Ruth writes: No kidding. I chose to go to this festival in early August because it advertised “Special Community Tents (Chinese, Persian, Korean, Russian,…)”. I had been looking to expand my contacts in Toronto’s Russian community. I have several connections providing information about the Korean, Persian and other cultures mentioned, but none with the Russians. I wanted to know what, when and where are their festivals, the ones that other Torontonians can attend? Where can students practice their Russian skills with native speakers for free? I wanted to know the best Russian restaurants in Toronto? Where can we learn what our Russians neighbours – not the Russian government — feel about Russia’s involvement with Ukraine? Is our news media giving us a one-sided view?
When I arrived at Mel Lastman Square a half hour after the announced starting time, vendors were still setting up tents. A quick tour of the few set up showed no signs of Russians. But near Yonge Street, a man and woman in what looked like African costumes were singing 1960s songs. “Come on let’s Twist again.” They were wonderful, lively and enjoying themselves. I couldn’t help smiling. Jimmy and Ligia Van Rosi were from Kenya, they said. They sing Kenyan songs too and they loved performing.
Feeling good from this surprise, I continued with a slower tour of the tents while the music was still audible. Only a handful of festival goers were there. The weather was great, sunny yet comfortable. Vendors had time to talk. Bottles and boxes of Planters nuts were on sale. 2 for $5. Why so cheap? “They are from the Downsview Market,” came the reply. I could not resist a bargain and bought some.
Lorena (Italian) and Lily from Palestine were selling beautiful costume jewellery and sun glasses. The glasses were two for $10. They had tags listing them as over $200. They didn’t look that expensive but they were better than those in the next stall with the Slavic-looking guys. But what the heck? I bought two pairs. Lily said their goods were usually sold in Downsview Market. I’ve been wanting to shop in this weekend market but never had the time. Here was an opportunity!!
Interesting was the booth set up to look for stem cell and marrow transplant donors. It looked like Persian was written on it. I had heard it was difficult to find donors in communities where donating is not traditional. I wanted to question the people at the booth, but they didn’t seem to want to talk.
Next was a banker of Iranian background. Shirazi knew the name of a Persian restaurant. When we talked about the effect of the sanctions on Toronto’s Persian community, he said the currency rate was higher and a limit was put on money from Iran. People here were suffering. Sanctions should be against the government, not the people, he said.
The Shahrzad booth displaying expensive chocolates and Persian treats was next. Taking pictures of the fancy packages and asking questions rewarded me with a delicious sample. My husband is on a sugar-free diet, but not me. Yummy.
A child was climbing a mountain. Children are always fascinating, especially when they might fall.
A friendly woman tried to entice me into buying a snow cone from her niece’s stall. Lisa was born in England of Jamaican parents. She had visited Jamaica and loved it, she said. She asked about my background and had I been to China? Jamaica was so beautiful, “a diamond in the rough.” She told me to go visit. I wondered about the crime rate there, but she assured me that many areas were nice and safe, not just the resorts. She warned me not “to wave money around.” There were places in Toronto that weren’t safe either. You had to avoid those too, she said.
Time went quickly. I had almost forgotten the Russians. I had another festival to go to. The only booth without any signs was one full of cheap sun glasses. The Slavic-looking guys attending it were dressed in white undershirts. They looked grouchy and unfriendly. I asked if they were Russian. “No, Polish,” one of them replied. Too bad for you, guys, I thought as I left empty-handed. But my trip to Mel Lastman Square had not been entirely wasted.
For more information: www.NorthYorkFestival.com.
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