Cheating on Toronto

 Photo: Andrew Thies

Photo: Andrew Thies

Let me start off by saying I love this city. In it, I’ve found a home, filled with wonderful people who are exactly my speed, wonderful food, and wonderful drink. For me personally, there aren’t many cities in the world better than Toronto. I’ve been to every continent, experienced many countries, and have seen what they have to offer. Trust me - it doesn’t get that much better than here. That being said, what happens when you fall out of love with your home? With the music, with the people, with the pace of life.

I had the opportunity to study in Nice, France for a year. The French Riviera and a year of relaxing beckoned. I couldn’t resist. In August 2015 I did something I’ve always wanted to do; namely pack my bags, say goodbye to friends, family, and Owl of Minerva (5324 Yonge Street. Ask for Seo-Hyeon to serve you. You can taste the difference). I’m kidding - saying goodbye to Owl of Minerva is never something I wanted to do. But it was a necessary by-product of my uprooting for a year. I arrived in Nice with no place to live, crashed on a friend’s couch for 2 weeks, and eventually enrolled in school.

11 months and 21 countries later, I still wasn’t ready to leave. The initial reluctance to be open to anything other than the beautiful metropolis I called a home in Toronto was loosened and eventually the shackles came off. One by one the people I came to love left for their respective homes and I was the last one of all my international friends staying in Nice. I felt a hollow happiness - hollow because the people I’d grown accustomed to had left, happy because I’m at my best when alone. I took full advantage of that month or so by myself. I was used to anonymity.

That anonymity followed me everywhere I went. London to Riga, Tallinn to Porto. It was something I never thought of packing in my carry-on but I never left home without. One of the most beautiful parts of travelling (especially leaving the quite passable Tallinn), was coming home. Not Toronto. Home was Nice. Home was arriving at the airport and walking for two and a half hours to my place and loving every second of it. Home was studying in Jardin Albert 1er or hiking the Tête de chien or complaining about the ridiculous prices everywhere.

So you can see, dear readers, why this posed a problem. I was faithful to my love Toronto for 13+ years but somebody sexier came by and we had a one year fling. I guess I fell in love. I grew accustomed to the pace. Two hour lunch breaks and late meetings became ma vie quotidienne. In fact, I’d eat lunch by the beach in between classes and return after the day was done with a bottle of rosé and a love even sweeter. My body became used to the weather, from the balmy “winters” to the lazy summer days, which were most days. I took everything with a laissez-faire attitude, quite simply because most others did the same around me. No point in doing otherwise. I became rather indoctrinated to the culture of that region of France and gained a new perspective on Toronto.

It was always something I knew, but never quite fully understood without this comparative view that Nice gave me. The pace of our charming city can be quite alarming. If one doesn’t stop to appreciate surroundings and be fully self-aware, life can pass by so damn quickly. Writing this, in fact, has been one of the few moments of meaningful reflection in a week or so; a week crammed with academic and work responsibilities. It seems, to put it briefly, I haven’t quite caught up to speed back here. I haven’t gotten past that reverse culture shock. Or maybe I just don’t want to. At the very least, my time abroad can be considered as a useful tool to help slow down things here. Just thinking of the afternoon sun and the busy Promenade des Anglais takes me to - as Edward Sharpe so melodically puts it - better days.

The age old adage of “the grass is always greener on the other side” is, well, an age old adage for a good reason. I complained about the lack of entertainment in Nice - the unfortunate lack of a music scene, being outpriced at bars and restaurants. I longed for a night at Owl of Minerva after dancing at Clinton’s and pre-drinking at Red Room. That doesn’t exist in a place where the average age is one of the oldest in France. But now that I’ve returned I find myself not quite at the pace everybody seems to be. I long for outdoor and adventure activity - a 20 minute bus or train from my place in centre-ville to some of the best hikes in Europe. I’d have to load up and take a 400-series highway into or even past the green belt to do something similar. I slow things down and would ideally love to work with time constraints and deadlines similar to that of Nice but school and work seem to drag me back into reality.

I’m learning to deal with two different types of socialization - both inherently conflictual and opposite of each other. I’ve been welcomed back by my love, Toronto, despite cheating on her for a year. Slowly but surely I’m readjusting to life in the fast lane but I’m trying to “get the best of both worlds”, as 21st century poet and philosopher Hannah Montana so eloquently puts it. Despite this Yin and Yang, this Apollo and Dionysus, this Toronto and Nice (I don’t know how metaphors work), one page from my Niçois adventure will remain pristine and intact. I’m trying to live it every day by taking a Ferris Bueller-esque approach to life. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.