Goodbye, Toronto/Clouds of Sils Maria

Photo on 4-09-2014 at 6.56 pm

Today is my last day in Toronto. I’ve been here for three and a half months. Tomorrow night I’ll be in Brooklyn. I’m living decadently in a hotel, with room service and a king bed all to myself.

Goodbye, Toronto! Thanks for the streetcar rides, donuts, smiles and sunny days. And goodbye to beautiful Canada. I’ll surely be back.

Last night I had the opportunity to go to an opening-night film at the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF is the biggest party of the year here, and arguably the largest and most influential film festival in the world. I saw Clouds of Sils Maria, at the Princess of Wales theatre on King St.

It was a long, literate, layered film about the passing of time and suffering for one’s art, set against grand Swiss landscapes and luxurious hotel rooms. Director Olivier Assayas and star Juliette Binoche were both there at the premiere. The radiant Juliette told us that she had challenged Olivier to compose a strong, complex female role for her. I found the premise more interesting as the film progressed – a middle-aged actress agrees to remake a play that made her famous 20 years prior. Of course Juliette is perfect in her role as Maria, but I know that everyone is going to be/already talking about Kristen Stewart, who plays Maria’s personal assistant Valentine. She’s completely believable and obviously wise beyond her years. Really. Also, this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. Four stars from me, even with the trademark bizarre editing.

An evening on Lake Ontario

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I was invited to a little beach party on Ward’s Island, in the eastern part of the island cluster just a short ferry ride away from the city. It was my first time on Lake Ontario, and the evening could not have been more fresh and clear and rosy.

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Looking over the lake, there were rogue ducks waddling everywhere and a whole lot of other birds screaming from the next island over. And a party cruise playing music from 2005. It was still lovely.

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When the sun set, we could see lights from the United States twinkling on the horizon.

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Full of beer and giggles and cookies, we caught the last ferry back to the city. The CN tower was all dolled up, as usual.

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Halfway Point

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Montreal brunch – luckily I wasn’t meant to eat all of this by myself.

Two and a half months ago, I flew out of Kingsford Smith on my way to North America. Alone. It’s been, in the majority, a solo trip since and assuming all goes to plan (no September snowstorms), I’m halfway through.

It feels like much longer. My memories of California and Mexico are like a colourful dream sequence now, and that was only in April. I’m hearing an odd mashup of accents when I open my own mouth. Like everything, I’m sure that the next half of the trip will be intense and fantastic when it’s happening, and be over far too soon.

Along the way I have met dozens of solo travellers and I always feel like we’re part of a special club. We’ve discovered the thrill of going out into the unknown, armed with only wits and charms. Yes, there are a million blog posts already about how travel opens your mind and the romance of leaving home with only a few pairs of clothes and some good books. So everyone gets it. But there is something to be said about deliberately turning yourself into a complete stranger.

For one thing, people are impressed by it. You really came here all by yourself? Do you have family here? Friends? Wow! You’re brave! (And I smile to myself.) I don’t feel overly brave or adventurous, really – it’s Canada. They speak English here. I’m a dual citizen so I don’t need any scary immigration paperwork. Everyone is friendly. But I am proud of one thing – conquering my fear of being alone.

On my 25th birthday, which was a few weeks ago, I got a manicure. Then I went to a Japanese restaurant, by myself. I splurged on an expensive ramen and a beer. After that I walked over to a tiny theatre for a film screening I’d read about online. When the film was over, I made some friends by chatting about the rain and offering some chewing gum around, and we went out for more beers. It felt good to be a grown-up woman who could find her own entertainment and meet new people.

I’m planning on writing a separate post a bit later about the act of a woman going into a bar to drink alone. But it’s not too much of a stretch to say that for me, getting used to that has been one of the most rewarding treats of the whole exercise.

Maybe being happy alone is a skill that can only be learned through experience. In any case, I think that mastering it can only be useful for all the trials and errors of an interesting life.

Sometimes, in idle moments – and there are many – I think about the singular burn and sparkle of the Australian sunlight. The way everyone’s skin looks shiny after the sun sets on a hot day. Wattles, and jacarandas, and espressos and Coopers. It’ll all still be there, and I’ll get to enjoy it with all the people I miss. But I’m blessed to be young and healthy and I know who I am, which has been a wonderful thing to discover.

If you’re a woman (or man) who has travelled alone, please share your thoughts about it with me.  xx

I’m in a band!

As absolutely anyone would know by my incessant bragging, I’m learning the drums and was lucky enough to get asked to play with a band. We’re called The Go No!s.

This was the Open Mic night at Pauper’s Pub on Bloor St, last Thursday night.

And no, you can’t see me in the video but believe me, I was looking terrified because this was my first live performance ever. Well, not quite. I used to perform piano at every school assembly, but that was way less cool.

People in Toronto should like our Facebook page.

P.S. Playing drums is much harder, but even more fun than it looks!

Overnights on ABC Local Radio – Update from Toronto

Here is the podcast from my interview with Sally Knight over the weekend on Overnights. I’ve been giving updates while I’ve been away and this time around we talked about Rob Ford, Bloody Caesars and all the festivals happening in Toronto.

St Vincent at NXNE

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I’ve just returned from seeing St. Vincent out in the open, for free, at Yonge and Dundas Square right in the city. It’s part of the extravaganza that is North by Northeast (NXNE). She was preceded by Swans.

The array of artists is bewildering. It seems like the entire music world has converged on Toronto – and nobody’s complaining!

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I love St. Vincent’s music more and more. It’s taut and sexy and sophisticated, but made full-blooded with licks of electric guitar. She did an impressive solo on stage, and peppered the set with mysterious monologues about childhood games. What a stunner.

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At the CN Tower

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“Everything changes after three weeks.”

So said the Englishman who had been here for six. That meant that I should have been two days already into the rest of my (Toronto) life. Well, let’s say you get a few extra days for the weekend. I thought about whether it was that particular evening, warmer than most of the ones I’d had before, that was going to be pivotal.

But it was the whole disappearing day, really, that was a little bit special. I had spent three weeks (and two days) in Toronto, and had very little to show for it. Up until my arrival, every few days held the promise of a new city and new people to meet. I had moved to a new city for real and now, it was all up to me.

As happens so often in life, I shouldn’t have worried so much. Although I didn’t realise it except in hindsight, it was indeed around the three-week mark that my new (temporary) life started to come into focus. My street and my home began to feel familiar. I made some friends and started having things to go to in the evenings. I started to memorise streetcar routes and subway stations. I was able to sleep.

I look at the CN tower every day. So far up in the haze above the streets, it often has a unreal quality to it.

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If I was only staying in Toronto for a few days, enjoying one exciting day after another, I would have visited the CN Tower already. So I decided to go up.

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My place is over there somewhere.

Even though I had to push my way through hundreds of squealing children, it really was beautiful up there. You can ever-so-slightly see the curvature of the earth, off in the blue distance over Lake Ontario. IMG_0943

It’s expensive, as you’d expect – about $35. Especially because I chose to pay an extra $12 to go up a few more storeys to the Skypod.

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However, although it wasn’t advertised, the $12 includes some peace and quiet.

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On the main level there is a glass floor. I was excited to stand on the glass floor, until it came to the point where I had to step on it. IMG_0957My heart was beating incredibly quickly. There were other grown adults who were obviously terrified, and I don’t blame them. The fear of plunging to our deaths from incredibly high buildings unites us all, I guess.

So I had finally visited the CN Tower. I had seen a Sight, and was determined to see some more. I wanted to be excited about Toronto, every day that I spent there. And it was that evening that I met the Englishman, and realised that he was right.