Sunday, June 22, 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw Hammer: an Evening in Toronto

Last week I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law, Al & Dan Cooke. Though their permanent residence is the Chicago suburb of La Grange, Dan works for BMO (Bank of Montreal) and has been temporarily on assignment near the mother ship in Toronto. (Yes, it's a bit odd that the Bank of Montreal is headquartered in Toronto, but you have to take into account that Toronto is the unquestioned financial capital of our northern neighbor and everyone wants to be where the action is—which, in the case of Toronto, will take on added meaning as you read further.)

While I've happily visited Al & Dan in La Grange on any number of occasions, it was handy to catch them in Toronto last week as I was in Ontario to work with a trio of forming communities in Guelph, and then attend the June 23-26 conference (in Kitchener) being produced by the Tamarack Institute, Community: Programs and Policies.

First, though, I enjoyed three days with family, a highlight of which was this moment Thursday evening:

This image was captured at the bar of La Société (an up-scale French restaurant in the tony Yorkville district, within easy walking distance of Al & Dan's condo), just after we'd been served our first dozen raw oysters and cold crab claws. The picture evoked for me this quatrain from Tennyson's In Memoriam:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

It is, after all, in my nature to love seafood and we were fairly ravenous by the time we'd gotten to the restaurant. To be fair though, in the image, running top to bottom, I appear as tooth, red, and claw, or guy in red about to sink his teeth into claws. Think of it as poetic license.

In any event the restaurant was offering oysters and crab claws at the come-on price of $1 a pop, 5-7 pm on Thursdays, and there was flat out no way that Al & I were going to pass that up. It happens that neither of our partners (Dan and Ma'ikwe) care a fig for raw oysters, but Ma'ikwe was in Missouri and Dan was in misery (attending a dinner following the annual golf outing that he sponsors with lukewarm enthusiasm as a legacy from the guy he replaced at BMO). With our steak and potato partners not on the scene, there was a clear path for Al & me to indulge in La Société's largesse. So we did.

After moving into the main dining room for our entrée, it wasn't an hour later that the cast and crew of The Property Brothers was seated next to us, directly in Al's field of vision. While this collection of animated thirtysomethings just seemed like enthusiastic diners to me (oysters and crab claws could get anyone in a good mood), Al was wowed. As I learned in situ (or at least in my seat), The Property Brothers is a Canadian reality TV show that's hot right now on the Home and Garden channel (which, by the way, I didn't know existed—I last lived with a television in 1972, and I'm overwhelmed by the blizzard of options just a click away on your remote).

In the show, and in life, Drew Scott is a real estate agent and his twin brother Jonathan is a contractor. Their gig is buying run-down fixer-uppers and turning them into dream homes for their clients—all within a tight budget and a tight timeline. Drew wheels and deals to buy the property for a song, after which Jonathan performs his magic with circular saws and claw hammers. Who knew? (I certainly didn't.) But hey, even television stars have to eat somewhere.

While we thought that would be the extent of the evening's entertainment, we were wrong. Walking home we came to the intersection of Yorkville & Bay, only to discover that it had been cordoned off to vehicular traffic and been re-signed as "Maiden & Pearl." Hmm. It turned out they were prepping to shoot an outdoor street scene for Pixels, a full-length movie featuring Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage that's expected to be released next year. As I understand it, the movie is based on the award-winning animated 2010 short film of the same name directed by Patrick Jean, with the dystopian premise of New York being invaded by rogue 8-bit arcade video games (think Space Invaders, Tetris, and Pac-Man run amok).

It was surreal walking through the set, where for three blocks all the cars had New York plates, the directional kiosk offered a map of lower Manhattan, and the urban bike rack was sponsored by Citibank (as it is in New York) instead of Telus (as they are in Toronto).

No, we didn't see the stars for this production; just their spoor. Yet it was somehow the perfect ending to a magical evening where we manifested the following trifecta, any one of which would have made last Thursday memorable:
o  Delicious seafood with my sister at fire sale prices.
o  Sitting next to glitterati at dinner (which started a stream of consciousness that extended all the way from Lord Tennyson to reality TV—talk about seven league boots).
o  A stroll through a live movie set where a portion of the largest city in Canada was masquerading as a portion of the largest city in the US. Where else but in the topsy turvy of Hollywood can that possibly make sense?

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