Starbucks at Kensington?

I live in a very centrally located neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. I’m within a 15 min walk to just about anything – movie theatres, hospitals, schools, universities (two of them), shopping malls, you name it. There are at least four 24h grocery stores within two block of my appartment. The only thing that I don’t like about where I live is that there are no independent coffee shops close by. The closest thing is an Italian cafe at the Manulife Centre, a good 10 min walk away. There are plenty of chains though – Second Cup, Starbucks, Timothys, Lettieri are all around within a block. I’ve given up having espresso-based coffees in any of those places since none of them do a half-decent job. Lettieri is the less bad of all of them and occasionaly I’ll have a macchiato there.

To get my coffee fix, I go to Kensington on saturdays. It’s my therapy and my refuge from coffee-chain land. So, you can imagine my surprise and annoyance when I found out this week that Starbucks wants to open a store right in the middle of the market. Please. Give me a break. It’s not the place for it. But then neither is Paris or Barcelona but somehow they made it in. And it all comes down to landlords wanting to be greedy. A spot opened up in the market and what do they do? Well, apparently they don’t really want to have to spend money with renovations but want to charge 5,000$/month rent for a small store. Who can afford that? Only big corporations.You’ll see the resident’s response to that here.

One of the things that make me really sad when I travel these days is to witness the corporatization of businesses everywhere. North American urban centres and malls (and many rural shopping centres too!) look exactly like any other urban centre and malls anywhere else in North America. This trend is even getting to Europe where a shopping street in 15th arrondissement in Paris looks exactly like a shopping street in Barcelona. A friend of mine was having a baby shower here in Toronto and since I went to Paris in the spring, I decided to buy a gift there – I thought it would be nice to have a little outfit from a local baby store and it was kind of fun to go shopping for baby clothes in a foreign city. I got really disappointed when I got home and found out that the particular French store I shopping in has a store here in Toronto. What’s the point? I think all this homogeneization only stiffles creativity and tolerance for anything that is different.

Sorry for the rant.

PS: apparently Second Cup opened a store in the market a few years ago but it didn’t last very long…


Blog stats

The blogosphere has rules of its own when it comes to popularity and enliciting response. Sometimes I write a post that I feel will bring out a flurry of comments but is met with dead silence while others that without any planning of thought, end up becoming really popular. I’m endlessly amused at the kinds of keywords people enter on Google to get here. So today I’ll share some of those with you:

Top Posts

Jabuticaba, 2,477 views

Newfie accent, 2,250 views

Santa Claus vs the three Wise men, 1,113 views

Most Active

Immigration changes, 58 views

Jabuticaba, 32 views

I’m completely hooked…, 29 views

Rick Mercer on the elections

I don’t know if I liked Rick Mercer right away but in the days I didn’t have TV, the Rick Mercer Report was one of the few shows we could watch on the net without having to illegaly download something. I realy like his satirical and sarcastic sense of humour and his political comentary.

In his blog, he has recently written a comparison between the American and Canadian elections. The premise is that the current Canadian elections can be just as exciting as the American counterpart. A few highlights:

Sure Prime Minister Harper was never actually tortured for six years in a Viet Cong prisoner of war camp like John McCain was; but he’s angry enough that he could have been. In fact on a good day Harper seems way more angry than McCain ever does. Like with McCain there is pain and anguish in the man’s eyes. McCain suffered at the hands of a hostile enemy bent on breaking his body and soul and he survived and triumphed. Stephen Harper, the story goes, suffered from onset adolescent asthma and so was often picked last for team sports. This helps explain his dislike for all people in general. He was also startled quite badly by a clown at the age of six which explains his lifetime commitment to destroying arts organizations.


And then there are the wild cards. Other than our Prime Minister there will be 307 Conservatives running in the next election. Will they be silent on all the issues or simply mute? Will they refuse to address any local concerns during the campaign or will they simply not be available for comment? Are they terrified of their leader or just alarmed in his presence? This is the stuff that will engage Canadians like never before.

In the Liberal Camp we have a host of political players that are true Canadian celebrities in their own right. Ignatieff, Rae, that woman who wears the scarves and the short guy whose name escapes me at the moment. Sizzle sizzle.


All of this will make for a scintillating election. But those are just the personalities. Issues, as always, will define the thrust of the campaign as it progresses, and as of now it’s simply too soon to tell what those issues will be. Also, nobody really knows how badly Canadians will react once they figure out all that money we had is now gone and the economy is shaky at best. By the sounds of it, Canada’s books suddenly look like whoever’s in charge has an internet gambling addiction.

So buck up Canada. A great drama is about to unfold and it’s every bit as good as whatever’s happening south of the border. All we need now is for the prime minister to walk across the street and dissolve parliament in the middle of his term. Something he looked us in the eye and promised us he would never do. See it’s already sexy.

See full entry here.

Immigration changes

Yesterday I had a good chat with a friend of mine who specializes in Canadian history with an emphasis on immigration history. I spoke of my misgivings about the changes done to immigration law and policies under the current conservative government.

Although I don’t often discuss partisan politics in this blog, I haven’t made a secret that I support open immigration policies and I believe society can only benefit from being open to immigration. And that is precisely one of the reasons I want to see an end to the Harper regime.

For years, the Canadian government worked to design an immigration system based on clear policies that reflected Canadian values and was non-discriminatory and objective. Power was removed from the immigration ministers and passed onto a bureaucracy so as to prevent immigration from becoming a tool in partisan politics and processes to proceed smoothly irrespective of who is in power or changes in government. A set of criteria was established defining the kind of skills Canada wanted from its immigrants and as long as the person fit that criteria, he or she was in.

Under the pretext of making the system speedier or cheaper, the conservative government has been granting more and more power to the minister of immigration who can decide on a case-by-case basis who gets in and who doesn’t. Prospective immigrants can no longer be sure if they will get a visa even if they qualify because under the new rules, if your file is not processed within a year, your case is simply denied and sent back. And now the government is proposing to limit the list of professions that qualify to 38 occupations.

In short, we are going back to pre-1967 policies. To a time when the government could speed up applications or select exclusively immigrants from a particular country or ethnic background because it felt they would “adapt better”. Policies that were racist, discriminatory, and subjective.

Harper and the fiasco about the arts

One of the issues affecting the conservative campaign recently here in Canada has been the proposed cuts on federal grants towards the Arts. This comes after the government implemented new guidelines giving its ministry powers to deny government grants on the basis of whether it finds the content of the film/music/play seeking government funds to be offensive and/or appropriate. That has of course caused much debate within the art circles and as something like this can easily be seen as a form of censorship for who is to define what is appropriate or offensive? A funny video about it quickly ensued.

In defense of its cuts of government support for the Arts, Harper infamously claimed that the ordinary Canadian doesn’t care about seeing his money go to rich artists who hang out at exclusive parties and complain about their grants. That was a slap in the face of the overwhelming majority of artists in this country who live on under 20,000$/year and has to struggle on many jobs in order to support their art. It also ignores the fact that the Arts industry generates over 40 billion dollars to the Canadian economy (about 3.8% of Canada’s GDP) and employs hundreds of thousands of Canadians. It was an unfortunate remark that shows how out of touch the Prime Minister is with reality and the lives of the so-called ordinary Canadians.

Margaret Atwood answered Mr. Harper on today’s Globe and Mail with a very poignant article that is worth reprinting here:

To be creative is, in fact, Canadian

by Margaret Atwood

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we’ve been punching above our weight on the world stage – in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it’s a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada’s cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an “estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).”

But we’ve just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts.” His idea of “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I’m one of them, and I’m no Warren Buffett. I don’t whine about my grants because I don’t get any grants. I whine about other grants – grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they’ll be millionaires.

Continue reading “Harper and the fiasco about the arts”

Montreal 1 x 0 Toronto

Remember when I raved about Bicing, Barcelona’s bike share program?  I was so impressed I even wrote to a city councillor here in Toronto who supports cycling as a means of public transit to suggest this is the way to go. He answered with the usual “Yes, I know, we are looking into many options, bla bla bla”. Well, Montreal just did it. Meet Bixi. I really need to move back to Montreal… sigh…

What’s up?

I saw this at a friend’s blog and thought it would be a good way of starting a conversation. The idea is to share what are we reading at the moment, what is the last movie we saw and what music we are listening to. So here it goes:


Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the latest Woody Allen movie and tells the story of two American girls on extended vacations in Barcelona. I’m not a bit fan of Woody Allen but couldn’t resist watching a movie set in one of my favourite cities. We enjoyed it!


This one is hard because I’m always reading many books at once. I’ve just finished Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and I’m now reading Sam Wineburg’s Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: charting the future of teaching the past and Paulo Freire’s Teachers as cultural workers.


I’ve been listening to a lot of guitar music – Jesse Cook, Michael Hedges, Sebastião Tapajós, and some fado while I read. When I work out I give preference to some good metal; lately it’s been a lot of AC/DC….

What about you? What have you been reading/watching/listening??