Thursday, August 06, 2009

Time, space, and the suburbs

Last week I saw a movie at the Cineplex Odeon Queensway, a huge multiplex in Etobicoke. I have often enjoyed two pieces of sculpture on the property: a metal canopy by Jean McEwen entitled Between Heaven and Earth, and a soaring spiral tower (I don't know the artist's name or title) that has a weird resemblance to Tatlin's Monument to the Third International.

On this visit I noticed something I hadn't seen before: a row of beautiful old maple trees lining the parking lot to the northwest of the theatre. They were evenly spaced, with trunks I would guess about two metres around, and generous , spreading branches. From the leaf shape I think they were some less common type of maple, maybe mountain maple or striped maple.

I found it intriguing to speculate about who had planted them in such a regular way, and why. Had this row of maples lined the driveway of some vanished farmhouse? Unlikely, since there was no answering row of trees. Were the maples planted by some enlightened factory-owner to provide shade for picnicking workers at lunch? More likely, especially since this was, I believe, an important area for defence industries in World War Two. Or were the trees planted by the municipality to line a street, now swallowed up by the entertainment complex?

In any case, the trees provided a graceful link to an earlier time, a puzzling yet powerful reminder of the existence of the past amidst an instant landscape.

My second experience, somewhat related, occurred today. I visited Woodbine Racetrack (again, in Etobicoke) for the first time, accompanied by young lady, in order to watch the races and bet on the horses (we bet $40 and won $32, not a bad price for an afternoon's entertainment for two). The race track forms part of a very large complex. The building that houses the stands is a large, modern facility, impressive in many ways, with its horse-themed photomurals and super-efficient staff.

However, in some ways the building's slickness made it seem more like a mall--one felt this especially in the food court. It didn't have exactly the kind of rakish excitement that I associate with horse races in old Hollywood movies.

What fun then, to step out of the sliding glass doors, and find just the kind of simple, uncomfortable, outdoor stadium seats that one might see in a 1930s drama. The racetrack designers made a conscious design, in this part of the facility at least, to stick with tradition. We sat down, felt the cool breeze and we knew that our horse was going to win!

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