Monday, May 28, 2007

Mrs. Dalloway's Hot Dog Stand

And so external reality clashes with the internal realm as I am walking up Yonge St. north towards College St. …

I was wondering why I have developed into such a devoted Anglophile who admires and enjoys English writers and Anglo culture, particularly writers such as Virginia Woolf, when I have been raised so explicitly to dislike and avoid same (have I just answered my own question?). And as I am thinking this I look up and see Mrs. Dalloway’s Hot Dog Stand just a few feet before me on Yonge St. south of College. Mrs. Dalloway’s Hot Dog Stand? Okay, I will take this as a sign that I need to explore this further.

Then this Saturday (May 26, 2006), Brianna Goldberg wrote a brief article on the hot dog stand for the National Post which reminded me that this blog had been simmering in my mind for some time … It is odd, inexplicable even. I think it may be a “forbidden fruit” scenario (i.e. my obsessive interest in this) although forbidden by who is still a question in my mind. Why revere Virgina Woolf, Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury group, Jane Austen’s heroines, William Thackeray’s Becky Sharp? What does it have to do with you? as my mother would have said (in Sicilian that is).

There is a framed photograph of Virginia Woolf above my writing desk. Young, beautiful, she appears almost unseeing and is half turned away from me in that famous b&w portrait as if to say What? I’m busy thinking! Get on with your work! and she is emblazoned on a special cup I bought many years ago. I have numerous bios on the Bloomsbury set (even the somewhat forgotten Leonard Woolf - come on that’s just weird even for me).

Even better, or odder, the various Anglophiles captivated by the British: the American Henry James and the Dominican Jean Rhys (transplanted from the West Indies to live out her days in London). Do I even have to go back that far in literary history … what about my early infatuation with the African born Doris Lessing in the 1970s and my brief 1990s romantic interlude with Martin Amis that even pushed me into the arms, so to speak, of his father Kingsley Amis and some of his novels?

Okay enough of the bold tace names … let’s figure this out. Where I grew up in a predominantly Anglo/Scottish/Irish Heinz 57 kind of working class neighborhood in the east end of Hamilton with a smattering of paesani and other Europeans, I remember that my parents had absolutely no sense of feeling inferior to the Inglese or anyone else. None whatsoever. Whatever we, as Italians, felt we excelled in as a culture: family, cuisine, art, opera, music, film, even the average cleanliness of the Italo-Canadian home … there was no way, seemed to be the going sentiment in my world, that we could be deemed inferior. Yes, I saw and heard all that, absorbed all that.

We were, I think, disdainful of the Anglos around us, even a bit fearful perhaps. As if we could be tainted by their ways, their unseemly habits and lax customs.

Perhaps then, as a young adult, settling in a new city like Toronto as a university student, away from family and friends and this sort of xenophobic sense of superiority I could finally venture out into a new world, primarily in books and film, and explore the lives of the Bennett sisters in the time of Napoleon or Mrs. Dalloway as she prepared for her party on the pages of Woolf’s book (one of my absolute favourite books).

I could pursue unfettered interests that would have seemed odd at home and amongst my circle of girlfriends, all non-readers, mostly all Italo-Canadians, few destined for university. Perhaps my isolation - I remember whole days returning from classes at university and never having even opened my mouth - forced me to inhabit new worlds, worlds I didn’t belong to, nor ever would.

A brief note on the origins of Mrs. Dalloway’s Hot Dog Stand according to Ms. Goldberg’s article: “the proud moniker isn’t an accident and, no, the surname of its proprietor isn’t Dalloway. ‘The name reflects my dedication, love and respect for English literature,’ says Yahya, the cart’s owner. ’I actually wanted to name it after T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland,‘ he says, adding that he reconsidered after realizing the associations people might make between the cart’s name and contents of the hot dogs. With a degree in English literature, another in linguistics, a diploma to teach English and plans for a PhD on the horizon, Yahya says he sees learning as a lifelong experience. That means surrounding himself with the literary - even at the hot dog stand.”

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