Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the tag “Toronto”

Adventures with Sherlock Holmes and the Toronto Tea Festival

At the start of this year, I found out that the Toronto Public Library is renovating the usual location of its quite extensive Arthur Conan Doyle collection and has put a number of the pieces on exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library. I was a pretty big Holmes fan as a kid and even made the trek out to Reichenbach when I was in Switzerland.

Holmes and I chilling in Meiringen

Holmes and I ponder how to show this picture but maintain some anonymity

I have started critiques of several of the recent adaptations and homages for this blog only for them to turn into an absurdly long, disorganized mess. So Adventures with Sherlock Holmes seemed like a great opportunity to explore more Holmesian goodness. In particular, this past Saturday the library was scheduled to show Murder by Decree and tour the exhibit afterward.

I went to a local blog to see if I could find more details for the event, particularly whether tickets were needed, and I found out that Saturday was also the Toronto Tea Festival. How could I not have known? I was torn between two of my great loves. But as fate would have it, the Tea Festival was also happening at the Toronto Reference Library. So I hurriedly packed a bag and headed out earlier than planned in the hopes of getting as much tea festivizing in as possible before the movie.

And, well, I might have gotten a little distracted by the tea. It was fairly busy, but not bad by Toronto Festival standards (You could still move, for example). Although I often had to wait a while to get to the tables, I certainly managed to make it around the exhibit hall in a reasonable time, stopping for a few samples:

tea sample cups

I don’t live right downtown, but I get around enough that I was surprised there were so many great vendors I wasn’t aware of. Really this is my own fault for sticking with David’s Tea because they are in my ‘hood (with the occasional House of Tea side trip), but I guess they are sort of the “big chain” now, which seems so strange because I remember when they opened and I think they only had a few other locations in Toronto and Montreal and now they’re all over. Anyway, here are a few highlights from the festival. Read more…


Face, Meet Pavement

I’m fine.  My Mom told me once when I phoned her to pick me up early after a fire at the gym that you should always open these sorts of stories with that so: I’m fine.

Bike crash injuries

My bike and some streetcar tracks had a disagreement about whether my face needed more colour.

I was trying to get a headstart a sort of on time-ish start on Christmas shopping and took a bit of a tumble off my bike.  I was moving to change lanes to go around a large parked truck and my wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks and I went into a skid and ended up on the pavement.

I credit a generally clumsy nature and several years of gymnastics training when I was younger for my being a good faller.  Seriously, the art of getting your hands underneath you and twisting to avoid major organ and bone damage is underappreciated by many, but is a valuable skill.  However, I don’t have quite as much practice with falling while a 40 pound bike limits your ability to move.  I am taking that as the explanation of how I must have contorted myself to end up with a scraped pinky, swollen thumb and small bruise on my knee on my left side, but two cuts on my face on the right side.  That and about four layers of winter padding protecting my rib cage.  Although how I ended up scraping my pinky through thick mittens will remain forever a mystery.

I’m sure that most folks would tell you that if you fall off your bike on a major city street and all you lose is a couple chunks of skin and some patellar capillary integrity, you should count yourself pretty lucky.  And I do.  You know, thank goodness there were no cars coming behind me.  Thank goodness I wasn’t going that fast.  It could certainly have been worse.  So I do feel very lucky.  But there is another feeling that people don’t seem to talk about quite as much.  Not directly.  Not as loudly.  The other thing you feel is this: incredibly stupid.

I’ve listened to friends and family who have been in car accidents tell their stories over and over.  A friend took a turn onto a gravel road too fast and the car spun out, causing her to warn everyone she saw for the next while about slowing down on gravel.  My Mom went into a ditch after hitting a patch of black ice and she swore over and over she “should have known” it was there even though it is the nature of black ice to be invisible.  A friend got rear-ended in a lineup of stopped cars on a bridge by someone who just plain wasn’t paying attention and caused a domino effect of three or four cars being jolted into the car in front of them.  They all got charged with following too close and the nature of this law and the inattentive driver were subjects for many discussions that followed.  I never really understood the tendency to relive these terrible moments repeatedly.  Until now.

I wish there was someone or something I could blame.  I’ve tried pretty hard to find one, replaying everything that I remember.  It’s not just a cliché that “it happened so fast”.  Everything before the accident, the warning signs you saw or should have seen, the ways you could have been more prepared, those are all burned into your brain, but the moment from when my tire went into the track until I ended up on the ground is pretty unclear.

I wonder if this is why tensions run so high on the road sometimes, especially after accidents and near-misses.  Of course people react to the danger and potential damage, too, but if you’ve been in an “accident” like this that was avoidable, but you’re confused about what exactly happened and you felt stupid, you want someone or something to blame.  I know the dangers!  I’m a good cyclist!  I’ve been riding over three years here accident-free!  It can’t possibly have been my fault.  And so if there had been a moving car around, or an illegal parking job or a poorly maintained road, I am certain I would be hurling many insults at all of them.

I tried being angry at the truck for being so wide (the width of an entire lane?  Really?).  And I tried being angry at the streetcar track with its need to be all tire-sized (what is with vehicles that move large numbers of people efficiently requiring wheels?).  But in the end there’s only my own stupid, idiotic self to blame.  I know those streetcar tracks are a death trap.  I know they have to be crossed at an angle.  Add to this the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been out in the first place since I’m sick (good news: I bought the Christmas presents before crashing and they survived intact.  The art of falling well, I tell ya) and I seem even stupider.  I saw the truck in plenty of time and checked the lane was clear.  And yet I still ended up on the pavement.  I just somehow didn’t get the wheel turned quite enough.  Or something I guess.  I’m still not sure.  It happened so fast.

I jumped up after the crash.  A fellow cyclist happened to be travelling the other way and asked me if I was okay.  I assured her I was, but in the way you sort of do when you’re in shock and embarrassed and just want to hustle off the road.  Not sure if she was experienced in such things, but she crossed the road and asked again if I was okay.  I peeled off my left mitt since it felt like my fingers might be broken, but there were just the cuts and I told her again it was fine, muttered about the “stupid streetcar tracks” and made some excuse about not being used to riding downtown.  She told me about crossing at an angle and I said I knew that but I guess I just hadn’t managed it.  She asked again if I was okay (why so awesome #bikeTO?) and said I had dirt on my face, although it turned out there were cuts underneath that.  Assuring me that it was totally normal to be shaken up from the scare, she eventually rode off.

I got on my bike and realized the chain had fallen off.  I fixed that and then realized I’d lost my mirror.  So I went back and grabbed that off the road, remounted and discovered the cockpit was completely crooked.

handlebars misaligned

When the handlebars are lined up, the wheel is off about 15 degrees and vice versa.

I must have yanked really hard on the handlebars when I got stuck in the tracks and twisted it, but whatever strength I’d called on when trying desperately to get out of the skid along the tracks was no longer with me and I couldn’t straighten it up without tools.  I actually tried to ride it in a “get back on that horse” attempt at courage, but holding the handlebars crooked to go straight goes against everything in your brain and I gave up after a block, figuring there was no need to compound stupidity with more stupidity by doing something unnecessarily dangerous.  I did the walk of shame onto the subway, and was reminded of how long it’s going to take to get places now as we waited for quite some time at Bloor.  In fact, we waited long enough that my face began to thaw and the cuts there started  to sting.  But eventually I made it home and for that I’m grateful.

Cyclists in Toronto are very aware that if they get in an accident on the road, it’s their fault.  The mayor, back in the days he was still a councillor, made that very clear to them.  And yet even in cases like this when it’s true, it’s completely unhelpful.  One could say the same about many car accidents I’m sure, but I’m not aware of any politicans who do as a general statement.  We are all responsible for our own safety and need to be aware of the risks any time we choose to get on the road, of course.  We should ride and drive responsibly for our own sake.  But we should also do it for everyone else out there.  Because if you spend any number of hours on the road, at some point, you will mess up.  You will do something stupid, something you should know better about, even if only momentarily.  And that moment of stupid could be trouble.  Or maybe, like me, you get lucky.

Please ride and drive safely as things turn colder and slipperier.  Your extra attention could compensate for someone else’s momentary lapse.  Help make the world luckier.

Subway Token Holder

I notice a lot of people keep subway tokens in their wallets where they get mixed in with their other change and they’re never quite sure how many they have. You can buy a token holder of course, but I discovered a while ago that tokens (in Toronto; can’t make any guarantees about other cities) fit very nicely in an empty chapstick case. My old one was starting to get cracked along the top

Subway token holder

Old and busted token case (cracked along the top)

so I thought I would take some pics while constructing the new one in case anyone else wants to make their own, even though it’s really straightforward.

Read more…

Mission: Impossible and Getting Around in the City

Note: post contains spoilers for Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, as well as descriptions of certain scenes in The Bourne Supremacy and the BBC Sherlock episode A Study in Pink, although I wouldn’t really call the descriptions spoilers.

I saw Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol (Ha.  I didn’t notice until I looked it up just now how they had to use a dash for the subtitle because they already used the colon after Mission.  So many sequels that they’re running out of punctuation!) yesterday.  I really enjoyed it.  They moved around from city to city and I thought it was really interesting how they adapted the action scenes in each city to give them a different feel.

A bit of background from my life (skip ahead two paragraphs if you’re not interested and just want to know about the scenes in the movie): I moved to Toronto from a much smaller town a little over five years ago, not really expecting to like it but ending up pleasantly surprised and really growing into it.  The way that large numbers of people manage to live practically piled on top of one another and make it work fascinates me.  And a big part of that is how to get around efficiently.  Not just public transit, although that is a major method and knowing the major bus routes and subway lines is important, but also moving around the neighbourhood on a smaller scale: walking and biking.  The fastest pedestrian route to the main intersection near me involves crossing through a parking lot, along an alley beside an outdoor pool and then through another parking lot.  Then you cross Yonge street and go into a little mall and you can walk through the mall to get to the subway (Toronto has a very large, confusing set of underground walkways and shopping areas).  When people visit me and I take them this way, there are generally comments.  Why not just walk along the street all the way out to Yonge and then outside down Yonge to the subway entrance?  Well because that’s not the best way; my way is at least 20-30 seconds faster.  And it’s more interesting usually.  I am hardly the only pedestrian taking this route.  Since taking up biking, I’ve noticed these sorts of separate-from-streets routes even more.  There are streets where cars aren’t allowed straight-through but bikes are excepted, shared paths through the park or pedestrian overpasses over railway tracks that you can walk your bike through.

And so when I think about if I had to face off against someone in my neighbourhood, if they weren’t familiar with the area, I think I would do all right if I could get a decent head start, even if that person were a well-trained American movie actor spy.  Streets run in grids and if you’re used to driving then you might see the city as all straight lines and right angles.  But if you walk, you know there’s probably a short cut or alternate route somewhere.

Anyway, the point is that now when I watch movies, I often take note of how exactly they deal with getting around in the city.  Driving a car down a perfectly straight highway with infrequent exits is not necessarily the best way out of town.  It’s obviously one of the fastest, but it’s also the first place anyone would look and the one where it’s easiest to cut someone off because you know which direction they’re headed and there are only so many ways to bail out (assuming you’re not going off-roading).  And Mission Impossible actually makes use of this when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) ends up in a car chase with the bad guy, Hendricks, on a highway out of Dubai.  Hendricks is going from one highway to another, taking an onramp that makes a 270 degree turn.  Rather than follow him directly, Hunt slams on the brakes, turns 90 degrees, goes the wrong direction onto what I presume is the offramp, onto the highway and then goes the wrong direction up the onramp Hendricks is in the course of coming down (if this explanation is as unclear as I think it is, see the potentially equally unclear picture below. #NotAnArtist), so that he can slam their cars together.  This is relatively successful; there aren’t a lot of ways off an onramp after all.  It seems like it would have been better to lay low in the city for a while and hide in amongst all the other people in plain sight (and to be fair there is a foot chase through some area of Dubai that appears to be pedestrian-friendly, although it’s hard to tell because it’s in the middle of a sandstorm).  But, on the other hand, if you’ve got to get out of somewhere fast, speeding down the highway to a ridiculously conspicuous helicopter is probably a better option than hoofing it.  Also it makes for more exciting film viewing.

car crash schematic

Slightly better CGI effects in the actual movie

Contrast this to Russia, where the movie starts.  Judging from the movie, Russia is full of trains.  First a team of agents is sent to steal a set of nuclear codes, which involves finding one man getting off a train in a sea of hundreds and hundreds (at least, I think this train is in Russia.  Apologies if I don’t remember all of the details accurately).  This operation is considered “routine” but involves the use of phones connected to a database that can quickly look up names and give you a picture, as well as contact lenses with facial recognition software.  A train station actually does not seem like an ideal place to find someone you’ve never met to me, although the advantage is that train stations are generally designed to funnel people in one direction and are also full of folks sitting around looking asleep and one more body is unlikely to be noticed (people minding their own business in the city is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse).

Later, Hunt and another character, Brandt, have to get on a moving train (though this appears to be a cargo train rather than a passenger train) because they are meeting other team members there and co-ordinating for their mission.  Hunt and Brandt run through the train yard, dodging cement poles and grabbing onto the old door handles on the car, and when they finally get pulled inside, the sleek look of the inside of the car, filled with video screens, tech stuff and weapons the IMF has stashed there, is jarring compared to the train yard.

Moscow feels distinctly different from Dubai and Mumbai, where the chases involve fancy cars and rotating elevators in parking garages.  It’s not all trains, but overall it does seem to have a starker, older feel.  Moscow is where Hunt escapes from a hospital and runs through side streets and back alleys, managing to steal a shirt and jacket from people’s clotheslines and a set of shoes from a street vendor and so on.  He does this while escaping a Russian who is likely familiar with the area, but the back alleys are presumably too numerous and convoluted for pursuit.  There are also scenes in Russia where Hunt jumps onto the roof of a pretty fancy van, and later Hunt meets the Secretary in a car with a driver that gets shot up, so it’s not like Russia is devoid of action scenes involving personal vehicles or anything, but it’s just a general observation.  Russia is the land of the Cold War and nuclear politics, but Dubai is where they have business meetings in fancy suits (and also really tall buildings.  I am sad that the CN Tower has missed its chance to star in a Mission: Impossible movie as the (former) tallest freestanding structure) and India is the place where telecommunications equipment is bought and run.

One final note is that the idea of cars and traffic being a problem in the city, and the need to know the area and know alternate routes, comes up in Mumbai.  Traffic is bad and Hunt can’t get to the satellite relay fast enough.  They pull up their fancy holographic computer route map and cut through an alley.  This gets them closer, but even then they are held up by a bunch of pedestrians crossing the street and ultimately they fail to get where they need to be in time.  The final fight then takes place in a parking garage where, yes, Hunt and Hendricks fight, but parts of the scene are almost both of them fighting against the parking garage, which is a high-tech thing that delivers cars via an automatic elevator.  The two try to keep the briefcase from getting away from them and also try to figure out where the elevator things are going next.

The chase through the city is a pretty common action movie trope, but some movies seem to take a particular interest in making use of the streets, alleys and architecture of a particular city (note I have not actually been to Moscow, Dubai or Mumbai, so I can’t comment on how accurate Ghost Protocol is in its portrayal of these places).  Other movies and shows that I think did this well include:

1. The Bourne Supremacy: Jason Bourne does a lot of running through streets and, while there are a number of car chases in this series, what stands out is Bourne arranging to meet Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) in the middle of a square in Berlin.  The CIA puts a bunch of surveillance on Parsons to try to protect her, but the meeting is set to take place in a public square where there is a protest going on that day.


Scene from the Bourne Supremacy

Once Bourne phones Parsons and tells her to get on a tram, the CIA basically has no chance of keeping tabs on her or finding Bourne (As the character who pulls the blueprints for the subway tunnels says “Three levels, fifteen tunnels and they’re all converging in a five block radius”).  Bourne takes Parsons down to subway level and questions her in a room where the wire she’s wearing won’t transmit out.  I have been briefly to Berlin, although not to Alexanderplatz, specifically.  There pretty much did seem to be constant tram activity though and lot of parallel subway lines you could lose yourself in.

2. A Study in Pink (Episode 1 of the BBC’s Sherlock): Sherlock Holmes and Watson, on foot, chase a car through the streets of London.  They take advantage of Holmes’s knowledge of the area to predict the car’s likely route (“Right turn, roadwork, one way, traffic lights, fast lane, pedestrian crossing, left hand only, traffic light, pedestrian crossing, traffic lights.”) and then use the shortcuts available to pedestrians (up some stairs inside a building to the rooftop, jump across to another rooftop, down a fire escape and through a series of alleys) to try to cut the car off.

Car Chase

Route of car through London streets in BBC's Sherlock.

Car Chase

Route Holmes plots to head off car in BBC's Sherlock, including a missed opportunity to stop the car where the lines cross.

When they just miss the car, Holmes is able to re-evaluate on the run and find the next crossing where they’ll likely meet the car.  I don’t know London, but I assume that it’s like most cities in that there are just some areas where it’s tough to get around.  For whatever reason I thought a modernization of Holmes might involve him having the entire London transit schedule and route map memorized because he seems like the transit geek type (and also it’s a good way to keep tabs on what’s going on in the city), but I guess that’s probably not necessary if you have a phone and the transit authority has an accurate schedule online.  And if you think back to the original stories Holmes was always hiring hansom cabs in the city, with the train being for longer journeys.

3. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Too much to list, but basically this is what it would look like if you enjoyed the idea of a chase through the New York City’s public transit system and alleyways so much that you decided to make an entire movie about it.

I’m sure there are lots of others, but there’s a start.  And I thought Mission: Impossible did a pretty good job of distinguishing different cities based on the layout of the streets and the ease/difficulty of getting around in various ways.

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