Friday, July 27, 2012

Glenn Gould's Toronto.

In less than a month, I'll be leaving Philadelphia to move to Toronto. I look forward to getting to know the city on my own terms, but in the meantime I've enjoyed Glenn Gould's Toronto, a 1979 television documentary in which the great Canadian pianist offers his own highly impressionistic reflections on the place where he spent much of his life. Apparently hard to come by in the years since it was originally aired, Glenn Gould's Toronto is now readily available online; I've included the opening and closing segments of the film here, but the rest can easily be found on YouTube.

The Toronto that Gould knew is long gone, but I would find it difficult not to be captivated by the description of the city offered in the film's opening narration:
I was born in Toronto, and it's been home base all my life - I'm quite sure why; primarily it's a matter of convenience, I suppose. I’m not really cut out for city living, and given my druthers I’d avoid all cities and simply live in the country. Toronto, however, belongs on a very short list of cities which I’ve visited and which seem to offer – to me, at any rate – peace of mind, cities which, for want of a better definition, do not impose their cityness upon you. . . .
Unlike Glenn Gould, I actually enjoy living in cities. Even so, I'm rather charmed by the notion of cities that "do not impose their cityness upon you." (Gould offered Leningrad as the best example of such a city, with Toronto as a kind of runner-up; one might argue that Gould should have offered more specific criteria, but doing so would be pointless.)

In the last few minutes of the film, starting at the 1:40 mark in the above video, Gould offers some poignant reflections on the experience of attending Sunday vespers during his Presbyterian childhood:
In my youth, Toronto was also called the City of Churches, and indeed the most vivid of my childhood memories, insofar as they have to do with Toronto at all, have to do with churches. They have to do with Sunday evening services – not Sunday morning ones, what with all that sunlight. They have to do with evening light, filtered through stained glass windows, and ministers who concluded their benediction with the phrase, “Lord, give us the peace that the earth cannot give.” Monday mornings, you see, meant going back to school and encountering all sorts of terrifying situations there in the city. So those moments of Sunday evening sanctuary became very special to me; they meant that one could find a certain tranquility even in the city, but only when one opted not to be a part of it.
Near the very end of the video, beginning at 3:27, Gould adds:
Well, I don’t go to church these days, I must confess, but I do repeat that phrase to myself, the one about the peace that the earth cannot give, very often and find it a great comfort. What I have done, I think, while living here is to concoct some sort of metaphoric stained glass window which allows me to survive what appear to me to be the perils of the city, much as I survived Monday mornings in the schoolroom, I guess, and the best thing I can say about Toronto is that it doesn’t seem to intrude upon that hermitlike process.
Will I find a "metaphoric stained glass window" and a tranquil refuge when I get settled in Toronto? It's too soon to tell, though I have found that even the most bustling of cities can offer inviting pockets of solitude: living in New York, for example, I came to appreciate the special brand of peace and quiet that one can enjoy while sitting alone with a book and a cup of coffee in a Manhattan diner. Let us hope that I will have similar discoveries in Toronto. AMDG.


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