Tuesday, February 23, 2021

smiles seen while walking / montreal

There are smiles out there.

They're under snow.  

Made with stones. 

Hidden under a bitten-off nose. 

Upstaged by buttons. 

Under the jowls.  


Proferring a frisbee.

I'm smiling too because I'm out walking.

Though I'm guessing the cat wasn't smiling. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

life with a gravedigger / cuajimoloyas

Yesterday I blew R's cover at the dentist. The hygienist asked me a question about him that didn't make sense. She repeated herself, saw that I was still puzzled, then said, but he's a gravedigger, right?

I had been horizontal in the chair with my head tipped back and her tools in my mouth for about an hour. I still wasn't sure what she was saying. R does work in a cemetery, yes. Given its size, one can even call it The Cemetery.  But he doesn't dig graves.

Are there still people who dig graves with picks and shovels in large cemeteries in Canada? I don't think so. There are machines to make holes more quickly. 

The only time I've ever seen a man digging a grave was when we were in Cuajimoloyas, a small village in the Sierre Norte mountains in Mexico. We were walking through the cemetery as we often do when we travel. R likes to document different cemetery practices. It's an occupational interest/hazard. 

We were looking at the grave markers when we heard what sounded like men telling stories and joking with each other. They were standing and sitting around a hole that one of them was digging. I guessed that even though he was the man hired to do the work, they were there to give him moral support. You don't send a man alone to make a new grave among the dead.

They were immediately suspicious when they saw us, two white people walking through their sacred ground. I approached and told them we were interested in how they took care of their dead. I said that mi esposo worked in a very large cemetery in Canada. They didn't ask how large. They asked how many dead. One million, I said. Round eyes and raised heads.  They wanted to know if R wasn't afraid of working every day among so many dead. No, he said, he was more afraid of the living. They liked that answer. 

I told them their cemetery, high up in the mountains under the great pines trees, was very restful and it was lovely to see that people visited their dead and kept flowers on the graves. The men were pleased that we appreciated their graveyard.   

At the dentist's office, I was thinking about my teeth, not whatever alter ego R has assumed when he goes out into the world. He has a couple. I was lightheaded. I didn't have an explanation for the hygienist. Nor is it my responsibility to explain what other people do. Not unless they're in my stories. R is in his own.  

She protested. She said she was sure he was a gravedigger. I said... but doesn't he come here after work? Haven't you noticed that he's wearing a dress shirt and a tie? Well, yes, she said, but but but--he has big hands! He looks like someone who could dig graves!   

I asked if she'd never noticed how clean his hands are. They're the hands of someone who does a desk job. (I know about hands because I grew up in a blue-collar family.)   

The hygienist was flabbergasted. But he tells us stories about graves! Sure, he works at the cemtery, he knows stories about graves. He maybe knows more stories than the people who sit in the machines and dig them.  

I was sorry to disappoint her. She'd called in the dentist to tell her too. There were lots of Voyons doncs! and C'est pas vrai! 

I had paid and was putting my coat and boats on when the hygienist called me back down the hallway. Is it true, she said urgently, that he saw Céline Dion at René Angélil's funeral? That has to be true! It is, I said, it is. 

When I got home, I asked R what this story about being a gravedigger was all about. But I am, he said. I'm a virtual gravedigger. What's the problem?

Here we are in Cuajimoloyas, me in my wide-brimmed, dermatology-approved sunhat. 

And ps: R informs me that in smaller cemeteries in Canada graves are dug by hand. With tools. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

"The Land of Clouds" / new story

I'm very happy to have a story published in the current issue of The New Quarterly. It's set in Oaxaca in Mexico where I stayed for three weeks in 2017. 

Working on travel stories in this last year while we haven't been able to travel has helped keep me sane. It's my writerly version of taking a trip. 

You can read it here: https://tnq.ca/story/the-land-of-clouds/


Friday, January 22, 2021

january #walking

Remember making snow shelters or forts or whatever you called them? Packing the snow, digging out a hole, crawling inside. The light  through the snow, seeing how snow wasn't really *white*. Peeking at the world if you'd made a few windows.

I saw lots of snow sculptures in the last week--lots of people taking pictures too. But no one was looking at this grimy snowperson slumped against a pole, gravel eyes and twig arms. So I did.  

How lucky can a person get? Not one but TWO truss bridges only a few moments' walk from where l live. Both cross the Lachine Canal.

Monday, January 4, 2021

holiday #walking

I didn't imagine this exact scene when I bought R the hat in Mexico in 2019, but I imagined that we would one day be walking in a monochromatic Montreal winter and he would be a spot of bright colour. 

We didn't have snow, we did, then we didn't again, then we did.  

Croissants don't--and shouldn't--belong to a healthy squirrel's diet, but it probably shouldn't belong to mine either, so I finally shared mine. Holiday time after all.

I was always glad to see people out walking, moving, striding along, whether with a friend or alone. 

I wondered if the dog would have liked to take his human to the parlour for grooming.  

I stood below this tree and saw a torso twisting up into the night, branches raised in song, a gown of snow. It was New Year's Eve--an aria of farewell to 2020. 


Happy New Year and stay safe as we wait to see what 2021 holds... 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

walking / halloween to winter solstice / montreal / tiohtià:ke

I walk most days. It's a slow way of seeing the world--and my world, like most everyone's world these past many months is circumscribed. Yet still so much to see. 
 From where I live in the southwest or sud-ouest of Montreal, I can walk along the St. Lawrence River--or even cross it. I can follow the Lachine Canal past the standing wreckage of factories, past the new condo projects. I can walk through St-Henri with a nod to Gabrielle Roy. There are still houses left that she would have seen. I can walk to Westmount, to NDG, or over the "mountain". (No one with family in Austria can see Montreal's little hill as "a mountain". It's what? 233 metres. I just looked it up. The very minor peak behind the house where my father grew up is ten times that height.) I can head over to Old Montreal or uptown, though I haven't done the latter very often these past months. (Once, when I decided that fleece-lined leotards *were* an imperative, essential item, and so I hiked up to Simons and bought three pair.) 

This bridge, called Pont Samuel de Champlain, is a cable-stayed bridge, opened in 2019 to replace an older bridge. Two summers ago, when we cycled to the south shore, I took a pic from underneath both bridges. The old one wasn't dismantled yet and the new bridge had just opened. Or maybe it hadn't yet.  
The new bridge is 3.4 k long and has 8 lanes. It's not yellow. That's late afternoon sunlight. You can see it like this from the eastern edge of Nuns' Island or Île des Soeurs. 

We knew a monk who called nuns "women religious". Not religious women, women religious. Is the word "nun" perjorative? Hm. Maybe he wanted to be known as a "man religious". 

I don't take many pics of dogs because their people are so possessive. Why do you want to take a picture? What are you going to do with it? 

The dogs don't mind. Look how proudly she sits, giving me her best profile. 

Cats are much easier. They don't give a damn. If they do, they give me their backs or they walk away. 

I have only ever seen this underpass, next to the Lachine Canal, in shadow. This year I happened to be walking here a couple of days before winter solstice at 3:30 pm. The sun was low in the sky, about to set. At that hour, at the solstice, the underpass gets sunshine. I would like to think--though I highly doubt it--that it was planned. Is it possible that a city engineer hailed from Newgrange and/or had a sense of humour? 

Along the top of the underpass are the railroad tracks heading to and returning from Ontario, Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, Stratford... places where I hope to go again some day soon.