There’s no business like Shoe business……

Of all my years travelling to places and only having a limited amount of time there, I have learned the value of choosing one vital thing to see. For me the one vital thing in Toronto is to see the Bata Shoe Museum. (www.batashoemuseum.ca)

For those of you who know me and my love for shoes this will be no surprise. Others may think this is a ridiculous thing to want to see but hey it’s my holiday and I’ll spend it how I want to. I’m not sure why shoes are such an important part of my life. Maybe it’s because I’m tiny and they are a way of feeling a little bit taller. Maybe it’s the pretty, sparkly, magpie effect. Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a shoemaker and it’s in my blood. Who knows? I just know I love them and as a performer they have worked their way into my poetry and show costumes with ease. So how could I go to a city which has a museum dedicated to my favourite things and not see it? That would be sacrilege!

I learned a lot from the four floors of display shoes. I also rediscovered how shallow I actually am, in that the displays I enjoyed the most were the girly, twinkly ones, not the ones talking about the ancient history of shoes. In saying that, the Footwear through the Ages exhibition was quite interesting. The first pair of shoes made by ancient man was crafted by tying vines together and using animal skin to protect the feet. Modern scientists also discovered when they did a walking test of the shoes that they were surprisingly comfortable and practical. This exhibition also contained many examples of shoes from different cultures from ceremonial shoes that Buddhist priests wore to the shoes that bound women’s feet in China. They also had shoes from Hollywood, in the Star Turns gallery. The High Heels and Hemlines exhibit was focused on the 1920’s and it was one of the ones that I enjoyed the most but I think that’s because I’m really interested in the decadence of that period in history.

I also enjoyed the exhibit showcasing the designs of Roger Vivier called Process to Perfection. He is a designer who worked closely with Dior in the 1950’s and is well known for his beautifully crafted and intricate designs. In 1959 he invented the Choc heel, which is a C shape and showed the beautiful curves of a shoe. Vivier described this as heel as a concern for the negative space between the breast of the heel and the sole of the shoe, where it meets the ground.

This exhibit showed pictures of his designs and then the finished shoe and it was lovely to see the inspirational idea and then the finished product.  It also showed the wooden blocks which make up part of the process of making a shoe. His shoes were laden with details, from buttons, bows, sparkles and feathers and most of them were beautiful and I would have bought them in an instant. The whole museum felt like a space dedicated to works of art and that’s how I think of shoes. The ones I buy are not expensive because I just cannot afford it but each of them are unique and beautiful in their own way…..well I think so (others may disagree!)

One of the quotes I enjoyed most was a story about a lady who had bought a pair of Vivier’s heavily embellished shoes and returned to the store the next day to complain that some of the beads had fallen off. Michel Brodsky, who was Vivier’s business manager was claimed to have said in response “But Madam, you wore them” and sometimes that’s how I feel. Some things feel too pretty to be worn, just like some meals look too delicious to be eaten. But this is one of the joys of living. Eat, drink, dance and be merry but don’t forget that there is no excuse not to wear fabulous shoes while doing so.

Montreal, Toronto & Niagara Falls

I found Montreal to be an interesting and culturally diverse city. More French is spoken there than in Toronto but once they realise you are a tourist they speak in English and seem to appreciate even the smattering of GCSE French that you can remember. We only had one day there but were able to squeeze in a lot of the sights, including Mount Royal, with its stunning views over the city. Later that evening we caught the firework display from the Portugal team competing in the World Fireworks Competition. It gave a real sense of holiday to our trip. The next day we took a wander round and spent an hour or two at the Musee de Beaux Arts, which had many exhibitions. My favourite was the contemporary arts portion. I think it’s because I don’t understand it and I enjoy struggling with the notion of what art is and why it works so well. I didn’t enjoy the religious exhibition because I pretty much have no interest in religion, painted or otherwise. The Napoleon portion was interesting, especially the death mask of the man himself. He appeared to have a Doherty nose and I’d be interested to see if we are at all related way back down the line. (www.mbam.qc.ca)

There was a family fun day further down Saint Catherine and we enjoyed wandering through the stalls and marquees. We caught the end of a jazz brass band, who were very good and held the audience in the palm of their hands. The songs were in French but this mattered little to me as I could enjoy the tunes and the atmosphere that the five musicians created.

I found Montreal easy to get around in, even with the language barrier. The Metro pass we bought for $16 saved us a fortune and made things a lot easier. (http://www.stm.info/english/tarification/a-1a3jours.htm) We were able to hop on and off busses to get to the top of Mount Royal, a journey that would have taken over and hour on foot. (www.montreal.com/parks/mtroyal.html)

We were lucky enough to have our cousin as a guide. She is at college there and has her finger on the pulse of cool places to go and interesting things to see. We had pre dinner desert in Juliette & Chocolate, (www.julietteetchocolat.com)  we wandered down some interesting streets and sat and people watched from balconies during happy hour. She also made suggestions for places to eat the next day and things we absolutely must do during our very short stay in her city. As always though there wasn’t time to do everything and I do hope to be able to visit again some day.

I feel this way about every place I visit. There is never enough time to soak up the atmosphere of a place. I spent three days in Toronto and could seriously have spent months there. I enjoyed the vibe of the city so much and man do those Toronto ladies wear good shoes! I feel Toronto is a city I could easily function in and I did think about work opportunities there. I found it easy to get around and there was so much to see and do.

The CN Tower was quite close to my youth hostel, I didn’t walk up it because I had other things I wanted to focus on getting to see but I did walk down to appreciate the size and scope of the building. I also enjoyed the Rodgers centre and the interesting sculptures that are hanging out the side of the building. On my last night there I sat in a coffee shop, watching a storm roll in as dusk settled and the CN Tower light up in gentle waves of pretty colours. I think the view from the top that night would have been quite astounding. And yes, it’s another one that goes on the list of places that I MUST visit again. (www.cntower.ca)

I took a day out to go and visit Niagara Falls. I couldn’t come all this way and not see and experience the roar of the falls. I decided not to take the  tour organised by my youth hostel but to use the MegaBus so I could be a wee bit more flexible with my day. It worked out cheaper also which is a bonus when it comes to travelling on a budget. (www.megabus.ca)

I took a trip on the Maid of the Mist (www.maidofthemist.com) which was an amazing experience. The first Maid of the Mist was launched in 1846 as a ferry service but by 1854 had become the tourist service that we know and love. I was so excited to have this experience, not just because of a long running gag between me and my brother involving Jim Carrey’s epic meltdown aboard in the film Bruce Almighty, but because it I was pretty sure at some point the experience would scare the shit out of me..…..which it did. The boat sails up into the curve of the Horseshoe Falls and rests there for some time. I was lucky enough to be right at the front of the boat on the upper level. The roar of the falls is almost deafening and the spray is flung all around. Those little blue Dory fish ponchos do a good job of protecting you though. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sense of panic I got while standing there. I was looking into the water, at it churning, watching it violently crash and fight with every other drop there, and thought if this boat goes down there’s not much hope for us. I had a real powerful sense of awareness, about my own mortality; about my hopes and dreams for the future and how lucky I was that I had the kind of life where I could experience this. If you ever get the chance you should visit the Falls and take the boat tour and see what it does to you. Let me know, ok?