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On a forested ridge to the north, above the red brick mass of George Brown College and a cluster of townhouses, stood the stone towers and battlements of Casa Loma, the coup de folie that paradoxically fits right into staid Toronto — as a sort of standing homily against romantic, profligate ways.
The first I ever heard of Casa Loma was that a certain Sir Henry Pellatt built the place, in 1911, out of affection for his wife. He may very well have told the world something like that, but it’s hard not to suppose that braggadocio was a factor too. Pellatt was one of the richest men in the country. Among other investments, he owned a chunk of the exalted railroad that laid down the very tracks Annie and I were following now. But by 1923 Pellatt had got himself into enormous debt. The city seized his castle for unpaid taxes. His wife died. Pellatt ended up living with his chauffeur in a bungalow in Mimico. Some people contend that Pellatt got what he deserved in light of his shady financial and real estate manipulations, but when you see photos of him revisiting the castle in later years and signing the guest book, it looks like he had a sense of humor about it all.
As we walked, a freight train approached from the east. Annie clung to me as it thundered past — as if she feared we might be sucked into its vortex. So what was that tale about ambling along the Shanghai rails to the next city? Nostalgia, maybe. Makes the past seem golden. In a way, Annie is old for her age. So it all works out, because I'm young for my age. And I avoid mirrors. Annie is 22 years younger than me. I like being with younger people. They have life, they have future, they have big decisions to make. Anyway, the two of us were having a good time together, it didn’t matter how the world perceived it.
The tracks continued across bridges over Spadina and then Davenport, where I spotted some tiger lilies growing wild in the scrub, maybe a donation from one of the garden centres in the vicinity. After that, the bushes grew thicker and for much of the time the city disappeared from view. It was as if we were alone in the countryside.
Annie was divorced. I never learned the details except that the breakup of her marriage was the traumatic event that prompted her to pack her bags and leave China. She expected to receive a bundle of yuan from the sale of her house back home in the near future, and she was unsure what she should do with the funds when the time came. One option was to launch a business. I tried to help her decide — a boutique? Restaurant? Hair salon? Annie had no experience in these things but she seemed to expect she could set up anything in Toronto and the local Chinese community would automatically provide a base of support. Myself, I have a business background and I wanted to show that I took Annie's entrepreneurial notions seriously, but at the same time it was my duty to point out that start-ups are a vale of woes. When I say a background in business what I mean is I used to run a top-notch garage until I went broke from it.
You can’t get good help. You can’t count on trends. You need lawyers. That’s the kind of business advice I provide.