Toronto’s Condoland and Cancer portraits – not necessarily related


I was in Toronto last week for a site visit to College Park, where I’ll be doing a project for La Nuit Blanche in October. The fog was ominous the afternoon I arrived, and late at night lightning lit the fabulous view of a purple and red lit CN tower outside my hotel window. I turned off all the lights and sat by the window for hours. My mother never let me do that as a child because it is dangerous, she said. She never elaborated, which is no doubt why I still harbour a slight fear that the lightning will pierce my window and frizzle fry me, zap my eyeballs clear out of my skull, or at least smash the glass and send me plummeting out the window (in this case ten stories high). I eyed the pool below, gauging my chances of landing in the water, should the unthinkable happen.

Toronto has surpassed Brooklyn in it’s outbreak of condoland conversions. Everywhere you look along the lake and downtown areas there are condo towers sprouting and when I say sprouting I mean looming – “reshaping the skyline” in one developer’s tagline, vaguely reminiscent of cosmetic surgery. At least in Williamsburg they are mostly small and less obnoxious, though certainly omnipresent.


More on that later, it is not the point of today’s story.

When I left my meeting with Toronto City Events planners and curator Gordon Hatt, I found myself at the start of a heat wave on the City Hall plaza with water fountains full blast and electric magenta flowers – it was a remarkably beautiful day, a surprise after the stormy night. Before I crossed the street to check out of my hotel, I encountered an installation of black and white documentary photographs in Nathan Phillips Square, featuring cancer patients and survivors, taken by the people that love them. The exhibition is traveling across the country (it left Toronto June 9), gathering new submissions as it moves.

The photos are accompanied by abbreviated stories about each person, showcasing the tremendous variety of cancers afflicting “38% of women and 44% of men during their lifetime” (Canadian Cancer Statistics 2006). The stories and images are alternately heartbreaking, stunning, funny, casual, erotic, and beautiful – reflecting the diversity of brave people who are their subjects, and their relationships to the photographers. I was choked up by the time I read them all, and almost missed my Airport shuttle.


Which brings me to the NYC marathon lottery. I still don’t know if I got in, but I’ve been training nevertheless, despite the heatwave. It’s just as much of a challenge as it was last year when I ran my first marathon in Atlanta, perhaps more since this year I’m coming off an injury. This time I plan to run to raise money for cancer research. Nothing to do with the portraits.

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