Mon beau pays

It’s been a great many years since I was last in Canada in the midst of the fall colours. Autumn has always been one of my favourite times of year, at least before the days get too short and the weather too miserable.

I enjoyed this past week’s solo trip visiting friends and family in Toronto, my old stomping ground. This time I could not help but notice that while the city still feels a little like home, I increasingly see it through the eyes of someone who lives in France.

I’ve posted before about how much the French love Canada. C’est un beau pays, they will say. Mon pays de rêve… I used to think they had an idealized view of my country but now I find myself experiencing it differently.

Here are some of things that struck me about my beautiful hometown of Toronto this time around.

Tree canopySo many trees, so little time… the fall colours were not quite at their peak, and they may never get there before winter comes calling.  But even so, a walk through Sunnybrook Park was stunning. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in the city.

The squirrels. These little urban rodents are as common as pigeons in Europe. They are everywhere at the moment, scurrying to gather nuts and squirrel them away for winter. We see a few squirrels in France but they are generally reddish brown, where their Toronto cousins are more often black.

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Toronto is booming. This was already the case when we left 25 years ago. Now, every neighbourhood has come into its own and has its image to maintain. In well-heeled North Toronto, even the sidewalks are branded.

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Halloween is everywhere. As sure as the leaves will fall, the craze of candy and macabre carryings-on will hit the great white north at the end of October. Yes it’s commercial and perhaps a little over the top, but it’s fun. Canadians are rather good at having fun. Halloween is our way of warding off the evil spirits as the days grow short. I eyeballed these cupcakes:

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Le shopping! Toronto is truly a shopper’s paradise. Aside from the sheer number of stores, open all hours, there are so many beautiful arcades. They are the visible part of the many underground passages that link the downtown core, enabling people to move from subway to subway station, restaurant to department store without setting foot outside in the winter.

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Alongside so many emporiums to wealth, the neighbourhood convenience store is a fixture of downtown Toronto neighbourhoods.

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You may wonder: so if you love it so much, why did you leave it? One of the reasons was the high price of Toronto real estate, which made it hard to buy a first house in a nice area. The housing boom is still on and despite all the new builds, bidding wars often erupt for homes in the best and most upcoming neighbourhoods.

The city has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to anyone who has been away for a few years. I frequently found myself getting lost and wondering how it was that what used to be so familiar now feels foreign.

I don’t regret choosing France but I do love to go back for a visit.

Have you been to Toronto? Do you have a favourite city, home or away?

 

 

Epic marketing fails

IMG_4277I saw this display of herbal tea at the supermarket the other day and wondered if somehow I’d missed something. Yo, die?

A lot of herbal tea is consumed in France, commonly referred to as ’tisane’. There are entire aisles devoted to tisane at the supermarket, and some pharmacies also sell herbal brews for what ails you.

Apparently this one is a special blend for kids. I’m not sure anyone with the slightest understanding of English will buy it, though. Unless perhaps as a ghoulish joke for Hallowe’en?

La Fête des Morts

IMG_2582‘La Toussaint’ or All Saints’ Day, often referred to in France as ‘La fête des morts’, is a public holiday held on November 1st in commemoration of the dead.

Strange, the cultural differences around this day. ‘Fêter’ means to celebrate but there’s not much festivity in the air. The month of November tends to be gloomy in France and chrysanthemums add about the only color at the cemetery. November really is about honoring, or at least remembering, the dead (followed by Remembrance Day on Nov. 11).

In English-speaking countries, Hallowe’en is the main event: an irreverent but fun-loving ghoul-fest. It is a death-defying, joke-ridden time for everyone from teens to tots to dress up, gorge on candy and shout “Trick or treat, smell my feet, I want something good to eat.”

I’m disappointed that Hallowe’en has never really taken off in France. I like the idea of a special day to honor our dearly departed, but I wish it could happen in a joyful way. To put, as one of my most beloved television comedy characters* once said, the ‘fun’ into funeral.

Remembering those we have lost should be a happy time of shared memories and jokes, of laughter with tears. It doesn’t mean we’re not sad that they’re gone. It means that life is for the living, and deserving of celebration. That those very people we are honouring would probably have wished for us to remember them with a smile.

And at this time of year especially, I could use a jack-o-lantern jolt of brightness and fun. November is my least favorite month of the year. My hypochondriac anxieties tend to rear their ugly head and I become convinced of my impending demise. Perhaps it’s the looming winter that gets me down, as the days grow shorter and darkness falls early. Whatever it is, Hallowe’en has always worked to cheer me up and banish the evil spirits.

DSC00241When my kids were small, we decorated the house, carved a pumpkin or two, loaded up on candy and went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. There were quite a few families with young children in our village near Lyon, and for awhile it felt like the event was catching on.

But it seems to have fizzled out lately, at least in our parts. The French look upon Hallowe’en as an American import, not really belonging to their culture. Fun for the wee ones, perhaps, but badly timed: it falls in the middle of the Toussaint school holidays when many people go away.

Whether you’re commemorating your dearly departed at the cemetery or warding off the evil spirits in full ghost and goblins regalia, may it be with joy. Wherever you are, and whoever you have lost, may this day bring you fond remembrance.

What about you? How do you celebrate Hallowe’en or All Saints’ Day? Party or bouquet of flowers?

Liz Smith as Nana*Nana, played by the excellent Liz Smith in The Royle Family