I had a whirlwind trip to Toronto a few weeks ago to promote my book (Outside the Box). At the same time I was able to visit some friends, to sit by the fire at my very good friend Lorraine Johnson’s house every morning and to reacquaint myself with the city that used to be my home.
I went to the Saturday morning farmer’s market at the Wychwood Barns. It’s a fantastic former bus depot that has been refurbished to include live/work studios for artists, The Stop Community Food Centre, which runs a community bread oven, gardens, cooking classes, etc., theatre classes for children, a great playground and a dog run that my Roman mutt would adore. It’s the sort of place the ex-mattatoio in Testaccio could become if the mayor of Rome were a different sort of person.
I met small food producers, such as these lovely women who made the red currant jam that I am now so, so sorry to say I’ve finished eating.
And a young woman from Russia who has lived in Canada for only a few years but speaks English without a trace of an accent.
I had forgotten about the presence of Mennonites at Ontario farmer’s markets selling their sausages and their goose eggs.
It was mid-April and the spring vegetables had not yet sprung, so the market was full of root vegetables: loads of potatoes, carrots and beets.
I tried to fit in a little wandering here and there. I walked through Kensington Market, where I used to shop when I was in University. Everything I cooked during those years came from this market. I would ride my bike over in the morning and stop for coffee and read the newspaper. Then I would walk around the market and decide what to buy and what to cook. It’s a strange market, no doubt, with its ethnic mix, restaurant mix, food shops and old clothing. It’s completely different from the markets where I shop in Italy – and I’m glad that it is. I love differences. The more Toronto is different from other places, the more I love it.
I also took a long walk in uncomfortable shoes (I was going out to dinner afterward and wouldn’t have time to change) along Queen Street East. I saw the butcher shop where I used to go sometimes with my mother on Saturday mornings. I don’t think we went there regularly. In fact, I’m not even sure that it’s the same butcher shop. Memory is a sketchy thing. But the thought that it might be the same place made me teary-eyed with nostalgia, with memories of shopping with my mother, memories of the lunch counter where we would have gone for a cup of tea before taking the streetcar home.
It was wrenching to leave Toronto, as it always is, even though I love Rome. But it helped knowing I was going back in time for fava beans and pecorino,
which we ate, as generations before us have done, with our friends on the Labour Day holiday.