Monday, May 28, 2012

me, too, i live in montreal

A friend wrote to express surprise that I live in Montreal, which is getting international attention for the student demonstrations and public unrest with bill 78, and I'm blogging about my loom, chicken heads, and ocean surf CDs. Well, that's my life. It doesn't mean I'm not aware of what's happening; nor that I don't stand in my window and bang on my pot at 8 pm.
I don't write about it because I can't begin to offer an insightful overview that covers all the issues. I read the news, watch the videos, see the numbers. Were there 10,000, 100,000 or 400,000 in the march? Depends on who you read. Media coverage is as polarized as the camps who bang their pots--les casseroles!--in a show of support every evening, and the camps who complain about the noise and hope the government will pass an even more stringent bill to disallow pot-banging.
I wonder that the people who complain about the pots don't understand that the racket, which disturbs their evening for 15 minutes, is a very small disruption compared to the government's bill which restricts gathering (groups of more than 50) or picketing in the entire province of Quebec without prior police approval. Talk about muffling! People watch their right of expression being taken from them and don't protest--better yet, they protest when other people bestir themselves to protest.
So, no, I can't write about what's going on because I don't understand.
Sure, me too, I had my routine disturbed by student protests. One evening, it took me from 8:30 until 10 pm to get home--and I hadn't had supper yet--because of disruptions to the subway (for which the students are being blamed, though they haven't accepted responsibility). I had a few trips across the city I had to reroute to avoid a demonstration.
So what? I still support the students' right to protest and strike. If the only way that they can get the public's attention is to interrupt the traffic--because everyone is so well insulated in their car, talking on their cell phone, or listening to their music--well, there you go.
I believe that everyone has the right to an education in the same way that I believe everyone has the right to health care. I believe that everyone should fund education in the same way that I believe everyone should fund health care. I want to live in a society which is educated and healthy. What will it take to ensure that? The government sends out riot police. No, I don't understand.
What I can write about with assurance were my few encounters yesterday. A group in our neighbourhood, Point St. Charles, staged a protest against the recent announcement of federal cuts to social housing. (I hope they got police approval.) The protesters met in the park under the trees then took to the streets. Since the Point developed before the time of city grids, the streets angle in every direction. Kettling--a recent practice adopted by the Montreal police to surround and corner protesters--would take a little cunning here. Only a local knows which way is east and west. Even then, the road you're on can start out heading east only to curve north. I never saw the protesters, because the street I was walking along never met theirs, but I heard their call and answer. There were banners strung across apartment buildings and at the entrance to the park. Someone walking through might have thought there was a picnic--except for the dozen police cars blocking the main road to the IGA, stopping people who wanted to do their grocery shopping.
Yesterday was also la Journée des musées when all the museums in Montreal are free and there are special city buses shuttling people to the various buildings. Around the corner from where I live we have la Maison St. Gabriel, a 17th century stone house that's been preserved as a heritage museum. Yesterday it hosted demonstrations of spinning, weaving, basket making, and braiding ceintures fléchées. I don't know if it's interesting or simply a coincidence that an area like Point St. Charles, with the highest percentage of social housing in the municipality of Montreal, also happens to be the oldest settled area of Montreal.
So that was happening too: buses were packed with people on the way to watch a woman in period costume spinning uncarded wool. I walked over in the morning to watch a man weaving on a 17th century loom. I had a great talk with him. There were more than 50 people gathered before the old stone farmhouse, watching the different events. I wonder if the nuns who operate la Maison St. Gabriel got police approval.
In the evening the orchestra of pots and pans marched down our street at 8:15. I added my banging from the window. (Lazy form of protest.)
My friend Alice Petersen, who's just published a very fine collection of short fiction, All the Voices Cry, calls the sound of pots and pans every evening a disjointed angelus bell, which I find an apt image: at dusk, not in time, though all in a cluster. Not too big a cluster though. Less than fifty.

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