far too much writing, far too many photos

Yesterday morning: late June air soft and mild, mist clearing slowly away. Made the short drive out to the storage compartment where most of what passes for my worldly possessions are currently crammed together. Marveled at how many spiders and bits of cottonwood fluff manage to insinuate themselves inside a locked storage unit. Did what I needed to do, closed the place up. And stood outside listening to the sweet call of a mourning dove, realizing all over again how much I miss the wildlife that hung about outside the house that I let go of close to a month ago. Have not heard a mourning dove since driving away from that sweet place on the first of June. But another bird, a kind that begins warbling with the very first pre-dawn light and continues blathering away for hours, that feathered blabbermouth I hear every morning in my current squat. And heard in Montreal. Every morning, early, and every evening as daylight waned. During the two weeks north of the border, in my rented 23rd floor squat, I could hear that same song coming from one of the tree-lined streets that surrounded the high-rise. And while I may bitch about it starting up at 4 a.m. (hoping it’s obvious that my tongue has been shoved firmly into my cheek), hearing that music way the hell up at the top of an apartment tower in the middle of a major city felt so good.

Same goes for the sound of swallows streaking across expanses of blue sky, their song sounding like expressions of pure joy to me. Different cities — Montpelier, Montreal — same sight, same sounds.

Anyway. Montreal. The days rolled by, I carried out my usual hunt for the right morning caffeine joint. And given the shameless abundance of caffeine pushers in Montreal, it was not a fast process. I thought I’d found one soon after arriving, a café at the intersection of a busy, funky boulevard and a busy pedestrian way. But the combination of the music being spewed from the in-house music system (oldies. and why the mania for oldies? i would much rather hear less well-known, more interesting music, would much rather hear just about anything than the constant regurgitation of the same pop tunes over and over and over and over. that’s just me, though, and i’m not in charge (probably a good thing for the world at large).) and a 20-something counter-guy who seemed to have some real attitude toward me re: me sticking to English.* Which sent me off to try out other joints, until I found one closer to my squat, with the right combination of positive aspects, that became my default wake-up haunt. Leaving me happier, with more of a feeling of being at home in the neighborhood.

What I experienced re: the tolerance and kindness of the local Francophones seems to be the general rule — the spirit of inclusion overshadows the pushing by a minority for purity (meaning Quebec sovereignty, exclusion of non-French speakers, all that). And there is a thuggish minority that pushes in that way. While I was there, a minor flap quickly grew to much larger, noisier proportions when two bands composed of Anglophones (who had been included on the roster of groups playing an alternative celebration of the St. John Baptiste holiday) were unexpectedly dropped from the roster after pressure from one of the event’s sponsors, an organization that apparently had ties to hardline Francophone/sovereignty elements. The media got wind of this and gave it major exposure, resulting in big expressions of outrage from all over the political and social map. Two days later, the bands were back on the roster and not at all displeased with the mountain of free publicity the hooha had produced for them. Which just goes to show, there’s something to that old show-biz saw that any publicity is good publicity. (The even itself had its moments of tension, but they passed.)

Me, I love hearing the blend of languages that are encountered out on the street in Montreal, in shops, cafes and restaurants — French, English, a surprising amount of Spanish and Chinese, now and then eastern European languages. Plus, there is something about females speaking French that is outrageously attractive to my ears (and provides major craven incentive for developing some facility with the language).

*I started every exchange with a friendly ‘Bonjour!’, then switched immediately to English, having essentially exhausted my French with that first volley. Yes, I can mumble ’s’il vous plaît,’ can spout a few random words, but not enough to string together a coherent sentence, and don’t like sounding like a total incompetent. So I depended on the tolerance of Montreal’s francophones. And everyone, apart from that single impatient, dismissive counterperson — no matter their age, no matter their gender, no matter where we had our dealings — treated me well. Hard not to love a place so consistently kind.
One of the original goals of this trip had been to spend two weeks studying French. Once there, however, I discovered that every language school I investigated would only allow rank beginners like myself to begin classes on a specific date, at the beginning of a four-week cycle. And none of them began that cycle at a time that would allow me to get two to four weeks of study in. So despite me wanting to get a teeny bit of a grip on basic French, it didn’t happen.
Now and then, when someone I was talking with realized I knew no French, I’d speak a little Spanish, which sparked their interest. One woman commented in a friendly way that when I started out with ‘bonjour,’ they assumed I spoke French. I wondered aloud what would happen if I started out with ‘¡hola!, she said that when they say ‘ola’ (no idea re: the spelling) they mean ‘chill.’

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Graffiti along Monkland Avenue, Montreal:

España, te echo de menos

[this entry in progress]

España, te echo de menos

When I arrived in Montreal, the city felt like the warm season had not fully established itself yet. Unsettled weather, air with a cool edge to it. Somewhere during the ensuing days, a corner was turned. Springtime fluff drifted everywhere, cool weather coats were no longer needed when stepping out in the mornings. And bugs were suddenly around in abundance.

One evening in my high-altitude squat as the sun neared the horizon, the changing light illuminated spiderwebs outside the windows — lots and lots of them, where none had been a day earlier. And as the sun slipped below the horizon, a fair-sized spider revealed itself, coming out of hiding from the window’s edge, making the trip out to the middle of a pretty extensive web for a night of hunting.

Spiders are mostly okay with me. If I find them in my living space, I cover them with a glass, slip a sheet of paper under it, escort them outdoors. And spiders that are outside the living space, as this one was — so that they require no relocating — are especially okay with me.

So. A couple of nights after the season made its decisive turning: me in bed reading, sprawled happily across the covers. Lamps on either side of the bed shedding soft, comfortable light. Now and then a breeze found its way through the window screen. A relaxed evening, me obnoxiously content. At some point, I lay the book on my chest and spent some time thinking about nothing in particular. Just drifting, at peace. And during those quiet moments, something up on the ceiling caught my eye. Looking like an shadowy indentation in the plaster, with a couple of wire filaments sticking out, as if a plant-hanging hook had been there at some point, or wiring of some kind. I hadn’t noticed anything like that before, took a more focused look. And realized it was a big damn spider, huddled up above the bed, an oversized arachnid with long, pointy legs. Then I noticed another, above the opposite corner of the bed. Two bigass spiders lurking high above my extremely comfy sleeping spot. Two of them. Just waiting for the lights to go off so they could start doing what spiders do at night: go places they really shouldn’t be going, dropping from ceilings on web-threads to scare the bejesus out of humans trying to get a good night’s sleep.

The windows in that studio flat were not easy to open, the ceiling was high enough that trying to get the spiders down to get a glass over them would be a huge amount of strenuous work. I didn’t even consider that, found myself getting up, grabbing the day’s newspaper from a nearby table. Got up on the bed, opened the paper, began waving it about, arm stretched upward as far as I could stretch it, leaping up and down with each attempted swat. The first target huddled itself more tightly, the paper just missing it, my swattings becoming determined flailings, feet and legs trying to propel me high enough to knock the critter down. A couple of minutes later, I connected, knocked it to the floor, saw it collect itself, look around, trying to determine which direction would take it to shelter. My hands rolled the paper up, I found myself whacking away at the little bugger before it could disappear. Then began the same routine with the second one, that one immediately moving off toward the center of the ceiling away from the bed. Toward safety, it probably thought. But also toward the ceiling fan. I found myself leaping to floor, skidding to fan switch, cranking it — the motion and breeze as the paddles got going stopped the spider in its tracks, I got up on a chair, started more flailing with the paper, knocked it down. Jumped to floor, hands rolling up paper as spider began zipping toward furniture, caught it before it reached cover, whacked the hell out of it until it stopped moving.

The result of all that: two unnervingly big corpses, long legs all curled sadly up. I scanned the ceiling for more intruders, saw only bare plaster. Checked out the windows, trying to locate the point of entry, discovered nothing. Tossed paper on table, returned to bed, resumed relaxing (casting the occasional wary glance at ceiling). Had a night of sleep unmolested by invaders.

Two spiderless days later: sitting at my laptop midway through the afternoon. Lost in thought. Some movement catches my attention off to my left. I look around, find one more bigass spider hanging at eye level, about twelve inches from me, descending slowly, legs extended. My bod leaped to its feet, my hands found a newspaper, rolled it up. The spider had gotten the idea that this excursion had been a bad idea, had begun a panicky ascent. But not fast enough. Newspaper flailings knocked it down, I whacked the hell out of it, leaving a third oversized corpse (legs curled sadly up).

All that in the big city where I did not expect to be having adventures with mammoth representatives of mother nature. Since I’ve been back in sweet, rustic Vermont — four days now — where big armies of bugs erupt out of nowhere once the warm season takes hold to invade all living spaces in aggressively wanton fashion, no bugs have disturbed the peace. Not a single blessed one.

Go figure.

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Graffiti galore, Montreal:

España, te echo de menos

Sometimes I don’t sleep much the night before a journey. Hardly got any shut-eye at all two nights ago, found myself awake at 2 a.m. Had intended to be on the road horribly early, could feel I probably wouldn’t be drifting off to sleep again soon, so turned on the light. Read for a while, then tossed in the towel completely: turned on more lights, cranked the laptop, spent a while online. Stumbled into the kitchen alcove, grabbed some food, devoured it. Stuffed things into bags, cleaned up, was out of the room by 5 a.m., on the road soon after, heading south toward Vermont.

(One immediately apparent difference between early-morning life in downtown Montreal and life in Vermont: plenty of people out carrying on life. Couples walking together, taxis everywhere cruising for business, other drivers like me up early, bleary-eyed.)

Why traveling so goddamn early? Had reached the end of my two-week rental. Wanted to avoid the Saturday morning lines that accumulate at the border. Had things to do back in Montpelier. All of which is to say I was up and attempting to function at a hideous hour, part of me wishing I could stay, put down roots, develop a community, enjoy this lovely city.

In recent days: made a few visits to a small (and I do mean small) Indian restaurant a few blocks from the flat. A modest joint, serving good, unpretentious fare at exceptionally reasonable prices. Situated next to an anarchists bookstore, just down the hill from a comedy club, just up the hill from a raggedy used-clothing emporium that has the legend YOU PROBABLY LOOK BETTER NAKED ANYWAY painted on one of its doors. And a fine spot for people-watching, all kinds of souls walking by as I sat inside and inhaled excellent chow.

Also in recent days: Attended two shows happening as part of the Montreal Fringe Festival. Both out there enough to qualify as fringe-worthy. One so outrageously loose in so many goofy, good-natured ways that it barely qualified as anything but a bunch of sweet wackos doing whatever came to mind. The other had more focused, rigorous intentions, but didn’t manage to pull them off. And given the velocity that all six of us who were in the audience (at the second show) achieved as we streaked exit-ward the nanosecond that the applause petered out, I think I speak for the entire motley handful of attendees.

Ah, well.

[continued in following entry]

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Sunset, mid-June, Montreal:

España, te echo de menos

From the last few days in Montreal:

Walking along a neighborhood street on a spectacular June afternoon, bits of fluff swirling quietly ahead of me along the sidewalk, eddying around my feet as I go. A 20-something couple pass on bikes, stop at a traffic light just ahead, talking in French. As I come abreast of them, he gets impatient re: waiting for the light and takes off, she calls out plaintively, remaining where she is. He continues on, calling out an answer in curt, impatient tones. (What a smoothie.) The light turns, she follows.

Yesterday, outside the entrance to McGill University’s campus: a crowd of one to two hundred people, holding Iranian flags, chanting, ‘Where’s my vote?’

I pass a couple sitting in a doorway, kissing, that makes me smile. Another woman seems me smiling because of them, we smile at each other.

At La Ronde Saturday evening, invited to see a fireworks display, part of the Montreal Fireworks Festival, though this show not part of the official competition. Lovely, with brilliant, intense moments. I’m told the display received an evaluation of 6.5 out of 10, my friend E. (she who finagled my invitation) assures me this display hardly compares with the festival’s usual fare.

At the Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibit re: John Lennon/Yoko Ono, a crowded, lively, emotional show. Cameras are not only allowed, they’re encouraged, leading to impromptu photo-ops everywhere.

Overheard on the street this morning: “You can’t go around attacking people with an angel!”
Truer words were never blathered.

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From Saturday evening’s finale:

España, te echo de menos

Two streets over from where I am right now is a tree that is the source of the white fluff that’s been drifting through the air in this neighborhood. Not sure of the kind of tree, but it is bursting with fluff right now, weightless feathery bits of white coming off it in swirling waves, the slightest breeze producing a soft, soundless blizzard of swirling white. To the point that — and I am not exaggerating here — walking past, for a block in all directions, is like passing through a springtime snowglobe. Could be it’s not so wonderful for those living nearby, but for me on this lovely, mild June day it felt positively dreamlike.

Returned briefly to Vermont a few days back. Had found myself spending too much time solo here, felt the impulse to head south for a couple of days. I tend to trust my impulses when they’re clear like that (ignoring the common wisdom re: the geographic cure), so stuffed some bags into the car, hit the road. Had only planned to be there two days, but it felt like coming back early this morning instead of yesterday would be a good idea, so made it three. A clear feeling, that, and I trusted it. Got to enjoy Montpelier looking and feeling its warm season best — a day predicted to be gray, rainy giving way to blue skies, radiant sunshine. Took care of matters needing attention, soaked up fine weather, watched two real damn good DVD’s, crawled out of bed excessively early this a.m., was back in Montreal by 10. Clouds and blue Canadian sky trading off, air soft, day feeling lazy and sweetly relaxed.

Have not been back to the house since clearing out on the 1st of the month, a day so intense and hectic that it slid past in a vivid blur of constant, high-speed labor, me watching what had been my living space morph into an empty collection of rooms, the world outside shining with sunlight, greens impossibly green, birds everywhere. At one point, during a pause in the process (the three 20-somethings who were wrangling my possessions — what I hadn’t already stuffed into a storage space during the previous month — taking a breather in the truck), I wandered outside, sat on the front stoop, stared out at the valley. A meadow lark in the nearest tree began producing song, going on as I listened — on and on and on, pausing, singing, pausing, singing more — almost as if saying a sweet ’see ya!’ before finally taking off, disappearing into greenery down the hill.

Made the trip into town with the moving dudes, they wrestled my stuff from truck to apartment, then I returned to the house to collect what remained. Managed to cram two carloads of assorted hooha into my little vehicle (it remains a mystery how I managed it; there must have been some bending of the laws of physics involved) when I finally drove away, going slowly up over the hill — the view, the house, the expanse of green land, the small barn, all receding and disappearing — it was one of the more difficult shearing-aways I have ever experienced, leaving me half-numb for the ride into town. And it was a blessing that there was a mountain of labor to be done in the following days, leaving me without the time to feel too deeply as I worked at settling in to the cramped perch that will be my base in the coming months as I begin moving on, heading toward whatever the hell comes next.

I’ve been trusting my feelings and instincts, relying on impulses and all that. And they have not let me down. I haven’t had the desire to go back out to the house, have not questioned that. Instead, I’ve waded through the stream of present moments, making my way through the ocean of details that life consists of. And not only have gradually begun feeling better, more focused, have found myself experiencing a growing sense of freedom and lightness, at times so voluptuous and all-enveloping that all I can do is surrender to it, experiencing pure, simple happiness.

Have made a friend here who was a judge two years ago for the Montreal Fireworks Festival, an event that is just cranking up. That individual remains connected to the happening, I will be attending tonight’s installment via their generosity. Will drag my camera along, we’ll see what comes of it.

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Inexplicably yiddisher graffito, Montreal:

schmaltz, also schmalz (shmälts)
n.
1. Informal usage: a) excessively sentimental art or music; b) maudlin sentimentality.
2. Liquid fat, especially chicken fat.

España, te echo de menos

Montreal. Rain coming down, dark, raggedy clouds hanging low in the sky. A good day to hibernate. Or, you know, avoid being productive.

Have slipped into a morning routine of pulling my sorry adorable carcass out of bed, dragging on clothes, making the hike to one of the many coffee pushers that are strewn around the landscape here. Read, sip at a vat-sized cup of pretty good high-octane brew, watch people, slide gradually toward something approximating full consciousness. (The single downside of all this: the music blaring out the cafe’s speaker system, an endless stream of golden oldies. Fortunately, my protective state of dazed pre-consciousness makes it easy to ignore the cavalcade of hackneyed tunes, except at moments when an especially horrifying one pierces the fog. This morning’s low point: Cher spewing out Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.) (Not that I have anything against Cher. Just that one godawful track.)

Making the walk yesterday morning: reached the corner of St. Urbain, found myself nearly flattened by a woman in a wheelchair who barrelled along at near light-speed. Heard a chortle of amusement from the open window of a passing car.

This morning at that same location: reached the corner, a slim woman pushing a stroller appeared next to me. She wore a full-length yellow rain slicker, the child in the stroller (I’m assuming it was a child — all I could see were two motionless, slightly-pigeontoed red shoes) was covered by an umbrella placed to that the handle must have gone through the child’s mouth and out the back of its neck, where it scraped on the sidewalk. No passing vehicles leaked laughter — they were probably as creeped out by the scene as I was.

This city is a near free-for-all of festivals and big events once what passes for the warm season takes hold. My squat looks west toward Mount Royal and the park the spreads out around it. Sunday morning — far, far too early — my eyes opened, I heard music being played. Live music, vaguely marching band style, drums pounding away. Tried to ignore it, it persisted, when I finally gave in and levered myself into something close to an upright position, I saw big crowds packed into that green spread of land, the boulevard that stretches through it closed to motor vehicles. (I’m assuming that last bit — no cars/trucks/etc. were in sight, only and thousands of humans.) A festival, turned out. Kind of. The Tour de l’Île. When I’d dragged on clothes and stumbled down to the street, I discovered many local streets were closed to traffic. Many, many local streets, in what could easily pass as haphazard fashion. And two streets over, people on bikes headed in the direction of the massed gathering. Hundreds, thousands of people, lots of them families. I fell into a cafe, ordered a container of caffeine, sat at a table and watched the scene outside, the endless stream of bicycling Montrealers passing by.

I passed a lot of Sunday walking through the Plateau district, discovered more and more streets blocked off to motor traffic, endless thousands of people biking along those avenues, many of them small, narrow backstreets that stretched through funky neighborhoods. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it except for the unhappy souls trapped in cars, long lines of traffic backed up most along the few thoroughfares not commandeered by the city for the Tour.

Lots of unhappy motorists. Who have been venting their unhappiness in the newspapers for the past two days. And venting and venting. Ah, well. Life goes on.

I have the feeling I lost some weight during the last weeks of dealing with house/moving back in Vermont. Since arriving here on Saturday, I have been packing away food at a rate that would be disturbing for many humans. Just part of regaining equilibrium, I guess, after all those months and months of so much fun.

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Bike rack/mural wall — Montreal:

España, te amo

And after weeks of silence — the longest stretch of blessed quiet for this journal since its start nearly eight years ago — I’m back. In Montreal, released from the weeks months endless process of fixing up/emptying out house, the work that’s been the focus of my sorry existence since returning to northern Vermont at the beginning of May 2008.

No details now about the final weeks re: house/land, nothing at this time about the closing and its aftermath — too tiring and angst-ridden. This morning I fled north, crossing the border into Quebec with no fanfare at all (Canadian customs dude casting an uninterested glance at my passport/drivers license, asking a few perfunctory questions, waving me on, me happy to go). An hour later, Montreal — me in a studio flat on the top floor of a high-rise building just off Sherbrooke (a building with no 13th floor, the numbers after the 12th all painting a picture of a structure one-storey taller than its actual height).

Mid-afternoon clouds slipped away, the afternoon turned summery. I walked local streets, bits of fluff from trees drifted in the sunlit air, specks of golden light. Lovely women seemed to be everywhere, light, warm weather clothes moving gracefully as they walked. Bits of conversation in French, English, Spanish, eastern European languages came and went as people passed.

I had a camera case slung over a shoulder, carried a Spanish-language novel in one hand. Overhead, swallows cut across the late afternoon sky, singing as they went. I bought groceries, took photos, walked familiar streets.

Dinnertime rolled around, I ducked into a Chinese joint on St. Laurent. The owner gave a friendly nod, took my order. A short time later one mean-ass plate of deep-fried tofu landed on my table. The kind of dish that would wipe the smirk off the face of anyone accustomed to spewing derogatory remarks about tofu. Big, crispy dark-brown cubes, awash in onions, garlic, flakes of red pepper. Maybe the single greatest batch of tofu I’ve ever dug chopsticks into (disclaimer — this writer is not a tofu fiend; the dish was ordered on impulse, the menu being short enough, lacking in options to the point that bean curd seemed like a risk worth taking). The main course showed, not what I’d ordered. I sat and contemplated, finally gestured to the waiter, let him know I’d ordered something else. He stared at me perplexed, took the plate hesitantly, turned to the owner who stood watching. The waiter explained the sitch (in Mandarin, sounded like), the owner made amazed, outraged noises, barked out a few statements that sounded like they might have been expressing genuinely unkind sentiments about me. The waiter veered off to get what I’d actually ordered, the owner stared at me, expression unfriendly. I stared back calmly, repeated what I’d told the waiter, not really giving much of a damn about his puffed-up show of… whatever it was. The owner continued staring, finally looked away. I re-commenced enjoyment of deep-fried bliss, a short time later the correct main course appeared, balance was restored in the universe.

Through all of that, soul music pulsed loudly on the in-house stereo — Barry White, James Brown. When ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ started up, the owner began dancing, singing, all unpleasantness forgotten. Beaming, cutting some 70’s dance moves. Another James Brown anthem followed, the owner shouting joyful Hey!’s, cavorting goofily. (I am not making this up.) I demolished my main course — good, but not the towering monster of low culinary satori the appetizer was — enjoying the entertainment. Finished, paid up, headed out into an evening as beautiful as one cold ask for, sidewalks crowded with people. Made it back here in time to grab camera, head up to the rooftop terrace for a fine sunset.

I’ve been liberated. Or that at least is how I’m feeling.

Next up: a good night’s sleep.

Later.

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Moonrise, Montreal:

España, te echo de menos

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