toronto textiles & a three-course dinner

Our last morning in Toronto was spent at the the Textile Museum of Canada, "the only museum in Canada exclusively devoted to the collection, exhibition, and documentation of textiles from around the world." Though Ty was unsure about visiting, it was a place that both Zoë and I wished to attend. Fabric. Patterns. The cloth version of typography; we were going whether or not he liked it.

After cleaning spilled sunflower seeds and chasing yellow jackets out of the car, we drove downtown. It was around noon on Sunday, and we planned to drive to Niagara Falls that afternoon, after the museum. The clouds thickened as we drove to the city's inner circle, and it was storming by the time we parked and exited the car. One at a time, we crossed the street. Zo
ë. Me. Ty. Raindrops dampened our hair, our clothes. Above us, thunder echoed threateningly. And though the walk to the museum's entrance was short, beads of water collected, ran down our arms and legs.

The museum was entirely fascinating, and, overall, even Ty enjoyed it. There were a few avant-garde pieces (video, mostly) that were a bit ... interpretive, but, otherwise, the museum was delightful. There were fabrics. Types of techniques. Patterns. Threads. Colors. Shapes. Rugs. Blankets. Handkerchiefs. It was a place that, a few years ago, I never would have considered visiting. However, as I wandered the floors, I examined each piece individually, brought my nose within inches of its rich colors, its steady hand-stitching. The time. The thought. The planning. The purpose. The time, the time spent.

One part of the exhibit was titled "Portable Mosques: The Sacred Space of the Prayer Rug." The 19th- and early 20th-century rugs hung from walls, separated from us by nothing. You could see the woven fibers, the loose ends, the frayed tassels. Thick and coarse, they were. There were many--30 of them--from various countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Turkey. Information boards shared of their importance: As part of daily life within Muslim cultures, the prayer rug is used several times a day, offering a clean and sanctified space in both material and representational form. Each has intricate and powerful symbolic meaning, enacting a transcendent space isolated from the profane world in which to concentrate in prayer. Connecting the individual to the realm of the sacred, the prayer rug’s design embodies architectural details – niches and arches which represent directional points to orient the worshipper towards Mecca. Through this symbolism, the prayer rug functions in effect as a portable mosque, fusing personal with collective experiences as well as physical and sacred spaces.

The second part of the exhibit was focused on perpetual motion, and was called "Material Re-Use in the Spirit of Thrift, Utility and Beauty." The artifacts on display were ones created by a multitude of fibers and fabrics. The blankets were made from old scarves. Quilts were constructed from out shirts. Saris were recycled. Socks, reused. And though everything had once been something else, the end result--the artifact displayed under the museum's bright lights--was stunning.

My favorite piece in the whole museum was a bed cover from West Bengal, one that had been made in the early to mid 20th century. To make this bed cover, used dhotis (men's sarongs) and women's saris of white cotton were cut, layered and stitched together with clean, straight lines. Each symbol, each motif, was then embroidered using thread from old saris. Every stitch is hand-done, precise. Layers upon layers of stitches. I could not imagine ... could not imagine. The whole piece was full of Buddhist symbols--fertility, the turning of the universe, rebirth.

The third exhibit was titled "Dreamland: Textiles and the Canadian Landscape." The museum's website states "in this latest interdisciplinary exhibition at the Textile Museum of Canada, landmark Canadian artifacts from the Museum’s permanent collections are integrated with the work of contemporary Canadian artists creating a dialogue of personal and cultural expressions across time and space." This is where the more contemporary art was displayed, and where Ty was practically angered by an avant-garde video.

"Zoë, look at this," I said, entering a small room with about eight wooden folding chairs. "It's a window!"

I sat down in one of the chairs and stared forward, rapt with false attention. The dark room projected a video, one of a tightly-framed window. I watched as a curtain flapped wide and freely, but was sucked back to the screen with a loud FWAP. Zoë and I laughed.

We watched as the window exhaled, giving us the illusion that the fabric would burst from the wall and tickle our cheeks. Flowing, flowing, flying. Then, the window would inhale once more, pulling the fabric back to it, and concealing the grass, the yard, the solar panel. FWAP.

The flatulent sound kept us giggling.

"Ty!" I called. "Come watch this video with us."

His form appeared in the doorway, just as the curtain FWAPPed. Our laughter grew louder as we looked at Ty's face, one of confusion and disgust. "I hate avant-garde," he snarled. "This is. a. window." His voice dropped on the last syllable, his contempt barely concealed. Zoë and I continued to smirk, continued to switch our gaze between him and the curtain, the billowing, flapping, breathing curtain.


Back in the main gallery, I read the information concerning the video. I appreciated and understood the artist's meditative, natural intent, and did find his piece relaxing. However, there was one thing about "Solar Breath" that boggled me.

"Zoë," I said, calling her over. "That window video? Yeah. That thing is SIXTY TWO minutes long!"

"Wait, what?" she asked, furrowing her eyebrows. "And I thought we had already seen the thing on loop three or four times!"

"For the few minutes we were in there? I know! Wow. It's relaxing for a few minutes, but I wouldn't want to sit there for an hour."

There were other pieces that were entirely intriguing, however. Douglas Coupland's "Future Prayer," for instance, is "one in a series of Quick Response (QR) code paintings that can be scanned with a smart phone to decode a prophetic, buoyant message from the artist."

You will stand taller than mountains. You will rip open your heart for the world to grab. You will make light where before there was darkness. You will be the strong one, your heart will blaze, and you will forever be crossing the goal line.

This piece by Jerome Fortin was titled "Self Portrait No. 4." Though it initially made me laugh (and Ty cringe), I may (or may not) understand the artist. Think--a "self portrait" is stereotypically an image of one's self, a replication of one's outer appearance: hair color, eye color, the shape of our lips, our chin. However, a "self portrait" can really be something simpler--a reflection of oneself, a reflection of what makes a person. In this case, the materials used in the piece were compiled from places the artist travels--places he no doubts feel are a part of him. What bothers me more, however, is the fact that I disregarded the title, the meaning, the purpose, at first. That's the irony of self portraits--we, as viewers--expect a facial image and, simply put, we shouldn't.

Check out "Ryan's" comment in the guest book. Tool.

We spent a great deal of time in the museum's gift shop. There were scarves, purses, bags. Characters, dolls. Books. Many, many books. Earrings. Paper dolls. For awhile, the three of us engrossed ourselves in various texts--children's books, textile guides, typography pamphlets. We all made purchases there (I am now the owner of two pairs of earrings--one purchased by myself, the other a gift from Zoë). Zoë and I fawned over the paper they wrapped our purchases with--tissue-y, translucent sewing patterns.

We ate lunch at Evergreen, a Thai restaurant around the corner. Though the food was a bit spicy for my taste, it was still delicious. As we ate, we talked about what we had seen at the museum, what we had seen so far. I flipped through one of Zoë's purchases, a book for her mother. We again talked of moving to Toronto. Of how much we loved Canada, loved what we had seen, loved the people we had met, talked to, interacted with.

"Why are all the people here so god damn cute?" Zoë asked.

Soon, we were back in the car, leaving Toronto. We drove past the buildings, the CN Tower one last time. My nose, once again, was pressed to the window, my necked craned and stretched. As we weaved out of the city, I dozed off. I believe Zoë did the same. And so, as we traversed back around Lake Ontario and toward Niagara Falls, Ty was left to navigate on his own, adjust music and volume. Keep himself awake.

I remember waking, briefly, when Ty muttered something about "vista." I tilted my head up, peeked my eyes open at the water. We were in Burlington, on the bridge that crossed Lake Ontario. Water on each side. Blue, I remember. Very blue. There was a beach. We were up high, that I remember. But the sky was blue, then. The water, blue. We were surrounded by an ocean of teal.

"You're right," I breathed. "That's good vista." I stayed awake until after we crossed the bridge, then fell into temporary slumber once more.

I also remember Ty mentioning a road, one named "Casablanca." He mentioned it when he thought I was more awake, said something about the irony.

"Still haven't watched that movie yet," I sighed.

"I know. That's why I mentioned it."

"Sleep," I exhaled, reaching out and slamming the vent, closing off the cold breath of air.

There was another short detour, one I barely remember. Ty had left the highway to visit a place called "Vineland," I believe. There would be multiple wines, numerous vineyards. However, given that it was later on a Sunday, it was closed. We drove around the buildings, but the only thing I really remember seeing was a dog.

"That is one fluffy ass dog," I said to no one in particular, drowsily pointing to a white canine off to the right. "It's like someone put Charlene's dog in a dryer and just ... POOF." My sleepy, deadpan voice made my companions laugh.

After what seemed like hours and hours later, but in reality was only two, Ty pulled into the parking lot of the hotel. I awoke when the car bumped into a parking space, the perpetual motion abruptly stopping. I rubbed my eyes, my forehead, my cheeks. I could hear Zoë rouse herself from the backseat as well.

"Wow, that textile museum really wore you guys out," Ty joked.

Our hotel, Hotel Tropicana, was nothing incredibly special. However, it was cheap and was in a relatively safe area.

Upon entering the small room, Zoë discovered that the tiny freezer would not accommodate our freeze packs, let alone everything that needed to be chilled. "Well," she said mockingly, a small smile creeping from the outside of her lips, "This place is a wash."

We laughed, commented on the room's lack of clock radios (humorously, the hotel's website listed "clock radios" as a special amenity).

But really, we weren't complaining, though; we were still in Canada. While lounging on the beds, we browsed the Internet, looked at our phones. I read Jasper Fforde, showed Ty the absurdities of Kitschy Living. We talked about corrupt politicians. State fair food.

"So, the Indiana State Fair is going to have deep fried bubble gum this year, in addition to deep fried Twinkies, Oreos and cookie dough."

"Iowa had deep fried butter last year," I chimed.

"I've heard of that," Zoë said. "There's deep fried ice cream, too."

"There's deep fried everything," I said. "But how do you deep fry bubble gum? WHY?"

Ty sat up, pulling his face from his phone. "See, that is why 9/11 happened. We're that disgusting."

Zoë and I shook our heads in amusement, returned, respectively, to our phone and book. It was quiet for a few minutes, the three of us lounging, reading, relaxing. Ty voiced a sigh from a yawn, placed his phone on the nightstand and stretched his arms above his head. "I feel like taking off my pants, ordering a pizza and watching a sad movie."

The statement, as well as his typical variation in cadence, prompted both Zoë and I to laugh again, to spill out things we should do that evening.

"Tonight's our last night in Canada--we need to do something."

We ended up at Syndicate, a relatively nice restaurant and brewery. It was a busy night at the restaurant, but after a couple of individuals rearranged themselves at the bar, we took our seats. The service was fantastic, and the bartenders exchanged small conversations with us as they worked the rest of the floor. TVs reviewed the Olympics, and we were able to watch the finishing moments of a women's marathon. But despite Syndicate's business, despite its crowd and its TVs, it was ... cozy. Friendly. And, of course, delicious.

When we were handed our drinks--two beers and a white wine called "Bad Company,"--Ty raised his IPA, nodded to Zoë and I. He said a few words, proclaimed a toast for good company, good vista, excellent food, an excellent trip thus far.

"Cheers." The high-pitched clash of glass-on-glass.

While waiting for our meals, we talked of many things: our shared time at The Exponent, our reflections on the newspaper industry and what it is really like to be fully employed at one. We discussed people we used to know, people we used to work with and with whom we shared classes. We tried to think of ways to replicate vintage beer and cigarette posters.

"Bud Light. The beer you turn to when you're hungover and realize your problems still exist."

"Too wordy."

"Right you are."

"Remember Keystone when you want to forget."

And, of course, talked of moving to Canada, of moving my mother and Zoë's parents with us. About living in Toronto, about driving an hour and a half to Niagara Falls every once in a while to visit the eateries, the Falls, the things we couldn't see on this trip. We joked of starting a commune. Of buying a large house and dividing it into thirds. Of filling it with cats.

"Ty could be the resident lumberjack! Build us shit, fix things! Keep up all the work in the yard! ... just like home."

"I could go to grad school here."

"There are a number of publishing companies in Toronto; perhaps I can look into them as well."

"Let's do this, guys."

"Yes. We're doing this."

The first round of our meal arrived then. (We each had settled on a $20, three-course meal.) Ty sucked down a delicious, thick tomato gumbo soup, one brimming with rice and vegetables and sausage. Zoë and I both ordered the Caprese salad, which we shared with Ty. Alternating stacks of red and yellow tomatoes, with cream cheese and a drizzling of olive oil. The portion size even looked appetizing; you knew you wanted more, knew you could devour more ripe tomatoes and simple dressings. But you also knew that two more courses were coming.

Our main courses were once again shared. Ty and I had ordered the lobster ravioli--a creamy dish whose pasta was painted with black pinstripes. Sharp, enticing, utterly mouth-watering.

"Zoë," I gushed, my cheeks flushed from the wine, "You have to try some of this." I tipped one of the ravioli squares off my fork and onto her plate, which held a crusted halibut.

"Of course," she responded, dishing both Ty and I a small portion of her dish.

Before our plates were cleared, we ordered another round of drinks. By the time dessert was dished across the counter to us, we were relaxed, eager. We had shared glasses, sampled each other's drinks and used each other's forks and spoons. Sharing silverware. Sharing laughs.

"Oh. My. Goodness." I failed to contain my excitement for my dessert, a rich creme brulee. Smooth. Delicate. Topped with a gooseberry. "I WANT."

Ty looked up from his cheese platter and glanced at Zoë and I's matching desserts. "That does look good."

I paused, set my spoon down. "Do you want to try some?" I asked through unnecessary giggles.


"Okay, but that means I get to have some of your food first." I pointed at the various cheeses. "What should I try?"

"I ... don't know. They're all pretty good."

"Awesome. I'm swiping little bits of everything." I tasted the cheeses, the grapes. While in the middle of savoring a piece, I fumbled my dish, which I had been pushing toward Ty. His fork flipped, flew, hit his plate. Clumsy as always, I sent a few grapes to the floor. "I should not be allowed in public. I'm sorry!" I said loudly. I pointed at my wine glass. "Don't let me have any more. I'm humming enough."

Ty just laughed as the staff brought us out replacements. They handed Ty a gooseberry to try with my leftover creme brulee as well.

I eyed it greedily, for it had been sweet, undeniably delicious. "You have to try it with the creme brulee. Have to. It. is. amazing."

"Patience, Olsen." He took my spoon and dipped it into the bowl. "Oh my god, that is delicious."

"See? Now try it with the gooseberry. Even better," I pushed.

Zoë and I watched as he, once again, picked up my spoon. She and I had been fawning over our desserts, devouring them eagerly and commenting on how perfect it was, how perfect our entire meal was.

"Oh my god," Ty said, after dropping the berry into a spoonful of silky dessert. "This tastes like Christmas."

"Better than Christmas," I added.

"This whole trip is better than Christmas," Zoë concluded.


  1. That's an awesome questbook comment! I wish my man was that romantic! Haha I guess after 10 years you take what you can get.

    I love the textiles, I hope you don't mind, but I had to pin a couple! :D

    I love how you write Dawn, you have a way with words and describing, like the window video for example. I felt like I was there. :)

    Thanks for your sweet comments, it made it chuckle!

    P.S. bacon forever. <3

  2. I love the way this post reads like a story. It felt less like a blog post and more like a chapter from a book :)
    Those textiles are all brilliant, and I too cannot even fathom the work, care, and effort which goes into creating each piece. I love the Portable Mosque prayer rugs - How stunning. I'm not at all religious, so I would never use one for prayer, but I love that rugs can completely tranform a space. Without the rug in our apartment, it would feel like such a cold place.

    Thank you for sharing this artwork! This looks like it was such a great day!


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