of at least 15 people had moved into the little apartment upstairs. They'd been up and down the stairs all day long and even as we talked there were 6 kids peeking into our living room. We couldn't imagine how they'd managed to fit into the space but there was one thing we knew for sure. It was time to move.