Friday, 13 October 2017

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Montreal, Mon Amour

City magic. Drink it all in. Our internal clocks are winding down and could stop any time. Sometime in the late afternoon of the first of May, 2020, coincidentally Ann’s birthday, there could come a moment on a median. I will have lived exactly half my life in my hometown and half in Alberta. Two entirely different lives.

Ann and I are 12 storeys up in the Hyatt. Through our hotel’s window I can see the Royal Victoria Hospital where my sister Anne toiled for most of her medical career. The gothic castle is set against the familiar profile of Mount Royal, a latticed steel cross atop its ancient, rounded peak. The foliage is just beginning to fade and turn from a deep, rich green. Some of my brother is up there somewhere amongst the trees.

Five years ago the three of us found a nice spot for a few ounces of Bob’s ashes overlooking the McGill University campus, his alma mater. We took turns sprinkling him around. Afterward I licked his dust from my fingertips because I didn’t want to wipe him on my jeans. Following our private pagan ceremony we went to Lester’s on Bernard for smoked meat sandwiches. Tell me, what else were we going to do?

There were mileposts all down the unpaved shoulder of my steep slope to perdition. The crucifix and portrait of my rather effeminate guardian angel, little boy blue, over my bed were sequentially replaced by Spider-Man, Montreal Canadiens captain Jean Beliveau and ultimately, Mick Jagger. The one constant was outside in the night air illuminating the radio waves.

Compared to the aridity of Edmonton, Montreal always feels tropical, humid beneath a busted water balloon sky. Ann and I leaned against the brick sidewall of a pub on Bleury, sheltering from the rain beneath a black iron fire escape, smoking. From the alley I could see the top of cruciform Place Ville-Marie, lit red, the fingers of its searchlights probing the darkness. Its iconic beams used to hypnotize me to sleep. A perfect night long ago meant the lights sweeping clockwise past my bedroom window, the Expos playing baseball in the Pacific time zone on the radio and my mother not screaming at my father downstairs in the living room.

After I die I hope to exist beyond the confines of time and space; I wish to spend eternity exploring the universe which is, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “… a big place, perhaps the biggest.” There’s so much I don’t know. There’s so much I don’t understand. On the other hand, I could easily settle for a modest afterlife, a searchlight, a single bed and a ballgame on a transistor radio – so long as the batteries don’t run out as sometimes nine innings take forever.

Crescent Street, greystones, stairs, awnings, memories, was wet with rain. I understood something I already knew, why certain film directors always shoot wet sets. Everything glistens. A dirty street had been washed and baptized. Gazing down upon the streetscape like that optician’s billboard in The Great Gatsby was an unfinished 20-storey mural of Leonard Cohen, late career fedora and pinstriped glad rags. The rake really didn’t suit his beige undercoating, too bland, not Leonard’s style; on this drizzly day I wanted to see his famous blue raincoat. I don’t suspect Leonard hung out much on Crescent Street either, neither earnest nor earthy enough, no poetry in the singles bars no doubt, but, Jesus, he would’ve made out like a bandit.

This city was my city. Now I’m just a tourist with heartstrings attached. Montreal made me. Montreal shaped me. Montreal will always have a hold on me. I wished we had a better camera than Ann’s iPhone and my iPad. Everywhere I looked I saw a work of art, a tableau of tired grace; a streaky watercolour, one of my works if only I possessed that gift and quality brushes. I wanted to paint the town. All I’ve got are words and my vocabulary is limited. I love Montreal more than I can say.

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