Sunday, May 5, 2013


Arriving in Toronto was a serious the train at rush hour with my heavy awkward post-walmart contraption duffel and right into the subway, where the kindly polite Canadians made room for me to get just a few stops up the tube to Dundas, where I then wheeled and lugged the beast and finally emerged onto the sidewalk. I am pretty 4-wheel-drive now with my big wheels, so that makes for better maneuvering, but I'd rather be traveling in the below high-tech rickshaw that you see pedaled about in the city center

Two of the most hospitable people I've run across on this tour. ... John and Trevor are a couple who live in a converted Sears garment factory that is now all lofts. They commandeered one of the guest lofts for me that the building keeps open and available for when residents have out of town guests. We proceeded up to their place and had some Canadian whiskey. 

Nothing like a welcoming committee...reminds me that the single best thing you can do for out of town visitors...especially meet them when they arrive and give them a hug and a drink...makes all the difference. I felt like family, even though I had to rush off a half hour later to meet Ian Young and his partner Wulf 10 subway stops to the east, who also turned out to be like family. I have never done so much 'transport' in a new city in an hour's time..train, subway, walk, subway, bus..nor met such nice people in a city where I thought I knew nobody. Once on the bus, I asked a man how far to Gerard St. He said, don't worry I'm going there too...follow me. Finally arriving near Ian's place, I hopped off and headed down the street, with the guy behind me. When we got to Ian's, we realized we were both his guests that night :)


John on the subway (he's a composer, musician and music archivist)

Ian Young and his partner Wulf. Ian is a legendary gay activist and poet, author of 20+ books, countless articles and The Stonewall Experiment: A Gay Psychohistory, which he gave me and I dove into and can't put down (an exploration of the psychic life of gay men, from the Whitman era to the AIDS crisis)..... and think poets are often the best writers of history because they understand myth and the whole subjective reality of history


Ian's Pan altar (a superlative faun sighting indeed)

The basement library, as well as Wulf's workshop...he builds theater sets

Yet another Pan shrine (Fauns abound at Casa Ian). Since my birthday was the next day, we had a toast with the last of the Armagnac de Montal 2008 that John brought along.

The drooping pants syndrome...this one is severe and rivaled only by the kid I saw in Brooklyn who had his so low, they were below the underwear and you could see the back of his thighs

Toronto U and the lively streets near Bloor Street

Kensington Market

Then it was off to the library for my first reading, where David Bateman gave me my copy of Flicker and Spark, a great new poetry anthology of queer poetry over the past 30 years which we are both included in (thx to editors Regie Cabico & Brittany Fonte)...another brick to put in my swelling duffel bag

my cool mini cards that I designed and ordered from Moo when I was with Loretta...

El Chileno, a city where there are few latinos, it was great to meet Daniel at a burrito place (yes, I'm once again jonesing for burritos, which I need at least 3 or 4 times a week). He's in Toronto getting a masters in psychology and learning English. We spoke Spanish, laughing at his Chileno accent and my somewhat Argentine one. Sweet kid, and well-read...was a big fan of Borges and Bolano

I really wanted to buy this smurf hat in Chinatown, but it was a child's size and no matter how I tried, it wouldn't fit my head

Mona Lisa spotting in Kensington Market...where I also had coffee with Socrates Salman and his dad. I met Socrates at my Spanish school in Santiago, so Toronto seems to be full of Chileno echoes. 
I sort of took Socrates under my wing in Santiago as my Spanish was pretty good and his was very beginner, and he was just a super open kid besides, who wanted to talk about all sorts of things and was open and had that sweet naivete and wonder that is often rare in the overly self-assured twentysomething world traveler. He was also a crackup and something of a character at the school, complaining that he was not getting enough food from his host family and had to smuggle bananas into his bed to eat at night. He was too tall for the shower as well..he's about 6-4... and regaled us all in class, in halting Spanish, about his daily misadventures being denied seconds by his host mom, banging his head on the shower roof, and getting lost around the city (Socrates does not like maps and finds them confusing... I asked him how he gets around, and he answered, I just ask. But you can barely speak Spanish, I reminded him. Yes, true, so I get lost a lot. And he shrugs). Socrates is Palestinian but raised in Dubai where his dad is a petroleum engineer and shareholder liaison for a large Emirate oil conglomerate, which sends him traveling all over the world. They were heading to Houston next. His kids are all Canadian citizens and we talked about Middle East politics and Socrates's job prospects (He just finished his masters). Mr. Salman thought what was going on in Syria was the worst thing he'd ever seen, worse even than the fate of Palestine in the last half of the 20th c., which is saying something as he is Palestinian. I found them to have a very traditional, yet sweet, father/son relationship, full of respect and a sort of understated affection. Mr. Salman has raised a great kid and he seemed a wise and worldly man. Thinking of how he is a man without a country, I continue to reflect on the Palestinian question, and that while the Salmans have been relatively lucky, they live the global diaspora life like so many other people I know...Jews, Gypsies, Armenians, Aftrican-Americans, Vietnamese, Queers, the Irish, etc., and there is a sadness to it....reminding me that we are all nomads and exiles, some more than others....

Kensington Market is full of these New Orleans-like corner restaurants that fan around street corners

Then it was off to Glad Day books for my main event. One of the half dozen or so remaining gay bookstores, I was super impressed with the depth of their fiction collection and would say this is the single most literary gay bookshop I've ever been in....i.e. all of James Purdy's titles, all of Michel Tournier's novels.... There was a historical depth to it that I usually only see in archive libraries. I bought two books...unwise for a schlepette, but I wanted to both support the store and read a hard-to-find Tournier novel as well as try out the work of the Brit writer, Paul Magrs...
The store's bright, sophisticated and gregarious manager, Scott (below), recommended several up-and-coming Canadians, but those were heavier books, so I jotted down the names to order later when I get home

Interesting juxtaposition across the street from the store in the heart of the gay district:

Myself, Ian, David and Marcus at the reading

Been thinking a lot about how I'm comparing things here to the US, and trying not to always go's very easy to diss America. Have been reflecting on whether that's the 'grass is greener' syndrome, or perhaps just the 'newbie' syndrome where the new place always seems better, or could it be what I've been dreading to admit which is that maybe it's actually kind of true? Which makes me sad. I don't want it to be true, but I keep getting reminded of the darker aspects of America...this morning in the NY Times it was reported that suicide rates have risen 30% among the middle-aged, so that more now die from suicide than in car accidents. This in a country that is obsessed with much so that getting to Ann Arbor today in less that 12 hours was basically not possible unless I rented a car (I have a reading there tonight and it's a 5-hr trip without layovers, but the only options, Greyhound and Amtrak (groan) or a dozen city buses, can't get me there because of their bare bones schedules. Granted, Detroit is beyond depressed, though that's due to the auto industry which is the reason why we have so few public trans opitons anyway). If you have eyes to see.....the auto industry and all it's ancillary supports down the supply chain (tires, etc.) lobbied against, outright dismantled and prevented public trans from establishing itself on the level it naturally would have in much of the US (the old red car lines in LA are a case in point..bought and torn out by Firestone and GM among others...)

The Los Angeles Streetcar system was primarily operated by Pacific Electric (1901-1961) and developed into the largest trolley system in the world by the 1920′s. The system operated for over half a century, and at its peak traversed over 1,100 miles of track with  900 electric trolley cars; this dense network produced a rate of public transit usage higher than San Francisco does today on a per capita basis.

This is an important story because often the US is referred to as the free market paradise/nightmare depending on your humanity/ethics vis-a-vis the dominant religion of Mammon. The above story is yet another example of how that has never been, nor is it now, true. US Capitalism is often simply about buying advantage, lobbying and the subsidies that result (the entire story of LA actually is a case study in insider trading...water, land, etc.) That is certainly a form of non-democratic capitalism, but it's a far cry from a free market, such as that which created the LA streetcar system.  Once the auto established itself, everyone got on the bandwagon of course, and there are always many factors at work in these situations, but it's important to note business behavior and privilege if you want to understand things your life actually depends on like peak oil, global warming, war, etc. -- none of which are happening organically, and are all dependent on special rights for the powerful few who purchase the right to benefit from basically inconveniencing and sometimes killing you. Sadly, as for an economy that actually serves people, it only does so in a trickle down way. It serves those who purchase it and own it, and the primary market seems to be the sale of politicians. OK, give it a rest, Treb. Enough said. But still, we can do better and at least try to build an economy for people and by people.

As a fateful omen of my return to the homeland, I was annoyed getting on the train by a kid who cut in line after the ever-so-polite Canadians had patiently waited in an organized que. Said vivo (young men who ignore all rules and restrictions, or so the Argentines refer to them) was rebuffed by the ticket taker but later he ended up sitting next to me where he explained he'd just been sitting in one of the chairs next to the line as he saw no point in standing up for a half hour when there were chairs within 10 feet.   He laughed and explained his 'alleged' line-cutting as simply European or no bullshit...these North Americans are too polite he protested, laughing. Meet the delightful young Israeli/Canadian/Russian, Vadim. 

A very spirited young man with a twinkle in his eye, I came to like him quite a bit as we chatted on and on about the merits of being assertive and getting real, not taking things for granted. Like a lot of Israelis, he'd grown up fast and was as savvy as a middle aged man in business matters...and wise beyond his years (like many people from old world cultures, he thought Americans were immature, over-indulged whiners). Ultimately I warmed to his openness and honesty and I felt like rooting for him--his chutzpah was infectious and his willingness to smile and joke and make the best of things made me think he'll go far....(ah, the people I meet on Canadian trains).... on we went toward Windsor, the next schleppathon looming like a root canal appointment. Fortunately, Vadim had done it 3 times before as he does capoiera classes near Ann Arbor. So he guided me from the train, to the cab, which took us to the tunnel bus and the border where they didn't even check my enormous suspicious-looking bag. The customs agent wanted to know why I'd been in Canada, and I said I was on a book tour. He demanded to see the book...ah, the places Horse goes...He looked it over, raised his eyebrows, frowned nonchalantly, handed it back and passed me along. Vadim, on the other hand, was hassled for his grinning vivo attitude, which cops never like. Go ahead check my bags, he laughed

....we hung out at the General Motors headquarters (more economic inefficiency..the lobby was a parking lot of new cars on display while the front of the bldg was full of people waiting and waiting) awaiting our rides...his capoiera friend and my Enterprise rent-a-car dude who would take me to my rental for the drive to Ann Arbor. This turned out to be a boon as they were having delays and I was preparing to cajole for a dropoff fee waiver as I didn't want to have to return the car to Detroit since I was continuing west to Kalamazoo from Ann Arbor. Vadim and I discussed the oddity of North Americans willingness to pay full price for almost everything and the illusion that a price actually represents vis-a-vis something's value. When Adam of Enterprise mentioned my car would not be available for 2 more hours, I insisted I'd need to drop the car off in Kalamazoo and it was only fair to waive the fee (which can be up to $100, a total ripoff) since he'd inconvenienced me. He agreed promptly and I hopped in knowing Vadim, Stella, Sera and all my old world Mediterranean friends would be cheering me on for my  negotiating efforts. I took what they had which was a miniscule Fiat 500....I asked him why they were renting these? He said that in Detroit they were moving away from American cars as they kept getting stripped, tires stolen, etc. due to the grim economic realities of the region in recent years. He shrugged, adding, No one has a Fiat here, so no one steals its tires...
Welcome home

Here I am (well sorta) jetting along toward Ann Arbor in my little Fiat 500 thinking of Federico back in Cordoba who had an old style version, and about Vadim who I initially thought was just another vivo but who instead turned out to be a really sweet and wonderful human much for first impressions

While driving among the spring-budding trees west on the 94, I listened to a great program on Michael Pollin's latest book, Cook. My favorite part: We need to not just thinking about feeding ourselves, but about the microbes who enable us to digest and survive. He described the human body as 10% human and 90% microbe...more like a coral reef than a single animal entity :)

Ann Arbor is very much the college town, and super crowded this weekend as it is commencement time. My event at Common Grounds Bookstore turned out to be one of the highlights of this trip, an absolutely perfect reading, with a great group who had lots to say--our discussion and reading ran almost two hours. Keith and Martin, who run the store and a Mexican restaurant next door have got a great little thing going...situated on a little plaza called the homoplex, there are lots of people around, sitting at tables, chatting, eating, etc. A lovely spot where I sold some Horses and my last Faun! Need to get more :)

A very poor photo of the homoplex

Keith and Martin's restaurant

Off to Kalamazoo to see Joe and Maria, old SF friends who I visited on my last multi-city book tour in 2003...when their kids were tiny...they're now teenagers...should be interesting

No comments:

Post a Comment