Today, August 6, marks the 26th anniversary of the day my family landed in Canada for the first time.
I still remember a lot of the first impressions I formed about Toronto on that day. Most of them hold up surprisingly well.
It was 1988, a hot summer. The longest heat wave fell between July 27 and August 18, with 23 consecutive days of higher-than-average temperatures. We arrived right in the middle of it.
- First impression: it’s soooooo humid here! As soon as the automatic doors slid open and we stepped out of the cool airport terminal, the wet sponge of humidity hit me in the face. I didn’t think people in Toronto lived in igloos, but it did not occur to me that it could be hotter than where I’d just come from – the pretty-much-South of Europe. I was baffled.
My dad’s cousin, who lived here, picked us up from the airport. The first song that came on the radio when we got into his fancy Volvo was Kokomo by the Beach Boys. It was a brand new song – released as a single earlier that summer (on my birthday – July 18 – by strange coincidence), so it was in heavy rotation. That was the first time I heard it. I instantly memorized the lyrics, and remember them to this day.
- Second impression: holy crickets, Toronto is a very green city. I don’t know if it was the 401 or the DVP or some other highway but I remember driving past more trees than I thought a city of several million people could possibly contain. I am just as amazed with the ravine-and-tree-filled wonderland I live in today as I was then.
- Third impression: streets in North America are super wide. So many lanes! So much space for everyone! When people here complain about bad drivers, I still, 26 years later, think “yeah, but you’ve got literally three times as much space to manoeuvre around those people than you would if you were driving just about anywhere else in the world”. It’s true. Real talk.
That first night, we went for dinner on Spadina, to a huge Chinese restaurant that I think was called Hunan Palace. It’s not there anymore, but it was delicious. I was already a fan of Chinese food thanks to excellent parents and frequent trips to England during childhood. I was very happy to be living in a city that had a real Chinatown. Little did I know back then that it actually has two!
- Third impression: air conditioning is insane. I wore a tank top to dinner that night (see above, re: we were in the middle of a heat wave!) and I needed to go outside and stand on the sidewalk three or four times during the meal to warm up, because it was so cold inside. That is crazy. Cranking the air conditioning in summer is not just a waste of energy and probably terrible for the environment, but it is also completely bananas. Why do people want to feel cold during the precious few warm months we actually get? I still think this every summer when I have to bring cardigans with me if I’m going to be spending any time in a mall, or movie theatre, or office building. I don’t understand one single thing about air conditioning culture.
We spent our first few weeks staying with friends in North York, where I got acquainted with North American television. Not that I’d never seen any American shows (Dallas and Dynasty were both very popular in Serbia, as was L.A. Law, thankyouverymuch), but I’d never seen the constant stream of sitcoms, dramas, commercials, game shows and – most baffling of all – soap operas. Watching a soap opera for the first time was a really confusing experience. The image quality, the lighting, the sets, the way all the actors acted, the way they looked, their bizarrely perfect, glossy hair, I just couldn’t decipher what I was actually looking at. It didn’t look like TV or movies. It was basically from another planet. I felt like someone who had been ripped out of a jungle and placed in the New York subway system. Like, what the fuck is that?! I spent about a week completely mesmerized by All My Children and Days of Our Lives.
- Fifth impression: Toronto feels like home. Always did, still does. Of course, I was sad to leave my home, family, and so on. But we’d moved a lot already and I was used to it. Once we arrived here, I knew I was in the right place. I didn’t question for even a single day whether I’d get used to it. I loved it from day one. Toronto stole my heart.
Still love you, Toronto. Happy anniversary to us.