Coffee and people

I love my local coffee shop, where I sit and read as two guys on my right argue passionately in Russian, a little old lady sips tea on her own and glances sharply over the top of her newspaper at the two guys arguing, and an ochre-robed Buddhist monk serenley sips an espresso as he ponders Nirvana.

Corrado’s Barber Shop. Men’s Hair Stylist.

Adam is sitting in the steel and leather barber’s chair, his back to the small table displaying the tools of his trade and the large mirror on the wall, as he talks to an older guy seated across from him. The mirror competes for wall space with a number of vintage Playboy pin-up posters, the edges of which are tattered and curled, as well as some old sepia photos of Corrado Accaputo, the former owner (since the 1960s) of this small barber shop on Bathurst Street in the west end of Toronto.

Corrado has retired now, just recently in fact, and in his place is the new owner, Adam, who quickly rises from the chair as I enter the shop and snaps open the black barber’s cape with an audible flourish as he waits for me to sit. With his curly, waxed mustache pointing out to either side like a pair of horns, and the cape now hanging over his arm, he looks like both bull and matador.

“What’s it gonna be?” he asks as I sit in the chair, the cape now covering me.

I tell him what I want and in no time at all the shears are out and he’s working away on my hair. We start to talk. He tells me about how—finally!—he’s taken over the business from Corrado, and what his plans are for the shop. He doesn’t want to make many changes, if any at all, really; he thinks the place is such a Toronto institution that he feels if he made any changes it would spoil the old-fashioned, authentic atmosphere that this small shop has had for so many decades now. He even thinks he’ll keep the sign on the window outside: Corrado’s Barber Shop. Men’s Hair Stylist.

I agree with him; I feel as though I’ve stepped into a time-warp and have been transported back to the ’60s. Either that, or I’m in some kind of living museum to the barber’s art from that bygone era. It’s a fascinating place, with its pin-up posters covering every part of the available wall space. So much so that I find myself temporarily forgetting all thoughts of PC regarding such a display of scantily-clad women–some of whom must be grandmothers by now!

Adam continues to cut my hair. He’s very chatty, very old-style in his white barber’s shirt and matching pants. He knows what he’s doing; he’s very adept with the scissors as he cuts and snips, expertly culling any wayward strands, all the while looking at me in the mirror as he talks about the business. And the older guy behind me (who, it turns out, is an old friend of Corrado’s going back 30 years or so) repeats some of the things Adam says, as if for emphasis. This guy has a deep, scratchy, smoker’s voice, which makes for a strange counterpoint as he parrots some of what Adam’s saying.

We talk about Corrado. How is he enjoying retirement? “Not very much,” Adam says, as he takes down one of the old photos of Corrado, taken outside of this very same barber shop in the ’50s, standing alongside Augustino Gentile, the original owner. “I don’t think he knows what to do with all this free time on his hands now.”

“You should get this blown up,” I say. “It should be framed and put on a wall somewhere, as a piece of Toronto history.”

“You should get it blown up,” says the older guy, whose name I never did get to know, and who is now starting to repeat some of the things I say.

Adam shrugs and says he’ll think about it. Corrado will be dropping by the place sometime soon to collect some of his personal belongings, which may or may not include all the old Playboy magazines that fill, absolutely fill, the shelves of the cupboards by the sink. There are hundreds of them, all tattered and well-thumbed.

“At least the pages aren’t sticking together, which is a good thing!” Adam says, and then laughs out loud.

Finally, he finishes cutting my hair and I get ready to pay. He’s done a good job, so I give him a decent tip and tell him I’ll be coming back again for my next hair cut. And I will, too. There’s something to be said for having a good old-fashioned barber shop in the neighbourhood, one which has seen thousands of clients sitting in the same old chairs, having their hair cut while shooting the breeze over this-and-that; whether it’s politics, religion, local news, gossip, or simply admiring the pin-up girls on the walls.

As I leave, I wish Adam and the old guy a happy new year. “See you next time!” Adam shouts out, as I close the door behind me.

And then, as if hearing an echo, there comes a deep and smokey: “See you next time…”

Occupy Bay Street! Or is it Occupy Toronto..?

There seems to be some confusion over the whole “Occupy” event here in Toronto this week. Is it supposed to follow the U.S. version of Occupy Wall Street, in which case Occupy Bay Street would be the obvious choice? If so, then why is there also an “Occupy Toronto” camp currently stirring sleepily in St. James Park between Adelaide and King East?

So far, the Toronto Camp in St. James Park seems to have the largest contingent, although they’re a bit slow off the mark compared to the two “Bay Street” protesters I saw on the way to work this morning.

I think there’s also some confusion as to when and where the Toronto Camp will be marching today, with one protester telling a Breakfast Television reporter this morning that he “may take a walk over to Queens Park later today…”, as he gave the camera a halfhearted wave and  a self conscious grin when it panned round to him; which I thought was very cute—and very Canadian.

Somehow, I don’t see this whole “Occupy” event taking off so much over here, unlike the Italian version. It is early days, however, so maybe it has yet to gather some steam.

Occupy Toronto camp in St. James Park
Occupy Toronto camp in St. James Park

Star gazing in San Francisco

Yesterday was our fourth day in San Francisco. We’d been doing a lot of walking around the city so far, getting used to the steep streets around Nob Hill where we rented an apartment for the week. At first, we had decided that yesterday would be a day of relaxation, just to give our legs a break, but the weather was so nice and sunny we instead chose to go walk down to the bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge

The water out over the bay lay under a blanket of fog, and yachts skirted the edges as it slowly spread, eventually to recede as the sun finally burned it away. The breeze from the bay gave a welcome relief from the heat as we walked alongside this picturesque scene.

As we returned home later in the afternoon, we stopped at a café for refreshments on Fillmore Street, an area of the city that has a distinct seaside town feel to it. As we were sitting outside, people watching, a group of well dressed men and women came out of the building next door, some of whom were already on their cell phones talking excitedly about having just listened to a speech by the Canadian actor and comedian, Dan Aykroyd. We then saw Mr. Aykroyd leave the building and, as he went back and forth from the group of people to his limo, I managed to snap a picture of him with my phone camera.

Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd