JUNE 2001

Toronto skyline

We used to tease her and call her "Queen of the Jews." But now she has become just that. We flew to Toronto on Friday so that Carol could preside over the annual meeting of the Network for Research in Jewish Education (NERD), of which she is the current president. We took a turboprop puddlejumper with an engine right outside our window, but it was tolerable. We arrived at the Midtown Quality Inn at 10 AM, which was nicely located near the museums in a chi-chi neighborhood. We went out to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) where we took in two special exhibitions. First, there was the "Tanenbaum Gift," a bequest of partially crated antiquities from all over the world. It was startling to see little fertility gods and idols from the Canaanite period and to wonder if any of them were worshipped by Terah, father of Abraham.
Mesopotamian idol
Or perhaps some of them were the t'rafim that Rachel stole from her father, Laban.

In another room, with artifacts from Southeast Asia, there were about 20 7-inch flat-screen high-definition TV's hanging down from the ceiling showing videos of Southeaast Asia today. Cool.

In another area of the museum there was a bizarre exhibit called "The Final Sleep," showing rows of stuffed dead birds or skeletons of mammals, all lined up in a very eerie way.
Dead Ducks..Duck skeletons

We had a lovely lunch in (JK) Jamie Kennedy's restaurant on top of the museum. We had superb striped bass with celery root, potatoes, and spinach; rack of lamb with lyonnaise potatoes, and a half liter of very good burgundy. The dollar is very strong in Canada--a Canadian dollar is worth 60 cents American. Lunch, with coffee, was thirty US dollars. Then we walked on to the Bata Shoe Museum, devoted to the history of shoes over time across the world. It was unique, but a little de trop.

After a nap in our room, we went out for dinner at Sen5es. Yes, that's a 5 in the middle of the name--get it? This was a superb restaurant. Service was a bit slow, but the food was divine, and the presentation marvelous. We had all appetizers: a green salad packed into a fried potato basket;
the best venison I've ever eaten, with pears and tea infusion; risotto with snap peas; Quebec foie gras with cooked figs. A glass of Alsatian Pinot Blanc and of Spanish Crianza. For dessert, a beautiful and delicious carmelized banana cream pie with chocolate sorbet enclosed in a chocolate tuile.
Dinner for two with with two courses, wine, dessert, coffee was $60 US. Check out the menu.

Saturday morning, it was a gorgeous day, in spite of the weather prediction of showers. After a great breakfast at Over Easy nearby, we decided to take the Hippoboat, an amphibious bus that drives you through the city and then plunges into the water to see the city from the lake. We just missed the boat, so instead we wandered around on the lakefront, which has seafood restaurants, lots of bike and walking paths, and street vendors.
We watched a competition of kids doing highland dancing to the accompaniment of a bagpiper. This is the big time for them, sort of like Little Miss Canada. One poor little girl interrupted her dance as one member of a trio, and bolted from the stage, vomiting. Another, doing the sword dance, landed on her sword, gashing open her foot, which left her lame for life. Those are the breaks.
Then we went on to the Art Gallery of Toronto to see the collection of Catherine the Great, on loan from the Hermitage. She was into Flemish Art--lots of Rubens and van Dyck. Usually, I fly through museums, but this exhibit had a wonderful audio tour, and it was really excellent. We went to a permanent exhibit of contemporary art, filled with ridiculous stuff by Jim Dine and others, who get rich people to drool over their toilet bowls and sinks. In the museum shop we bought some Russian lacquered boxes from Palekh, utilizing the power of the dollar to get some great prices.
Palekh box

Then on to Chinatown. Toronto is a city of ethnicity, and the Chinese are very well represented. We had some dim sum that was OK, but not as good as that magical place in Boston.

We went back to our room and then on to a movie, Amores Perros, by the Mexican director Iñárritu. This is a perfect movie, with a bizarre plot--three themes, filled with bizarre characters who interweave with each other throughout the film, drawn together by the ferocity and devotion of dogs, who mirror the ferocity, savagery, loyalty, and betrayal of the people around them. It's a long movie, and you are on the edge of your seat every minute. Five Farklempt Stars. The movie was shown in what they call in Toronto a V.I.P. theatre. This is a tiny theatre within a megacomplex that seats only 40 people. You pay $15 Canadian ($9 US) instead of $4.50 US that you would pay for a senior rate in a regular movie. There is no senior discount. There is no line. An usher shows you to your seat. The seats have tons of legroom, are situated in groups of two, separated by little end tables. An usher comes with a tray and takes your order for soft drinks or food. There is a nice intimacy about watching a movie in this setting. Best of all, nobody talks. Also, there is a private bathroom, only for V.I.P. patrons. This is a nice gesture, but there was a line in front of the V.I.P. bathroom when we left, and room for only one person at a time inside, so we peed with the serfs.

Then, a late supper at Bistro Tournesol, a small place in an offbeat neighborhood, where we had two great salads, one caesar and one with curly and Belgian endive with bleu cheese. Then a filet of snapper from British Columbia done in Normand style, with green and red apples, apple cider, mushrooms, onions, and white wine; and divine Provimi calves liver, plain and simple, medium-rare, with brussels sprouts. They brought some perfect pommes frites.For dessert, a pecan pie with carmelized peaches and crème fraîche, and excellent decaf.

Sunday morning, we went to meet the Hippoboat at 9:00 AM, for which we had made a reservation. By 9:30, there was no bus. When we called, they apologized, saying that the 9 AM bus had been cancelled, and offered us complimentary seats on the 11:00 AM tour.
It was just as well, because it sure wasn't worth the $23/person (Canadian) price of admission. It is a large amphibious vehicle, seating 40 that drives around the downtown area and then plunges into Lake Ontario Harbor to cruise along the waterfront. The tour guide was a young woman who described everything as "nice," "cool," or "really cool." She pointed out every bar and nightclub, and listed what bands and rock groups were playing where. Her favorite event was the concert at Ontario Place given last year by Britney Spears. Still, it killed the morning at no cost.
CN Tower
We took a cab to York University, to drop off Carol, where she is chairing her conference, and I continued on to the airport. I bought a litre of Laphoigh at $26 US, and took the flight back to Providence. On board were Marcia Kaunfer, coming back from a family Bat Mitzvah in Toronto, and Nate and Barbara Epstein, visiting their daughter and grandchildren in Toronto. Turns out they were staying at the hotel right next to ours.