Virtute and I spend a lot of our days discussing the concept of “home”. You know, what does it mean to feel “home” somewhere? How is “home” wrapped up in our sense of belonging? What is the effect of displacement and colonialism on “home”? Often Gumption sits next to us half listening and thinking about other things – like the tastiness of her last meal or the surprising suppleness of her favourite green bouncy ball.
A few days ago, I asked Virtute whether or not he considered Toronto home. He paced around thinking and then hopped up on top of his cat condo and I knew I was in for a monologue. “I think Toronto is familiar, but it’s hard for me to call it home.” I asked him to explain. “Well, I’ve come to know this city intimately. I’m drawn to the screeching sounds of the street cars as they amble along College Street and the distinct chime of the TTC doors opening and closing – the way that guy at Yonge and Dundas screams loudly for you to ‘Believe in the Lord’. I can smell Toronto too – or at least the enunciated smells that float about through various neighbourhoods – like the way our new hood smells like Kit-Kats because of the Nestle plant or how Chinatown smells of fresh markets, cooking oil, incense, ocean water, and packaged electronics or how the Danforth smelled of grilled meat and used bookstores. I can orient myself by finding the CN Tower rising above the city – despite the best attempt by condo developers to block it from our view – and I can watch as the moon dances across the tip of the tower late at night. But that’s not what makes it familiar.”
I could tell by now that Virtute, etymology nerd that he is, was likely referring to the root of the word meaning “like family” or “like kin”. So I was anxious to hear where he would go next. “Toronto is familiar,” he continued, “in the way that we organize our relationships across time-space. We desire companionship and community – yet emphasize the importance of being alone. We bask in the warm glow of celebrity – yet show no emotion or care as members of an audience. It’s no wonder they call us the screwface capital of north america. We are a city created out of the experience of displacement and migration, but one with a long history of interconnection and contestation of space. We are a city that sees itself as progressive and caring, but we learn to walk past people freezing on the concrete sidewalks. We are a city in the process of great change and transformation, but often at the expense of those of us who create its cultures and quirks. We are a city of many souls – and in that way – we are family – however tenuously. Those are my views from the 6…”
Gumption had been listening with greater attention than usual and then finally interjected….”We make city like we make family like we make home.” Virtute, frustrated and possibly a little aloof turned to Gumption and demanded greater explanation. Gumption now caught up in batting the string dangling from the cat condo, paused, and replied, “Trial and error.”
As she let the string continue to sway like a pendulum…we heard the squeak of a street car coming to a stop.