I spent this past weekend in Toronto and I had a few observations that I thought might be interesting to share..
One of the first places I went to was the World’s Biggest Bookstore; I love it there, I would go there everyday if it was feasible and wouldn’t destroy my bank account. I’ve been going there at least once a year for a pretty long time, at least 5 years now and my favourite section has undergone a few changes. If you go upstairs and head to the side wall there used to be a tiny section on international politics and international relations. You used to be able to hunt through a few books to try to find one that you hopefully hadn’t already read. Everything in that section used to be fairly similar, my bookcase at home can attest to that.. There would mainly be some books on HIV/AIDS, a few on democracy, maybe one or two on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now when you walk up those stairs and head to the side of the room there is an entire wall dedicated to international politics, the books fall into a wide range of topics, and new books are brought in weekly. I find it incredible how much interest and expertise has expanded on these topics, but I also find it disheartening how so many of the books are written too quickly to include the necessary background research to get a full grasp and thorough perspective on the topic of choice. What is also interesting is how the topics have expanded, the books have moved beyond looking at the western world as the ‘ideal model of development’ and have started to look for a wide variety of definitions of development and methods of achieving it. It’s moved past what we used to view development as and has almost made it undefinable. It’s looking at food politics, international governance, equality, access, education, health, and assessing each topic as an equal aspect. It’s brought ‘development’ into a multi-disciplinary, interwoven topic, which is where I think it should have been from the beginning..
In the past few years I’ve started to frequent the cultural studies section on the upper floor of the World’s Biggest Bookstore as well. This section includes anthropology, gender issues, aboriginal authors, and numerous other interesting topics, just last year each of these topics had their own mini section in the larger cultural studies section. This year gender studies had somehow disappeared from its home in cultural studies and has moved into a new section on ‘controversial knowledge’. What does that even mean? I view it as a smaller statement that gender issues isn’t considered common knowledge or always appropriate for ‘polite conversation’ as people have told me.. This scares me. It scares me that ideas that over half our population are influenced by, or experience can be considered controversial. Is it controversial that women have different experiences than men? No. Is it controversial that female authors share those experiences? Maybe, but it depends on who you ask.
For supper on Saturday night we decided to go to O’Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the dark. This experience is meant to demonstrate a very small part of how life is different for the blind. I simultaneously loved and was terrified by the experience. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to control every aspect of my own life and know everything I’m doing well in advance. So this was difficult for me. It was hard to be in a room where I don’t know where I am, who else is in the room, where I’m sitting relative to others, or to guess that I’ve successfully put food on my fork. And to be honest, I probably had at least 20 forkfuls of air.
But, this really made me think about how much I take being able to see for granted. Everything that I experience is based on a combination of my sense and without access to one, everything changes. Many people in the room were talking much louder than normal to overcompensate for not being able to see (which scared me too). But I could smell my food more, smaller portions felt larger, it was delicious.
It was also a great experience to put myself out of my comfort zone again, like a test run for next year, and it was interesting to see how I adapted. As a people watcher, I couldn’t observe those around me, but instead I could listen and focus on the meaning of their words, I could imagine what people were doing. As someone who loves to cook, I couldn’t focus on the presentation or look at what I was eating, but I could really taste it and experience it in a different way.