Distillate Of Multiculture

Stendhal Syndrome is “a psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art.” Jerusalem Syndrome, by comparison, is the state of being overwhelmed by your presence in the city of the same name, “whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology, becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. “

If there were some hipster-occupied middle ground between these two afflictions of romantic art and holy ground, a man might be able to experience that in Kensington Market on a Saturday morning. There’s color, motion, and sound all around you, in surreal and alien combination and so much of it everywhere you look that, strangely, the jaded aloofness you see all over the city is cast in a new light. Not an affect or an air, I think; a defense mechanism. There is an awful lot here to take in, far too much to parse; if you’re hard-of-coping and you don’t let it slide past, you get swamped.

Thinking like that puts jaded detachment in a whole other light, a symptom of a chronic inability to grab hold and deal. A person to be pitied, perhaps, instead of just somebody you want to punch the teeth out of for no reason two minutes into the conversation.

There were at least half a dozen bands up and down the length of the street, some cars trundling slowly through the packed crowds of pedestrians, and far, far too much going on to pull in all at once. Lots of people out doing their own thing, which meant lots of different things being done. It was colorful and noisy and awesome, and once I overcame a shameful urge to acquire (as though cool was a thing you could buy and put on a shelf) I settled down and spent a few hours just walking around trying to soak it all up.

If you’re paying attention, it turns out, there’s an awful lot of the human condition to be seen here. If you’re just going to act like you’ve seen it before, though, you’re going to see the same thing you saw last time. Which is to say, not much.

There’s no real equivalent for this in Ottawa, and zoning laws and white-bread bureaucrats being what they are, no way for one to come into existence; the Market, maybe, if you took away the shopping mall and the four-lane roads. The wrenching mediocrity of the Sparks Street Mall isn’t even a member of the same species. Kensington Market is alive and fun in a way that really isn’t permitted to exist in our NCC-sheltered national capital. Which is too bad, really, but not much of a surprise.


  1. Ken
    Posted June 15, 2006 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    That’s a beautiful reaction to Kensington Market. It’s among my favourite areas of Toronto.

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted June 15, 2006 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, and yeah, me too.

  3. Posted June 15, 2006 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    as though cool was a thing you could buy and put on a shelf

    Wait… You’re saying it’s not? This flies in the face of all advertising ever created. Would they all lie to me?

  4. Posted June 15, 2006 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    If you ever get to Halifax, be sure to go to the Keith’s Brewery downtown on a Saturday morning.

    All that, with fresh fudge.