Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Frolics

The past few weeks have seen the temperatures start to fall and the leaves disappear as the autumn/fall weather moved us ever closer to the cold, winter months. Fortunately, Toronto tends to be crisp, dry and sunny most days so it's actually a pleasure to crunch through the fallen leaves on the pavements/sidewalks.

I got a bit of a fright in October though as, in the lead up to Halloween, I came across the living dead as they emerged from their graves and took to the streets of downtown Toronto on their annual Zombie Walk. There was even a zombie wedding and certainly lots of blood and gory scenes including the odd zombie attack.

Halloween is a much bigger occasion in North America than in Europe. Some people turn their front yards into graveyards complete with gravestones, cobwebs and the odd skeleton. Most of the kids dress up and the costumes aren't necessarily scary - there are many superhero costumes, animals and pink princesses. I even saw one little girl dressed as a cupcake. In fact, it's all about the sweets/candy and the number of 'trick or treaters' is unbelievable. I reckon I handed out sweets to around 100 callers this year!

The Day of the Dead is also increasingly celebrated here and I enjoyed partaking in the festivities as one of the local farmer's markets hosted in the old Brickworks. I'd actually been there the week earlier as well to participate in the Toronto Underground Market (TUM), which was a great night out. Pop-up restaurants set up their stalls, music played and the booze flowed creating a very enjoyable atmosphere. You line up to try taster-size samples of each dish for a few dollars and then move on to the next stall - there's everything from Mexican to Indian and popcorn to popovers (filled Yorkshire Puddings).

For me, much of the past month has seen me unpacking and sorting my belongings and furniture that finally arrived after a number of weeks at sea. It was quite exciting to venture out to the customs depot, have it all released and then see it arrive. However, despite having organized everything in labelled boxes before I left England, when it all arrived it had all been opened, repacked and mixed up so it took a long time to sort everything out and find a home for it in my small apartment, which is now looking a lot fuller than it did before. However, it's nice to have familiar things around me although I must admit I did question why I had bothered to ship certain things I found as I unpacked. Two years ago I thought I'd pruned and de-cluttered but I guess living without 'stuff' for nearly two years makes you realize how little we actually need!

I've also acquired some new neighbours this month as the Occupy Toronto protestors have moved into the park close to my apartment. The camp is now at bursting point. I admire their determination, especially as the nights get colder but I have to admit I am struggling to get my head around what the aim of the protest chap was waving a banner saying 'Free Nelson Mandela' the other day!

However, I understood very clearly the cause when I attended a charity event organized by friends the other week. Two of my friends, Darlene and Giulia, volunteer for Project 417, which provides support to the city's homeless via regular cross-city sandwich runs and community dinners. Their achievements are impressive and impact the lives of those who really are living below the poverty line in a practical and supportive way. Most touching of all was to see people who formerly lived on the streets for whatever reason but who now have turned their lives around and are also giving back via the project's work.

I was also privileged to attend a wonderful environmental event, the first of four lectures, hosted by National Geographic. Mattias Klum, a wildlife photographer originally from Sweden, spoke with great humour and passion about his work whilst telling the stories behind the amazing photographs and video images he'd shot. I cannot imagine sitting up a tree in a sling for four months amid a rainforest with your body literally going moldy in order to capture a shot of a rare nocturnal badger only to have it pee on you from above as you finally see it! He also spoke about the devastation and destruction he has witnessed on his travels and how important he feels it is we protect this planet we live on.

Finally, this month has seen the culmination of a big project I've been working on come to fruition. I've loved getting my teeth into the complete rewrite and redesign of the English Language Program's website and the launch date has finally arrived. There's still work to do but I'm pleased with the initial result. As I said to my boss, I adore doing this kind of thing and I think if I'd been born 10 years later, web development may well have been my chosen career path. It all started with blogging though!