Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Untourist's Guide to The City (DON'T PANIC)

Canada is slipping summer over its head, dropping the dust coloured sweater of Winter to the floor as it walks out the door. I regret my neglect of this blog, in part because I have been travelling - walking the back streets of some of Canada's cities: Toronto, Montreal and of course Ottawa. I will be visiting (my old stomping grounds) Halifax in a few weeks (Air Canada willing).

Admittedly, I spend more time in back alleyways and around dumpsters than your average traveller.

Last weekend I decided to take my two youngest ankle-biters to Montreal. I had to drive (sans a/c on a sweltering day) into a poutine of road construction and Grand Prix weekend traffic. If you have ever been lost in a city with a 4 & 6 year old suggesting where you might have gone wrong, then you might get a sense of the comedy of our morning....

We were on an adventure, nevertheless. Just the three of us. The weather was perfect for a walking exploration not dictated by tourist brochures, malls or amusement parks.

My daughter (6) wanted to know what writers we would see as we explored the city.  "Sake, Omen, Bank, Aper, Castro.... Yell when you find them." She is just learning to read, so it was an educational graffiti game too. The boy (4) was more interested in his Lego, frankly.

As we walked uphill past McGill, towards Mount Royal,we found a a bit of Ottawa. AH! 

venise & friends
 This happened to me in Toronto a few weeks ago - a fresh hello outside our hotel Saturday morning. I guess Rob Ford's War is not going as he had hoped...

pes & the rex (coolest jazz & blues bar you could ever sleep in)

Jane Jacobs suggested "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody."(see more here).  And so we played in the neighbourhood parks and made Lego dinosaur-cars while the hipsters tight rope walked between trees on a university campus lawns. 

The tags and throw-ups made this large metropolis far more personal to me (and my kids) than any tourism board ever could. We saw things that were meaningful to us in this urban place.  Not a scourge or a virus, it was something familiar, indicators that other people we know of were here too. Not unlike Kilroy, really.

To those who fear I am glamorizing 'vandalism' to my children, you have little faith in the capacity of children to think critically. Graffiti has been something we talked about over ice cream.  Looking for graffiti above our heads on the streets has lead to lovely conversations about what 'freedom' means, and 'rights'. This built upon previous discussions about Galileo (and music, funny enough). 

My daughter noticed graffiti on tracks in the Metro. I asked her what she thought about it. She had  keen insight, and more questions, on risk and friendships. This also let me talk to her about the deaths of three writers in Montreal last year. There is great sadness in lives cut short, and so we talked about appreciating the value of 'this moment'. All these conversations were inspired by graffiti.

So, one can choose to see graffiti as this static fearful thing. It seems like the 'safe' thing to do, I suppose. Whereas if you take the time to get to know about the things you fear, explore other ways of thinking about it, you might just get to witness the "bombshells of [your] daily fears explode".

PS: A shout out to both my amazing older daughters, in particular to Michelle who is on her own adventure exploring Sweden this summer!

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