I had assumed that all the multi-coloured pennants hanging on the cafés, bars, and bistros of Little Italy were for the World Cup which got underway last week. The World Cup is a really big thing in Toronto. The plethora of ethnic groups in the city means that every possible competitor in the big games has local fans. The bigger the competitor, the more visible the fans. And Little Italy is a bit of a misnomer. Many of the Italians, like the Jews before them, have moved north in the city and into the exurbs. Now, Little Italy has just as many Portuguese, Argentinians and Brazilians, plus a host of South American emigrants who have settled in the west end of Toronto. At World Cup time, cars decorated with national flags cruise the streets, their windows down, all the better to cheer with the pedestrians when their team wins. Patios overflow onto the streets, soccer schedules grace the tables, and bargain specials are advertised to coincide with particular game times. Extra tv monitors have been conveniently mounted for maximum viewing pleasure. At game time, the patios are full and the area is hopping.
With this World Cup mindset, I was taken aback to walk down my unusually quiet street to find College Street turned into a pedestrian mall from Bathurst to Shaw, a distance of some ten blocks. People were streaming down the centre of the street, milling around makeshift stands selling handicrafts, clothing and all manner of food, gawking at the fairway carnies and gauging the possibilities of the games. Where formerly there were only patios, tables filled with revellers now extended out into the street. People love to walk freely on the streets. It is such a change from our normal congestion, where cars dominate and pedestrians often stand and wait. And the food? Anything but Italian. Japanese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Turkish, barbecue, pulled pork, beef kebabs, samosas, tamales, fried plantain. There were stands selling Italian treats: funnel cake, standard for $6.00, ultimate for $9.00 with icing sugar, strawberries and ice cream; gelato of all flavours, and affogato, espresso with vanilla ice cream. But the bulk of the fare was totally multicultural.
At the bottom of my street, an engaging young man was playing his accordion and singing in Italian while couples twirled to his music. At the next intersection, a Jamaican band was jamming out the beats, as all sorts of people joined in. At every intersection all the way down the street, there was music of one kind or another. At Crawford and College, the Crawford Service Station, normally an automotive repair shop, had been reconfigured into a huge venue animated by an Indie88 disc jockey. Who, or what, is Indie88? The very friendly young people working the scene told me that it is a radio station with great music and I should listen to it. Maybe I will. There was a huge video screen attached to the side of the garage. The young man told me they’d set it up so people could watch the Italy-England soccer game without having to pay at a bar. Apparently, the lot was full. What a magnificent initiative.
At 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, the light was still bright and it occurred to me that summer is definitely here. I had assumed that the Taste of Italy occurred later in the summer, but a young woman assured me that it is always the Father’s Day weekend. Combined as it is with the World Cup this year, and every four years, it is the hottest place in town. Well, maybe not as hot as the MMVA, which I ran into while walking on Queen Street the same afternoon. Queen Street West between Beverley and McCaul was also closed to accommodate that event, and was crawling with young people, technicians and security staff strategically placed to control the crowds. Someone told me that the MMVA is the Much Music Video Awards, and it is a really really big thing. Such is Toronto in the summer.