Copernicus revolves around its Polish residents
Copernicus Avenue feels like a place we know. We think we know the shops, the smells, the people who sit in the coffee bars and pork schnitzel joints. It is familiar like a dream - snatched from consciousness as you awaken – is familiar. Do I know this place? Isn’t there a place called ‘Staropolska’ on this block? Maybe it’s on the next corner.
But it’s gone. Like Pan Meinkiewicz and Father Kulyk and Alex and Pani Zielinska. Like the trees at Kleinsaltz. Gone. Only the smell of sausage and cabbage remains.
Roncesvales Avenue was the world of Andrew J. Borkowski’s youth in the ‘60’s and 70’s. There were grubby kids roughhousing in the park, streetcars rumbling and grinding up from Queen, Polish war veterans filled snack counters and stared into the future or the past. There were no trendy shops or shoppers, Staropolska might have stood where Starbucks hawks java today. Borkowski helps us to remember Roncesvales, but clothing it in the guise of Copernicus Avenue, a fitting name for that long-gone center of his young universe.
Copernicus Avenue is a beautifully written series of linked stories which he lived, and heard told, and feared. The historical narratives are exciting; they concern war and hatred and devastation, and they only give a hint of the facts and atrocities which fade into the pool of human forgetting while bringing the pain and consequences into stark relief. And there are the stories of the boys, mostly of Blaise, who is forever getting into trouble, wending his way into probable delinquency. They are charming – and ominous, too. And they are our stories – Toronto’s stories; Borkowski reminds us that we change and grow and we lose the sense of the smell of our past; our neighbourhoods outstrip our ability to accommodate change. He reminds us that the sun does not revolve around our earth, regardless of how hard we hold on to the past.
Take a look at Copernicus Avenue. Look down the street to the Polish War Veterans Memorial. Look up the street to Howard Park where gentrification has brought a whole new community to life. Stand at the corner of Howard Park and Roncey. Look south. If you squint, and turn your head just so, you might catch a glimpse of a man in a pork pie hat, wandering up Copernicus Avenue.
Good luck to Mr. Borkowski on his nomination for the 2012 Toronto Book Award.