Toronto Through The Eyes of Priscila Uppal
Poet and novelist Priscila Uppal's work wrestles with the big stuff of life - identity, fertility, mortality. With two novels and six books of poetry behind her, including this year's novel, To Whom It May Concern, The World Literature Review calls her "one of the most engaging young poets writing in English in Canada today."
The York University English and Humanities professor draws inspiration from the everyday people living, working and roaming Toronto's streets. Her poem "Divorce or Spanish Lessons?" draws inspiration from two advertisements beside one another on an island of the St. Clair West subway line. Uppal reads the poem in an audio recording for blogTO at the end of this post, but first, here's Toronto through her eyes.
What were your first impressions of Toronto?
I liked Toronto a lot. I would come here as a teenager and it was bigger, far more interesting and had a much more fascinating nightlife than Ottawa.
But when I came here to live my impression changed. I was expecting Toronto's neighborhoods to be much more mixed, I was used to being in Ottawa which was also very multicultural and when I came to Toronto I was told, "the Portuguese live here, the South Asians live here," I found that actually quite shocking. In Ottawa there's not that neighborhood sense around ethnicity.
Where do you live now?
The St. Clair and Christie area.
What made you choose that area?
I had lived in the Annex for about ten years as a student... and when it came time to graduate from a basement, the Annex is very expensive, so we [Uppal and her husband, poet and critic Christopher Doda] chose the St. Clair-Christie neighborhood.
It's sort of like the Annex was maybe 25 years ago. There's a great mix of people from all over the world and when you're going to a restaurant, or a bar, or to buy clothes, it's a family-owned business so I feel good about spending my money in my neighbourhood.
When you think of Toronto what three words come to mind?
Home. Excitement. Creativity.
What's your favourite building in the city?
I love the Park Hyatt. I love going up to the top and having a glass of champagne and looking out at the city.
If you could tell City Hall to do one thing right now, what would it be?
Oh, fix the transit system. Please fix the transit system! You can judge a bit city by the efficiency and the comfort of its transit and Toronto scores low there.
Where's your favourite place to eat?
The Atlas One Cafe. It's an Egyptian and Middle Eastern food mix and they have belly dancing on Saturday nights.
How do you get around the city?
I don't drive, so this is why my transit issue. I take the transit and I walk a lot. And at night I take cabs.
What do you do in the city after dark?
I love to eat. I love to try all the restaurants. I have a particular liking for hotel bars, I enjoy those. At night I love to go to literary readings and theatre and sports events.
Describe an ideal Sunday afternoon in the city.
A nice walk around my neighborhood, maybe catching a matinee movie or going down to the Art Gallery and maybe doing some vintage shopping, especially around Queen and Ossington, there's some great places, Badlands and I Miss You, I love that whole little stretch.
Where do you go to find nature in Toronto?
I'm not much of a nature person... I do love being near water, so I like the Harbourfront.
What's one thing or place that people should know about?
I love the Distillery District. It's kind of an old Montreal-feel. There are all kinds of studios, art galleries and artisans working in all of the floors above the ground floors, so there's tons going on off the main walkway.
Favourite area outside the GTA?
I don't drive so I really don't get out that much. But I work at York University, so seeing my students there and the Accolade Building.
Where do you go in Toronto for inspiration?
You know, honestly I can go practically anywhere in the city for inspiration. One of the things that I like about the city is that I can take my work with me almost anywhere. Sometimes I'll be writing at the Hyatt, or at a local coffee shop, or I'll go to U of T and sit and watch the swimmers and I'll be writing. I'm much more inspired by the people than by scenery or places.
Listen to Priscila Uppal reading her poem, Divorce or Spanish Lessons?
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