Montreal Incarnate

I am made of red brick and cobblestone.

My arms, lifted high to thundering skies,
Are gargoyles and gilded statuary,
Revealing windows to an earlier time.

My hair is the firestorm of autumn trees.
My fingers are tree branches,
dense and twisted by harsh winters.

I am chain link fences and barking dogs.
Clotheslines drape across my shoulders,
Lilacs and morning glory crown my head.

My feet are the crunch of fresh snow and dried leaves.
My legs, are wrought iron, spiral staircases
leading upward into the humid summer night.

I am railroads, above ground and below.
My heart a locomotive, my blood the rhythm of trains.
Under the overpass, through bridge and tunnel, I am connected.

My eye, a searchlight, sweeps the skyline
My canal is made of wine and tears,
I cry my river, and then I drink it.

Take comfort on the mountain of my breast.
I offer you my music, my food, my culture.
Though poor in pocket, I am rich in spirit.

I am made of this place.

Exercises With Judgement & Participation

(Re-post from old blog, original date Sep 24, 2010)

We have all heard the saying about not judging books by their cover. Even though we know there is wisdom in these words, I’m sure many people, including myself, find themselves engaging in judgment, often without noticing. We say “oooh, don’t be so judgmental” – but when we say that, we are actually judging the judge! I find this very funny.

I think judgment has a bad rap. So much of our interaction with the world is dependent on our ability to exercise judgment. Judgment is taught to us early so that we can make decisions – from deciding to put on an oven mitt before reaching into the stove, to planning a career, to making our dinners. I think judging and placing things in heirarchies are part of our nature, and is important in helping us live our lives, and isn’t something I feel the need to be cleansed of.

Rather than fighting that nature, I would prefer to nurture it, and develop better judgment, be aware of my judgments, and exercise my skills so that I may feel I am interacting with the world in a clear and authentic way, and therefore… judging myself to be a good person.

I’ll share one of my practices: When I find myself annoyed with the world – those days when everyone and their stupid dog, and their stupid hair and their stupid baggy pants are all driving me insane, I try to stop. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and when I open them, I try to imagine every person I see as someone’s beloved relative. I take a moment to look at one person at a time, noting the lines in their face and hands, the curve of their shoulder, as I would if they were my grandmother, or a dear friend, and I just breathe. Sometimes I go a step further, and I ask myself what it is about that person or their behaviour that is bothering me, and see if I can find something in myself that it is reflecting. Often the thing that we dislike the most about others is the thing that we dislike most in ourselves.

This year at Burning Man, I observed a lot of judgment. We like to think that the Burner community is so open, and judgment-free that everyone is free to just be themselves, let go, and play. But, in fact, we still engage in the same judging games we play in the default world. There is still an expectation for people to dress and behave in according to social rules, and those who do not conform get judged negatively.

I saw a lot of books being judged by their cover, and the measuring sticks seemed to mostly be whether people were wearing costumes or carrying cameras. What if that “tourist” wearing “normal” clothes and “taking pictures” was one of the people from the Heart Machine, or Bliss, who has been working hard all week to make some of the coolest installations I’ve ever seen on the playa, for all of us to enjoy? IMHO, fun fur and blinky lights do not make a Burner, and a drop of spectating should not spoil a bucket of participation. I invite you to try my Beloved Relative exercise the next time you are bothered by that dude with the hat that you’re sure just came here to party.

This epiphany made me think hard about participation in general, and specifically my own. Ultimately, my meditations have brought me to a place where I am examining myself, and asking “how do I want to interact with the world?. What moves me? What do I have to offer that can move others?”

Stones

I carry my errors like stones.

When I left instead of speaking.
When I spoke instead of listening.
When I allowed anger instead of compassion.
A false accusation, a projection.
Ignorance, selfishness, judgment.

All these stones, they never leave me.
Apologies do not break them.
They stack up in my heart,
and even if forgiven, I do not lay them down.

Sometimes, instead of seeing your face,
I see the stones I carry for you.
Hurts I’ve caused you.
Those errors that are bygones for you,
are stones for me.

I love you.
But these stones remind me
that you have reasons to not love me back.

I cannot undo what has been done,
so I try to make up for these errors,
but nothing allows me to put down my burden.

I am forever trying to heal a bleeding wound
that cannot be staunched by stones.

-March 2011

Dance

The Gods set me on fire and told me to dance.
“Dance” they said –
And when I dance
I am perfect balance,
I am free.
There is music in me –
And when I dance,
I am emotion in motion:
Spinning…
Spiralling…
infinitely into eternity.
And I can see the music
Travelling though time
And speaking through my body.
When I dance,
I am the bridge between
The world we know and the world we don’t know.
When I dance I dance my story, I dance my pain.
When I dance, my body opens
And all the madness comes screaming out:
Dance with me.

 

-circa 1998

downtheriverafterlaughter

(or, Montreal-Love: Part 1.5)

In June, we went to a Burner event in Squamish, and camped by the Elaho river. We were up all night partying, as one might expect, and we watched the sun come up while sitting in dusty lawn chairs on a ridge overlooking the river. We bundled up in blankets, listening to the vague thump of electronic music still playing somewhere, and were entertained by the rhythms & music that environmental sounds can make when you’re sleep-deprived. It reminded me of the imagined techno music in the engine of the school bus that I rode home after my first rave, so many years ago.

We nodded off there, in the chairs, and the sounds around me were both chaotic, and ordered simultaneously. The river was laughing – Laughing and singing. I could hear it’s voice so clearly, almost words: “downtheriverafter, downtheriverafter”, and wondered if it was from a song or a poem that I couldn’t remember.
What I did remember though, was that I am a River Girl…. born on a little piece of earth floating in the middle of a river. I’d never really thought of myself that way, but there I was, letting the river sing me to sleep, and despite my odd relationship with water, it was so familiar and loving. Saint Lawrence River Girl. Montreal. Home.

It struck me then that I needed to show Frank a Montreal-summer. Some of that crazy July heat, Tam Tam, rainstorms. The homesickness hit me so hard, and had so much of my identity packed into it that I wondered how I could live so far away from it. I listened to the river singing to me, and I thought about the water I grew up near: stagnant, polluted, and so very quiet; almost no voice at all anymore. Not like this river… free and laughing.

It’s hard for me to flow in Montreal too. Much as I love to visit, and would like to spend longer chunks of time visiting, as a place to live, it feels too constrained to me. The trees are tight and gnarled from cold winters, and the waters are confined to canals. I need the influence of the west coast: tall, lush trees that drink too much rain, and fast moving waters that laugh.

But I honestly believe that it’s by contrast that we develop appreciation, and I think it’s that contrast that gives me such an acute appreciation for both cities. I love being a West-Coasting-Montrealer.

Montreal-Love: Part 1

My step-sister-in-law is a super smart cookie, and she’s been accepted to McGill (woot!). Since that means she’s moving to my beloved hometown, I felt compelled to write her up my Big List of must-see/must-eat Montreal favourites. As I’ve got another friend traveling there in October, and it seems folks I know & love go there more often than I do, I’ve decided to make my Big List public, for your enjoyment.

We’ll start with the food… because everyone needs to eat. And if you’re in Montreal, and reading my list, you’re going to eat a LOT. Try to balance it out with some exercise, ok? I don’t want you all coming home & blaming me for those extra pounds.

Claire’s “Love To Eat” List

Cafe Santropol
3990 Saint Urban
This is always at the top of my list. I have a bit of a sandwich fetish, and it super-sucks that I have a wheat sensitivity – but honestly, Santropol is worth it. Don’t let the unusual fillings scare you off – just order a Midnight Spread and a lemonade, sit in the garden, enjoy the atmosphere, and prepare your tastebuds to be blown away by awesomeness.

Schwartz Deli
3895 St. Laurent
In tough competition for the number one slot, is Schwartz. There’s lots of argument over smoked meat joints in Montreal… some (like myself) will say Schwartz is the best, but some will say Ben’s, Dunn’s, or The Main… and yes, all are good. But my heart belongs to Schwartz. Order up a hot smoked meat sandwich, with a Kosher dill and a cherry soda.

Fairmont Bagel
74 Fairmont West
You really can’t get a bad bagel in Montreal. You just can’t. Fairmount is my favourite, but St. Viateur & Mount Royal are equally fantastic. I love to take a walk up to Fairmount, order a dozen sesame seed bagels and a tub of dill cream cheese. Eat one or two on the way home, still hot out of the brown paper bag. Get ’em home, toast one up & top with too much cheese, thinly sliced tomato, salt & pepper. Goddamn that’s home.

Cosmos
5843 Sherbrooke West
My friend Jack knows his food, and many years ago he showed me the best place for all-day breakfast, and still, when I want breakfast, it’s Cosmos I want. It’s a real greasy spoon, fulla charm, but very small – so plan to wait and make sure you get the hashbrowns. And not those pathetic little Denny’s shredded pseudo-potatoes – I mean real potatoes, randomly chopped & smashed right on the grill, with onions & bacon grease, cooked right next to your eggs, any way you like ’em. Years later, Jack is still showing me awesome places to eat and I thank him for starting me off right. On recent visits, Jack’s taken me to a Thai place & a Vietnamese place – both were great, but I can’t remember what/where they were.

Connie’s Pizza
801 Charlevoix
and
Paul Patate
2606 de Coleraine
I spent my childhood living in Pointe Saint-Charles, and for about eight years, I lived in the same block as these two restaurants. My elementary school was on Coleraine Street too. The school is a condominium now, but the restaurants are both still there, still run by the families that served greasy French fries in paper bags to us scruffy Pointe-kids. Poutine from either of these places will rock your socks.
Get a classic all dressed pizza from Connie for me… pepperoni, mushrooms, green pepper and lots of mozza. And they still put a little bun in the middle of the pizza to stop the box-lid from sticking to the cheese. Nom.
When my family would send me to Paul’s to pick up an order, I’d sit at the bar with my sketchbook & doodle while I waited. I went in last time I was there, and they still remember me. Get 2 steamies, with coleslaw, mustard & relish, definitely have the fries, and say hi for me.

The best part about all of these places isn’t just the bread, the cheese, and the grease… it’s the memories. For me, all of those places are tightly associated with friends, and when I think about Montreal food, I am reminded of them and feeling full – full of food and full of love.

Dammit, I’m super homesick now. 😉

My next Montreal Love post will be about the places I love to go.

Thunder

The left coast is so beautiful and welcoming to me in so many ways, that there’s not much that I miss from “home”. Sure, I miss some people, the architecture, and the food…but the mountains and the ocean talk to me like Mount Royal never did. Long, cold winters make the trees and the earth there hard and reserved, and when I would go walking, I’d listen and hear their hardship, and feel my own. But out here, the earth and trees take long, slow breaths and I breathe with them, feeling my feet firm on the ground, and my heart open to the sky. The temperateness does me good, as I have no fondness for frostbiting winters and brain-boiling summers, but I do miss Thunder.

Thunder that cracks the heavens and hurls raindrops the size of quarters down on hot summer skin. Night thunder is even better.

When I was very little – I’m talking six, seven years old – I told my grandmother that I was a battery, and thunder recharged me – BZZT! I’d sit in the window and stare out into Montreal rainstorms, and wait for flashes, knowing the kaboom was right behind. When I was old enough to not be restrained by warnings of “you’ll catch a cold!” or “you’ll get struck by lightning!”, I would go out in those downpours, soak to the skin and feel my head crack open a little wider with each roar from the sky.
One of my favourite moments in my life, was walking along Sherbrooke, very late one hot summer night. I’d been at an unusual and wonderful party, and my head was aching from deep conversation and too much fun. I was so lost in my thoughts that I had not noticed the flash. For a split second, it seemed that all the sound in the world was being sucked out of my ears, and I looked up as the storm arrived. Thunder – like I’ve never heard before or since – rolled in slowly, almost musically, becoming louder until it was directly overhead and broke the sky with an orgasmic, mind altering explosion, and rain poured down to drench the world. At the peak of the sound, it was as though that thunder had sledgehammered into the base of my skull, and I felt all my tension shatter and drop down my spine, washing away with the rain, into the earth. Like weary travelers, the sky and I dropped our baggage in the street, and listened to the thunder continue it’s roll across the sky into the night.

Although it rains a lot, we don’t really get storms like that in Vancouver. Perhaps the reason that I don’t mind the rain is that I associate it with thunder. On the rare occasion that we get a good T&L storm, it feels like home to me, and I grin, and feel recharged.

Bones & Ghosts

Sometimes I look at people and all I see is their bones.
I become aware of their skeletons, their beating hearts – the instrument of their projection.

Sometimes, I see their ghosts.
Moments from now, days from now, years from now… their bones will be gone, their projection will be gone, this place will be gone – and all that will be left is memory, and after enough time, even that will be gone.

Time, memory, connection. Deep resonance. Like a gong’s vibration that makes me aware of the core of my being. I am placed in my world by this sound.