Where in the World am I?

August 25, 2010

After years of planning and reams of paperwork, I moved to Toronto with my family two weeks ago.

Aside from two brief visits to Canada where I dipped my toe in the water and found the temperature to my liking, I don’t know much about our new home.  I did some cursory reading about sites to see and gleaned some local knowledge from our good friends here, but always put off more in-depth research “until I had time”.  Well that didn’t happen.

So now we are here.  The last of the packing boxes have gone off to be recycled and we are more or less moved in.  I have joined the library across the road and yesterday began my investigations into our new home.

Our cat, who made the journey from France with his customary aplomb, has taken to his new environment in a very limited and local way.  He knows where his food is, he has found a particularly soft cushion to sleep on and has mustered as much disdain for the bird life as he had in France.

Having lived in a sleepy village in Provence for the last 11 years, the transition to big city life had me wary at first.  I have two small girls and don’t let them out of my sight.  But then again that goes with parenting wherever you are.  I didn’t let them out of my sight in a village of 2000 souls.

I love the vibrancy of Toronto and the dynamic blend of cultures.  We chose to live centrally and steps away from our apartment greek restaurants sidle up to ethiopian ones.  Portuguese is spoken in the grocery door downstairs and there are some signs written in alphabets I can only guess at.

In the library I pick up a weighty tome which promises to tell me all about the history and politics of Canada.  The book has a text book gravitas about it and is full of “facts” and statistics.  It doesn’t contain a single story.

I would like to find out about the people who make up this society now, not the demographics of 15 years ago.    I would like to hear their stories.  My downstairs neighbors are korean, our landlord is portuguese.  My new friend who runs the laundromat is greek and reminds me of the best kind of parisian concierge.  The librarian who pointed me towards “The Politics and History of Canada” is russian.  The woman I have just bought a bookcase from is iranian and the man who helped us carry it is hungarian.

There are many stories of immigration around me.  I want to know them all.

I love my new life but miss my friends.  I love the newness and buzz of the city but miss the nightingale song we enjoyed every morning and evening.  The trundle of a tractor in the vineyards in front of our house has been replaced by the constant hum of things unidentified, the extractor fan at the italian restaurant next door, occasional sirens.

How many things are “missing” in the people around me.  If I concentrate on the space around people instead of themselves what will I see?  The auras of what they have left behind. Grandmothers who will never travel to such a far flung place?  Nieces and nephews never met?  Sunshine and beaches?  Exotic fruit?  History.  Each of us has come here bearing our own history, the people and places that have shaped us.

Some immigrants have tried to recreate that here.  Hence the plethora of ethnic restaurants, shops and newspapers.

There is a tower block down the road.  Apparently it used to house refugees – mainly Somalis and Sudanese.  It is now called “New Horizons” – a particularly uninspired name for a retirement home which will be the end of the line for many of its occupants.  I see the inmates sitting on the benches outside, blinking perplexedly at the tide of newcomers around them.

I want to know about these people too.  The ones who have always been here but don’t live in the same country any more.  The changes in Canada over the last few decades have been significant and positive.

My plan is to go out and meet the mix that makes up my new home.  One by one.