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2006 03 17
Imagining Toronto: The Liminal City

The city is liminal.

In the spring, winds and rains sweep the fictional city, gathering and sorting detritus: leaves, lost papers, a winter's accumulation of words.

All winter I wore the city like the skin on a still body of water; it floated above me and I breathed it in as if through gills. It weighed upon me, like water measuring the weight of souls. But in this season I rise through it, muddying the water, breaching the surface. The winter has made me feral, and now I roar through the city with my teeth bared, biting at the wind.

I am voracious.

All at once the city is suffused with light, and alive with its own shouting narratives. The mood in the streetcar line is festive; you feel fierce joy at the way plastic bags billow at the margins of the highway. Even goose shit is amusing, for now.

The city quickens, until its stories spill out in a gush of muddy water and cigarette butts. Newborn, they are unkempt and demanding. They scream for attention. They grow to monstrous adolescence in days, scribbling coarse poems in the laneways, trampling the elderly at literary wakes. Security guards follow them in galleries, protecting the staid, true art. They have no regard for history.

But at night they curl at the base of bridges, warmed by the vibration of the city's traffic. It pulsates in them, and by dawn they have memorized the urban cadences. A lightbulb pops in the marquee at Honest Ed's and someone is there to record it, knowing that small tragedies are metaphors for the larger ones. A construction site reveals a row of bottles, pipe stems and fossils are unearthed beside the Humber, and suddenly the city grows a memory, for now. Two stories pass on adjacent buses, a glimpse of love found, lost, or ignored. That's all right: there's always another one coming along, dawdling in front of the fruit stall, feeding stale crusts to pigeons and sparrows, grabbing a hot dog before the evening commute, biking headlong through traffic, or being wheeled along in a stroller.

The city is liminal. It is also alluvial, vulvar, and valvular. You might add: it is vulgar. And I would reply: it is learning to speak; let it.

Few of us can say we were born in this city, but we give birth to it every day.


Many thanks are due to Robert Ouellette for the generous invitation to guest edit this week. Thank you also to those who read, and commented both publicly and in person.

If you would like to be added to the Imagining Toronto mailing list, please e-mail Amy Lavender Harris at . It mails occasionally with updates on the Imagining Toronto project.

[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 03/17 at 11:05 AM

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