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Travel Talk: Todd Babiak's "My Own Private Edmonton"

Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Travel Talk: Todd Babiak's "My Own Private Edmonton"

Cyber-stalking does pay off. Last week I managed to track down award-winning writer and humorist Todd Babiak to get the real scoop on his city of Edmonton. Todd is the guy who crafted the highly entertaining must-read "Garneau Block" and most recently, "Toby: A Man."

With a trip to Edmonton in the works for this coming summer, I asked Todd a few questions to help flush out my itinerary: [caption id="attachment_3198" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Writer, wit, world traveller Todd Babiak"] Todd Babiak[/caption]

Q: Where should I hang out on a Saturday morning in Edmonton? A: Old Strathcona Farmers' Market. Downtown hipsters will argue that the Saturday morning open-air market on 104th Street, in what has become a warehouse/loft district, is more authentic and crafty. But really: what do they know? Their pants are way too small for them, for one thing.

Q: What's the one spot in Edmonton that tourists almost always miss or deliberately take a pass? A: The malls and power centres, on the donut of the city, suck up most of the attention. But the most exciting development at the moment is Alberta Avenue - 118th Avenue. It was so depressed, even during the booms, that very little of the old stuff, which once seemed ugly, was torn down to make way for the REALLY ugly stuff. Consequently, with a new coat of paint and an awning, it's a beautiful olde tyme main street. Ten years ago it was genuinely scary, especially at night. Today it's filled with small ethnic restaurants, live theatre, festivals, a community-run café, new immigrants, young families..artists. Once a month, on Saturday nights, there's professional wrestling!

Q: Where in Edmonton are you likely to find the zaniest, most interesting folks? A: I hope it's not louche to say this, but I've come to see mall people as the zaniest population in the city. Multiply-pierced super-tattoo kids hanging out at Gazebo Park in Old Strathcona, next to a demonstration against a perceived slight against Esperanto speakers, while actors practice their lines behind a garbage can at the Fringe Festival and several neighbourhood children meet to compare guinea pigs all seems completely normal to me. Someone grimacing with a bag full of sweatshirts from Old Navy because they can't find their van in a gigantic parking lot is profoundly zany.

Q: You and your family returned not long ago from a sabbatical in Europe. Are you now able to spot a Canadian overseas? A: When we lived in France, my wife and I often played a game where we tried to guess whether or not an anglophone tourist couple with a North American accent was Canadian. If they weren't trying to insinuate themselves into other conversations in English, they were almost always Canadian. If they heard the English language and dove across the table to speak to us, we were fairly certain they were Americans (or Calgarians).

Todd Babiak's Latest Book

Toby, by Todd Babiak

Toby: A Man came out in 2010. The storyline: a successful TV bloke loses his job, home and moves back in with his parents, once successful hot dog vendors. Those bare facts alone should entice you.

My Favourite Todd Babiak Title

[caption id="attachment_3096" align="aligncenter" width="160" caption="You will laugh yourself silly!"] You will laugh yourself silly![/caption] I knew very little about Todd Babiak when a review copy of "Garneau Block" landed on my desk a few years ago. I inhaled the book in one weekend. "Garneau Block" revolves around the machinations and madness of the residents of a fictional Edmonton cul-de-sac which is about to be appropriated by the university. Reading it on the subway brought on embarrassing fits of laughter. The book was originally serialized in the Edmonton Journal, where Babiak works as a columnist. Why the CBC doesn't massage his book into a TV series defies reason. Think of "Garneau Block" as a travelogue to the Edmonton of Babiak's imagination. Then again, could the Edmonton he conjures up within these pages be the real thing? Stay tune for Todd's upcoming take on what to do with your kids in March Break in Edmonton.


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Travel Talk: Todd Babiak's "My Own Private Edmonton"