I was reading at Simit & Chai the other day, a gem of a cafe on King West. When I first moved to Liberty Village last winter, the owner looked quite despondent since business was so bad. At the time the seating wasn’t open yet, but the assortment of middle eastern treats and pastries were abundant, and I wondered if they would all be sold by the end of the day. It’s nice to see the cafe full of people, along with the lone pigeon that made its way in and was inadvertently cleaning the floors by pecking at the crumbs.

I went to Quebec City earlier this month… it was on my bucket list for awhile, and also the first time I’ve done a trip on my own. My friend Amy was going to join but couldn’t find a flight by the time she booked, and so the solo trip was meant to be. I loved strolling through the parks, taking in the majestic views of the Chateau Frontenac, and lounging at the Nordique spa on the St. Lawrence river. The people are so friendly, and the taxi drivers are like tour guides, pointing out every site and the history behind it. Halfway through my trip to the airport, I realized that the French-speaking driver had been playing an English news station just so that I could listen. The women were dressed elegantly, even for breakfast at 8 in the morning, adorned with earrings, with chic hairdos and red lipstick. Each day I would have breakfast at the Café Krieghoff on Avenue Cartier where my Airbnb was, with its mix of locals and tourists, and the kind gentleman with the wide hat who said I had the nicest smile. “You’re like a walking flower!” he said.

I feel as though I’ve been holding my breath this year, wondering if things were really going to go back to normal, and away from the virtual setting. Two of my favourite events in the city, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Toronto International Festival of Authors are both back in full swing! Nothing could be a more positive sign of what feels like spring after a long winter. Well, in terms of covid anyway. We won’t mention the rest of the world. Also back in business are the author talks at the Toronto Reference Library.

For the film festival, I saw In Her Hands, a moving documentary produced by Hilary and Chelsea Clinton, and I’m glad it’s getting all the recognition it is, because it’s a story that needs to be heard and remembered. The movie follows Zarifa Ghafari, the country’s youngest ever mayor, two years before the fall of Kabul. It’s eerie watching the scenes knowing what’s about to befall the country. At each turning point – Biden pulling troops out of Afghanistan, the country descending into chaos as the Taliban takes control, Afghans desperate for help while the war in Ukraine takes centre stage – you feel the inevitable impact. Prevailing is Zarifa’s bravery and profound love for her people, as she decides to return home even after finding refuge in Germany.

For the festival of authors, I went to a session called Her Body in Words, where two writers, Farzana Doctor and Billie McNish, shared their collection of personal poetry. I had attended a book club with Farzana the night before through Sahiyo, and she emailed me after saying she had an extra ticket to her reading the next day if I wanted to join!! So nice of her. One of my favourite poems of hers is called “Tarot Goodbye” that describes the hope one feels when getting a reading (I can relate since my friend Anita just did one for me!!).

She squints over my cards,

Seven of Cups,

Three of Swords,

indicators you and I

have crossed paths before.

Farzana Doctor

As regular events resume, I’m now realizing the beauty of the complimentary virtual world. A world that creates a portal into experiences that you may never have been part of otherwise – where people join from different time zones – one sleepy-eyed viewer from England, a wide-awake one from India, alongside those of us who are winding down for the day. It’s amazing what you can experience in this world, with its awkward moments of not knowing where to look, turning your camera off and on as you grab your tea. Not knowing whether to raise your hand or type into the chat. And God forbid your zoom link doesn’t work – who should you email?! Oh the world of the online meetings, with its recordings where your words and expressions will be forever accessible for all those who paid but couldn’t attend (they ask you for your permission at the beginning but who are we kidding). My favourite are the ones where the links expire in 48 hours… better make sure you don’t forget to watch!

What a crazy new world we live in. A world that shows what humans can do when they’re boxed in. Some will break out of the box, think out of the box, and create a whole magic show from within the box, while others will further sink into the box and close the lid. And really most of us can relate to both. Maybe when the lid is about to close, that’s when the magic bursts forth.

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