Wednesday, October 07, 2009
nuit blanche 4, westbound public transit 0
Nuit Blanche summarizing moment: just after midnight, Sarah and I stopped by the bustling food court at Village by the Grange. Tables were filled with customers, nearly all under 30, fuelling up for the rest of the evening. The woman behind the counter at the Greek stand was in a joyful mood, knocking the tax off our hefty containers of pastitsio and souvlaki because “it was the city’s night to enjoy.”
Despite crowds and transit issues, it was a night to enjoy. The rain held off, the temperature wasn't extreme, fellow Torontonians appeared to be soaking in the atmosphere. If the art didn't grab you, the people-watching and snippets of overheard conversations did.
Much of our enjoyment was outside the food court on McCaul Street, which was closed off for exhibits related to AGO and OCAD. While it was busy, we didn’t feel like we were drowning in a sea of people like the disaster movie scenes we passed by to the east on the Dundas streetcar. The atmosphere was light-hearted, perhaps spurred by the mix of art students, fog machines and inflatable beings. I’ve seen or heard a long list of names applied to cloud-like creatures of Moon-een on McCaul: angels, Pillsbury Doughboys, sperm, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, teddy bears, etc, etc. Their charm made it difficult for many bypassers not to pose for photos in front of the inflating creatures. We also encountered a bubbly girl requesting high-fives from all—we couldn’t tell if her strong French accent was real or inspired by Peter Sellers.
The greeting we received at Village by the Grange was much warmer than those from coffee shops on Parliament Street. While many businesses catered to the crowds in the core, potential customers checking out the lower-key exhibits in Cabbagetown found doors closing around 11—a later time than normal, but hours that probably could have extended by another hour or two. Boozy-breathed patrons gave us the heads-up on closing time at Jet Fuel, while the cleaner at Starbucks tried to tell people the store was closing in five minutes. A steady stream continued to flow in.
Maybe weary staff needed kissbots like those found in Riverdale Farm. All it took was a couple of claps for the kissbots to show their love.
The exhibits in Cabbagetown, which included kissbots, video cubes and illuminated spiders, were a relaxing way to ease into the night. Not having to face crowds right off the bat allowed us to get into the mood of the evening, rather than letting swarms of people immediately make us cranky and tense.
You probably think this exhibit’s about you, don’t you? Don’t you?
Beautiful Light: 4 Letter Word Machine drew enthusiastic call backs from the crowd in Nathan Phillips Square whenever a new word flashed during our first swing-by. On trip two, the only response to the gibberish and symbols that flashed on was a lot of head-scratching. Hard to say if the crowd was fully aware of the machine’s capability to generate nearly five billion graphic combinations or if some of the “words” flashing by were DNA codes. The description provided in the program guide was straightforward compared to those for other installations, which were so overwritten in the descriptions of artistic aims that flew over the heads of 97% of the crowd that it was hard to tell if they had been written with a straight face (I suspect...hope...not, since there were some that could have been amusing parodies of such writing).
One of the major sources of complaints about the evening was TTC service, or lack thereof after 2 a.m. Using the subway to get around? No problem. Surface routes? Oh dear...trying to catch westbound surface routes in the core was like waiting for Godot, except that we had an engaging conversation with him during one of our fruitless watches for a Red Rocket. Three attempts to head into Zone C after 3 a.m. wasted an hour of our rapidly diminishing energy.
Attempt 1: Dundas and University. No streetcars spotted. Overheard teenage girls complain about the inability of suburban guys to find their way around.
Attempt 2: Queen and University. Several eastbound streetcars passed by. Choked on cigarette smoke from others waiting in vain for westbound transit. Taxis tried to dodge a Frisbee game taking place in the middle of Queen Street. We waited...and waited...and waited. Gave up and checked out the Zone B exhibits on Bay Street.
Attempt 3: King and Bay. Plenty of eastbound buses, occasional eastbound streetcar. Zilch going west. We waited...and waited...you get the picture. Abandoned idea to go to Zone C, headed towards Union Station.
Solutions for next year: beef up service on Dundas as a alternate route? Close Queen Street to all but pedestrians and transit (or just leave it open to pedestrians and leave the transit to Dundas, King and Harbourfront)?
Curling up in a sense-depriving witches’ cradle was so tempting...until I wondered if they would have turned me into a pod person, a human/insect hybrid, or one of the mutations William Hurt underwent in Altered States.
After a final stop that helped me determine which Glade air freshener to pick up on my next grocery run (sorry 10 Scents, but I didn’t think of Alice in Wonderland when wandering in and out of your scented porta-potties—with little time to ponder the contents of each can and a brain heading towards sleep, the mind tended to focus on the obvious), we hopped on the subway and called it a day just after 5 a.m. Not a peep was heard from fellow exhausted passengers. The city had been theirs and it was time to bid it adieu for the rest of the morning.
Looking for more? Besides the links posted previously, check out coverage from the Globe and Mail, Spacing, and the Star. - JB