pity the seasonless. pity the cities of perpetual spring. Pity them the way we pity the rich, who can never know (to do a little spin on Blake) the lineaments of ungratified desire. But do not pity the Torontonian, for whom ungratified desire has been building over some good six months.
The Torontonian, who has known a good half-year of clothing so padded that one cannot pass two abreast in the narrow aisles of a convenience store. A good half-year when the word "abreast" does not lead one's mind astray. A good half-year when the senses, sensibly, more or less take a sabbatical.
But they're back. Have you noticed? Season-wise, Capistrano has nothing more to brag about than a sudden increase in swallow guano. But Toronto? Ah, come summer, Toronto gives you back your senses.
This is not always and entirely a blessing. There still exist men who own cologne and believe that an elevator is a good place to test its efficacy. But let us not quibble. Let us celebrate. Let us have a yearly "Come To Your Senses" week at the beginning of June, and in the spirit of this as yet unproclaimed festivity, let me offer a tour of my own freshly ravaged senses, in hopes of provoking a similar indulgence citywide.
THE SENSE OF SIGHT -- This is the season for voyeurism, but it is also the season to graduate from the casual version to the calculated -- and Toronto, at least downtown, makes that easy. Apartment towers face each other. People, entranced by evenings that actually linger, stop bothering to pull the drapes.
I have spent many a happy hour with a pair of binoculars, watching people dress, undress, masturbate, fuck, quarrel, watch television. I've never had a Hitchcockian Rear Window moment, but I like to think of voyeurism as one of those nice, community-minded activities, the urban, 21st-century version of turning up at someone's door with a tin of freshly baked cookies.
No real city dweller would actually want you, uninvited, at their door, even if you're well-endowed with cookies. But at your window? Just makes you feel secure, somehow.
I recall a supreme moment some years ago, I masturbating in my 11th-floor apartment while watching a young man masturbating outside on the lawn while peering into a first-floor apartment window (where -- who knows? -- someone was masturbating). It was a virtual daisy chain of community-mindedness.
THE SENSE OF TOUCH -- Although there's something luscious about a crowded subway, touch is best explored after dark in one of the city's cruising parks (not yet officially designated as such, but I'm sure that's coming), though I have to concede that this is so far very much a guy thing.
This is also an adult take on a very childish pleasure -- that of being naked out of doors. Oh, I know, there's the clothing-optional beach at Hanlan's Point, but part of the adult thrill in nakedness is knowing you're really not supposed to. There's also the sex, of course -- if you're lucky or aggressive or have tamed eros to the point where you don't care who touches you, and you can just lean against a tree and let what happens happen.
But you feel the touch of the tree, too, and the touch of leaves and perhaps the slightly shudder-making caress of spiderwebs against your face, and you touch the night air, cooler and damper than the air on the city streets you've just left.
THE SENSE OF HEARING -- The one area where the urban experience is defective. There are times when I think sensible people might just choose to die quietly rather than endure yet another ambulance or fire-engine siren. Try this as an antidote -- go to Philosopher's Walk, that pathway south from Bloor that starts between the ROM and the Royal Conservatory of Music. Find a place to sit nearer the north end.
You're close to the back end of the Conservatory here, and if you're lucky you'll hear the singers and musicians practising inside. (The place is old and not air-conditioned, so windows are often open in the summer.)
It's a distant sound and a funny mix -- a soprano, maybe, doing scales. A very amateur pianist. Maybe some woodwinds. But if it's a warm day, the traffic ostinato in the background works itself in as an integral part of what you're hearing, a real city symphony.
THE SENSE OF SMELL -- Somehow still irresistible after all these years: the smell emanating from a street hot dog stand. It's the meat and the smoke and the onions and the relishes and mustard. And don't ruin it by having one.
THE SENSE OF TASTE -- The perfect complement to your hour on Philosopher's Walk. Cross Bloor Street and go to Greg's Ice Cream. Order a double scoop of Roasted Marshmallow, and pray he has it -- it's often sold out. It's the perfect taste for a city summer, bringing back every weenie roast you went on as a kid, and is a flavour no one outside a city would ever think of inventing.