Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bike Ride

Some days it feels like it’s all going to shit. This was one of those days.

When I got home, hours later than I planned, I realized that I forgot to pick up my birth control pills and had only twenty minutes to get them before the pharmacy closed. So I got on my bike and got the pills, then started back home.

But then I didn’t want to stop, so I kept riding, without having the slightest idea where I was going. The air was warm and perfect, and all the streetlights looked like summer, and it wasn’t raining at all so my brakes actually worked, and I found a hundred new roads and buildings and alleys and everything went by really fast, and I felt the rush of alone and the dark and how good it is when absolutely no one knows where you are.

Then my legs started getting sore so I rode home.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The day after the night before

Last night, I attended Iso G.’s going away party. At least, I think I did. We celebrated G.’s first professorship with several or more beers, a round of pear schnapps, and, finally, a joint. It was sometime after that that I stopped being able to see straight. I managed to stagger home through sheer force of will, and ended the evening by passing out on my sofa.

Eleven hours later, I awoke with a hangover that came up through all the pores of my skin. As I waited for the pain relievers to take effect, I noticed bright rays of sunlight streaming through my living room window. Montreal was experiencing its first sunny day in two weeks, and I would spend it wishing for death.

The last time I passed out was in April of 1992. I was visiting Belgrade, and had spent the evening getting slavically soused at the infamous Academija nightclub. The city was mired in a blistering heat wave, and the temperature in the club, which was housed in a windowless art school basement, was easily fifty degrees. Centigrade. Our entourage decided to go outside for some fresh air, and I was about halfway up the stairs when I lost consciousness.

I later learned that Phil had caught me before I hit the ground, and quite chivalrously carried my limp body outside. I came to in a parking lot across the street, and vowed never to humiliate myself in such an obvious fashion again.

Then I drank schnapps. Thanks, G. – I owe you one.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Would someone please get me my gun?

Environment Canada forecast

Friday: Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers
Saturday: Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers
Sunday: Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers
Monday: Cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers

Sigh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Goodbye, Harji, and farewell

I discovered today that, after twenty-eight years of doing business in Mile End, the gloriously ramshackle Harji’s fruit shop is no more. Worse, the shop has been purchased by individuals who have elected to rename it “Fruit Balance Santé.” For those among you who don’t speak a whit of French, the word “santé” means “health,” which is the subject of today’s screed.

Why does fruit have to be marketed as “healthy”? It is, no doubt, but is this its defining characteristic? Is healthfulness the singular essence of fruit? Judging from the explosion of organic produce retailers and juice bars in this once proudly unhealthy neighbourhood, it would seem that it is.

The pursuit of health has become the driving obsession of our time, one that threatens to displace all other human motives and values. Indeed, the will to health has so colonized our collective understanding of pleasure that we have come to think of jogging as a leisure activity, and drinking as a form of cardio-vascular therapy. Even sex, that ancient repository of vice and disease, has been reconstituted as an anti-aging strategy and a barometer of psychological well-being. (Hey, is that a colonoscope in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?)

Does absolutely everything have to be good for us? Have we become incapable of experiencing enjoyment unless it is by medical prescription?

Frankly, I don’t eat fruit because it’s healthy. I eat fruit because, when it is in season, it tastes good. And because it smells nice. And because a ripe peach is quite possibly the most erotic thing in the world. That is to say, I enjoy eating fruit for its own sake, and even more so when it’s drenched in cream or lazily floating in a pitcher of sangria. Mmm.

Thanks, then, to Mr. and Mrs. Harji, for selling us fruit that possessed no greater aspiration than to taste good. You will be missed.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Announcement

A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to write for Metroblogging Montreal, which is part of a loose network of group blogs about life in different cities. I’ve decided to give it a try, mostly because participants are referred to as “authors” and this makes me feel good about myself.

Anyway, you’ll find my inaugural post here. With luck, there'll be more.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Minutiae

I’ve been feeling shy lately. When I was a kid, I was deathly afraid of people I didn’t know. I still am sometimes, but I’ve learned how to pretend that I’m not. I occasionally wonder what I’d be like if I hadn't taken theatre classes in high school. Shyer, probably.

I went to Sherwin Tija’s book launch on Thursday night. Sherwin was very good, as was Corey Frost, who read a story about plums. A bunch of writers went to the Café afterwards, and one of them asked me if I was a writer too. I said that I didn't know. Then I went home.

Yesterday, I had Alice and Rashid and James over for dinner. I made a Mexican salad dressing with cilantro and cumin in it that everyone seemed to like. I’ve decided to make a lot of different salad dressings this summer. That way I’ll eat more greens.

After dinner, Alice told us that she started a blog, but then lost it. She tried searching for what she thinks it was called, but nothing came up. I wonder how often this happens? We told her that she should put up posters, so people can call if they find it.

Alice also observed, keenly, that my fridge has nothing in it except beer and condiments. I pointed out that it also has a tub of cream cheese, which technically isn’t a condiment. Then we drank two of the beers.

I washed all the dishes today and realized that I need a bigger dishrack. Mine is the bachelorette model – it holds exactly two mugs, two glasses, three plates, a pot, and a coffee carafe. This means I can wash my dishes every other day, on average, without running out of room. It also means that I’m screwed when I have dinner parties.

It’s going to rain tomorrow so there won’t be any badminton. Sorry, Bob. Maybe next weekend?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

An old friend

I had a couple of beers with Martin at the Café last night. He was in town for a conference, and after some harried back and forth we managed to hook up.

I met Martin at an ecstasy party in Kensington Market almost fifteen years ago. Of course, we hit it off immediately. I later discovered that he is an astronomer, a musician, and a Gemini, which virtually guaranteed that we would become lifelong friends.

It’s been quite a long time since we sat down, one on one, and talked. With some people, you start to slowly drift away. With Martin, you just pick up where you left off. You survey the failed relationships and the new ones, the creative projects and the condition of your pianos, the bumps in the academic road. Then you bemoan the state of journalism and Canadian politics respectively, before gliding into an earnest discussion about how to get laid.

According to Martin, who is in his mid-forties, you never stop feeling like you’re sixteen. I’m not at all sure I find this reassuring.

As we paid our tab, I consulted with the Café’s proprietor about the upcoming smoking ban. He was suitably defiant, and, waving his cigarette in the air, predicted mass non-compliance. For the sake of our café, I hope that he is right.

I leave you with this surprisingly delicate piece from the Boston Globe, which I discovered in the sidebar of The Eponym. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On second thought...

Badminton hurts! Ouch!

Monday, May 16, 2005

And now for something completely different

James and I played badminton today. Really. We must have been quite the sight: two ghost-skinned, chronically underslept chain-smokers, one rather taller than the other, lurching across a schoolyard in flailing pursuit of a windblown birdie. At one point, several small children appeared on their bicycles, and I’m reasonably certain they were laughing at us.

James and I are forever making grandiose plans: to see art exhibits, to take road trips, to foment revolution against various levels of government. We almost never follow through, but every now and again one of our plans actually comes together. Badminton, for example. Of all things.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the game. We weren’t keeping score so there was no drive to compete; we just tried to keep that disobliging piece of plastic up in the air for as long as possible, which wasn’t very long at all. Mind, it was terribly windy.

I realized later that, for about forty minutes or so, I wasn’t worried about anything. I forgot about my thesis and my bank account and the union and the distressing phone calls I’ve been getting from my brother and whether Atomic is okay and how long it will take me to get to sleep tonight. For about forty minutes, nothing mattered as much as keeping a small piece of plastic in the air. Go figure.

So James and I have hatched still another plan: the inauguration of the Mile End Alleyway Badminton Club. Now all we need is a net.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Today's Headlines

I got my hair cut today. While at the salon, I leafed through the May issue of Marie Claire and learned about the following things:

1. Vaginal rejuvenation surgery: A tighter fit for only $12,000. I’m told my man will love it.

2. G-Spot collagen injections, AKA G-Spot Amplification™: Apparently, it only hurts like hell for a minute.

3. “Dogging”: Group sex in parking lots, complete with automotive come-on code. And me without a driver’s license.

In other news, riots have broken out in Kabul and anti-US demonstrations are spreading across the region. According to Pakistani news sources, non-essential UN workers are being relocated from Jalalabad, presumably to the capital. With luck, Atomic will soon be evacuated and we will reunite on a terrasse.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

High: 27 °C

A perfect summer day spent drinking iced coffee with Arit, who leaves for Paris tomorrow. Soon, almost all my girlfriends will be gone. Coffee won’t be the same without them.

There was a bombing in Kabul on Monday, of an internet café that is patronized by Westerners. Atomic is there now, and I am resigned to the fact that I will worry about her for the next six months.

The waitress at the local diner gave me a flower on Sunday night. She had run out of plastic bags, so I rode my bike home with my poutine balanced on one hand and a carnation between my teeth. Yes, that was me.

After careful review, I have decided to terminate the experiment. Findings: inconclusive.

Low: 17 °C

Monday, May 09, 2005

Then the buskers

And then they'll come for your poutine...

City readies crackdown on street performers

Montreal Gazette
Monday, May 09, 2005

The city is facing off against face painters. And buskers and street artists.

Three days of public hearings begin this evening on proposals to rein them in on the streets, sidewalks and public squares of Old Montreal and downtown.

Among the Ville Marie borough proposals: Boosting permit fees and hiring inspectors and patrollers to police buskers on Ste. Catherine St. and in Old Montreal, and forbidding musicians from using spoons, triangles or castanets on Ste. Catherine between St. Mathieu and University Sts. (effectively silencing the famous "Spoonman" who plays in front of Ogilvy's).

First the smokers, then les piétons rebels...

City's top cops gird for a long jaywalking war

Montreal Gazette
Saturday, May 07, 2005

It will take years to stop the time-honoured tradition of jaywalking on the streets of Montreal, police officials conceded yesterday.

"It's a behaviour we must change," said assistant chief Mario Gisondi of the Montreal police. "But it's a long-term job."

Gisondi made the comments at a news conference as the Societe de l'assurance automobile du Quebec unveiled its annual report on road accidents in 2004.

While Surete du Quebec and Montreal police officials made similar comments last year, nearly half the people killed in traffic accidents on Montreal Island in 2004 were pedestrians, and that level hasn't changed.

But Jean-Francois Pelletier, chief road safety inspector with Montreal police, said the department has a five-year plan to tackle the problem. They'll start by setting up 200 kiosks and holding information sessions this year.

The Montreal police have nearly doubled the number of fines issued to motorists who don't respect pedestrians' right of way. In 2004, they ticketed 1,297 of those drivers, compared with 644 in 2003. In the meantime, more than 2,000 pedestrians have been fined in each of the past two years.

Pelletier said the campaign against jaywalking could be compared to the efforts nearly 20 years ago to get motorists to wear seatbelts and stop driving under the influence of alcohol.

Transport Minister Michel Despres announced he is creating a task force from law enforcement, the automobile insurance corporation and other partners to review all road safety issues.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

In Praise of Uselessness

I am still digesting yesterday’s news. James and I met to commiserate last night, but mostly we steeped in helpless rage. What is to be done?

When the Quebec Superior court certified two class-action lawsuits against Canada’s tobacco companies in February, Judge Pierre Jasmin pronounced that cigarettes have no "useful purpose,” an assertion that forms the basis of his ruling. From the decision:

“What informed individual, whether they be smokers or non-smokers, could argue that smoking cigarettes has any useful purpose? On the contrary, cigarettes are not only useless but are dangerous and create a health problem and, in many cases, they create problems such as emphysema, cancer and heart diseases."

Being an informed individual, I do not dispute the negative health effects of smoking. I do, however, question the judge’s definition of the term “use”. What, I am compelled to inquire, is useful?

Automobiles, presumably, which kill hundreds of thousands of people every year, which have directly contributed to the destruction of the earth’s ozone layer, and which are fuelled by a commodity that requires the rule of brutal dictatorships and endlessly recurring wars. These negative effects are commonly justified on the basis of automobiles’ usefulness, which is primarily economic and therefore taken to be self-evident.

Is this what Jasmin means by use? If so, what of other uses?

Are the hours of conversation I’ve had while smoking useful?

Are the moments of comfort that cigarettes provide to people who suffer useful?

Are the countless thousands of books that have been written while smoking useful?

Are the cigarettes my father smoked after a twelve-hour factory shift useful?

Are the songs we hear in smoky bars useful?

Is the camaraderie that exists between smokers useful?

Are the cigarettes shared by lovers useful?

Is time that is spent not working useful?

Is a life that is well-lived useful?

Is pleasure useful?

If not, then let us defend uselessness with every ounce of our being, especially here in this city, Montreal, whose very essence is useless. Its bars teem with useless writers, artists, and musicians; its cafés buzz with useless conversations about useless philosophical theories; its streets are filled with useless demonstrations against useful government policies. Its topography is useless, to say nothing of its infrastructure.

We have come here, those of us who are exiles, and we stay, those of us who are not, precisely because Montreal is useless: because it is not Toronto or Vancouver or Los Angeles or New York. We are here to escape the tyranny of use, for a time or forever, and to feel what life is like in its absence.

Ours is truly a distinct society, for reasons that include but are immeasurably more complex than linguistic affiliation. Our history is a history of smoke: of jazz clubs and burlesque houses and political backrooms. It is European, not British; Catholic, not Protestant; radical, not liberal. Montreal is a calculated risk, the fine line between meaning and poverty, connection and conflict. It is, as it is often said, the smoking section of Canada, and that’s why it is different. And so much more fun.

Down the street from my apartment, there are two cafés: The Café, and the other café. The Café permits smoking, and it is therefore where smokers go to be useless. The other café, which is less than a block away, does not permit smoking, so that is where the non-smokers go. Being honest, I’m not entirely sure what transpires there, but I imagine that it is useful. In any case, both groups, the useless and the useful, have a café they can enjoy; neither envies nor encroaches upon the other. We peacefully coexist in the same small neighbourhood, and sometimes we even say hello as we pass each other in the street.

Is there anything wrong with this arrangement? Or must we all be useful by decree?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

This just in

Smoking ban in January, report says

CP
May 5, 2005


The [Quebec] provincial government will ban cigarettes in bars, restaurants and school yards starting in January 2006, the Canadian Press has learned.

The Liberal government has decided to attack smoking as a major public health issue, eliminating tobacco use in public places and limiting access to smoking.

Protecting youth from the dangers of tobacco is a key part of the legislation that is expected to be tabled in the coming weeks by Health Minister Philippe Couillard.

Sales of cigarettes to minors will also be punished by stiff fines.

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005

Oh god, I need this...

Ashtray

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ill

Day four of the sickness, and I am going slowly mad. I have left my apartment exactly twice since Saturday. On average, I cough, sneeze, or blow my nose every six minutes. I have eaten entirely too much soup. And I would sell my cats for a decent TV show to watch.

If nothing else, the sickness has given me ample opportunity to catch up on my cable news, and I am horrified by what I have seen. Could someone please tell me why the following stories merit international coverage?

1. The Runaway Bride: A woman gets cold feet before her wedding. This is news how?

2. Cancer: Paula Zahn profiles the disease for a full hour, and conducts a hard-hitting interview with her mom for the finale. See above.

3. What Happens After We Die: A Larry King Live special feature, complete with priest, pastor, rabbi, and bestselling new age author. Next week: Deepak Chopra waxes poetic about the tooth fairy.

4. Adultery: CNN presents an hour of in-depth reporting on the subject. Adultery is a new phenomenon, apparently. I blame the media.

5. Michael Jackson: Isn’t there a war on? Two, even?

And, while I’m at it, who let these people on television?

1. Nancy Grace, AKA the Lawyer: The former Court TV reporter now gets a prime-time hour on CNN Headline News every single night. She cries, she gets angry, she looks soulfully into the camera and calls the viewing audience her “friends.” I want to gouge her fucking eyes out.

2. Anderson Cooper, AKA the Hipster: Okay, so I’m supposed to watch his show because he plays the Strokes when it goes to commercial. Which means it’s cool, right? ‘Cause that’s exactly what I want in my news coverage. Cool. Yeah.

3. Sanjay Gupta, AKA the Doctor: If you needed proof that pharmaceutical companies run the world, this guy is it.

4. Joe Scarborough, AKA the Patriot: Is this guy for real? Seriously, this is performance art, isn’t it?

Obviously, it’s time to start taping the BBC World News again. Alternatively, I could stop paying my cable bill. Hmm...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Return of Bear

This weekend, I came into possession of the last box of my stuff, two years and four months after the end of the preceding relationship. The box included an assortment of items, by far the most important of which was my childhood teddy bear.

Bear, as the bear was called, was given to me by a border who lived on the second floor of my parents’ house when I was a preschooler. My parents had saved enough to purchase the house a couple of years before, but they needed additional income to meet their mortgage payments, and so the border—whose name, I’m ashamed to admit, escapes me—came to join our strange little family.

Bear was presented to me on the occasion of my fourth birthday, and we immediately became the best of friends. I had other stuffed animals of course, but none could hold a candle to Bear. Bear was no garden-variety black bear or grizzly, I’ll have you know, but a snow-white polar bear with orange eyes and black paws and a decorative bow made out of pink yarn. As you can well imagine, Bear was terribly handsome, and really the only bear for me.

Bear came with me through childhood and adolescence, and was a most agreeable companion. I read stories to him as a five-year old, and he listened attentively. I practiced kissing on him when I was eight, which I suppose made him my first friend with benefits. And at ten, when I first realized that there was something very wrong with my mother, I held him as close as I could and cried.

Bear moved out of my parents’ house with me and into the anarchist co-op, then to my own apartments and finally to Montreal, where he remained in a plastic bag in Phil’s closet waiting to be unpacked. He never was. After I moved out, I asked Phil to look for him, not yet comprehending that we wouldn’t speak again.

I had given up on Bear, assuming, darkly, that he had been thrown out or sold off at a yard sale or otherwise disposed of. Whatever his fate, I mourned his loss and carried on without him. I had finally become an adult, or so I thought, until the moment Bear returned and I instantly became a child.

Frankly, Bear isn’t quite the bear he used to be. He’s been through the permanent press cycle several too many times, and is now considerably floppier than he was in his youth. He was nearly brown when I pulled him out of his box, where he had lain covered in dust and newsprint for months on end. But he still has his eyes and his crumpled pink bow, and, having endured one more cycle in the washing machine, he once again has the hue of a proper polar bear.

From here on in, Bear stays with me. Which is as it should be.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rain

A cold has been stalking me since Tuesday, and today it overcame my resistance. Feh. Fortunately, every plan I made for the weekend fell through so I’m not missing anything.

Lately I have noticed things falling apart. The hems of my favourite jeans are fraying. The paint on my kitchen cupboards is beginning to flake. With each day of rain, and there have been many, more of my red-girl-bicycle is consumed by rust. Time is slowly rendered visible, and, in time, it is everywhere you look.

It rained all day today. We enjoyed a brief reprieve on Friday afternoon, when the sun came through the windows of the Café and lifted our circles of smoke to the ceiling. By chance, we all accrued there, James and Arit and John and Bob and me, and for a few hours it was like it used to be, back when nobody worked and the Café was what we did in the afternoons.

I like how time becomes visible in people: the lines that form, the events remembered by scars. I like how the sun catches silver in women’s hair, and how men’s bodies angle under their clothes. I can’t understand why anyone would want to erase these things. What would be left?

The cats will sleep with me tonight. I won’t set the alarm.