The hot tub located in the women’s locker room of the West End College Street YMCA in Toronto is one of the highlights of the Y experience. (The men have a hot tub, too, but I know nothing of what happens there.) Unlike some Ys, where access to the hot tub is limited to members who pay a premium, the West End Y hot tub is open to everyone. Many love the warm luxury of the hot water and the “water therapy” provided by the jets. Together with the steam room, sauna and showers, the swimming pool, sports facilities, and the Zen deck on the roof, it provides “the ultimate spa experience” for those who like to treat it as such, even for a day.
The current hot tub is a pool clad with white tiles, up three stairs from the showers, sauna, and steam room. These stairs make the hot tub inaccessible to those in wheelchairs, hardly conducive to the Y’s commitment to physical accessibility. How this was missed during a relatively recent renovation escapes me, but it was. Putting that aside….
The tub holds a maximum of eight people at a time, sitting on underwater tile-clad benches, with jets on two sides. Sometimes when I use the hot tub, I have the hot tub to myself. Other times it is full. Each time, I wonder what my hot tub experience will bring that day. Consistent with the prevailing etiquette, sometimes all the bathers like to talk. Other times, it is apparent that some individuals want quiet time and it is best not to clutter their serenity with chatter.
I have met the most interesting people in the hot tub. One day, I was the sole fluent anglophone among four Portuguese women of a certain age, all talking to each other in Portuguese. I discovered that they had immigrated to Canada thirty or forty years ago and worked as cleaning ladies. They were talking about their summer vacations “back home.” All had second and even third homes in Portugal, near their families, which were opened up and aired out every summer in anticipation of their arrival. They all had at least one luxury car, a Mercedes, or an Audi, or a BMW, which they kept in Portugal for their use. I loved the fact that these modest immigrant women were so successful and that Canada had given them the means to be so.
Another time, I shared the pool with a trio of much younger women from Vietnam. In faltering English, they described how they came to Canada recently and, having learned about the Y from their friends, came to “use the spa.” Two had lived in Cambodia during the Vietnamese war; the third came from Ho Chi Minh City. Another Vietnamese woman told me that she worked long hours as a nurse and, although not a Y member, she spent her days off at this Y as a guest, because of the spa. When I admired the very distinctive flowered green bathing suit worn by yet another woman, also from Viet Nam, she told me that she had made it herself. She was the very first person I have ever met who made her own bathing suit.
The hot tub has become a font of invaluable information which consistently improves my life. A woman who was a writer told me about a legal book she published which was available as part of a series for young people from the Toronto Public Library. Although I have been very active in public legal education during my career, I did not know about the series and went to borrow her book right away. She also told me about a book store on Bathurst near Bloor which I did not know existed.
Just last week, I met a woman from Porto, in Portugal, who sews for a living from her studio on Vaughan Road. Among her clients is Malabar, Toronto’s pre-eminent costume emporium on McCaul Street. I figured that anyone who works for Malabar must be good. I told her about the sewing I needed to have done and she invited me to visit her studio. I gathered up some old jackets and dresses which have languished unworn for years and brought them to her. She pinned everything carefully and suggested several design remakes which were simple but which updated the outfits dramatically. I think I have finally found a fashion designer/seamstress/tailor who is more than a worthy successor to my beloved Frank the Tailor, who retired several years ago. (See my post about Frank, here.) After spending two hours with Naty, I went home and wrote this post on the YMCA Hot Tub which I have wanted to do for years.
Like traditional “waters” and community wells of old, the hot tub is the locus of the best that that Y has to offer. Where else could I meet such a variety of people and, by asking just a few questions, learn their stories, and become their friend or at least their acquaintance? It’s a marvellous means for cross-cultural interaction. By its mere existence, it reflects and builds the community of which it is a part.
My husband and I have lived in Toronto for forty-nine years and, until Labour Day this year, we had never once fished in Lake Ontario. Like most everyone else I know, we assumed that the lake was too dirty and the fish were inedible, or at least so toxic that consumption would need to be limited.
Not true. The lake has been cleaned dramatically in recent years. The government stocks the lake with salmon and rainbow trout. Every year the Toronto Sun sponsors the Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby which this year ran from June 29th to August l7th. During the derby, big prizes are offered to those who catch the biggest fish each week, the biggest fish during the derby, and the charter boats that catch the most fish. Winning fish can weigh twenty-seven to forty pounds.
My husband has been a fly fisherman most of his life; in B.C. as a youth, in the Wyoming mountain wilderness, and in northern Ontario rivers years ago. His catches were generally no more than a foot long and eaten immediately. We often salivate over stories of our relatives out west who go on big fishing trips in the salt chuck or on the big rivers of the B.C. interior. Once my brother caught a halibut well over 100 pounds near Tofino. It took over an hour to land and fed family and friends all winter. Two of my mother’s cousins fished for salmon up the B.C. coast until well into their eighties, canning the fresh salmon on the beach before they brought it home. People who live on the west coast are preoccupied with the size and health of the four-year salmon run. In Toronto, we didn’t even appreciate that there were salmon in Lake Ontario, also living a four-year cycle before they go upriver to spawn.
To celebrate my husband’s birthday, my younger son arranged to charter a fishing boat for a morning from Epic Sportfishing in Scarborough. At 6:00 a.m. on September 2nd, my husband, two sons, and I met skipper Aaron Flavell in the pre-dawn dark at Bluffers Park Marina. Before long, we were out in the water opposite the Scarborough Bluffs and Aaron began to let out what became eight lines, all set for different lengths and depths according to where his fish-finder indicated the fish could be. Fishing has obviously become a very sophisticated high tech affair.
Within a half-hour of leaving the dock, I caught our first fish, a rainbow trout well over five pounds and well over two feet long. Within minutes, Bill and Carl each caught, almost together, a couple of salmon of about the same size. Aaron said that they were two years old. We were utterly delighted. These were the biggest fish we had ever caught. It was Ben’s turn to reel in the next catch which turned out to be a yearling which we decided was too small to keep; our first catch and release. Ben’s next was another rainbow trout of a good size which ended up in the cooler. Over less than five hours, we caught nine fish: three rainbow trout and six salmon. We kept the six over five pounds to take home
Throughout the morning, Aaron filled us in on the mechanics of modern sports fishing, how the fish finder and the bottom feeders worked, and the advantages of different types of lines and reels. He told us about the big summer salmon-fishing derby, and how many of his clients had been winners. He was somewhat disappointed that we hadn’t pulled in a twenty-pounder. By contrast, we were ecstatic. Even more so when he filleted the fish for us as we returned to the marina. We brought our share home to put in the freezer.
It was a beautiful day for fishing. Not too hot nor too sunny. Apart from the fishing, the early morning air, the shining waters, the waves of monarch butterflies we saw flying south, and the vistas of the shore and the city were invigorating. The easy camaraderie between us was great fun. This was undoubtedly the beginning of a new tradition.
For the Canada Day weekend, the Globe and Mail published a full-page Giant Summer Crossword. Like its Giant Holiday Crossword published during the Christmas season, this challenge is intended to engage all the family, or at least to absorb crossword enthusiasts during some holiday downtime. I have always wanted to do the puzzle, but am not a crossword regular and never found the conditions right. Canada Day weekend 2018 was a first.
My husband and I were visiting relatives in Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, a couple of hours up-island from Nanaimo. The relatives included my sister- and brother-in-law, two of their adult children, six grandchildren, and other friends, all together for a weekend of family activities. With so much action both inside and out, who would have thought that the conditions would be right to do a giant crossword?
My sister-in-law noticed the “giant crossword” in the paper edition of the Globe which I had bought on the ferry. Apparently, their family do the giant crossword every Christmas and they even had an appropriately sized board for it. Normally, they divide the puzzle into quadrants, make copies of the relevant clues, and everyone takes a section. We were not so well-organized but, with the crossword taped to the board, and the board on the dining table, we were all set to begin.
It helped that my sister-in-law was chief cook for the weekend and, happily preparing dishes at the kitchen counter beside the table, was delighted with a mental diversion. I did what I could do on the puzzle, and readily responded to her invitation to “read out the clues.” She does crosswords, is super literate, and has “a mind that accumulates useless trivia,” as she puts it. Much of what I did not know, she did.
Notwithstanding the demands of the children, the other adults in the crowd joined in to fill in the blanks. The thirty and forty-year-olds knew the pop music references, and the sports clues. My brother-in-law, a former teacher, knew many of the scientific terms and the French-Canadian hints. My husband, a professional historian, contributed his two cents’ worth.
Every bit helped. Each new set of eyes that surveyed the crossword found words (both long and short) that had been missing and should have been obvious. Focused quiet times produced great leaps forward. We eventually recognized that there were certain words we could never get and gave ourselves permission to look them up on the iPad.
By Monday evening, we had completed all but seven or eight words. Among others which I can’t remember, we were hung up on “meet and greet, eg,” “pumpkin shell?” and “b-ball.” My sister-in-law took a late night bath, cleared her head, and returned to the puzzle with a new mind-set.
Rather than looking for a noun that would describe the networking activity implicit in the clue, she recognized that “meet and greet” were examples of simple “rhymes.” Of course. “Pumpkin shell?” does not refer to the nursery rhyme or any artifact of Hallowe’en, but is potentially a “piecrust.” The cross-clues had already given us the first and last letters and we should have thought of that. We knew that “b-ball” refers to basketball. She saw instantly that we had failed to consider “hoops” because I had misspelled “Riyadh” in the cross-clue. Doesn’t everyone know the correct spelling of Riyadh?
Crossword novice that I am, I was somewhat surprised that a Giant Crossword published on the Canada Day weekend did not have more Canadian references. Doing the puzzle, I had expected to learn much more trivia about my country. But maybe my expectations were unrealistic. I had overlooked the fact that it was only billed as a “great summer” crossword. My sister-in-law tells me that there is a big community of crossword enthusiasts out there who will have opinions about the pros and cons of the puzzle. That conversation would be fun to follow.
The completed Crossword will find its way to the recycling bin. Doing the crossword together was great fun, a good brain exercise, and, for my sister-in-law, multi-tasking par excellence. What more could one want?