Why travel? Especially in a city like Toronto, where we can experience so many cultures just by walking through any of the dozens of ethnically-diverse neighbourhoods? What, at its essence, makes traveling to Italy different than drinking prosecco in Little Italy? What’s the difference, really, between hanging with the Dutch and eating Dutch chocolate ice cream?
We travel, of course, so that we can experience the subtleties of a culture and immerse ourselves in the entire experience of what it is to really be in another place (to whatever extent tourism will allow—how many Parisians do you think visit the Eiffel Tower on a regular basis?). While Chinatown may give us a chance to hear and read Chinese languages and eat amazing, authentic Chinese food, it can’t actually deliver China to us.
To some extent, traveling is also about judgment. When you return from a trip, you generally tend to evaluate the place you’ve been—superlatives coat our conversations as we extol destinations as “amazing,” “beautiful,” and “incredible.” We want to see new things, but we can’t help but evaluate them against the routines, sights, and customs that are already familiar to us. We are constantly taking in the geography, architecture, transportation systems, food, drink, and recreation and comparing them to what we have at home. Some things, we learn, are much better elsewhere, while some things, naturally, are much better at home.
For the rest of the summer, Torontoist will look at some aspects of other places that Toronto would do well to adopt—and to avoid—starting with Madrid.
Spain’s capital city vibrates with history and beauty. You can’t walk down a street without tripping over a statue commemorating someone or something of historic significance and whacking into a 15th-century building. Gorgeous sunny weather, delicious food, and cheap and amazing wine (seriously, a 750ml bottle starts at less than 1 euro!) make this city a great place to visit. But what must make it an amazing place to live is its commitment to making life…well, livable for its citizens. Granted, Toronto doesn’t have constant, intense heat in the summer the same way they do in Madrid. But there, when it’s hot and you’re all sweaty and gross and you’re sitting inside sweating to death and unable to focus on work because it’s so hot and all you can think about is how sweaty and gross you feel, instead of forcing people to sit at their desks and pretend to be productive, they actually close down for a few hours to give everyone a break. While that’s annoying if you need to use a business or service around noon, there’s something wonderfully human about saying, “You know what? It’s just too damn hot. Let’s pick this up again in a few hours when we’ve had a chance to rest and it’s a bit cooler.”
A siesta may not be the best fit for Toronto (and honestly, what we lack in summer naps we make up for with winter snow days). But here’s one thing we can definitely adopt from Madrid that would vastly enhance our working weeks (at least those of us who commute by public transit): Biblio Metro. Biblio Metro is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a library in the subway, which was launched in 2005. According to an article by Elizabeth Nash in The Independent on Sunday from September 4, 2005, the library carries classics and contemporary literature and poetry (but not pulp bestsellers), and more than 1,000 readers signed up in the first month it was open. The catalogue can be viewed electronically or on a paper handout, and users sign up simply by showing their city ID card and filling out a form. Books can be borrowed for two weeks, and an ingenious penalty is placed on those who don’t return on time: you’re banned from borrowing for however many days you didn’t return the late material.
Imagine a similar initiative in Toronto, if tiny TPL branches were set up next to the Gateway newsstands. The Toronto Public Library already offers a delivery service where requested materials can be shuttled between branches. Subway libraries here could feature an extension of that service, and books from the regular catalogue could be delivered to branches on the subway line, where they would be waiting for you on your way to or from work. Students could request materials for research from school and pick them up on their way there the next day. People who say they “have no time” to read would be stripped of that lame excuse, and everyone would have the opportunity to read more than just the watered-down newsfeed delivered in the free commuter rags (added bonus: less free papers read = less litter on the system).
We seriously kick some Madrid butt in one major category, though: smoking laws. There is no ban on smoking indoors anywhere in restaurants and bars—and Madrid has very lax-seeming rules about what constitutes a separate smoking section in an establishment, too. Torontonians have probably forgotten by now how stale second-hand smoke reeks on last night’s clothes, which is far from a fond memory. It’s a good thing that their food and wine are so outstandingly delicious that even wafting smoke can’t truly destroy them.
Photos by Roxanne Bielskis