Article 25: The Putin Anecdote

Recently, I was in an office at the rear of a bank in North York, a bank attached to a swanky mall. I was in a hurry and the young banker who was processing something for my account noticed that I was eager to leave.

'What's the hurry?' he asked. 'Oh, nothing', I answered. I didn't want to tell him that I wanted to leave because sitting in his office was putting me to sleep. Perhaps he sensed I was bored and thus let slip the following anecdote, which was sure to pique my interest, and I hope yours as well dear reader.

'You're not the first client I've had be in a hurry. Once I had a client who came in first thing in the morning and needed me to urgently do something for his account. I asked what was the hurry and he said that he was flying to Russia later that day to have dinner in the evening with Vladimir Putin. I didn't believe him but he came back in a few weeks and showed me pictures on his phone, of him and Putin sitting beside each other, laughing and eating. He told me that they were old friends.'   

Well I was no longer bored and in fact I wanted to stay in his office and ask him more questions, but something told me it wouldn't be a good idea to learn any more information. I left the bank very intrigued that someone who does his banking in North York near my house is an old friend of Vladimir Putin, and has the same banker as me. I wonder what's in his account.

--David Stokes 

Poem 14: The Innocents

Cascading slaughter
Like the buffalo
The city of Buffalo
The braying of the hounds





--Eli Fox

Big Land Design #2: "The Meeting of A Grasshopper and a Dog at a Street Corner" (bronze sculpture for Mexico City)



Description of the Sculpture 

Here is a sketch of a proposed and hopefully one-day realized bronze sculpture for Mexico City. It depicts the meeting of a grasshopper and a dog at a street corner. The two life-size bronzes will be anchored in place at a suitable street corner in Mexico City, preferably at the meeting of two quiet streets. Mexico City is a city full of dogs (some as pets and others as street dogs) as well as of grasshoppers (both the dried crickets that people eat here as snacks, and the famous Chapultepec Castle, named from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc which means "at the grasshopper's hill"). 

The sculpture is inspired by a sentiment by the poet Tristan Tzara, who wrote in his Sept manifestes Dada that dada, or free expression, should be seen as "the meeting place of contradiction, the point where the yes and the no meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply on street corners like dogs and grasshoppers." 

We hope that the sculpture delights with its innocence and whimsy, and makes it's viewers contemplate what beguiling people, places, animals, ideas, and thoughts they might meet at a street corner. 




Design by David Stokes 

Big Land Design #1: Sweet Cherry Beach



Proposal 

Cherry Beach on Lake Ontario in Toronto is a beloved spot for numerous leisure activities. It is the closest main-land beach to the city centre with water access and it is adjacent to an area slated for an enormous redevelopment, converting the current industrial land there into residential and commercial buildings.

While Cherry Beach is a delightful place, the condition of the beach surface is degraded. The beach has as much mud, silt, and construction debris as sand. Wading into the water brings cuts and scrapes to the feet.

We propose that Cherry Beach can be sweeter. Our proposal aims to improve site conditions and to mitigate the forces that have created the site's current state.

Here is an examination of what has led to the current site conditions. The following information is provided by Ken Dion, Senior Manager of Special Projects, Project Management Office, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority:

The sand at Cherry Beach was originally placed in its current location through coastal deposition processes from the Scarborough Bluffs. However, in the 1950s, the Toronto Harbour Commissioners initiated the construction of the Leslie Street Spit, later to become Tommy Thompson Park.  The construction of this feature effectively cuts off the continued transport of sand from the Bluffs to Cherry Beach, as such there remains no new supply of sand to Cherry Beach. 

Given the configuration of Tommy Thompson Park, and the Toronto Islands waves and currents along the Cherry Beach only come in from the west.  As such, sand placed on Cherry Beach generally moves in a west to east direction with little to no longshore currents that are able to move the sand back westward to Cherry Beach. As a result, the observed conditions at Cherry Beach reflect the results of continuous movement of finer materials towards the east, leaving behind the larger materials behind. 

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority conducted a study a few years ago which recommended the placement of a number of harder groyne structures perpendicular into the water so that they can capture and hold the sand close to the beach, however, there were concerns that it would too drastically change the character of the beach.

Our Site Plan
To make the site more user friendly, this project proposes three parts:

1. A series of sand replenishments, to make the beach more secure against erosion and more enjoyable to use

2. A series of distinct and attractive "cherry pile" groynes extending from the shore into the water, to keep the beach sand in place. It is hoped that the sculptural quality of these groynes will mitigate some of the concerns with the TRCA groyne study, namely that groynes are extremely unsightly (for example, see the grey concrete groynes that run the length of Toronto's western beaches)

3. A modest sculptural element on the beach, connecting the cherry theme of the groynes to the beach, and creating a new landmark







Design by David Stokes and Daniel Stokes

Article 24: Iranian Grocery Store Dating Request

Toronto Department

Arzon Supermarket is in my opinion Toronto's finest Iranian grocery store. They are open 24 hours and I go all the time, usually very late at night, typically ordering either the fesanjoon stew or some of the various kebabs, grilled over what in the wee hours are just little piles of pale charcoal dust tended by a kindly white haired old man. He takes a torn piece of cardboard and waves it over your food. And that charcoal dust, seemingly hopelessly spent, springs back into life red hot.

On a recent day I went to the store with my mother much earlier than normal, at around 8pm. My mom and I were there to get some baklava pastries. The two guys who are always there late at night manning the cash register were already there. They are both about late middle age. I see them all the time but I don't know their names. One of them is very handsome and I've always thought he looks like an Iranian George Clooney or Cary Grant. The other man has bulldog look of a beleaguered business man, which makes me believe he is the owner even though I don't think he is. I've always wanted to get to know these guys but other than pleasantries while paying I have never have really talked to them.

With their help, my mom and I chose some pastries from the glass cases underneath the cash register. And we told both of them how we were going to serve these pastries at a charity dinner at a church. This seemed to pique the interest of the handsome one, but there were a bunch of customers in line behind us so we moved on and perused a bit in the store. There are hundreds of products in their brightly colored Farsi wrappers, fresh flatbreads strewn on shelves, towers of lemons, hookahs and pottery on high racks, portraits of royalty, flags, posters for visiting singers - an attempt to fit all that is longed for into one little store.

My mom and I wandered over to the middle of the store. I showed her the freezer filled with sunshine-yellow saffron-and-rose-water ice cream. There are tubs of the ice cream alone, and some of it is sold in plastic cups where the ice cream sits swirled atop a pile of what look like white noodles. My mom and I have never seen ice cream with noodles and we wondered what it might be. The line at the cash had dissipated and I asked the guys there what these noodles were. They told me that they are made of rice, powdered rice. Persian heartthrob showed me a little bag of it in the form of flakes.

Then he came around the counter and asked me and my mom to follow him. The three of us went over to a narrow aisle in the store where they have bulk bins. He reached down and handed us these little white things, misshapen bits like from the bottom of instant noodles. Mixed in with these were flakes and odd gravelly stone shapes very small and tiny. He motioned that we should taste them, and right as we put them in our mouths he says, "I want to ask for your help, can you help me find a woman?" Immediately I'm thinking this guy wants to ask my mom out or something, my newly widowed mom, but he kept going, "Do you know anyone? I've tried but all the women I meet are bad, they like to drink too much and do drugs and smoke. Do you know anyone at the church?" My mom looks at him with both kindness and sadness and says that she had met her husband at church, and then with a laugh that not all people at church are good. And we asked him about online dating and he said it didn't work. He said he didn't care about ethnicity or religion or anything, he said he was just desperate to meet a nice woman. Can anyone help him?

My mom and I left with our pastries, not sure of what we should think. The white flakes we tried were totally flavorless and tasted like chalk, like the bitterness and emptiness of a life without love.

--David Stokes

Big Land Video 3: Looking For A Place In the Community, with Federico Rosendo and his friend, standing on the roof of his house, in Temalacatzingo, Guerrero

Guerrero Department



--shot by David Stokes

Big Land Video 2: Your Life Store

Toronto Department



--shot by Daniel Glassman

Poem 13: 10,000 More

Magnetized fishes
with eyes that glow
impregnate the wounds
of a thousand men

Ten thousand more would die
to be granted such an audience
with Bozo the clown himself,
pulling the strings of the slipstream

We have traveled such great distances 
to fish the eyes of man
that there is nothing left
but incremental change
tumbling backwards
atrophied, like the sprouting of ways 

--Eli Fox 

Article 23: Saturday Night Breadmaking at the Church of St George

Toronto Department

Every Saturday night a holy ritual occurs off Don Mills Road between an LA Fitness and some industrial buildings at the Church of St George, an Egyptian Coptic church, where in the basement a group of young men gather to bake the Hamal - holy bread - the body of Christ.

My brother, despite not being Egyptian or Coptic, has been helping bake the bread with his Egyptian friends for a number of years now.

The many sensations of the bread-making room arrive all at once. It has bright white light like an restaurant kitchen and a high ceiling like it reaches into heaven yet is cramped at the bottom with equipment and six guys kneading dough elbow to elbow around a marble table. The air is sweet, humid, dusty, hot. The walls are decorated with tapped down posters of Coptic popes, saints, and Jesus, all painted in that strange kitsch style that makes them look both old and still to come. No surface escapes decoration - numerous saints can be tapped to a humidifier. The posters look supernaturally bright and vivid since every other surface of the room is coated in a thin white layer of flour. The dust floating in the air seems shaped by the melodically chanted Arabic that comes out of a grimy computer speaker atop a minifridge atop a countertop, and the room hums with the sound of these ceaselessly sung psalms.

The singers are across the hall in a small wooden-pewed chapel that smells of incense and has finely decorated altar. Three men sing into a microphone and their words get piped across the hall to the bread-making room to bless the bread throughout its making. Sometimes these chants combine with the sound of the dough mixing machine spinning loudly.

Other than the young men kneading dough, there is an older man, Uncle Atef, who the young men just call Uncle. He's the one who is in charge of the bread-making. He's the one who tapped up the pictures to the wall and the only one who can point to any picture on the wall and tell you who that saint was and what they did or which grey-bearded pope was which. When one of the young men leaves the break-making for good, moving say for school or marriage, Uncle Atef will pull down a poster of a saint and give it to them as a parting gift. Other than his faith, Uncle Atef holds no official religious title. He's in charge of the bread-making because he's done it for a long time, starting back in Egypt, and it's difficult work done late at night and he's the one willing to keep doing it.

There's only three ingredients: flour, water, yeast. The final addition is labor. "It's actually a workout," says one young man. My brother, Daniel, adds, "Some days, it's work." Someone else shows me a scar from accidentally touching the oven. To make the bread they use 10 kilos of flour a batch. So much is made because there are five masses a week and communion at each one. At the end of a service there is a thing called bouraka where all the bread that isn't blessed is broken up and given out. There's definitely a lot of skill to making the bread. From slapping the hamal on the table, then bending it over your palm, then stamping it with complex wooden cross patterns and putting little holes in it to let off steam. The end result will be a round, fluffy loaf of bread with crosses on top. 

"Round 2! All over again! Guys lets do it!"

As the night goes on there's more and more joking around. Overheard: "Oh baby let my people go Pharaoh pharaoh ohh baby yeah yeah yeah"; then some christian rap; "no it was when Spongebob ripped his pants..."

Daniel is holding a garden hose tube, cleaning the big mixing bowl. "Dude you's got ho's!" someone shouts. "No just one!" Everyone laughs. Someone else leans over and says, "And that's exactly why they have the chants: to go over us." Another guy looks at the hose seriously and says, "I remember one time I left it in and flooded the room." Daniel mimics a heavy Egyptian accent and pretends to act like Uncle when people are being bad and he is angry: "Get out! Get out!" Uncle probably has missed the meaning of the last few comments and just smiles. When Uncle's not looking, little balls of dough get tossed into each others mouths.

Eventually, the bread is all shaped and the next step, the baking, requires waiting for it to rise. Only two helpers need to stay for that portion. Everyone gathers in the hall and drinks orange crush and plays monopoly cards before heading out for the night. Daniel and his friend use the break to run over to a late night Chinese place and Daniel brings back some food for Uncle Atef, who keeps trying to pay him back the $7 for the chicken. Daniel refuses. "You've given me such a blessing Uncle."

Beneath a mosaic of Christ feeding the 5000, they eat their Chinese food from Styrofoam boxes. Soon they will have to finish the baking, and get home around 4 am.

--David Stokes

Article 22: What Happened to the Toronto Reference Library's Fabric "Jungle"?

Toronto Department

When I was 13, living in the suburbs, a rare trip downtown made a big impression on me. And no place then was more enchanting to me than the Toronto Reference Library. It is still the loveliest indoor public space in the city, but something beautiful there has since been lost. Here's what my youthful mind remembers: 

When you entered the doors of the library you immediately saw an indoor fountain and pond, and above it, an insane mass of white fabric, both messy and elegant, rigorously ordered and overgrown. And you needed to walk beside the fountain and pond and beneath the folds of this fabric to get to the library proper, like passing through a jungle narrow to reach a lost temple of books. With this strange little space - lush, intimate, messy, soft, so different from the hardness and professional order of the city - and then the sudden vast open space of the library's wondrous 10-story atrium, the Reference Library was the most romantic and perfect of places in the entire city. 

So I was very sad to grow up and become a frequent visitor of the library but find the "jungle" gone. The pond was still there, but no sign of the fabric forest existed. Over the years I asked a number of people working at the circulation desks about it and they didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually someone suggested that I check out a certain binder that the library keeps amid the stacks on the top floor, a binder filled with newspaper clippings and documents about the library itself. There was the answer to what the jungle had been. 

It was "Lyra", a sculpture that the library had commissioned specially for that location by the entrance, created by artist Aiko Suzuki, a Japanese Canadian like the building's architect, Raymond Moriyama. 


A photograph of Lyra’s unveiling in 1981 shows dancers surrounded by the aerial sculptures: members of Toronto Dance Theatre performed in the library lobby’s emptied fountain pool at Suzuki’s request. According to a Toronto Star article by Lotta Dempsey July 26, 1980 Suzuki " sees the strands of white and earth tone fibre moving delicately with air currents - "breathing" - and catching light as its visual harp like music.... "I am not a weaver, or a craftsman" she says firmly "I am an artist." Lyra was made of 1 million feet of white nylon fiber and was the largest fiber sculpture ever commissioned in Canada, suspended from 146 points in the ceiling. It took Suzuki eight months to complete her 45 by 23 foot sculpture. 


So what had happened to Lyra? 

I wrote an email to someone at the library's art desk and in response I received this email from the manager of the library:  

Dear Mr. Stokes,
I was passed along your inquiry about Lyra. Although I’m relatively new to Toronto Reference Library, I was able to discover the following information. If you’d like to know more, please let me know and I’ll see what I can dig up.

Lyra, a textile sculpture by Aiko Suzuki, hung at the entrance to the Toronto Reference Library from 1981 to 2003, at which time it was taken down at the request of the artist due to its deteriorated condition. The sculpture’s location near the main entrance, suspension over water and requirement to have fire retardant coating all contributed to physical deterioration of the textile over time. The Library then proceeded to secure an assessment to determine if the sculpture could be cleaned and restored to an acceptable level and what the feasibility of achieving that would be. Test results from the Canadian Conservation Institute concluded that the significant risk of the conservation treatment and the associated cost far outweigh the anticipated benefits of this work. Unfortunately, the artist’s original intent would not be able to be satisfactorily recaptured.

Following the artist’s passing and with the test results available, library staff had a number of meetings and discussions with Ms. Suzuki’s daughter, we reached a mutual decision to decommission Lyra.

Sincerely,
Gillian Byrne
Manager, Toronto Reference Library 

There was the answer, with new and more melancholy questions. I sent Ms Byrne a number of these follow-ups and never received a response. But what answers would satisfy me. Something beautiful was gone. 

Lyra fiber sculpture Toronto Reference Library by Aiko Suzuki

--David Stokes

Poem 12: The Infernal Machine


In the year 20,000
there will be steel and cobalt,
sawdust in candlelight
Blacksmiths forging the blackened air, and
famine's skeleton mouth extending past the prairies 
Thieves who know where they are, 
breaking into tallest towers of the crescent moon 
but not what they steal 

Like a thief I steal donkeys 
from the heavy metal parade
I set up boxing matches in the town square
take bets from the roaring crowds 
The men always think they will win 
It's something I have to do
make money on love, 
etenal love

20000 years have culminated into love, 
dancing under a broken moon

--Eli Fox 

Article 21: Guide Dogs of the Mountain

Mexico Department

The Sierra Gorda Queretana is the land where this tale takes place. It was the last part of a trip I took to see the whole Sierra Gorda mountain range. A sprinter van drove a group of us to the highest part of the mountain that it could reach, and left us there. We could see most of the mountain, but some was hidden, and we needed to find a way to the the top where the “Mirador Cuatro Palos” stood.

Before starting our way up, we saw these little dogs that looked like they were waiting for us. They were really friendly, they didn´t bark or move, and it looked as if they were smiling at us. They let us pet them. There was a particular one that caught our attention, it was a little black dog with little white paws. He just had one eye, a cute brown eye that will shine and make you fall in love with him. He was probably the most adorable dog l’ve ever seen. His none little eye cave looked kind of sad but with his one eye he looked out with so much joy, we were all happy to have met him.

And when we started to go up the path, this dog and the others went before us as if to show us where to go. For each group of people, whether it was 2 people or 3 or 4 people, a single dog would walk in front of that particular group. A cute dog that looked like a fox started to walk in front me and my friend. All the dogs would stop every time a group wanted to take pictures, as if they were each friendly and patient guides, waiting until we were ready to continue.

They took us forward in this marvelous silence, where words are not needed, and we followed them deeper and deeper into the mountain. When we got to the top, a fantastic view was waiting for us and all the dogs gathered together. Some went to sleep and others stood looking at their chosen people. After enjoying the view some of us started to walk back and the dogs were alert even if they had been taking a nap, and one by one, they started to go down with the people they had guided to the top.

So did our little fox-like friend, who waited for us even though we were the last ones to leave the mirador (lookout). It was just nice to be with them, and for a moment to feel a part of them, a member of a pack of mountain dogs.

--Celeste Navarrete

Article 20: Corsican Bombs and Toronto's Egg Tarts

Toronto Department

Raphael is eating egg tarts in a Portuguese bakery on Dundas Street with Claire, a young woman from Corsica. Claire is visiting Toronto for a few days and Raphael is showing her some of the city.


Raphael's family and Claire's family first met three generations ago amid the Corsican independence conflict. Claire’s family is Coriscan; Raphael’s family is French. While Corsica is a part of France, the island has a distinct culture and has a vigorous and sometimes violent independence movement. "When I was 9 years old I remember waking up at night to an explosion, because a neighbor's house had been bombed," says Claire. Raphael’s grandfather should have been bombed too: he had been sent to the island to be the military head of northern Corsica. His predecessor had his office bombed by Corsican nationalists. And the man who took the post after him got his office bombed too.


But Raphael’s grandfather was never targeted, and the reason why is due in part to the event that drew the two families together.


It began with a tragedy: Claire's grandma's husband was the first Corsican to die fighting with French forces in the Lebanese War. To honor the sacrifice of her husband, Raphael's grandfather wanted to be the person to officially bring her the tragic news. But she lived in a remote village in the mountains where most French officials feared to travel. He went anyway. As Raphael tells it, "Despite the danger of being shot, my grandfather went up there in the uniform of a French colonel, and gave her the news. A
 bunch of the men in the room with her just went insane and tried to kill my grandpa and she stopped them from doing that. Because she was extremely grateful for him. And ultimately they all respected it. It meant a lot to her that he did that. And it's one reason why our family began to get the respect of so many people on the island, and why my grandpa didn’t get his office bombed. And now, 40 years later, I'm showing her granddaughter some of Toronto."


Raphael and Claire eat the rest of their Portuguese egg tarts. She and Raphael say something in French and then go out to see more of the city. Their grandparents would be proud.  


--David Stokes

Article 19: Toronto's Sad Disappearing Sausages


There's been a sad disappearance in Toronto: hanging sausages. At a popular Portuguese butcher on Dundas Street there used to be dozens of different kinds of marvelously flavorful cured sausages hanging above the meat counter. Now they are gone. What's happened? One employee let me in on the secret: the city health inspector made them take them down. The health inspector thought that hanging the sausages in a public place that was not guaranteed to be below a certain regulated and recorded temperature was potentially unsafe. According to the employee this has been happening to all the Portuguese and ethnic butcher shops that had hanging sausages. But, the employee said, why aren't all the sausages in St. Lawrence Market taken down? They let them keep them for the tourists, he says, raising a conspiratorial eyebrow. The employee showed me the sausages that they still sold - only two or three varieties of uncooked sausage, in the fridge. When he looked at them he shook his head. Real sausages aren't supposed to be in the fridge, he says, it's too cold and too humid, it ruins them. As I left the store I felt very sad that I would no longer be able to bite into a rich tangy sausage, and I regretted not buying more of them in the past and eaten them right in front of that health inspector's face. Things like this are all too typical in Toronto, where health inspectors and bureaucrats and politicians of all stripes are always casting their credentialed and rationalistic aspersions on things that have proved wise and good-hearted for generations. Over regulation is why we don't have street food, we can't drink in parks, restaurants need to pay to have patios, backyard chickens are banned, barbers can't cut clients hair from their homes, and even buskers and protests need licenses. And now good sausages are gone from Toronto. What else will disappear before we decide instead to ban the inspectors?

--David Stokes



Article 18: A fish in North York


This article won the North York edition of the Ontario Book Publisher's OpenBook What's Your Story prize and was later published in their magazine. 

Since the reigning culinary fashion in Toronto says that eating local is the highest good, and best accomplished with a lot of love in the kitchen, then our city’s culinary heroes are Afshin and Elahe. Afshin is a fifty-year- old construction engineer and he showed up at my house in paint- splattered jeans around 5:30pm on a Wednesday. I got in his Toyota and discovered that he drives crazy, honking and swerving.

Previously, I’ve only met Afshin while walking after dusk in the ravine near my house. In the dark I didn’t expect to see anyone, let alone a plump man silhouetted behind me with a strange contraption. I screamed, I was so startled. And then, intrigued: he had a fishing rod and a murky ziploc with a few small fish. Fish? Here? The creek is tiny, not more than a foot deep. I grew up beside it and thought I knew its secrets. But Afshin told me he catches fish here regularly, and eats them with his family. I never would have suspected this tiny creek to have apparently delicious fish. Not only wise to this, Afshin was also avuncular, jolly through his thick Persian accent. And is there anything more exciting in Toronto than meeting interesting people who do unexpected things, on the fringe, in the dark, probably breaking some official rule? We arranged to meet again and so here I was careening towards North York’s G. Ross Lord Reservoir, where he usually has his best luck.

We arrived and Afshin immediately declared his excitement, yelling over the water “Hello fish!! We are coming for yooouuuu!!” Those fish live behind the dam put here to regulate the West Don River and protect mansions downstream in Hogg’s Hollow -- built foolishly at the bottom of a ravine -- from getting flooded during storms. For a lake that exists to serve mansions, a Muskoka this one is not. Two hydro towers hum within it, and its waters are so brown they look like Tom Thomson rinsed his brushes in it. Its water softly ebbs up against mud shores dusted with garbage. To the west and north is a swath of industrial lands, and some of the water here has surely run through the cemetery located right beside it, never mind the bodies occasionally pulled from it after suicides, murders, accidents. A sign warns ‘Water Polluted No Swimming.’

This is one of those Toronto places where you realize we are settlers here, sloppy and tasteless ones, who created a lake for utility purposes and didn’t plan to use it or love it. But there’s a different society here too: I notice around the lake a bunch of men sitting lazily on folding lawn chairs, well spaced out from each other, smoking and drinking tallcans, with a fishing rod each, and one guy napping between two. Ignore the traffic sound and a man on a cooler in a patch of sunlight by some trees looks lonely warm and rustic like a scene from cottage country. And as planes fly loudly overhead our national identity can snap into focus, this place mixing up pastoralism with industrialization with thoughts of First Nations fishing rivers for food beside these Iranian, Chinese, Caribbean, and European immigrants. Forget the cottage; these bored sons of bitches have here an outlaw town of escape and rusticity, relaxation and the hope for a bit of sport.

A fish jumps out the water, exposing its white belly. “The fish jumped the water to show me the finger! It thinks ‘You’ll never catch me!’ But I get fish,” he says with conviction. “I get fish.” He taps a finger on his forehead, “It’s a mind.” He casts two lines over the water and puts each rod in a holder.

Now there’s nothing to do but wait and talk. He came to Canada five years ago, and his wife and two sons joined him two years ago. “I love Canada, but it is not my home, but if I have to stay in another country, my first option is Canada, it is so beautiful, so multicultural, if you are here you are not foreign, everyone is here.”Afshin and I stand silent for a while just chillin until he asks, “You are the clean boy?” I look over perplexed. He raises an eyebrow: “You are the clean, boy?” I tell him no, I'm not a clean boy. He happily pulls out cigarettes. And then a bag with Budweisers. And a bottle of tequila. Drinking, Afshin now talks about the love of his life. In Iran he used to go fishing with his wife, back when they were boyfriend and girlfriend. They married 23 years ago and were friends for five years before that. He tells me laughing about the time his parents almost caught them in his bed. They stayed motionless trying not to breath on top of each under a blanket for an hour.

Right then Elahe calls. Over speakerphone I hear laughter and talk in Persian. “She love me,” he says, translating, “she says ‘you are drunk?’. I say ‘No!’” He winks. I ask Elahe if she thinks Afshin will have luck today fishing and Ashfin butts in, “I’m not lucky for fishing, I’m just lucky I get my wife!” Elahe laughs and one of the fishing rods jangles. “Excuse me!!!” says Afshin with urgency and tossing me the phone he goes off scrambling to the line. “Oh woah! Yes! We got fish! Hello baby! Come on! Woo hoo!” The line is teardrop shaped as Afshin brings it in.

Frantic splashing at the surface of the water and then a small fish, less than a hand’s length, gets pulled out. It glinted and glistened, slithered and slapped. “All for you! All for you!!” Afshin says, handing it to me. The fish takes a long time to die inside a grocery bag, and every time I think it’s dead it jumps again.

An hour later we get a small catfish-like fish. Apparently it’s not tasty and they’ve bitten him. Ashfin asks the Chinese guy near us, who hasn’t caught anything, if he wants it. He doesn’t want it either. We almost catch one more fish, which falls off the line. “It was a big one. Shoot!” yells Afshin. It gets darker, Afshin talks about his love of Ernest Hemingway. I tell him that Hemingway lived in Toronto for a bit. Yesterday he caught two fish, and two days ago he caught five. After a little bit longer without any bites, it’s dark, and time to go cook.

We go to the nearby apartment Afshin lives with Elahe and their two sons, playing video games in a plexiglassed balcony that's become a bedroom. Elahe is happy that Afshin had a little luck fishing, because her friend had broken a leg that day, and her son hurt his finger. “My friend was like, you need to do something to break the cycle of bad luck, so she gave me a dollar to give to the poor, and as I crossed the street to give the dollar to a man on the road, a car hit the person where I would have been.” She tells this story as she scrapes off the fish’s scales. Then she cuts the fish open and pulls the guts out. Salt and pepper get sprinkled inside, outside is dusted with paprika, and it’s popped into a cast iron skillet of bubbling hot oil.

Afshin watches Elahe cook, and says: “Everything in my life is her.” They kiss. Elahe, who laughs as much as Afshin but is less silly and more witty, is a hairdresser in Toronto and taught

English in Iran. “His house was an half an hour away but he got to mine in like 10 minutes. He was crazy to come over and see me. The moment he saw me he was in love with me.” Afshin laughs and they kiss again. She takes the fish from the bubbling oil, perfectly fried. Elahe also cooks two fish that Afshin caught yesterday. The fish is delicious, delicate and sweet, with just enough fat and melted bones. I understand why people all over the world are always trying to get hold of fresh fish. I eat all of it except the eyes. Elahe, who loves watching Rachael Ray, serves it with a pumpkin-seed cranberry salad, a tapenade of jalapenos and olives, and broad beans. Dinner talk is family, the Iranian nuclear deal, poetry, movies. Afshin bungles a long joke, which only makes it that much funnier to him so he’s slapping his knees. Dessert is tea, and nuts with sugar. We all have many shots of a Persian liqueur. Elahe pulls me into the kitchen and opens the freezer: it is filled exclusively with Afshin’s catches. They eat a few each week. Elahe: “I told him don’t get the really small ones anymore.” Sharing a cigarette, they wash dishes together, and Afshin tells me that he plans to go fishing again tomorrow.

--David Stokes

Article 17: Warehouse of Fear


There's a warehouse I was thinking of renting and so I go at night to check out the warehouse's vibe at night. And I get there around 11pm and there's a window but it's too high up to see in. So I climb up onto the gas main below it to see inside. And as I'm standing there I suddenly feel this pickup truck barreling at me. And with a jolt it stops right behind my ass, and this guy gets out, slamming his door. He's a big guy with a hat and a pony tail and a goatee and he's looking at me aggressively. I immediately ask him if he works here, and he gestures and says yeah I work in the unit beside there, and I'm like cool I was thinking of renting this space. 'What for?' he says. 'Oh', I say, 'ummm, for a performance space, and to make art and movies and theatre props too. Weird arts stuff. Do you think the landlord here would be ok with that?' And at that he becomes very friendly and he puts on this mischievous smile and asks me if I'd like to see his unit? And I'm like sure and he opens his door and I turn the corner and go in.

And inside I see dead bodies everywhere.

In an instant my eyes see hanging limbs and ripped open torsos and there's a bloody corpse at my feet and I turn around and this guy has closed and locked the door, which has a leg hanging on the back of it.

And I'm like woah fuck what the hell. I'm very scared.

But then I notice one crazy totem-pole-like stack of corpses and limbs and I'm like oh shit I recognize that totem pole of corpses! Which is not a sentiment I thought I would ever be grateful for, but sure enough I was so glad to recognize that as a prop from the tv show Hannibal. If I hadn't stupidly bingewatched that show last year I don't know if I would have been ok... As I got my breath back I looked around the corpse-cluttered room and saw a real live woman in the corner, sculpting a clay head. These are all crazy props from horror movies, and the guy who builds them he's named Francois and his girlfriend is the one sculpting. For a man who fashions the handiwork of serial killers, Francois is super nice and he runs this special effects business from this unit where he also lives with his gf and his dog. They are always looking for crazy new projects to do and they hope more serial killer and scifi shows film in Toronto. Francois also showed me his warehouse basement and its insane, rack after rack of corpses in narrow narrow halls, these bodies look real in every way, often with smashed faces or mangled torsos.

When I left, I was glad to have stumbled onto one of the most interesting studios and homes in the city. And I was glad to have left alive.

--David Stokes

Poem 11: The hepatitis tree...

The hepatitis tree
on which all things grow
Does it know?
Does it know?


--Eli Fox

Poem 10: Radio in the Rain


I am waiting for you
to send me a message that says
at the power plant
we know little
but think more
tunnels and pipe,
trains that go nowhere
but their station.
We think
like a monk under the sun.
I am waiting for you
to send me a message
like a radio in the rain.

--Eli Fox


Article 16: What do designers think of the TORONTO sign?

Image by Sandy Plotnikoff











                                                                    
The TORONTO sign in front of City Hall has become perhaps the most photographed object in Toronto's design landscape. Built as a temporary installation for 2015’s Pan American Games, the sign is beginning to show its age and will require additional funding for maintenance—so at some point City Council will have to decide what to do with it. But, it hasn't been much discussed from a public design perspective. I contacted noted Toronto designers and asked all of them a simple question: What do you think about the sign?--David Stokes 




Daniel Young is a multidisciplinary artist. Some of his projects include the sculptural lighting at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre, the public art installation “Nyctophilia” on Weston Road, a playground at Lee Center Park in Scarborough, and the film Camera Tracking a Spiral Drawn Between the Two Curved Towers of Viljo Revell's Toronto City Hall.

"What do I think of it? It's terrible. We have this great piece of architecture, Nathan Phillips Square, and a great piece of landscape design. It's one of the most important things in Canada, and then this fucking ugly stupid TORONTO sign on it. They should get rid of it. It's just that simple. I had a fight with my accountant about it because my accountant really likes it, she's like, ‘People really like it,’ and I was like, ‘Ugh!’ My God! What a piece of junk!  If someone wanted to do a good thing that said“Toronto” somewhere, sure. Look at how cool the word looks on Sandy Plotnikoff's artwork of post cards stamped "Toronto" but over images that have nothing to do with the city. We have a great piece of midcentury architecture and a landscape that should be respected and not junked up. It shouldn’t be on that site, or at least a designer should do a proper job on it. Unfortunately we need a much better audience for urbanism in Canada. People just like it because we're used to looking at commercial signage. People should develop a more sophisticated vocabulary to understand that City Hall is a very nice building.



Panya Clark Espinal has produced numerous works of public art in Toronto, working with the Toronto Transit Commission, Covenant House, and various community institutions in and around the city.

I don't like the sign. In the big scheme of things there aren't many things I have an opinion about, but I love Toronto City Hall. That building is so iconic and so beautiful, and the design has such integrity to it. I thought the sign would be temporary, and when I saw it just stay there I thought it clutters this beautifully designed space, and I really hope it doesn't stay. And I don’t understand the love affair with LED—there's a quality to that that's really overused and harsh now. There just is not the elegance of that site and that building. I get the marketing strategy, but there are so many other beautiful ways to market a city and that sign detracts from what is beautiful about that place. I get that we can’t just hold things in a timeless, frozen moment but city Hall is one of the most iconic and groundbreaking pieces of architecture in the city. Everything about it was thought out and to just throw this very commercially produced sign in there, there's nothing timeless about that sign. I'm so glad you called me to have the opportunity to officially voice this. I can feel the sign going somewhere along the waterfront where it’s a contemporary space and it’s a place where the aesthetic fits. But to me, City Hall with those arches and the ramps and the quality of the building and the Henry Moore [sculpture]—these are our iconic things that I just think should never be changed. I don’t think City Hall needs a TORONTO sign. You don’t have the Arc de Triomphe and put up a Paris sign. I say just get rid of it.



Chris Pommer is one of the co-founders of PLANT Architects, a architecture, landscape, ecology, furniture, art, and graphic design firm. In 2007 he was involved with the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall, along with Andrew Frontini of Perkins and Will.

The sign was a fine thing to have as a special event for the Pan Am Games. But we spent 10 years and $60 million dollars to open up the square and clean out all of the things that had been added ad-hoc to the square over 40 years to make a space that was a clean, open slate. For example, the theatre that we built was a replacement for a “temporary” trailer stage that sat on the square for 300-odd days a year. The square was under a lot of stress. We did a lot of historical research and tried to learn as much as we could about the original scheme and Viljo Revell’s [the designer of City Hall] use of formal imagery that embodied democratic ideas of the use of space. We even became acquainted with Viljo Revell’s daughters, one of whom is an architect in Helsinki, and we were gratified to learn that we got our interpretation right. By contrast, the TORONTO sign was built to be temporary, and it wasn’t all that well made to begin with. I’d like to see it use the same typeface used on the square with a link to the original project. And I would have kerned the letters better! As a temporary thing it’s totally fine.. But it’s the uncritical acceptance of it as a permanent thing that is the thin edge of just filling up the space again. It’s easy to read our take on it as being sensitive artists with bruised egos who feel that their work is being wrecked, but that's not really what it's about. I love fun temporary things, like Ai Weiwei’s bicycles, or tennis courts in the skating rink. But if there is going be a permanent change made to the square it should really be considered and it shouldn’t just be ‘is it popular?’ I’d be an idiot if I didn’t think there were would be changes to the site that we built.  People at the city have said to me ‘The sign, it’s so great! Now people are coming into the square!’ Well, people have been coming into the square and standing at that corner of the rink and taking a selfie with City Hall behind them long before the TORONTO sign. It’s fun and nice, but it’s no longer special. I got to take my picture with it, and now it’s just this other thing and it’s starting to look crappy and the square is getting cluttered again.  



Andrew Frontini is a Principal at Perkins+Will Architecture and the Design Director of the Toronto and Ottawa studios. Since 2007 he has been partner-in-charge of the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall, with Chris Pommer from PLANT Architects.

I think the sign is something that really engages people. People climb on it, stand in front of it, it situates people, and adds a graphic element, and those are all fun things. In the revitalization of the square, one of the ideas was to create this space that was really open for spectacles, events, temporary inhabitations of all kinds. So the ability of the square to accept the sign is great. But I do think it’s embarrassing that it still sits there and is decaying. What I think would be nice is if you created the opportunity to come up with a new sign or a new installation that occupies that space and engages people in that way. You don't have to hang on to a temporary installation until it falls apart in front of you. There’s a hilarious Toronto Star article by Edward Keenan where he imagines tours of Toronto in 2037 and the sign is still there but the only letters left are ROT. This paralysis around it is unfortunate. I think it’s okay to just take it away and create the opportunity for something new. You shouldn’t hold on to an ephemeral moment. I love Christmas, but I don’t need a Christmas tree up all year. Why doesn’t the square become a showcase for Toronto's talent, rather than this decaying effigy? I was on vacation in Mexico this past winter, in a small town, a real dusty pueblo, and in their main square there were these letters that were the exact same letters as the Toronto sign. Why don’t we make way for a more original expression that captures the vitality of this city? Because this is probably the most vital period of Toronto’s history Canada 150 is a great example of the lost opportunity. Here's this major event and we couldn’t come up with a new thing, we just use the Pan Am Games thing again? It just speaks to a lack of ambition—but Toronto is a bit famous for that. City Hall, however, is a real original statement, let’s let that be and not get in the habit of putting in a series of unplanned temporary things that become permanent. Let's keep it dynamic and fresh and celebrate creativity and not get bogged down with clutter. What happened last time I talked about this was that people said ‘oh architects are out of it, they're clueless, they're not in touch with the public.’ But I think if you let the sign come down and you put something back that was great people would love that too. In Orillia, around their market square, they do an art installation every year. It becomes something for people to look forward to and there’s this competitive spirit—how do we one up what we did last year? I think that City Hall can receive things like that. I think of Ai Weiwei's piece with the bicycles. Imagine pieces like that always coming in. I think the square should always be ready to receive something amazing like that.


Hunter Tura is President and CEO of Bruce Mau Design, and he has helped develop brand strategies for Samsung, Unilever, Sonos, Harvard University, the John F. Kennedy Center, and the new Design Society in Shenzhen. He organized the first BRAND x (Place) Conference in May 2015, has worked in the office of AMO/Rem Koolhaas, and has a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University.


In the past five or 10 years, we’ve seen the iconic Instagrammable moment become how a number of cities think about their brand. The TORONTO sign created a sort of identifiable icon for the city. Our firm developed one of the earlier icons of the genre, which is the big AGO sign by their entrance, and that became a place where tourists had their Instagram moment. Increasingly, when we work with both developers and municipalities, this is something that gets built into the project, how a city, or a mall, or an institution will appear on social media and how that image gets exported. As far as antecedents go, the LOVE statue by Robert Indiana in Philadelphia was a breakthrough in the late 70s when a lot of businesses had begun to move to the suburbs and they were trying to activate life downtown. In more recent history, the “I Amsterdam” sign created by the municipality became the centerpiece of a global Heineken ad campaign. These signs are fun, and if designed well, they photograph well and they export well.Ever since Pan Am, the TORONTO sign became normalized and accepted as part of the image of Toronto. From a design standpoint it’s okay, it’s not the “I Amsterdam” where the verbal construction gives it more character than just the city name. But my kids view the TORONTO sign as one of these identifiable international images of the city, along with the profile of the CN Tower. And it was not a particularly expensive sign to produce, so the City has gotten an incredibly return on their investment. I’ve been in Toronto for seven years and Nathan Phillips Square, as an outsider, doesn’t have any immediate appeal that would, in my opinion, be compromised by the sign. We did a branding exercise for Canada with an American media company in 2012 and as part of that campaign we dropped the maple leaf out of the flag and used the bars to kind of frame different images. Younger Canadians loved the campaign but older people who had been through the process to arrive at a new national flag were horrified that we could so casually alter it. While the TORONTO sign has gotten a bit dinged up, I think that if it did come down, you would have people upset because it’s part of their everyday image of the city. The temporary status through Pan Am was actually kind of brilliant, a great way to get it into public acceptance. I think that if there was a competition or a concerted effort to create an icon to represent the entire city, that becomes a much harder thing to achieve because of all the attention around it. One of the things we have found with our work is a lot of these interventions are quite tactical—usually public-private partnerships—because when it is open to a larger public process we begin to have to engage stakeholders and ask the question: What is the icon for a multicultural city of 5 million people? And those can be tougher questions.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.