The Most Important Lessons You’ll Learn at University

It’s October, and for us fourth years that means it’s time to apply for graduation. Oh my. For many of us, we joke about our degrees and how we’re going to starve once we graduate and how we’ve spent so much time, money and sanity just to get this stupid piece of paper that says we’re smart. Or something like that. In any case, before you despair about the fact that you didn’t feel as if all that time, money and sanity was worth it, here are a few things you should think about and keep in mind before you graduate.

  • You’ve grown and developed as a person more than you might think.
  • The truth is, you’ll continue to grow and develop whether you’re at university or at work.
  • You are your own harshest critic.
  • You know yourself better than anyone else. Follow your gut.
  • Life isn’t all about the little numbers in your bank account.
  • It’s okay to be wrong sometimes.
  • Your educators are people too.

Remembering Jack Layton

Yesterday, Canadians were shocked by the news that Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and the official opposition, passed away from cancer. As a member of ‘Laytontown’, I have no doubt that the loss of his indomitable and optimistic presence is deeply felt by every resident of the riding, regardless of political conviction.

I remember the election in 2004, when the winds of change had finally brought him to be the Member of Parliament for our riding. I was still young then and, as far as I could remember, many people were fed up with the previous Liberal MP who didn’t seem to be doing anything for us. Since then, it has felt as though our riding could vote nothing but NDP.

While I didn’t have a good understanding of political ideology when I was young, I did know that Jack had beliefs that were very similar to the ones we were taught in school. Our neighbourhood believed in the beauty of diversity and the value of respect for all. In grade five, I remember having trouble sleeping at night, troubled by the fact that other people didn’t have the rights and comforts that we enjoyed, and that we were ruining ourselves by ruining the environment. Jack Layton’s vision for the future seemed to fit with the values that we grew up with and we firmly believed that Jack was someone who could represent us well and bring about that ideal future of equality, sustainability, and hope.

At the same time, it seemed as though Jack really understood the character of the riding. Although it is part of the largest city in Canada, the neighbourhood in which I grew up had the good qualities of a small town – you knew who your neighbours were and you would help each other at the best and worst of times. It was always a comfort to know that, no matter what happened, your neighbours were there for you, even if they weren’t family or even close friends. In that sense, Jack was always there for us, despite his busy career as leader of the NDP. He attended every one of our Canada Day celebrations in the local park and I once had the fortune of shaking his hand at a local charity auction. He gave my friends and I great praise for being volunteers at a community event and chatted with the attendees like they were old friends. At the same event, the organizers informed him of another upcoming event, and he pulled out his Blackberry and noted it down in his calendar. He said that, although he may not be able to attend the entire event, he would try to come. Later in the year, one of the staff, who is a close friend, said that Jack did attend a portion of the event as promised.

Jack Layton was truly a great man who gave us reason to believe that the world could be changed for the better. He was an optimist, a leader with integrity, a fighter, and an affable politician (something that is almost an oxymoron) who fought valiantly against all odds to try to make Canada, and the world, a better place. His passion and commitment to his work will always be remembered and appreciated.

Rest in peace, Jack Layton, you will be missed.

Read Jack Layton’s final letter to Canadians here.

The Canadian National Exhibition

The Canadian national Exhibition (also known as the CNE and The Ex) is an annual event in Toronto. Although ticket prices tend to rise a bit each year, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed since childhood, and has become a tradition in my family. Since The Ex always takes place just before school starts, it’s a great way to mark the end of the summer holidays. Everyone should make an effort to go, whether it’s just once (to say that you’ve had the experience), or every year.

When is the Ex happening this year?

August 19th to September 5th.

What is there to do at The Ex?

There’s tons of stuff to see and do at the CNE, including:

  • A variety of shows featuring cowboy trick riding, figure skating, and cultural song and dance
  • The World Market, which features booths that showcase cool stuff from all around the world
  • The Home Living Market – you can buy a sauna!
  • The Arts and Crafts Market – browse (and buy!) cool jewellery, dips and jams, wind chimes, and tons of unique trinkets
  • Carnival rides
  • Carnival food – the usual corn dogs, cotton candy, and Tiny Tom doughnuts are always available (but why not try a Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger instead?)
  • A kids playcentre
  • A horticultural contest and gardening market – look at some spectacular blooms and gardens, and check out the annual flower competition
  • Parades
  • Last, but not least, the Labour Day air show!

Where can I get tickets to The Ex?

You can get tickets at the door but, if you want to avoid the lines and save a little money, some retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws usually have discounted tickets. You can also buy discounted tickets online before opening day here.

How do I get to the The Ex via public transit?

Take the 509 Exhibition streetcar from Bathurst or Union Station and it will take you right to the entrance of the Ex. Or, you can take the GO train to Exhibition station.

Let’s go to the Ex!

Taste of the Danforth

It’s almost time for the Taste of the Danforth!

What is it?

Lori did a post covering the festival 2 years ago, but hopefully it won’t be rainy this year. Enjoy tons of yummy food, games, and shows all weekend!

Food?

Some food you may want to try: spanakopita (spinach pies) and loukoumades (honey balls) from Athens Bakery, kangaroo burgers from The Friendly Butcher, souvlaki, gyros, and backlava.

When is it?

August 5th – August 7th.

How do I get there?

The festival is super accessible by TTC. Just take the subway to Broadview, Chester, Pape, Donlands, or Coxwell station.

(If this doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, or if you’re looking for even more stuff to do this weekend, you can also stop by the Brickworks Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. You can take the free shuttle bus by Broadview station on Erindale, just north of Danforth.)

For more information, you can visit the Taste of the Danforth’s official website.

Some Fun Facts About Toronto

Toronto is a city full of history and interesting stories. So, to both longtime residents of our lovely city and newcomers that have come to study at U of T, did you know that:

  • Front Street got its name because that’s where the waterfront used to be. The shoreline got moved down to Queen’s Quay because we filled the inner harbour for industrial development purposes.
  • Yorkville wasn’t always the posh, high-end neighbourhood it is now. In fact, it used to be the place for hippies to hang out. A lot of artists got their start in Yorkville, and the first line in Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” (‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’) refers to a spot in Yorkville. That particular parking lot has since been transformed into the Village of Yorkville Park (the ‘park’ with the giant artificial rocks).
  • The King Edward Hotel at King and Yonge is supposedly the most haunted building in Toronto, since it was built on a hanging yard.
  • In the past, you could discern a person’s social class by the way they said, ‘Spadina’. If someone said ‘Spa-dee-nah’, they were of the upper class, while people of the lower class said, ‘Spa-die-nah’. Since there were more people in the lower class than the upper class, the latter pronunciation is the one used today.
  • When the ROM’s crystal was in its final stages of construction, staff members signed one of the beams that forms the structure, immortalizing themselves forever within the museum. And yes, Daniel Libeskind designed the crystal on a napkin which is now in one of a ROM’s storage facility.
  • The glass facade of the AGO is supposed to looked like a tipped canoe. Why Frank Gehry chose such an inauspicious symbol is beyond me.
  • Chinatown used to be a little bit east of where it is now. Streets like Elizabeth Street and Chestnut Street used to be part of Chinatown. The Lee Benevolent Association at Dundas and Chestnut is a vestige of Chinatown’s previous location.
  • Even though it’s one of the official languages of Canada, French is only the 12th most spoken language in Toronto.
  • The Distillery District features some of most well-preserved examples of Victorian industrial architecture in North America.
  • The CN Tower no longer holds the record for being the highest free-standing building in the world, but it still holds the record for having the world’s highest wine cellar.

Feel free to add these tidbits to your Repository of Completely Useless Information (aka ROCUI, which is a lot more fun than ROSI).

Summerlicious!

(Pictured above, Mixed Berry Pavlova from Pangaea Restaurant – a dessert from their 2008 Summerlicious menu.)

Food is a passion of mine. Every time I see a restaurant that looks interesting, I note the location in my head so that I may visit it with some friends at a later date. As a result, a food festival like Summerlicious (and its winter counterpart, Winterlicious) is a godsend.

So what is Summerlicious?

Summerlicious is an event in which restaurants in Toronto (often high-end restaurants where bills would amount to $50+) offer a prix fixe menu for lunch and/or dinner. The restaurants usually offer 3 course meals ranging from $15 – $25 for lunch and $25 – $35 for dinner.

When does Summerlicious start and end?

Summerlicious starts on July 8th and ends on July 24th. However, restaurants are already taking reservations so make sure to call in early!

Which restaurants are participating in Summerlicious?

The full list of restaurants, along with their menus, can be found here. There is a wide variety of restaurants representing the diverse food cultures of the world.

Do I have to make a reservation?

Yes, you must make a reservation with the restaurant if you wish to dine. Also, make sure that you notify the restaurant as you make your reservation that you will be dining with their Summerlicious menu. Since reservations for participating restaurants began a few days ago, certain popular restaurants (such as Canoe) may already be fully booked for Summerlicious.

What if I’m a vegetarian?

Many participating restaurants offer vegetarian options and, after scouring a lot of menus, I can confirm that there are a few restaurants that offer vegan and gluten-free dishes on their menu.

Bon appetit!

A Sombre Production of Orfeo ed Eurydice

The Canadian Opera Company completes its trio of productions for the spring session with Cristoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. The names Orfeo and Euridice may sound familiar to you because the opera is based on the story of Orpheus the lyre player, who literally went to hell and back in an attempt to bring his dead lover, Eurydice, back to life.

Orfeo ed Euridice was memorable for the simplistic sets and costumes that helped set the tone for the tragedy that drives the plot and raison d’être of the show. The cast consisted of very proficient actors who expressed their grief convincingly. However, in song, they were, for the most part, unmemorable.

Maybe my expectations for the opera were too high (my standard Orfeo is, after all, the goddess Maria Callas – the video linked here is one where she sings the most famous aria of the opera, but in French rather than Italian), but I felt that the sadness and the drama of the entire production was only conveyed by the brilliant mise-en-scene. The scene in hell was particularly well done and is perhaps the only thing that I will give special mention for this review. However, even this positive quality seems to have failed Orfeo ed Euridice at the end when Orfeo and the chorus are celebrating Euridice’s return to the land of the mortals. The cast’s black costumes and the barren set overpowered the celebratory song and it felt as if they were at a funeral of someone who wasn’t well-liked in life.

In any case, Orfeo ed Euridice is running from May 8th to May 28th at the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts. For those living on a student budget, rush tickets are $20 and are available starting at 11 AM the day of the performance. All rush tickets seats are in the 5th ring. If you are under the age of 30, you are eligible for Opera for a New Age tickets, which cost $22 and will get you seats in the 5th or 3rd ring.

For more information on Orfeo ed Euridice and the Canadian Opera Company, click here.

Since this is my last opera review for blogUT, I would like to end with a brief personal note.

I decided to review productions by the COC purely for the purpose of generating curiosity, in hopes that students will, at least once in their lives, attend an opera production. From reading my reviews, you can probably guess that I’m not an opera expert and I’m still learning the finer details of the art. However, I feel justified in writing the way I do and in expressing the opinions I have expressed because I want to introduce the art of opera to an audience who may initially be turned off by the conception that it’s a kind of art form where one needs a lot of prior knowledge to appreciate it. To some people, that may be true, but I don’t see why the average person can’t enjoy opera for its amusing plots or beautiful music. In the end, I hope that my reviews have generated some interest, because the opera is truly a magnificent experience that everyone can enjoy.