Sunday, June 24, 2007


When I dropped my mother off at her home after our dinner with my cousin Tak and his parents a month ago, I took a few minutes to drive along Bloor Street and to venture south along Yonge Street -- things which I almost never do because traffic along those streets is usually so dense.

Given the lateness of the hour, I had thought that perhaps Bloor would be little more passable. I was wrong -- the traffic inched along just before Avenue Road/Queen's Park, and the reason was because this was also the day that the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opened.

The Crystal is the latest addition to the ROM, a striking piece of architecture as the following image from Wikipedia shows:

On the evening of May 28, the traffic was slow in front of the Crystal, with construction barriers still up and workmen still doing things. This is very reminiscent of the end of a software project, where the users and managers are congratulating themselves on a job well done, oblivious to the developers who still labour behind the scenes to hold things together and make the launch a reality rather than wishful thinking.

I had lots of time to take some shots out my car window, after first shutting off the flash on my camera. Traffic was never stopped for more than a few seconds, although movement was only a bit more than walking speed. I juggled the camera and steering wheel, managed not to get in a car accident and shot a series of frames, one being of my knee as I was fumbling with the camera.

I haven't been to the ROM in years, but I will probably try to get there again. It would be interesting to be inside the Crystal.

The Crystal itself has been controversial, with both proponents and detractors. Sometime that week, I had been listening to Lynn Slotkin, a local theatre critic, on an afternoon CBC Radio broadcast. Slotkin made it clear that she was a detractor -- referring to the Crystal as a "Carbuncle" several times. Slotkin appears weekly on the CBC, and I remembered her for her dislike of the play "What Lies Before Us" that my cousin Wayne had appeared in back in February.

The Crystal was designed by Daniel Liebeskind, an American architect also noted for planning the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan.

I don't claim any great knowledge or appreciation of architecture, but I like the Crystal. My first sight of the Crystal made me think of an immense golden jewel looming over the street. I like the fact that it looks like the future resting on the shoulders of the past. I like the symbolism that this vision of the future was built from a donation by an immigrant -- someone who did not inherit his position in the financial and cultural elite, but who joined it.

Turning the corner onto Avenue Road and heading south, the Museum was much as I remembered it. The planetarium, once a favourite spot, hasn't been open for years -- one of many ill-considered moves by the Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris in the 1990s.

Away from the construction around the museum, traffic was much lighter and I was able to get downtown without much additional delay. I parked on Elm Street and walked over to Yonge to photograph the other landmark that I wanted to capture. Earlier that day, it had been announced that Sam the Record Man was to close at the end of June.

I discovered Sam's soon after I arrived in Toronto. There are a stack of three-decade old vinyl LPs gathering dust in my mother's basement that come from there, and a substantial fraction of my CD collection as well. My music interests are odd, eccentric, and narrow. Sam's was a place where I could find and fuel whatever new musical interest that came to me. I am sad to see it go.

I walked a block south on Yonge to Edward Street -- home of the World's Biggest Bookstore, a store now part of the Chapters/Indigo chain and closed by the time I got there. However, Funland, a video arcade remembered from my teens was still there and still open. The smoky haze of my teens was gone, removed by anti-smoking legislation from the 90s. In the back, ancient pinball machines were still available for a quarter a play, as well as video games from the 70s and 80s.

Looking south on Yonge Street from the corner of Edward, there were workmen at the corner of Dundas and Yonge, a corner brighter and taller than I would have imagined when I saw it for the first time in the early 70s. In front of me, on the south side of Edward was the mall and office tower where Lichee Garden had its last incarnation.

On this Wednesday night, Yonge Street was not very busy. I found myself wondering whether that had always been so? Had there only ever been crowds during daylight and on the weekends? Or had the crowds at night gone away as the street changed? I didn't remember -- and it was time to go home.

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