Written in tiny script on an aging Post-It note are the detailed directions to a coffee farm in Colombia where I would go, if I had the means, to visit my dear friend who once had a horse named Sheila whose temperament caused her to be traded in for a mule.
Every spring, my friend returns to Canada to make some money to take back to the farm. When he’s here, he lives in an apartment somewhere near Keele and Sheppard for which he never gave me exact directions.
This last summer he told me of a big market near his Toronto home, and we made vague plans to go there that were, typically, unfulfilled. Curiosity led me to set out for the local territory of my beloved on my own.
A perusal of a Perly’s and a call to the TTC pointed me to the Downsview station on the cold and windy Spadina line.
Warming up in the station bathroom, I found a photocopied missive from a righteous bad speller headlined Warning Warning Warnings. It was all about being “excepted” by God and rejecting “devorcing” and Lesbianism or else demons will laugh at you, ha, ha, ha. Only the New Man can enter God’s Kingdom. But aren’t lesbians The New Man?
I have ventured deep into treacherous Mexico where cab drivers refuse to go, but for some reason I always feel more nervous in the suburbs of North America. There is a choice of buses heading west on Sheppard.
In a vast wasteland, a sign declares Downsview “Canada’s number-one urban national park.” Tanks and some phallic thing (a missile launcher?) stand in front of a building advertising jobs in the military.
A street fancifully named Tuscan Gate is the stop for Downsview Park Merchants’ Market and Farmers’ Market, open 10 am to 6 pm Saturdays and Sundays. Fruit and vegetable stalls are just inside the entrance. Also Heads Held High, “Downsview’s 1st paraphanalia shop,” selling bongs and sunglasses.
Inside is a sprawling market that could be anywhere in the world.
On one side of the aisle is Maria’s Antiques. On the other, Maria’s Second Hand Goods. How Maria determines which are which is very hard to say. Rents must be reasonable; there’s a spot selling only rolls of toilet paper. “We have tissue for your issue.”
There’s the All-Mediterranean Solution to Major Health Challenges and Magnetic Therapy. A pleasant gentleman presents me with a package of information explaining and defending Islam. It must have ended up as reading material for someone on the bus ride home, since it disappeared from my coat pocket.
His neighbour is demonstrating “Ha ha balls,” fruits and creatures made of gel that go splat on a table and then regain their shape. Lots of socks, tons of bling, tools, computer parts, phones, dwarf hamsters, turtles and fish and the As Seen on TV Store, with the 9 Minute Marinator. An experienced tailor is on duty, and free loan and mortgage consultations are available. At #256, Pepe and Vanie, a goldsmith is at work creating delicate Indian-style jewellery.
At the back is a smoky food court with dishes from Afghanistan, the Philippines and the Caribbean, sugar cane juice and McBain’s, which features burgers of goat cheese or salmon. Off to one side is the lonely Antique Market, with bags of rubber bands and other items, including a majolica sort of jug for $1 (“or less”).
I’m guessing this section is so quiet because new Canadians (as my mother would say) share the aversion to old things that my father developed when he left the farm. Tucked away back here is a camera shop and portrait studio.
Guys can price tailpipes and car parts from a number of sellers. Some clothing stalls offer every item at $5, which is also the price of patent leather tuxedo shoes formerly rented out by Freeman Formals. Imitation zoot suits vie with red stiletto boots for attention. Mike Carbone sells iron furniture he has wrought himself. There are carpets, linens, wigs, Himalayan salt lamps, massage chairs and art to furnish any lifestyle.
Absinth rolling papers are for sale at Downsview’s second “paraphanalia” shop. Light-up Christs and homely angels with flapping wings entice.
Reluctantly, I leave, dodging cars to get to an unsheltered bus stop here on the edge of Toronto, home to the whole world.