Monday, September 17, 2012

One man's trash

I spoke to many people when I was trying to decide which school to attend for this degree, soliciting opinions about teachers and facilities, about the merits of staying in America or moving to another country, about anything anyone had to offer.  An overwhelming majority of those spoke rapturously about Toronto: "If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there!" "Such a nice city!" "You'll love it!"

I have to confess that my opinion after one year is almost... "meh."

Toronto is nice enough, for sure.  Maybe--most likely--it's that I don't like cities.  Maybe it's that I don't live in a particularly beautiful neighborhood (sorry, neighborhood).  Maybe it's that I don't have a bus pass.  Maybe it's that the city is so spread out, the subway service is so minimal, and the traffic is so bad that getting from point A to point B seems even more daunting.  Maybe it's that the sun sets at about 4:30 PM all the overcast, grey-brown winter long, and I live in a basement.

Despite these misgivings, there are things I really do like about this city--especially now, with the long, sunlit evenings and green trees.  This neighborhood is actually kind of pretty at the moment: gardens are blooming, houses seem cleaner and less littered with trash, people sit out on their porches and watch others go by.  The weather is so nice (except when it's pouring rain) that I am happy to hop on my bike any moment and ride away.  Riding is a joy now, and I love using my legs to get around.  The longer ours of sunlight make me feel safer, too, both when riding my bike and generally being out in the city (let's ignore the man in my neighborhood who's been grabbing people at night).  I've finally had the time to explore some areas of Toronto that had been out of reach, either due to time or weather.  There's the West Toronto Railpath just a few blocks from my house.  It's sort of like a smaller, less-cool version of the High Line, but it's nice all the same. I've finally been to High Park, the large city park a little bit like a smaller, less-cool version of Central Park.  There are new places opening up in my neighborhood, coffee shops and restaurants, as it gentrifies.  And, of course, there's my favorite place of all (except for school): Economy Fruit!

But really what I wanted to write about in this post is the somewhat unique practice of giving things away that seems so integral to Toronto.  Instead of taking their unwanted belongings en masse to thrift stores, many people leave them outside their houses (especially, it seems, in my neighborhood).  I know they do this all around the world.  Montreal is known for September 1st, when many people change apartments, and the city apparently becomes one giant free bin.  I'm sure that other cities have their own traditions; even in Davis some of us would go collect things the UCD students were giving away or leaving for trash.  Still, in Toronto it seems like it's a way of life.  Sometimes it's something big (furniture) and sometimes it's a box of small things.  Sometimes it's stuff you really don't want (used mattresses) and sometimes it's exactly what you've been looking for.  Most of our place seems to be furnished with found objects.  A few days ago, the Comrades brought home a bookshelf that some people had left down the street.  It fits perfectly in the living room.  Ryan and I found a beautiful white armoire with golden handles that now serves as our pantry.  Comrade M found a big teal-blue desk/table back in June, replacing a less-satisfactory table that had been in the craft room for sewing, when she was out for a run.  She got a friend to bring it home, but we didn't have a chair to fit.  I had a rehearsal at a friend's house a few days ago and when leaving I noticed a wooden blue chair sitting on someone's front yard.  I couldn't take it with me to school but returned later in the afternoon to check if it was still there.  Sure enough it was, so I brought it home, cleaned it up, and put it in the craft room.  When I sent Comrade M to see the surprise she didn't even notice it at first because the color matches so perfectly.  The list goes on and on: cast iron pans, a weird piece of art, a microwave, a newer microwave to replace the old microwave, a toaster oven, a panini press, a nice metal basket that holds our fruit, a book I'd wanted to read, a dish to hold coins, a pink lamp, a toy piano I gave to the neighbors with young children...

Every few days, something new will show up.  If you wait long enough, it seems that the things you've wanted most will appear.  It reminds me of a story I once read, though I can't remember where.  In it, a journeying man comes to a place where the people are poor in possessions but not in spirit.  They set up nets in the stream and collect everything that comes to them, sorting and piling and holding for future use what they cannot value immediately.  Sure enough, the stream always seems to deliver what they're looking for: not just because they need it, but also because they know how to see value in what others toss aside.  It's not quite like that here, but some of the same principles apply.  Every time I pick something up, I feel grateful that someone else left it for me to find.  It makes me wonder about its story, about why it was discarded and about what replaced it.  (Usually these items are worn but not broken.)  Ultimately it makes me think about what I don't need, and what of my possessions someone else could use.

So, to those who have shared with me, thank you!  I hope to someday give you something of value.

... and I thought that you readers might be interested in checking out my new website!

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