When my iPod got swiped two weeks ago, my ears felt… well, naked.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Toronto without a digital soundtrack. But the city, of course, has a soundtrack all its own.
Like a lot of city dwellers, I’ve been walking with my music since the days of the mixtape. Early on, my headphones were a tool of solitude – a young woman’s urban armour. But they were also a way to connect with the city and to understand its rhythm… like riding home from high school and sharing earphones with my best friend, digging on the commuters as they swayed in time to our beats.
Now, without my music for the first time in years, I’m hearing the city in new ways. And instead of just watching my feet (and my handbag), I’m following the sounds and the tiny stories of the city.
On my way to work along the waterfront, my ears perk to the honking of geese skimming into the lake as a fisherman speeds by on his bike, whistling. Further along Spadina, I tune in to the splosh of a squeegee against a windshield and the muted gasps of the startled tourists. At Queen, waiting for my coffee, I watch as a Purolator guy hops out of his van and a young woman throws open her office window excitedly: “Purolator! Right here!” What’s in the package? A much-anticipated novel? A marriage proposal? A ream of 100-lb paper stock?
Bicycles, taxi horns, ring tones, high heels clattering on the sidewalk, Latin music from a storefront, the laughter of school kids, random conversation threads: all travel along the street. And every sense is heightened without earphones. I hear the sweet dove ?cries of the pigeons, feel the steam as it rises from my morning coffee, watch the haze clearing on the skyline, even stop to breathe in the hot-dog-iness of a hot dog stand.There are 3.5 million of us here, yet there’s order in the chaos and warmth amidst strangers. There are a lot of things that we would change, sure, but ultimately we do love it. Our city. At 5 pm on the TTC, I drink in the polyglot chatter of half a million commuters sprung free for the day.
When you live in Toronto you don’t really notice it, but the world –? and its dream of peace – is represented here.
Making my way through Yonge station, I listen to the subway musician’s erhu echoing through the halls. He’s playing Arirang. When night falls, I absorb the quietness of the city as it winds down. A skateboarder ka-chunks down the alley. A gate swings open. A dog barks. A distant streetcar clangs.
My romance with the quotidian of Toronto has lasted for almost 2 weeks, but yesterday I went back to the Apple Store. I’ve missed my music and am ready to plug back in. Not all the time, I promise myself. I’m going to take more time to feel the city’s breeze on my naked ears and to embrace more yogic ideals: be here now, right? I’m going to listen to what the city has to say – at least some of the time.
As I leave the house with my new iPod, I wonder what I should listen to first. I end up at the top of my playlist with Bebel Gilberto’s Mais Feliz.
It’s a beautiful, eclectic tune in a language I don’t quite understand, and perfect in its harmony. A song like our city.