Access Denied

Visa… Depending on your background, this word has the potential to conjure two completely different images. For those born and raised in Canada, the word probably evokes thoughts of frivolous purchases at the mall, and overdue payment notices. But for those of us who hold foreign passports, the word usually brings to mind images of countless forms needed to be filled out (“Only blue or black ink please!”), hour-long lines at embassies, and sacred documents attached to our passports.

It surprises me how many Canadians are unaware of the hassles most foreign students must endure just to cross borders. For most Canadians, traveling can be as spontaneous as buying a ticket at the airport and getting to any number of destinations that same day. For us internationals, however, vacations must be planned months in advance. We have to make sure we’ve filled out the proper forms, paid the obligatory fees, and gone through the necessary background checks that treat us as though we were common criminals.

Case in point: This summer I attempted a trip to the United Kingdom only to find out a week before my departure that I had been refused a visitor’s visa. Now if you’ve ever met me, you might wonder why; I’m a hard-working university student who’s well-traveled and I speak English without the slightest hint of an accent. On paper, however, I’m of Sudanese descent, born in Saudi Arabia and have never lived in a country for more than four years. In the eyes of a visa officer it doesn’t get more suspicious than that.

The entire experience was extremely depressing. Sure, I’ve been rejected before, but never in my life had I been snubbed by an entire kingdom. In the rejection letter itself, the officer barely stopped short of accusing me of wanting to become a refugee in his beloved England and mooching off of his government—something I took great offense to, considering all I was asking for was a week to visit my aunt, a British citizen.

For the record, I plan on reapplying in the future. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to visit my relatives because I happen to be from a certain part of the world. It’s about personal pride: I refuse to quit until I’m allowed into that officer’s country—dodgy-looking, neongreen Sudanese passport and all.

I suppose the visa process is absolutely necessary—especially considering the state of the world and the threat of terrorism. But too many people take their nationalities for granted and don’t realize what it means to not hold a Canadian, American, or EU passport in the 21st century. Few know what it feels like to be looked up and down by an airport official after he’s seen the color of your passport, as though you’ve just done something horribly wrong—even though the worst thing you’ve probably done in the last few hours was stick a piece of gum under the arm of your airplane seat.

So if you’re lucky enough to be from a place that doesn’t require an arduous once over whenever you wish to travel, perhaps now you will appreciate it more.

Front and (Varsity) Centre

Many were sad to say goodbye to the old Varsity Stadium, with its grand legacy of Grey Cup glory, but the new facility has so much more to offer U of T students. Unlike the walled-in former stadium, which had a peak seating capacity of 27,000, the Varsity Centre’s 5000- seat grandstand leaves a wideopen west side view for passersby.

That visual accessibility reflects a new philosophy, too. It’s not just about elite athletes anymore—it’s place where all U of T students can find something to do. Whether it’s running on the state-of-the-art eight-lane track, enjoying a Varsity Blues game, playing intramural soccer under the dome in winter or just flipping open a laptop in the stands (which will be wireless in a few weeks)between classes, Varsity Centre’s definitely the biggest outdoor “student centre” on campus.

Grad student Blago Blagoev, Head Residence Advisor at Graduate House and intramural soccer player throughout his academic career at U of T, was blown away when the dome went up for the first time last January. “It’s been fantastic to play in the soccer league at the Varsity Field both in the winter indoor season and over the summer. The quality of the surface and everything else, from the lights to the washrooms, has been excellent. For these reasons, the field has been a big draw both for our long-term and short-term residents at Grad House. It has made us feel like we may be better players than we actually are. Thanks to the Varsity facility, we have managed to enjoy an active lifestyle, and I’m sure we’ll keep many great memories from our time at U of T.”

Waiting lists have been a big issue in intramural sports, which are enjoyed by over 9,000 students. Dozens of teams sit idly by each year, hoping for field time that often never materializes because U of T’s fields are packed to the limit. The dome promises to reduce that list dramatically, particularly for the soccer teams that represent 30 per cent of the current waiting list.

Another interesting wintertime feature is the golf driving range under the dome, which is free for students. But if golf and soccer aren’t your thing, you can still get away from the books at the nearby renovated arena, also part of Varsity Centre, which offers recreational skating and pick-up hockey.

This season, Varsity Centre is also filling our Varsity Blues teams with confidence and pride at their new home base. The stands were already put to the test during the first home Varsity Football game on Sept. 3, when students in the 3000-plus crowd got a taste of school spirit. “It was great to see so many students show up to support our football team,” said third year student Kristi Nattress. Physical education student Sarah Boyle agreed: “I had a great time catching up with friends in the stands and cheering on the football team.” The football team has high hopes this season and the filled stands should boost their confidence. After seven years of planning for this historic site to get its facelift, 2007- 08 should provide an interesting glimpse at sports and recreation for all students at U of T.

Where are your manners?

Of all the gifts the Internet has given us, the most personal is certainly the ability to create virtual versions of ourselves, versions as similar or as different from our physical beings as we like. Though most of the time we choose to “be ourselves” online, who among us hasn’t at one point posed as someone we aren’t in order to take part in a stimulating chitchat?

Along with these new versions of real human beings, a set of social rules has emerged to govern the interaction between our virtual selves–rules known as internetiquette.

With every upgraded version of instant messaging programs and social networking websites, internetiquette changes. On the latest versions of MSN Messenger for example, the “Appear Offline” option allows us to lurk in the digital shadows, waiting to see if there’s anyone worth talking to without ourselves being seen. But the mother of all Internet communication features is one that exists on practically all networking programs: the “block” option.

I never used to think much about blocking. Sure, I used it here or there to keep unknown messengers like “Romio99” and “2sexie4u” off of my user list, but what harm did that do, since I’d never met those people in my real life? It’s just proper internetiquette. But when I found out via a social networking program that I was no longer able to access the page of someone who I thought up to that moment was a friend, it slowly dawned on me what had happened. By the click of a button, someone had virtually and literally terminated a three-year friendship. And the best part: neither I—nor the online version of myself—was given any sort of explanation.

While the Internet allows us to connect with friends and family who are a dangerously expensive long-distance phone call away, it has lessened our ability to face each other in person. We hide behind our Appear Offlines and our Away messages in order to escape from any form of confrontation. While we make what we think are bold moves, like blocking people from our friends lists, we would hesitate to make the same decision in the real world.

We’ve allowed our online selves to take the place of our real selves, our keyboards present in lieu of actual voices. We must be aware of how much of ourselves we are willing to give up to the Internet, and how much we set aside for real-life communication. Who among us hasn’t met someone who takes internetiquette beyond the computer and actually says things like “LOL” and “BRB” out loud?

As for the ex-friend, it’s been three months and no confrontation has taken place in either the second or third dimension. And although the inevitable drama of it all has subsided (“Should I counter- block? What do we do about all the shared friends? Do they block too?”), I hope that if ever faced with a similar situation, I will have the etiquette to “block” a friend in person rather than let my mouse do it for me.

Harper’s proposal no relief for mentally ill

Having lived with bipolar disorder for seven years, I was intrigued by Prime Minister Harper’s announcement of plans to deal with the country’s mental health system. However, his freshly-appointed Mental Health Commission of Canada, and plenty of good intentions, are looking to fall short of what the millions of people dealing with mental illness in this country really need.

Stephen Harper says this new commission will help to erase the stigmas attached to mental illness. Make no mistake, the stigmas are terrible. Mental illness is often associated with objects of fear: homelessness, hospitalization and instability. And while it is true that education of mental illness will increase the chances of someone seeking out treatment, the last thing we need is another committee. We already have The Mental Health Promotion Unit (MHPU), which was created in 1995.

The MHPU was designed to be the central point of Health Canada’s efforts to raise awareness of mental illness. Stephen Harper could have easily put money into this unit, but in a politically-motivated attempt to distinguish himself from the Liberals of the 1990s, Harper has wasted millions establishing a new agency that does the exact same thing.

With this committee, Stephen Harper has also expressed an intention to standardize the level of care that people with mental illness receive. This is impossible. Mental health treatment varies widely in its nature and application; it ranges from simple counseling and cognitive behavior therapy, to long term hospitalization and heavy medication. Mental illness is incredibly varied in how it is presented and how it is treated.

Health care itself varies from province to province, and the availability of certain services varies from region to region. Someone with schizophrenia in a small fishing village in the Maritimes is less likely to receive the specialized care available in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. This is the case with cancer, heart disease, and pretty much every major health problem this country is facing. Specialists are hard to come by, as many doctors leave Canada for the United States. This committee does not provide Canada with more specialists, nor does it provide a way to place these specialists all over the country. As such, it does not address the fundamental reason why people with mental illness do not receive a standard level of care.

Prime Minister Harper’s intentions are good, and any light thrown onto mental illness is progress, but committees and commissions simply make recommendations. In this case, the recommendations were already made last year by a Senate committee. With a unit already in place to deal with the stigmas attached to mental illness, Stephen Harper is simply trying to make himself look good by creating this new agency. In using mental illness as a political tool, Harper mocks what we with mental illness go through, wasting a great deal of taxpayer’s money along the way.

Frosh Weak

For those of you who’ve endured seven days of coordinated t-shirts, punny cheers and the unfortunate combination of gratis hamburgers and pangs of awkwardness–don’t be scared off. The Varsity is here to tell you that frosh week is not the end and be all to your University experience. In fact, it’s only just begun.

Thinking back to my first days as an incoming student, my concern at the time was strictly anthropological. As I observed fellow frosh effortlessly forming cliques, teaming up to tie each other’s limbs for sack races and donning sparkly tank tops for the annual Engineers party, it only made me feel more alone. Who are these people who ostensibly enjoy either commanding authority (by way of a cheap plastic megaphone and cotton triblend soiled with magic marker) or following it? Despondent, I worried if University was going to be a costly version of my suburban high school, my knowledge of Sonic Youth reissues and vintage sneakers a once-again liability. But as I found out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A time when campus should be opening up to you like a flower, orientation only closes doors. It pits us against each other (“You cant spell SUCK without UC!”), narrows our focus and at the worst of times, forces us to go to the Guverment. Our skin is dyed purple by smirking sophomores and we arise at 8 AM to the sounds of Sean Paul remixes. Oh the humanity!

This is not to belittle the hard work of orientation coordinators who spend their summer making sure that your adjustment process goes smoothly. But for every person who thinks that a trip to the Hart House farm to do trust falls with strangers and a scavenger hunt ‘round campus is the cat’s meow-there are others who feel alienated and just plain scared. Truth be told, any orientation is going to be hella uncomfortable. There will be that initial house meeting that leaves you cold (I have to share a bathroom with these freaks?), the new roommate that listens to Tool 24/7 and the lack of familiarity with your surroundings. But in this confusion, true excitement is wrought. It’s you who gets to make all of your decisions now. You are the one who is truly in charge of your own future. And this emancipation, even in the midst of collective chaos, is incredibly invigorating.

University kicks way more ass than high school, for many reasons. For starters, you will meet so many cool, new people that your head will spin. You will learn so much about yourself that by Thanksgiving break, nothing will ever seem the same. And if you want to wake up at 4 PM and spend the day eating Captain Crunch in your underwear–that’s perfectly acceptable. (Just clear it with the roommate first.) This giant institution that you’re paying big bucks for may seem a little cold and unfriendly at first, but keep in mind that it’s only going to give you what you put in. Take a walk around your new city and explore. Get involved with your surroundings, whether your interests lie in student politics, fencing or the Ayn Rand Objectivist Club. And don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to new people. We’re all in this together folks.

It’s your first year! So make the most of it, take good care of yourself, and remember to always wear flip-flops in the shower. (You don’t wanna know where that floor has been.) And if you ever need anything along the way, don’t be afraid to put it in writing and pass along to a little newspaper that could, also known as The Varsity. On behalf of everyone on staff, we’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on making it here, making it through and hopefully making out. (Go to the UC quad.)


Yours truly, The Varsity

A funny thing happened on the way to Hart House

Hey freshmen! (Or is it “freshpersons?” Have we gone that far yet?) Are those constant toga parties wearing you down? Put those beer-stained bedsheets back where they belong and take yourself out for a different strain of Greco-Roman entertainment. How about taking a look at what’s shaking the stage at U of T’s grandest playhouse, Hart House Theatre?

Hart House Theatre was constructed in 1919, sparking the careers of such show-biz luminaries as Donald Sutherland, Norman Jewison, Kate Reid, and William Hutt (the Stratford mainstay who passed away this summer after a long and extraordinary career). Even without its impressive past, Hart House Theatre offers more than just history. With its Art Deco design, vaulted chambers and scores of photographs from past productions, the whole space is steeped in a kind of amber-tinted glamour.

Kick-starting the 2007-08 HHT season lineup is A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Stephen Sondheim’s first musical as both composer and lyricist. Based on the plays penned by ancient Roman dramatist Plautus, Forum takes a farcical approach to crafty slave Pseudolus’s comical efforts to win his freedom.

Ushering Forum into the Common Era is director and designer Graham Maxwell. In speaking with Maxwell, it’s clear that he wants to bring some freshness to this everpopular musical. With his cast and crew, Maxwell has worked to incorporate elements of classic vaudeville and burlesque into the production.

Maxwell’s flexible set and costume design is inspired by the notion that the audience is actually watching a travelling theatre troupe—doubling-up roles, taping on fake moustaches, and generally playing as much as they can. Maxwell illuminates the backstory a little further: “I came up with the concept that the audience is watching a group of actors who have toured the show to death. To make their show “different,” the cast is not only to move the set around the stage—usually the set is stationary in productions I have seen—but the audience should see that they all have a shorthand with each other and help each other out when something is not going as planned— which happens a lot!”

With the mobile set and the play-withina play context, there’s a definite inventiveness to Graham Maxwell’s vision. “I told [the cast] to treat the rehearsal process like a sandbox,” he says, legs stretched over the back of a tomato-coloured seat in a far corner of the theatre. He further expounds upon his reasons behind putting the three houses that constitute the set on casters, “It looked better to bring the house to the light, rather than the other way around.” The DIY concept may sound delicate, but Maxwell is clear that he knew when in the process to keep something as it was. “We’re close to opening the show now and still have a lot of work to do, but each rehearsal is an exercise in laughing and making this the funniest musical Hart House Theatre has produced.”

The sound of this show will also be different than past season’s musicals: Maxwell has decided to keep his performers microphone- free. “I want this to be as live an experience as possible,” he explains.

In ditching the mics, the performers are faced with the task of exercising their voices more than usual to fill the vast house. Maxwell has faith in Hart House Theatre’s acoustics to help the performers pull the audience closer into the hijinks.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum opens September 14 and runs until September 29. Hart House offers $12 student tickets, or you can visit the website (www.harthousetheatre.ca) for the chance to win tickets

Student eats

Over the years we’ve all heard urban myths about insane schemes that students concoct to make mealtime as easy and as cheap as possible. There’s the old standard about a house of frat boys from Western (or was it Trent?) who consumed nothing but Kraft Dinner and Coca-Cola for a semester before falling ill with scurvy. Then there’s the one about some dude’s sister’s boyfriend’s pen pal who swears he used to know a guy whose lazy roommate joined NutriSystem—not because he was overweight, but just so he could have meals delivered to him every day. And who could forget that great yarn about the poor kid whose cheap Dad wouldn’t buy him a meal plan but instead sent him to res with 300 cans of tinned dehydrated food he’d bought off some nuclear holocaust survivalist website. The following guide is meant to keep you from becoming an urban legend, and to help you bust out of that meal-plan monotony.

BREAKFAST

Aunties and Uncles – 74 Lippincott St.

Walking into Aunties and Uncles is like taking a step back in time to someone’s kitchen circa 1955. The quaint, eclectically-furnished joint is usually packed with students and blue-collar hipsters (bipsters) who’ve figured out that everything on the menu could define the word delicious. Deserving a special mention is their Dijon-anddill potato salad and their default use of challah bread for toast.

Maggie’s – 400 College St.

Anyone can fry an egg, and at Maggie’s they know that achieving breakfast greatness is all about the context. A standard three-egg breakfast comes surrounded by toast, bacon, their amazing garlic infused French fries (great for yolk-busting), and a generous helping of fresh fruit. All that and cup of coffee will only set you back $8, if you get there before noon.

Insomnia – 563 Bloor St. W.

Four words can describe the prime reason to visit Insomnia in the a.m. hours: Best Hollandaise Sauce Ever. If you’re a fan of eggs Benedict (or any of its permutation like eggs Loraine, eggs Florentine, or eggs Isabelle) this is the place to go. Seriously. Their breakfasts come with a side of scrumptious roast-potato home-fries coated in a blissful BBQ sauce plus a delightful green salad. Oh, and FYI: their pancakes are actually cakes in the literal sense, and despite taking a longish time to make (25 minutes, they warn you) are the perfect birthday- morning treat.

Future Bakery – 483 Bloor St. W.

Hey, you’re a student, so you likely can’t afford to drop mad bills on breakfast everyday, which is why Future’s will hook you up for cheap on weekdays if you flash your student ID. For $3.99 you’ll get a full English fry-up plus coffee, tea or O.J. What inevitably lacks in quality is made up for in quantity, price and prompt service. While not the classiest feast, Future’s still remains an important student mainstay.

LUNCH

Sarah’s Falafel – 487 Bloor St. W.

There are a lot of Falafel joints on Bloor Street, but Sarah’s is by far the best. Their unique process of putting the finished product in a heat press for a few minutes makes the pita bread warm and crunchy. Fresh ingredients including beets and halal meats make for a delicious and religiously permissible falafel or shawarma. Be sure to complement your sandwich with a side samosa, grape leaf wrap, or fruit nectar.

Massimo’s – 302 College St.

The quick walk from campus to College and Robert Street is totally worth it for Toronto’s Best Pizza slice. $3.75 will buy you a massive slice of margherita (tomato sauce, cheese, oregano and oil) or pepperoni pizza. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a can of San Pellegrino’s Aranciata or Limonata.

Roti Palace – 744 Bathurst St.

Nothing cuts through the cold Canadian winter like some spicy island cuisine. If you want the place that does it right, visit Roti Palace, located on the west side of Bathurst, just south of Bloor. Their chicken roti is savory and spicy perfection, but make sure you spend the extra buck or two for their boneless style, and chase it all with a cool bottle of Fanta.

DINNER

Chippy’s – 490 Bloor St. W.

Chippy’s fish batter is so addictive I’ve heard people swear they sprinkle crack on top. This is a lie, the secret ingredient is actually Guinness beer, but the overall point is still valid: Chippy’s kicks ass at fish and chips. On the chips front, their fries are made from hand-cut Yukon Gold potatoes, and go great dipped in their delicious homemade tartar sauce, which is totally worth the extra 75 cents. For the perfect complementary drink, add a Coke that comes in a classic green glass bottle. Score!

Pauper’s Pub – 539 Bloor St. W.

When it’s in season, Pauper’s rooftop patio offers up one of the best views to eat and drink by in the Annex. Take advantage of their afternoon half-price apps, or chow down on any one of their top-of-the-line pubgrub entrées—especially their beer battered chicken fingers.

New Generation Sushi – 493 Bloor St. W.

There are about fifteen sushi restaurants tucked into the Bloor strip between Bathurst and Spadina, and New Generation (“New Gen” to the initiated) is the best of the lot. Sporting both lunch and dinner menus, New Gen offers up tasty tempura, glorious gyoza, marvelous maki (try their yam and avocado roll), and California rolls that will leave you craving more. Plus, all dinners come with complimentary green tea and red bean ice cream.

Fresh by Juice For Life – 326 Bloor St. W.

This corporate looking vegan resto is also a great destination for nonveggies just looking for healthy eats that are still tasty as hell. While their smoothies might be a little on the pricy side, ordering up a fruity “First Kiss” for your beau is sure to impress. The rest of the menu offers lots of tasty tofu bowls and sandwiches. For a nice treat, order their yam fries with mayo dipping sauce.

Red Room – 444 Spadina Ave.

Right off the bat you should be warned: unless you’re the only person in the place you’ll probably need to build a time machine to get prompt service at this notorious student hangout. That being said, when your food finally does arrive it’ll probably be half decent. Their pad thai is probably the best thing they make, but their chicken breast sandwich, and avocado and brie sandwich, (both served with fries) are also decent fare.

Sneaky Dee’s – 431 College St.

No guide to student eats would be complete without a nod to Sneaks. This College Street punk-rock eatery has mastered the art of Tex-Mex and applies it to tasty dishes like their famous nachos, sizzling hot DIY fajitas (half price on Tuesday nights!), and their always satisfying breakfast burrito, the Burro Favorito.

Art Stars

Thanks to UTSU, incoming students got a taste of Canadian indie at the annual Frosh Concert on Friday, August 7 on the UC back field. Toronto’s Hidden Cameras unleashed a set of brightly despondent folk rock, as the 12-member band (with a guest choir of local hipsters) delivered tracks from Awoo and Mississauga Goddamn (no offense UTM) with a shimmering tenacity. Frontman Joel Gibb, looking like Freddie Mercury if he’d joined the Backstreet Boys, unleashed a melodious croon over thin strips of electric guitar and rough undercurrents of strings, French horn, and keyboards by U of T alumna Maggie MacDonald. Tracks like “Doot Doot Ploot” and “Learning the Lie” turned into the church sermon you always wanted, with organ pounding, hand clapping, and yes, matching robes.

After his set U of T alumnus Gibb offered some advice to frosh, “Assigned reading is a joke… Keep yourself busy in oher ways. Make art.”

Next came the romance, from Montreal’s Stars. Amy Milan and Torquil Campbell continued their tortured love affair onstage, singing into the same microphone and harmonizing star-crossed lyrics to hits like “Elevator Love Letter” and “The Night Starts Here”. The crowd was revved, as the dark bass lines and synthesized keys pounded through new material from the just-released In Our Bedroom After The War.