Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Postscript

As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag.

Thoughts on love written in a fog of sleep-deprived delirium and while sweating

I made a mix CD today and remembered something. I was front row centre at a Patti Smith show, her first after her husband Fred’s death. She started to play a song for him, just her on acoustic guitar, but she fumbled and stopped. Looking somewhere past the audience, she quoted Fred to herself: “Clarity, Patricia.” Then she started the song again.

This is, I think, an inkling of love at its best: a close observation of an endearing flaw, noticed with encouragement and deep affection, and premised on an absolute faith in the promise of the one who is loved. You have to know the tiniest bones of a person to have this, and, at the same time, to admire them as something different and apart from yourself.

I wonder if I could love someone I didn’t admire in this way? And why I always wonder about such things when I’m terribly tired?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Week three: Antsy

Sometimes, things stay with you. Things like this:

How is one to live obsessively in Mtl, to leave one’s mark on the place, now that indoor smoking is banned?

How, indeed.

I am missing the Café tonight. With the heat as it is, I should be sitting at one of the two window tables, drinking a beer special and talking breathlessly about politics or art or the state of my soul. Instead, I am sitting at my computer in my underwear, trying to find solace on the Internet.

As D. would say, how lame.

James called the other day, and he reminded me that bars in Vancouver are still permitted to have smoking rooms. How is it possible that he can smoke freely in the land of hemp-draped wood nymphs while I am forbidden to do so in the province that invented poutine? I tell you, it just isn’t right.

I have been invited to a St. Jean Baptiste party tomorrow night, at which I plan to get completely soused. I think I will apologize to the hosts in advance.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hyp•o•crite (hĭp'ə-krĭt'), n.

One who plays a part; especially, one who, for the purpose of winning approbation of favor, puts on a fair outside seeming; one who feigns to be other and better than he is; a false pretender to virtue or piety; one who simulates virtue or piety.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dad story


Yup, that’s him. That’s my dad.

The picture was taken during a road trip he went on with his girlfriend last month. My father has always wanted to see Canada (Canada being, in his estimation, somewhere other than Ontario or Quebec), so they packed up her car and drove all the way out to Banff, Alberta and back again.

On the way there, my dad insisted on taking the northern route to the Trans-Canada highway, rather than driving south through the United States. As he later told me, he wanted to visit the place where he was sent to work when he first came to Canada, and which he hadn’t laid eyes on in almost fifty years.

Savanne is a very small town located 120 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, or, as it was known at the time, Fort William. It sits on the southern shore of Lac Des Milles Lacs, which is north of the northernmost Great Lake, and is, in my father’s words, “bush country.” The town was once a stop on the North American fur trade route; for the same reason, it is now a historical site.

In the years in between, it was the hub of the Savanne section of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which my father helped to build. I’ve heard fragments of the story many times: how big the blackflies were, what the railway ties sounded like when the workers struck them, how it felt like being at the edge of the world. I’m not sure how long my dad worked for the CPR, but I do know that he started in 1960, two years after he left Yugoslavia. He was all of twenty years old.

He was admitted to Canada from a refugee camp in Austria. Yugoslavs were still considered “non-preferred” immigrants by the Canadian government, a policy that would not change until 1962, but exceptions were made for farmers, domestics, and manual labourers. The railway industry, particularly, exploited this loophole in the Immigration Act, and this is, I suspect, how my father became a Canadian.

In any case, this is what he wrote when he sent me the picture:

Two houses that workers used are no more, there use to be double rail now only single, only original thing that still stand is railway bridge behind me on pic. There is new road bridge they build on hiway-17 that go paralel with railroad. Allways wanted to see it again and finally got chance. All in all it was tripp of life-time.

When I call him tomorrow, I will tell him how happy I am that he made the trip. And that he wanted to tell me the story when he came home.

Friday, June 16, 2006

New blogs!

To celebrate my apartment not burning to the ground, I have updated my blogroll. That it’s taken me more than a year to get around to doing so is faintly ridiculous, and speaks volumes about my penchant for procrastination. (Sighs.) Better late than never, right?

Many of the old favourites are still around (e.g. an endless banquet, Bits and Bytes From Elsewhere, The Public Ineffectual), although a few have adopted new names (notes abbreviated, Sal’s Stories), and these have been joined by some worthy new additions. Not quite sure where to begin? Well then, allow me to make some recommendations…

  • You want politics? Try the napping way down here for a lighter touch, or newcomer Blowback for a slightly firmer one.

  • For music writing that is as enjoyable as it is obsessive (can you say lists?) give Kevin John Bozelka a spin.

  • Hankering for an impressively erudite travel blog? Then amble over to the on-again, off-again worldwide flux.

  • More in the mind for a great photoblog? You couldn’t do better than Digital Apoptosis and anthropy.

  • Wait, you say you want funny? Then get thee to Madame D.’s marvellous Perdition, or to the screamingly good Gone Feral.

  • But what do the Americans think about all this? Just ask Chicagoan in Montreal, or The Professor’s Super Bon!

  • Now, for blogs that are so beautifully written you won’t especially care what they’re about, delve into notes abbreviated, Sticky Crows, or the oft-cited Eponym. (And yes, I freely admit to having blog crushes on all three!)

  • And if you just can’t get through the day without a Rousseau fix, The Necromancer is absolutely the blog for you!
N.B. For any authors who feel that they have recently lost their muse, please feel free to consider this a gentle kick in the ass...

This just in...

From BBC News:

The scourge of background music must be banned, the House of Lords is being told as a peer tries to introduce new laws against noise pollution.

Now, if we could just get politicans to conduct parliamentary debates in mime.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A night to remember

After days of solitary and increasingly manic tinkering, I escaped from my apartment to cheer Arit on at her graduation vernissage. The event was a resounding success, and was made even more so by the fact that Arit won an award for her portfolio. Of course she did. She is brilliant, after all.

Afterwards, we all went out to dinner and gorged on pupusas drenched in spicy green piquante sauce. I didn’t arrive home until almost midnight, whereupon I discovered that the apartment above mine had sprung a leak and, in so doing, had saturated the wall that divides my kitchen from my hallway with water. Moments later, I heard a sizzling sound coming from the area around the wall’s light switch. The wall was hot to the touch, and it dawned on me that I was on the verge of experiencing an electrical fire.

I remember thinking the word “motherfucker.” And then time collapsed.

In the span of less than a nanosecond, I debated the severity of the crisis and considered my options. Neighbour? Landlord? Fire department? I could hear my father’s voice in my head, patiently instructing me in the ways of electricity, the word “dangerous” echoing in a thick Serbian accent. Without meaning to, I clearly pictured my worst fear coming to pass: my home and everything in it in flames.

The nanosecond gone, I calmly collected Ivan and locked him in the bedroom, noting that his carrier was stored on the top right shelf of the bedroom closet. Then, I walked equally calmly to the circuit box in the living room and flipped breaker switches until I found the right one. In darkness, I waited by the light switch, which was still sputtering like an electric egg. After a minute or so had passed, I felt the wall again, trying to discern if it already contained fire. It was still hot, but no hotter than it had been. I made my call: landlord.

As I waited for the landlord to arrive, adrenaline surging under my strange calm, I became aware of something I hadn’t known about myself: I am good in a crisis. Under normal circumstances, I am an edgy, chain-smoking neurotic, but even so, I am good in a crisis. For reasons that I don’t quite understand, this made me feel exceptionally good about myself.

The night ended with my landlord telling me that everything was fine and that I should turn the circuit-breaker back on, despite the fact that both wall and wires were still dripping wet. When I expressed reservations, respectfully noting that water renders the insulation that covers electrical wiring inert, which in turn causes fire, he boasted of being so fearless that he had once shot a bear from a distance of twenty feet. Seeing him for the moron that he plainly is, I thanked him for his time and ushered him out of my apartment.

When I finally fell into bed, I dreamt that a man in a tight black spider suit had attached a forest of small electrodes to my landlord’s naked body and was administering electric shocks of slowly increasing intensity to his cowering frame. I didn’t lift a finger to stop him. Neither did the bear.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Technical notes

A new computer, however modest, is a blank slate upon which your best works have yet to be written.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as removing the name of your ex from your email address book, knowing that you will never have need of it again.

Glitches are a part of life and therefore unavoidable.

Computers have replaced cars as our primary mode of transportation and fetish object; they are what we use to experience speed for its own sake.

You will always want more.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Vila does Yulblog

It’s true. After some gentle nudging, I decided to temporarily suspend my bar boycott and set out for Le Quincaillerie, the new meeting place of Montreal’s bloggerati. I was ably accompanied by Ellen (AKA Erwin), who has just started a blog of her own and was curious to meet more of our strange breed.

I was mildly apprehensive about our outing, to say the least. It was, after all, the first time I would ever set foot in a bar that did not permit smoking anywhere on its premises. You see, I had already moved to Montreal when Toronto’s first ban came into effect, and my last memories of Vancouver, New York, and London are of smoking freely into the wee hours. Nevertheless, since Patrick had thoughtfully made special accommodations for YULblog’s smokers (salut Michel!), I summoned up my courage and headed bravely east.

Within moments of arriving at Le Quincaillerie, I had secured a plum spot at the edge of the bar’s floor, which ended where two sliding glass doors opened out onto the street. The distance between the floor and the sidewalk was roughly equal to that of a front stoop, upon which I discovered I could perch with something approaching comfort. My smoking position established, I proceeded to settle in for the night.

Leaning against the metal edge of the doors, I arranged myself so that the left half of my body was inside the bar, while the right half was, for all intents and purposes, outside of it. Each time I took a sip of beer, I would lean gently to the left, thus ensuring that the drink stayed within the legal confines of the bar. By contrast, when I had the urge to smoke, which was often, I would lean somewhat more sharply to the right, thus respecting the letter if not the spirit of the law. At moments, I felt a little like a circus performer, albeit one that the police officers housed directly across the street might not think terribly entertaining.

Happily, I was soon visited by several of my favourite bloggers, who were kind enough to join me on my stoop and to refrain from laughing at my awkward acrobatics. First, there was André, who is exuberantly jovial and who promptly asked me what the strangest place I had ever copulated in was. Then there was Frank, who is not only the nicest blogger I have ever had the pleasure to meet (okay, he's tied for first place with g_pi), but also one who has something interesting to say about every conceivable subject. And then there was Nick, who proved that he is a man of his word by immediately offering to buy me a drink. It would have been unspeakably rude of me to decline, right?

There were others, of course—Alston and M-J and even Martine and Blork, who vaguely reminded me of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins—but by that time the sliding glass doors had been firmly closed and the impossible strangeness of drinking in a smoke-free bar was setting in. I felt my absent cigarette like a phantom limb, and, soon thereafter, the first ant-like pangs of nicotine withdrawal, which are apparently enhanced by the effects of alcohol.

Standing beside the bar, I momentarily envisioned that it was not early June but mid-February, when the sliding glass doors would be frozen shut and the sidewalk beyond them covered in two feet of glassy snow. Shuddering, I banished the thought from my mind and took a long, slow swig of beer. Then I went out for a smoke.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fifteen minutes

Say, haven't I seen you somewhere before...?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Week one: At a remove

In a veritable tour de force, Nick writes:

Smokers are a dangerous bunch—looking at their filth-encrusted hair (w/ snakes) and gnarled teeth you get the disquieting sense that they could snap at any moment, even in the times when they get their fix on schedule. The cumulative effects of these smoking bans might not be known for another thirty years, but the damage to the smoker’s psyche is done. They are filth, scum, flaneurs, reprobates who probably have long hair and who partake in extramarital coitus. But now we’ve made them angry, and while we’re all fussing over our health and spending our days at the gym and our nights marinating in our post-industrial existential torment, smokers are sitting on fire escapes and plotting our bourgeois demise.

Yeah, I’d say that’s about it in a nutshell.

For those of you keeping score, I have not set foot in a bar, café, or other public drinking establishment since last Tuesday. I briefly considered venturing out onto an uncovered terrasse on Friday evening, but then it rained so I didn’t.

I did, however, attend Oblivia’s birthday party on Saturday, at which I learned that the barmaid at Le Bifteck was slapped with a fine at exactly 12:05 AM on May 31st, not more than ten hours after she had been ticketed for jaywalking. If you see her, please give her a hug, or better, your spare change.

Since then, Montreal’s dispossessed smokers have been threatened with fines for littering, charges for public mischief, and arrest for disturbing the peace. It seems that even the sidewalks are to be heavily policed, not by municipal officers, who claim to have better things to do with their time, but by our fellow citizens, who are being exhorted to make use of a snitch line administered by the Service de la lutte au tabagisme.

City of sin, was it?

It is, I am sorry to say, exactly as I predicted. Despite the stated wishes of certain of my fellow citizens, Bill 112 did not make 1,884,581 Quebec smokers instantly vanish into thin air. It has, though, forced us out of the womb-like confines of our favourite watering holes and into the bright light of public space, where we are apparently to be relentlessly harangued for having the audacity to still exist.

I guarantee you, it will only get worse from here.

I am not alone in my pessimism. Bob, God love him, recently brought this blog to my attention, which is authored by a tobacco control researcher and professor of public health at Boston University. In a recent post, he states:

There is a faction within the tobacco control movement that I believe is motivated primarily by a hate for smokers and nothing short of prohibition will ever satisfy this element. But since anyone who suggests that perhaps we're going down the wrong path will be censored or attacked, this element will never truly be challenged. And most scary, this element now seems to be the driving force, or a major driving force, within the movement. I think, therefore, that it is not inaccurate to state that the anti-smoking movement is now on a path towards advocating prohibition. As such, the anti-smoking movement is leaving the realm of public health and becoming more of a crusade. I think we need to turn back now before it's too late.

Until then, I shall patiently await the inevitable arrival of Montreal’s first smoke-easies, where I will once again be free to partake of the “neo-bohemian tonic of the spirit” that fuels this blog. If I didn’t think he’d immediately collapse into a fit of protracted wheezing, I’d invite Nick to meet me at one of them for a drink. And then I’d ask him to marry me.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Last Day: Part Three

Light outside


As I walked home from the Café, I stopped in front of James’ apartment, which is just down the street from my own. The garbage bags I had filled were still neatly arranged in front of the staircase, although one of them had been pierced by the neighbourhood cats. James’ bike, which was at least half a foot too small for him, was locked up beside them.

On certain nights, as I walked home from the Café, tipsy and full of stories, I would look up to see if his bedroom light was on. If it was, I would climb the scuffed wooden stairs and knock softly on his door, and he would always come to let me in.

It sometimes amazed me how much we talked, and that we never ran out of things to talk about. He said to me once that he wanted to tell me everything, and even before he had finished saying it I knew what he meant. I eventually lost count of the times we stayed up until dawn, burning through stories and cigarettes in almost equal measure. It’s how I came to love him, and why I’m a little afraid of how much I will miss him.

Over the last few months, his stories became steadily darker, and more fearful. He was having trouble writing; his grant money had run out; he was being evicted from his apartment; he couldn’t find enough work. By the time he decided to move back to B.C. he was consumed by panic, and when he told me that he was leaving at the end of the month, I didn’t argue with him.

Looking up at his window, I ached to tell him what had just happened at the Café, to describe every detail of it so that he could imagine he had been there. All the lights were off except for the one outside, which he had left on out of habit, as though he would need it to find his keys when he came home. I took a picture of it as I counted backwards through the day; he was almost certainly in Vancouver by now, en route to his parents’ house.

He says that he’ll be back in the fall, when he has pulled himself together and finished his thesis. I hope that he will be, but I’m just smart enough to know that plans change. Sometimes, I have trouble envisioning where any of us will be five years from now, and what, if anything, will feel to us like home. I am certain, however, that if he does return to Montreal, the city will be immeasurably different than it was when he left. It already is.

When I got home, I emailed him a picture that Atomic had taken of me just before midnight. I told him that of course there was a story behind it, but that it would keep until we talked again. Or, at least, until I was compelled to write it down.

Last Day: Part Two

Ashtray


When I got home from the airport, I called Atomic and Ellen and we made plans to go to the Café. I arrived first and the waitress brought me a white porcelain bowl instead of an ashtray, which I thought was strange. Then Ellen and Atomic came and we all ordered beer specials. As we drank, we talked about Atomic’s next UN contract, which will take her to the Democratic Republic of Congo in a few days time. Every so often we looked at the clock, watching as midnight drew nearer.

As it did, I noticed a steady stream of people entering the Café with their cigarette packs in hand. Some took seats in the non-smoking section, and no one made an effort to stop them. It eventually occurred to me that we had all come for the same reason: to be here on the last night, before our small corner of the world changed.

A few minutes before midnight, I took out my camera and solemnly lit my last cigarette. Then, I waited to see what would happen. Would the bartender make a formal announcement, or would the waitress quietly come to collect our ashtrays? Would anyone refuse to put out their cigarettes? Would I? Or, would we all admit defeat and shuffle meekly home?

At precisely one minute to midnight, a twenty-something man who was sitting in the non-smoking section stood up and called for our attention. The room fell instantly silent. He then raised his lit cigarette and, grinning broadly, asked everyone to pay tribute to the last night of smoking in Montreal. Delighted, I grabbed my camera and raced towards him to take his picture as the Café erupted with cheers and applause.

Speech


Looking around the Café at my fellow denizens, my heart surged. Everyone was smiling and waving their cigarettes in the air, suddenly connected in a way they hadn’t been before. I went around to every table and took pictures, and made a point of telling my subjects that they were beautiful, perfect, merveilleux, because, in that moment, they were. I fucked up some of the pictures because I couldn’t stop laughing, but I knew it didn't really matter.

Smokers 1

Smokers 2

Smokers 3

Smokers 4

Smokers 5

Smokers 6



Then, I noticed that it was well past midnight and that everyone was still smoking! The staff made no moves to remove the ashtrays, and no one volunteered to extinguish their cigarettes. Atomic and Ellen and I kept smoking too, proudly noting that we were now criminals in the eyes of the law. I revelled in this last act of defiance, and felt such love for the Café and its patrons that I can’t even tell you.

Thinking about it on my way home, I realized that the Café is a place that the architects of the Quebec smoking ban don't understand, nor do they care to. They don’t meet their friends there just before midnight on a Tuesday night; they don’t stay past closing time, finishing their drinks as the waitress cashes out; they don’t head to the diner across the street for poutine at 4:00 AM, lingering for a few more fragments of conversation as dawn looms. Most of all, they don’t experience remarkable moments of camaraderie with total strangers the way that smokers do, and probably always will.

Last Day: Part One

Living room


His plane left at 5:30 PM.

We had been up all night, finding and packing everything that he was putting into storage. The movers didn’t get to the apartment until after ten, and James didn’t return until sometime after three. When we finally called it a night and went back to my place, we stayed up talking like we always do, except that I knew it would be the last time for a while.

It was just past six when we went to bed. James managed to sleep for a few hours. I hardly slept at all.

We had coffee in the morning, then went back to his apartment to pack the rest of his things. He picked through all of his thesis notes, setting aside the ones he needed to take back with him to B.C. I put everything else into sixteen oversized garbage bags that I lined up in the hallway. One by one, James carried them down the scuffed wooden stairs to the curb as I swept the floors. The heat of the day was almost unbearable, and all I could feel was dust and sweat.

We weren’t even close to being finished when Neil arrived with the car. James threw what he could into his suitcases and the three of us set off for the 40, which was already jammed with rush hour traffic. I sat quietly in the back seat as Neil switched impatiently between radio stations. All of the announcers, both English and French, were talking about the smoking ban.

The drive


Despite the traffic, Neil got us to the airport with fifty minutes to spare, and he even found a spot to pull into in front of the Westjet gate. I had hoped that he would park the car so that we could all go in together, like my father taught me to do when people leave, but he needed to get back to the city right away so he didn’t.

We got out of the car and Neil retrieved a cart for James’ suitcases. I stood back and let Neil help James with the cart, giving them as much space as I could to say goodbye. There hadn’t been enough time for any of us, and I could sense that Neil resented this. I took a picture of them with the camera I had borrowed from the library, and then looked off someplace else.

Then, Neil walked around to the driver’s side of the car, leaving James and me where we were on the sidewalk. As we hugged each other goodbye, like we always do, I was starkly aware of car horns and people rushing past, and knew in my bones that we were out of time. Quickly, I told him that I loved him and implored him to be well. He kissed my cheek and promised me that he would. And then he went inside.

Neil drove me to Vendome metro and we found a few things to talk about along the way. But mostly we said nothing at all as the suburbs became the city again. I didn't cry until after I got home.