Yesterday I went on a field trip to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), in Toronto. As we drove through forests of trees whose leaves looked as though they were on fire, and waters ebbing delicately in the wind, my friend continually remarked on the beauty of the nature surrounding us. And then we arrived in Toronto.
Greeted by flashing billboards and advertisements, she exclaimed, “Wow! I love these billboards.” I could only stare, open mouthed, and try not to laugh. She continued, “I mean, and look at those condo buildings. It’s so cool to think how all of the windows and floors look the exact same on the outside, but inside all of the rooms are unique depending on who lives there. I just love the city.”
“Yeah, there’s so much to love about big cities; pollution, highways, garbage…” I replied sarcastically.
This was the beginning of a long train of thought for me, one that lasted throughout most of the day, about contrasts.
A lot of people feel like this about big cities:
And I do, too; it’s so lovely to sit in a cafe and everyone is so focused on themselves that they don’t notice you. Walking through the streets, knowing that you will probably never see the people around you again; knowing that they all have their own lives, and just as all of the condominiums looked the same from the outside you can’t know their stories just from walking past them.
But at the same time, I love walking home from school. I love the familiarity of the streets. I love walking past my favourite garden. I love seeing the Christmas lights beginning to spring up on houses.
In the suburbs, you see Christmas lights on roofs. In cities, you see them on abstract art of bicycles and propellers on the side of buildings.
Cities are a study in contrasts, and Toronto is certainly no exception to this. Driving through it on the school bus, I made a list on my phone of the things I saw: giant sculptures of bugs on a building; a graffitied duck wearing sunglasses riding a wave; writing on a brick wall that said “I need someone to talk to”; writing on another wall that said “Don’t give up”.
These things are what gives Toronto its renowned character. It is the old brick buildings with a skeleton poking out of the window. It is the flashy displays in the windows of Starbucks. It is a city filled with people with stories, of people asking for help and people offering help, of a hunger for creativity.
There is a certain balance that is achieved in big cities. I think one of the biggest balances I noticed in Toronto was that between new and old. There were new buildings right beside old ones; there were fashionably dressed mannequins in the windows of ancient looking shops. There was new graffiti, clearly drawn on top of some that had been there for a long time.
My gaze remained firmly fixated out the window as we drove through downtown Toronto. By this point in the afternoon it was raining lightly. Through my headphones, Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 was on repeat. The lyrics of one song, Clean, stood out to me then: “Rain came pouring down when I was drowning/ that’s when I could finally breathe.”
The busyness of a busy city focused my busy mind; which is strange, since you would think that adding more of a particular emotion would strengthen it, not reduce it. It’s just another contrast. Something else that doesn’t happen the way you think it will, something else that surprises you and makes you aware of the beauty in what is around you.
I have been to Toronto countless times before in my life but I never noticed the beauty in the seemingly ordinary things, the things locals often walk past without giving them a second glimpse. For that bus ride, I got to be a tourist, a connoisseur of contrasts. I was anonymous, watching from the confines of a bright yellow bus.
Most important of all; with the rain pouring down, and Taylor Swift singing in my ear, and a list of interesting things I had seen on my phone in my hand, I was happy. And really, is there more to ask of life?