Toronto’s Scariest Neighbourhoods

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Halloween, and the ghouls want to know where’s the best place to stroll. Here’s your guide to the spookiest streets in town:

Leslieville: Larchmount Avenue. (Running north between Eastern and Queen Street East)

The houses on this child-friendly street usually go all out with spooky spectaculars and equally scary audio. The special effects come courtesy the street being home to a number of film types who call the street home, among them prop and set designers employed by some of the Leslieville studios. Yes, that means the street show comes with popcorn, in addition to an assortment of other treats.

Riverdale: Hogarth Avenue. (Running east and west between InghamBroadview and Logan)

This is the street all the local kids (and in Riverdale they are legion) head to on Halloween night. Besides being all dressed up, the houses are on the flat with very few steps to the front door, making them ideal for especially little tykes wanting to negotiate the trick or the treat. Riverdale also plays host to a popular annual Halloween street performance that takes place on nearby Langley, home to folks in the entertainment industry who can’t resist hamming it up. This year the neighbourhood’s theme is vampires (bring your own garlic).

Rosedale: Crescent Road. (Running east and west between Yonge and Sherbourne St. North)

One of Rosedale’s main arteries, Crescent Road is lined with large century-old houses – some with turrets and ivy-clad brick walls – that make the special effects lavished on them on Halloween seem all the more ghoulish. This is where some of Canada’s Captains of Industry personally answer the knocks on their spider-webbed doors (the hired help are presumably given the night off) dressed up as witches or the Grim Reaper, eager to give away the Mr. Big candy bars and bags of chips piled up in their marble foyers. Looking for some good loot? This is the street to hit.

Etobicoke: The Kingsway (Running north from Prince Edward Drive North)

Halloween is a very big deal in this west end neighbourhood. Residents go over the top decorating their houses (maybe because they feel they have to compete with the permanent light show sponsored by the Kingsway BIA on the main drag) and compete with neighbours when it comes to shelling out. The ultimate destination? The mansions on Kingsway Crescent. So bountiful is the candy on this stretch that parents will often just pile their costumed charges in the car and drive directly there.

The Beaches: Joseph Duggan Road (Running south of Queen Street East)

It started with just one house in the new Woodbine subdivision wanting to dress itself up. Last year, three other houses on the block next door to each on the same block had also squeezed in on the action to create what is now widely known as the biggest Halloween sound-and-light show in the Beaches. The decorations draw in the crowds, so much so that last year the cops received complaints about the noise. The participating houses now ask for a charitable donation for children who can’t trick-or-treat because of illness. Those who can walk away with a ton of loot.

Shoe Me

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The view from atop a pair of four-inch heels is pretty good. The legs look longer, the muscles tauter — as if I’ve been working out all my life.

But then I get a touch of vertigo when I glance down at the price tag — $1,195 for a shoe that is basically a licorice-length of leather twisted daintily around a naked foot.

Morry Swartz, who has been selling slender nothings at Davids on Bloor to such high-profile clients as Liza Minnelli, Barbara Amiel and Diahann Carroll for the past 51 years, tells me that thousand-dollar sandals are the norm these days in a market gone gaga for luxury goods like shoes and handbags.

“Shoes are the new status symbol,” he says, nimbly placing my tootsie on his thigh (buying footwear encourages intimacy). “It really doesn’t matter what they cost. If a woman wants them, she is going to buy them.” Well, I’m not buying these — gorgeous as they are. The gold leather bejewelled dress shoes by Italy’s Renè Caovilla are meant for a more delicate foot. When I walk, my toes fall out of them. The decorative strap rubs against what Mr. Swartz calls my “enlarged joint” (a bunion). “Madam has a problem foot.”

I’m on a quest for the city’s most expensive shoe, and for days have been trying to scale the Everest of high-priced high heels. But so far the season’s wispy nothings won’t fit. Wanting to be Cinderella and not the stepsister, I’m determined to find out why I am failing shoes any bimbo could wear.

I sashay over to Ron White The Foot Shoppe in the Manulife Centre, where his designer shoes, hovering around the $500 mark, have made him the best friend of every shoe-addicted woman. “The reason is, I sell sexy and comfortable,” Mr. White says, explaining the popularity of his shoes among such celebrities as Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman. “For that, no fashionista is even going to think twice about what it costs.”

The high heels on display are so yummy it’s hard to believe they are good for your foot. Skeptical, I point to crocodile black patent pumps, $535, by Anyi Lu. They are so fabulously dangerous-looking they have to hurt. But no, they are light as air. Mr. White says it’s because they are made with Poron, a NASA-developed foam that absorbs shocks and gives the heels the bounce associated with running shoes.

But they rub my foot the wrong way, because they have a hidden arch support and I have no arch. “You also have a narrow girth,” Mr. White says, measuring my foot with an instrument that looks as if it came out of a 19th-century gynecologist’s office.

He sends me on my way, but warns me against peep toes — this season’s signature shoe — and footwear without ankle straps for support, no matter how tempting: “Your foot is so thin it would just slide out of the shoe.” When did skinny become a fashion handicap?

I arrive with a little too much information about my feet at Holt Renfrew, where I find myself in the expert hands of shoe salesman Derrick Adams. I nix the slides and the pointy-toes, the slingbacks and the kitten heels. With more than 20 years experience, Mr. Adams has yet to meet a foot he couldn’t fit. He hands me a pair of sparkling Gina blue satin pumps, $1,495. Genius.

Mr. Adams sees my eyes light up and leans in for the kill: “Before the lady even turns over the shoe to look at the price tag, there’s a certain feeling she gets that makes her think, ‘Who cares what it costs? I’ve got to have it.’ ” I am wondering if I am about to cross that line.

“Sometimes,” he continues, his voice like a nudge, “the price is a secondary factor, because the shoe has moved her in a particular way.” I try it on. I wince in pain. That’s not the feeling he meant.

At Zola on Avenue Road, Toronto’s shoe harem, Joanna Whitfield is the perfect gal pal — the one you want to shop with, because she puts you up to buying that expensive shoe. “You’ve come to the right place,” she enthuses. “There’s a global market for high-, higher- and highest-priced shoes. . . . Customers want the exotic skins, they want the designer names. The bar has been raised, forever. Last year’s $500 shoe is this year’s $850 shoe.”

To prove it, she points to the $1,195 blue patent orchid-shaped shoe by Britain’s Rupert Sanderson (constricting), the $2,185 bronzed python boot by Devi Kroell (concealing), the $635 sequined Emma Hope running shoe (sensible).

Undaunted, Ms. Whitfield goes into the backroom and returns with a pair of purple python Missoni wedgies with art deco cutouts.

I fasten them on and then am off, making loop-de-loops instead of straight lines. I’m in love. I’ve got that feeling that makes the $950 price become secondary to desire.

But now that I’ve neared the summit, have I actually plateaued? I ask Ms. Whitfield to put them on hold for a day until I make sure, reallysure, that I have found the top shoe in Toronto for me.

That’s when I call Colin Campbell, Canada’s Manolo Blahnik. He handcrafts exquisite high heels from his basement at the corner of Pape and Gerrard, starting at $1,500. He tells me that expensive shoes are usually worth the money. “A high-end shoe by a name designer is going to have a good shaft, the insole boards are going to be brilliant, the soling material is going to be top-notch and the stiletto is going to be properly made — a hardened spike that . . . will never snap.”

He offers a stiletto — a nail on a wedge of leather gussied with ribbon; I fall out of them. He calmly shows me a custard-coloured leather pump with a sculpted heel of cherrywood that he hand-carved.

“It’s a sleepy-looking shoe,” Mr. Campbell says, knowingly. “The colour isn’t a wow. But when it’s on, it’s va-va-voom.” And at $2,400, this custom-made shoe is mine alone.

Cinderella has found her shoe.

Expert, Texpert

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An honour, to be sure, to be written up in an academic journal. And an honour to be called an advocate for dancers’ rights. So don’t get me wrong: I am grateful. But in her review of my book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, Kate Cornell gets several things wrong.

She says I was inspired to do my book because of Jennifer Homans’s tome, Apollo’s Angels. This is patently untrue. I presented my proposal well before Homans’s book was published. I had started writing it before I even got a copy of her excellent book, and then I soon after stopped reading it as I did not want Homans’s powerful research to interfere in any way with my own. Cornell footnotes that I said publicly that Homans was my main influence, which stunned me, as I never did say that.

The footnote is inaccurate as well. It alludes to an online article where the topic never came up. In fact, the article is not really an article. It is a fun platform for self-promotion put out by a Toronto PR firm specializing in lifestyle brands. They asked me to give them a day in the life. I talk about drinking coffee. I do no talk about how I researched and wrote my book. There are, however, several other articles that do document the process. Cornell either never bothered to look for them, or decided instead to ignore them.

Cornell at first likes the book and takes pains to present my legacy as a dance critic who pulls no punches. This is a tremendous compliment, so I am thankful. This indeed is how I want to be remembered. But she ends the review abruptly, and even somewhat rudely, telling me to stick to newspaper writing. She claims I add nothing new to the literature of dance. Which is also untrue.

My book is full of original interviews; it combines academic research with populist reportage, from People to my own Globe and Mail newspaper. It addresses topics that even the ballet world is loath to air: sexism, racism, poverty, and alienation once the curtain falls on the final performance.

It is is not an academic book. It is meant for a general audience for whom ballet often remains at a remove, and is a mystery.

Like it or not, my book shows the human beings behind the dance, it tells their stories. My book has inspired many ballerinas world-wide to write me to thank me for telling the truth about their profession.

But I am writing now not to boast. I am writing to constructively and respectfully correct the record.

Here is an excerpt of the critique below:

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Gobble, Gobble: Be Thankful You’re Not Eating This

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I’m no gourmet.

I don’t have a particularly daring palate.

I grew up on a bland Celtic diet of minced meat and potatoes. And while I’ve since been around, gastronomically speaking — foie gras in Paris, Chianti in Chianti, caviar in Russia — my favourite food memory remains the sandwich — chunky cheddar cheese on white bread — my mom made me in high school.

Still, as Summerlicious rolls around again, I can’t help but ask: How much seared yellow fin tuna can a Toronto foodie eat?

Sure, the city’s annual culinary celebration, which launched its third season yesterday, offers diners on a budget the opportunity to sample the likes of North 44 and Canoe.

But your $35 prix-fixe will end, more often than not, in some buttoned-down variation of poisson or poultry.

Where’s the sense of adventure? Surely there’s more to the city than another square plate of panko-crusted chicken — a whole spectrum of blood, guts and innards, tongues, feet and hearts. I’m determined to find it and (gulp) try it.

Gastro challenge or Fear Factor?

Depends on your point of view.

Dish 1: dom balan

When I tell my husband we’re having testicles for dinner, he blanches and says he has a headache.

So I arrive alone at Banu, where the owners of the hip Queen West Persian restaurant, three siblings, want to ease me into my first sampling of dom balan — lamb’s testicles, marinated and grilled.

They feed me an appetizer of yoghurt sprinkled with rose petals, and then a shot of vodka — not to numb the pain but because this is the traditional way to eat “the little jewels,” according to co-owner Salome Mohyeddin.

But I’m not too drunk to notice how perky they look — spherical but also quirkily irregular.

Ms. Mohyeddin brings them to me on a platter, cut from the scrotum but still hot, and sprinkled with sea salt by her chef-brother, Amir.

I pick up a fork and plunge into the caramel-coloured mounds quivering before me. I inhale. It has the aroma of surf and sea and a Mediterranean tang. I spritz some lemon and gobble some more. Mmmm. Good! Tastes like sweetbreads. If you like sweetbreads, that is, and I do.

I’m pumped by the excitement. I want to challenge Ms. Mohyeddin to an arm wrestle. But she subdues me by telling me that testicles are for a refined palate.

Dish 2: kokorec

I mentioned kokorec to the mother of one of my son’s school friends and her eyes lit up — it’s the one food that reminds her of home. But her brow furrowed as she recalled the flap this Turkish delight raised overseas.

“The EU won’t let Turkey in unless we ban it,” she said. “And I think not. No one will give up kokorec. It’s part of our national identity.”

Indeed, there was talk a few years ago that Turkey’s application for membership in the European Union would be hamstrung by its most treasured street meal: crusty bread filled with ground-up sheep innards — stomach lining, intestines, colon, the whole thing. On the heels of mad-cow scares, some questioned the safety of the sandwich’s ingredients. Turks countered with accusations that frog legs and snails are dirtier by far. Ah, the politics of cooking.

The issue has since settled down, but I want to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Luckily for me, Champions, which opened nine months ago on the Danforth near Donlands Avenue, has made the dish its mainstay. The restaurant is a franchise of the Sampiyon, the most famous kokorec establishment in Istanbul. In other words, this is the real deal.

After quaffing some fermented red carrot juice, I take my first bite of the sandwich. The meat is spicy, prepared with chopped tomatoes and red hot peppers and cooked on a large griddle with liberal dashes of oregano. I’ve died and gone to Mount Ararat.

The EU can keep its food critics: Champions is hereby granted full membership in Toronto’s culinary union. And there’s mutton you can do about it.

Dish 3: balut

The first bite into the yolk isn’t so bad.

But then I see it.

The little head with the little eyes, closed as if in prayer, the barely shaped wings crossed angelically across its chest.

There is little left to do but bite off its face.

My search for balut — an 18-day-old duck embryo served as a boiled egg — has led me straight to Mayette Morillo, chef-owner of Mayette’s Fine Foods at Danforth and Pharmacy. She’s Toronto’s doyenne of Filipino cuisine; her clients include the consul-general of the Philippines.

When she hears what I want to eat, she shrieks.

“I don’t eat that. Awful. I’ll make you something more appetizing.”

But I press on. I mean, what’s a little half-baked chick?

Ms. Morillo sends her sister, Rose Cruz, to the table to walk me through it. Ms. Cruz first tells me the baby duck’s story. That the egg was likely plucked from a nest just on the eve of reaching maturity and buried first in sand to stunt its development . That it was boiled, for at least 45 minutes, to ensure freshness. That in the Philippines, it’s prized like caviar.

Ms. Cruz gingerly peels back the egg shell before slurping back the tea-coloured embryonic fluid, which she swears tastes exactly like chicken soup. (True.)

My knees are shaking beneath the table. “It will make you more beautiful, more sexy,” Ms. Cruz says with a wink.

“Makes you horny,” chimes in Ms. Morillo, underscoring balut’s reputation as an aphrodisiac.

“So you won’t be discouraged to eat it,” suggests Ms. Cruz, offering me a rope of moral support. “Don’t look at it.”

Crunch, munch, spit, spat. “Is that down between your teeth or are you just glad to eat me?”

I cough and realize my grimace has just been caught on camera. Ms. Morillo and her husband and brother-in-law are all snapping photos of me to send to the folks back home.

At least balut comes with its own built-in toothpick. The tiny talons cleanse the mouth before clawing the throat.

Dish 4: duck tongues

I can’t get away from the quackers.

Chef Susur Lee recommended Taste of China on Spadina Avenue, which, he says, serves some of the best Chinese food in town. He calls in advance to order for me. Most of the dishes, I am later told, won’t be found on the menu — they’re available only by request.

I wade through seven dishes, from breaded eel (a lot like Cajun-style chicken nuggets) to fish stomach in a soup in which also float fish roe, bean curd and an unusual underwater animal euphemistically called sea cucumber.

But back to the tongues. Small and pecan-coloured, they’re served cold as an appetizer accompanied by shaved jellyfish and de-boned duck feet. I think of Daffy Duck and his lisp.

I pick up a set of chopsticks. Down one slithers. I’m intrigued.

This is food as a philosophical conundrum.

Am I tasting it or is it tasting me?

Yes, Virginia, there are bones in a duck’s tongue. But at Taste of China, chef-owner Ping Cham Yeung says, they have been meticulously sliced away for a dish that’s smooth, soft, slippery and slightly gelatinous — a taste sensation not unlike that of cold rice noodles. Lightly seasoned with sesame oil, it is global gastronomy at its finest.

I can’t think of what else to say because, for once, I am tongue-tied.

Dish 5: black pudding

All this wandering through other people’s cuisines has made me nostalgic for my own comfort food.

Some call it blood sausage, some call it black pudding — your choice of words is dependent on how hoity-toity, as my Irish grandmother would say, you are.

Me, I say black pudding, and growing up, I ate it regularly for breakfast. I guess I thought most everyone did.

I admit I haven’t eaten it much of late, and when I go looking for it, it is hard to find. I eventually find it at the Irish Embassy Pub and Grill on Yonge Street. There I am shocked to learn that the reason it is so scarce these days is because many actually consider this bit of offal to be truly awful. For me, it is as benign as beans on toast.

Rory Kowdrysh, the pub’s co-owner, tells me that when he serves black pudding as part of his $12 hungry-man-sized Irish breakfast at weekend brunch, it is usually left untouched.

“It’s the one thing people are hesitant to eat,” he says. “They hear the words, pig blood, and that’s it. They’re turned off. Some can’t even bear to look at it.”

But ’tis so harmless. Pretty, even.

There, on the plate before me, settled comfortably on a bed of greens, are several half-moon slices of ebonized joy.

The texture is rich and velvety. Pan-seared before serving, it is crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside. The taste is both savoury and sweet, as a result of the addition of onions and oatmeal that bind the blood together. But it isn’t subtle in taste.

I eat with gusto, but also in desultory silence.

Blood and guts. I have been eating them all week. When I was thinking other people’s food was weird, weirder still was my own. But le freak, c’est chic. And Rory tells me that blood pudding is now all the rage in posh eateries in Dublin and across Europe where it is variously known as boudin noir (France), morcilla (Spain), blutwurst (Germany) and sanguinaccio (Italy).

I take comfort in that.

Then I ask for a doggy bag.

Knifestyles

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To lift or not to lift? That used to be the question. But these days, taut-skinned patrons of the art of plastic surgery are everywhere; face lifts have become about as common as twice yearly visits to the dentist. Confessionals abound — many want to show off the scars they’ve attained in their battle against aging — and soon there will be a genre of literature devoted to the nipped and tucked, a new sort of pulp fiction. Vogue, no stranger to the knifestyles of the rich and famous, delivers a feature penned by the daughter of a 55-year-old woman who goes through the agony of facial reconstruction to get her looks back. Like many articles of this, uh, nature, the details are gruesome. “What I saw in room 503 was worse than any horror film I’d ever seen. Mom’s head was a big, bashed-in pumpkin,” writes Christine Muhlke in her August, 1999, article, Mother’s Little Helper. But, propelled by some kind of morbid curiosity, the reader ploughs on, wanting to arrive at the inevitable happy ending. It’s a strange experience, this consumption of vanity writing. Perhaps the appeal — in spite of the gross-out factor — is learning how possible it is to tap into some fountain of youth, no matter how painful. Or is it the thrill of the grotesque that keeps us enthralled? Only your surgeon knows for sure.

How to Cover the Paris Fashion Shows — Wear the Right Boots

 

 

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I’m calling it my baptism by Fendi because at that fashion show, I was reborn.

I walked in as a stylist’s nightmare and emerged, about 12 days and 1,200 shots of espresso later, a wide-eyed convert to the world of fabulousness.

I bought the heels, the wide-hooped earrings, the fur-fringed coat. I went every second day to the hairdresser for a blow dry. I walked the aisles of Prada, for God’s sake, seriously contemplating the purchase of a $1,000, red-leather purse.

The fashion cross is hard to bear. But I had seen the error of my ski-hat ways and was keen to do penance.

My editor was the first to set me on the path of righteousness. She took one look at me my first day back at work after maternity leave and said, “Yo, girl, you need some help.”

She was sending me on a mission. I was to be the new fashion reporter assigned to Milan and Paris for the ready-to-wear shows. I was to report back to Canada’s style heathens not only on what to wear, but how, when and why.

I trained hard for the assignment — tracking down a personal shopper at The Bay, spending thousands of dollars on new dresses, jackets, skirts, shoes and sweaters, swanning about at Starbucks on Bloor Street on Sunday afternoons in hopes that somebody — anybody — would notice.

When it came time for my trip, I packed all the wonderful new purchases carefully, wrapping them in tissue and primping them with sachets. When I arrived in Milan in February, I was ready to conquer — and I was trampled before I even put pen to paper.

It wasn’t the models who did me in. Oh sure, they’re tall, they’re bodacious, they’re glossily coiffed. But they are also make-believe — aliens from another planet, painted, dressed and botoxed to within an inch of their lives.

My day of judgment came at the hands of the international fashion press. They are the true arbiters of style; the holders of the key to the temple of fabulousness. I sat at their feet — literally, because I was a mere Canadian from the what-did-you say-your-paper’s-name-is-again? I was often refused a ticket to the shows and sometimes had to duck to get in.

Those square-toed boots I bought just before my pilgrimage to the city of the Duomo? Like, totally last season. And that beautiful red dress, the one that in Toronto I reserved for special occasions and here I proudly wore at work on the collections? Well, I felt like Little Orphan Annie in a hand-me-down.

The big girls didn’t sneer. They just didn’t look my way. I watched them from the sidelines, strutting down sidewalks in the most divine tapered-toe boots, cutting a swath through the crowds by means of their one-of-a-kind designer handbags.

The funny thing was, most of the time these goddesses wore blue jeans. But you could tell they spent a long time shopping for the right pair, and by that, think flattering.

Not everyone was a size 4, as is more the norm in the New York media corps — the doyennes of Vogue, Elle and W. In Italy, the women were women, with long hair and eyelashes and curves galore. Their secret weapon was believing in their own wonderfulness. This attitude alone can wipe away lines, eliminate bulges, make you walk straighter and smile more often.

But the second most powerful gun in their arsenal is a keen eye for the runway trends, and emulating them with a less-is-more finesse.

And so this translated as jeans with polished high heels, big hoop earrings, a fur-fringed coat, a gorgeous (also big, for all that press bumf) handbag made of the finest leather, and grooming, grooming, grooming.

I shamelessly copied the look, writing in the margins of my notebook at the Fendi show just what I needed to make it to fashionista heaven.

I’m back in Plain Jane Toronto now. Friends have noticed my transformation. Which is good. But every time I step onto a bus, my heels keep getting stuck in the hem of my new coat. Which is bad. I have almost tumbled face first into the driver a couple of times this week. Is that pride coming before a fall? Or did I buy the wrong shoes — again? Damn.