Monday, December 30, 2013

living in a snowy city / snow removal

If you live in Montreal, then you know the sound of snow removal. When it happens in the night, you hear the grumble and scrape of trucks in your sleep for what seems like hours. I wondered how long it took and timed it yesterday (since I was at my desk anyhow).

At night, signs are put out to tell people to move the cars that are parked in however-the-snow-could-be-shovelled spaces hacked into the snowbanks. During the day, a horn truck drives down the street at the stately speed of a royal procession, broadcasting an alarm that sounds like a 1940s idea for a French ambulance siren. If you don't hear it the first time, you'll hear it again on the next street and the next street. It's a piercing, continual bleat.

After the horn truck comes the tow truck to haul away cars that haven't been moved. Yesterday, within 15 min, everyone had moved their cars. No one wants to have to try to recuperate their vehicle from wherever the tow truck took it. How does one even find it again? It's not like the tow truck can leave an address under the windshield wiper.

After the tow truck comes the first of the scrapers. Anyone who's ever played in sand knows how that goes: you push a straight path and the sand slides to either side. You push through the sand that's slid, and it slides to the side. Snow is heavier and more compact than sand, so the sliding is more deliberate and bulky. In the city--with sidewalks and houses and people needing space to park cars--it's not only a question of shoving the snow to the side until you have a road again. The sides of the street are finite. The snow has to be plowed into a furrow that gets collected in a truck.

I stopped counting how often the plow passed--because I didn't want to count, not because I couldn't hear it. With each pass, it's amazing the street doesn't get torn away, especially the way the plow barrels along.

Finally come the snow trucks in a nose to bumper chain. Next to the first truck drives a chewing machine that chomps through the mound of snow plowed down the street. The mechanism is so heavy and large it could equally chew a small car. Okay, I'm exaggerating. The person driving the machine would notice a car. But not a bicycle or a bush or... a pet.

Snow gets spewed into the back of a truck.

When one truck is filled, the next moves into place. How big are these trucks? Some of them, very.

Where do they take the snow? It's filled with gravel, salt and whatever else the city has strewn in the past week to keep cars from sliding.

The plow returns to rescrape the snow that was missed. The chomping machine and the snow trucks too.

Six hours from the horn truck's first pass until the last snow truck left.

And when is it going to snow again?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

winter solstice

Yesterday, Dec 21, was the shortest day of the year. Here's a colour picture I took at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Given how grey and white the season is, I'm happy when people string up coloured lights. I don't mean the new-fangled dripping icicles nor the gargantuan displays with balloon Santas and reindeer. I like the bottled sparks of colour when everything else is drab.

Sure, they're Christmas lights, but I wish people would keep them up all winter. We need coloured lights to help withstand the cold of December--but boy oh boy, we need them even more by March. Lights make up for all the colour that's missing when we're blanketed in snow and the nights are long and cold.

When I'm trudging along the squeaky snowy sidewalks of Montreal, I'm even happy to see stoplights.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

rapunzel reads in pointe st-charles

Here's the link to a video of me reading from my novel Arrhythmia. As well, you can see some highlights of life in Pointe St-Charles... other people who live here, the rail line that separates the Pointe from the prettier neighbourhoods of Montreal, the underpass--that belongs to the rail line--where my voice echoes.

(Note: if the above link doesn't work, this one does: )

Many Montrealers don't even know that there's a residential district below downtown, the Ville-Marie highway, the rail line. You have to cross the Lachine Canal, find a detour under, over or around the rail line, pass the derelict factories and keep going. Here are the row houses where the labourers who dug the Lachine Canal lived--the industrial history from which Montreal sprang and which helped open the country. From the Atlantic, up the St. Lawrence River, along the Lachine Canal, to the rail lines, to the Great Lakes and beyond.

When I'm not in the underpass reading, I'm standing against my favourite wall of graffiti. It's the long north wall of the arena, where kids play hockey and go swimming, and where adults vote when there's a referendum which--you never know--can always happen in Quebec. About a week before my rendezvous with Elise Moser and Leila Marshy, someone had painted a long washing line with many pairs of mismatched socks and pretty underwear hung against a clear sky. I hoped no one would paint the Hulk or a locomotive or amorous messages over the laundry before my shoot. Maybe we were helped by the rain--because a couple of days later the underwear got covered, bit by bit, by other statements. It's the fate of all graffiti.

Elise Moser and Leila Marshy have organized a series of videos of Montreal writers reading in their neighbourhoods. There are a few us in the Pointe, so I feel especially lucky to have been chosen. Perhaps the project will continue? There are so many writers in Montreal. The other videos can be found on the Montreal online arts and cultural magazine, The Rover.

Monday, December 2, 2013

how you know you're getting older / discovering i was cath'lick

If you're lucky, you keep getting older. Well, sure, it's lucky. Otherwise you're dead.

Luck aside, our vanity often resists the notion of getting older, even though each year we have a year to prepare ourselves for the next number.

The round numbers--the ones that end in zero--are always a jolt because you flip from one decade to the next.

But even as you're getting older, your own age feels like a pair of jeans you've been wearing for a while already. They might have a spot where the denim is wearing through but that's okay, because they're still so comfortable. You might even think you still look sexy in these jeans.

But then all of sudden your youngest sibling turns 50!!!

Ouch. That's when you know.

For me, the day my youngest brother was born heralded another revelation. As my mother was rushed off to the hospital, my siblings and I were divvied up among the neighbours. Was this arranged ahead of time or did my parents go knocking on doors in the middle of the night? No idea.
In the morning, before school, the neighbour lady informed me that I had a new brother. After school when I returned to the neighbour's house, where my 18-month-old brother had spent the day doing whatever 18-month-olds do, I was intrigued and delighted by the lovely smell of bacon frying. I had never had bacon for supper. Perhaps never at all. I don't recall that we ate bacon in our house. It smelled so good!
But when we all sat at the table, my brother and I were given mashed potato and salmon patties. I didn't understand. The patties were bland and mushy. I felt my brother and I were being punished because we were unwelcome. I didn't dare ask.
But the neighbour's children did. Their mom said, Because we were Cath'lick. Her kids didn't know what that meant. Nor did I. I'd always thought that my parents had me bussed to a different school from the one all the other kids in the neighbourhood went to for their own perverse reasons. Religion wasn't explained to me. Our family didn't go to church or do anything else that I recognized as religious. (Not until one of my grandfathers from Europe came to visit and then we all had to dress nicely on Sunday and go to church.)
The other kids asked what Cath'lick meant. Their mom said it meant my brother and I had to eat fish on Friday.
Of course, at school I'd learned about the Pope and priests and nuns, but I assumed everyone had to learn about those things at school. I didn't know it had anything to do with being Cath'lick. I'd never heard of this fish rule. I didn't like being Cath'lick. I couldn't understand how and why the neighbour had decided that my brother and I weren't like her kids--that we were Cath'lick.
In retrospect, it was very kind of her to accommodate our differences--which we didn't even know about--but at the time it was confusing.