My Deep Inner Life in Montreal

20140911-154134.jpg
A view from wandering around Montreal.
.
.

Efforts to Make Friends in Montreal, and My Deep Inner Life

I am feeling a bit lonely and am excited to make some local friends my first week in Montreal as I walk through an open door labelled 309. To the left of this door is 309A. I am looking for 309B. The lights are off. It’s an odd place; I can’t tell if it’s a business or a residence. For sure it has served both purposes and it’s in a commercial/residential area.

I’m standing in what is like an open concept, basic, urban kitchen. To the right of the door is about an 8-foot span of wall with makeshift open shelves, a basic counter and sink, a stove and a fridge. The usual details for preparing a meal but not really cooking so much. The shelves are fully stocked, colourful boxes and packages and dishes and cooking implements. Otherwise the room is grey. Grey industrial carpet, grey walls.

There are several tables with chairs pulled around. I feel like this would have been a small living room. It’s an odd space. Do people work at these tables? Are there bedrooms made into offices and this is the common area? I notice a cycling helmet and a jacket have been tossed onto the table closest to the entrance. I can’t say why, but it seems like they were just tossed there moments ago. Perhaps I perceive settling of the jacket but not consciously. Where is everyone?

“Hello? . . . Allo?” I call into the darkness. I hear a stirring but no one answers. “Allo?”

A middle-aged man pokes around the corner, friendly and curious. He is not expecting me. “Roberto?” I ask. “Qui?” “Um, I emailed with Roberto and he said the group would be meeting here?” We stand for a moment, staring at each other. He’s clearly thinking. Who is this Roberto and why would he be having a group meet in my space?

“Oh, you want that one!” he says after a moment and amicably, turning me around and pointing to a third door outside. It is labelled 309B, but was not noticeable when facing the direction of these doors, it corners the left side of 309A.

______________________________

Door 309B leads directly down a staircase. Seems to be the same grey industrial carpeting as in the previous unit. I can hear laughter and friendly voices. It seems more obvious now that this is a commercial space that had perhaps previously been residential. I go through a living room cum storage room following the voices around the corner.

Four large brown rectangular tables are pushed together making one big work surface. The room is brightly over-lit by fluorescent tube lighting so I choose and dawn the appropriate eyewear before even entering. (I am highly photosensitive.) Around the tables sit naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt.

“I’m here to volunteer?” I say with some uncertainty to the first person who looks towards me. A stocky, well-built shorter man wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans jumps up to introduce himself. He is happy to try a bit of English and I am happy to finally try the only French I know, which is only a tiny bit. Oh, and I was kidding about the naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt. I mean, how would I have even known if they were legal or not.

“I’ll take him over here,” someone calls over, “I’ll show him what to do.” The first guy looks unsure, he was happy to welcome me too. But this other fellow wins-out with English fluency, calling again until the first guy relents and gestures me to go ahead. I have no idea how this works so I just accept being called over. He seems to be the guy in charge.

Well, he wasn’t in charge, he was just bossy. And interested in me. And he doesn’t want to share. Me. He shows me what to do. We chat in English and very quickly I lose all hope of ever conversing with anyone else in the room. I have found much the same in coffee shops here in East Montreal, people shy away from English. They may speak a little but generally prefer not to. And when I try my little bit of French they also reply that they don’t speak English. In this case they may have made an attempt to communicate with me, had I been the lone Anglo guy in a room of Francophones and happy to struggle communicating in my barely existent French some of them might have playfully interacted with me. The desire to communicate can easily outweigh language shortcomings, I have experienced this all over the world. But not in this case, not with the Brazilian fluently conversing. I very quickly became invisible to the rest of the group. The “welcome” switch flicked to “avoid”, perhaps even, “invisible”.

“Where are we going for a drink?” he asks after we emerge into the urban Montreal street. “I’m still going to Chapters, I don’t want to go for a drink,” I reply. I had told him of my plan to look for some specific books this evening after volunteering. He clearly wanted to spend the evening together but I didn’t. “I don’t really drink either,” he says, ignoring my lack of interest,”you know the village better than I do.” That’s just stupid. I’ve been to two bars and anyway, he doesn’t know how well or not I know the village. “Are you going to Beaudry Station?” I ask at the corner of Rue Ste Catherine, gesturing that this is where we part. “No, I’ll walk with you to Berri.”

He walks with me well past Metro Berri and some distance later we come upon a fashion show around the Plaza Des Arts. We wander in and there I leave him, which I have to do pointedly. I am feeling very crowded by this fellow who, in his head, seems to have already settled down and had babies with me. “There’s a station here?” “Yes, right there.” “Okay, I’m leaving you now, it was nice to meet you,” I lied. We farewell and I continue to the bookstore where I can find travel guides in English. I need to start reading about Southeast Asia.

I felt like my chance to meet some locals was hijacked by this friendly Brazilian. “It’s the first time in months that I came to help-out here,” he had exclaimed, suggesting the destiny of our meeting.

If we were meant to meet, then I guess I wasn’t meant to make some new friends that night after all. A group of friends where I was the token English guy would have been fun. That’s what I was hoping for – accept me in your group even though our communication is limited. I might not want to go to a German film with French subtitles, but there are lots of other activities I would be happy to join. I’m used to being in groups where I don’t understand what most people are saying, being the white guy in China and the only non-Japanese in my schools in Japan, I’d be happy to catch a word or gesture here and there. “Ah yes, a tree, I understand fully. . . ” (Really? They’ve been talking about a tree this whole time?) “Yes, tree, ha,ha, you speak Japanese very well!”
(He thinks we’re talking about a tree?)

Happily I have a “very deep inner life” that allows me to enjoy such situations. Sometimes I even do that with English speakers. Some might call it “zoning out” and see it as a defect of having ADHD, but I prefer my view. My internal world is quite developed and I am someone who rarely gets bored. There are strengths to be found in any attribute. I think my former partner may not have fully appreciated that I substituted, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, what did you say?” with, “Sorry, I have a very deep inner life, what did you say?”

The men in my family also seem to share a delay in attention change. If you start suddenly talking to us, don’t expect us to have heard the beginning of what you said. Because it takes a moment to shift our focus from our very deep inner life over to you. We need some advance notice that you are about to speak, how else are we to know that we need to listen? You will most always have to repeat the first few lines unless we were already presently engaged in conversation. Except there’s no guarantee in my case, “Sorry, I forgot you were talking to me for a moment.” Don’t take it personally. Unless you want to, I know that some people love to take things like that personally, keeps life more excitingly dramatic or something. I won’t even talk about our inability to multi task. Another time.

I was very much happy to be alone again. Thankful, in fact. Perhaps that was the purpose in our meeting; I had been feeling a bit lonely. And now I’m just grateful. More space for my deep inner life again.

20140911-154252.jpg
Some views from cycling around Montreal’s port.

20140911-154341.jpg

20140911-154401.jpg

20140911-154434.jpg

20140911-154449.jpg

20140911-154518.jpg

Click on the videos below to play them.


Cycling across the Jacques Cartier Bridge:


I had one song stuck in my head all day, so you might notice me humming it in these videos. The next one, for sure. (Maybe called, “This Land is Mine”, I might share the video sometime but some might find it offensive even though it isn’t.)

20140911-155231.jpg

The Black Country town of Walsall

Visiting Walsall, near Birmingham, May 2013

When traveling, especially for as long as I am, it is a gift when a local extends their friendship with a personal invitation to see their town. So it was I ended-up visiting the unlikely destination of Walsall, essentially a suburb of Birmingham now but born in the days when such an idea was not conceivable.

Situated 35 minutes by train from New Street Station in Birmingham, the town of Walsall is a destination in it’s own right. “I was wondering if you might like to meet me in Walsall to visit the Art Gallery and Arboretum,” I received as a text from a sweet woman I have met at meet-ups twice before.

“It’s disgustin'” “It’s alright, cud be worse.” “There’s just nothing there.” Similar commendations from Brummies who have never been to Walsall as I heard from Southerners who have never been to Birmingham. “Have you been there?” “No.” Well then, your opinion must be very accurate I’m sure.

I take a photo of the approaching train comparing the sight with the trains that approached me in India. India has left such a strong impression on me, I still think of her often. (I think most Indians consider India a “she”.) The gleaming structure approaches the platform VERY slowly, leaving me holding my camera up to my face for much longer than I would have expected. So slow that it could easily stop very short if someone were to do something stupid, incredibly safe approach. “Quite a contrast to Indian trains,” I share with the girl beside me, “the ones I rode were not able to close their doors and people hung outside.” “That does sound quite different.” “People were jumping off the train before it even came to a stop,” I added.

From Nottingham, this girl with long, curly cranberry-blonde hair moved to Birmingham to do her PHD. I sit closely enough on the train as to be able to chat with her from across the aisle, I had hoped we could continue our discourse and she was happy to do so. Two other gentlemen join in the conversation. A student of the Birmingham Conservatoire is going to Walsall to try-out the pipe organ at Walsall’s Town Hall before being part of a group performance there tomorrow. He has never been to Walsall. Another gentleman sitting behind me overhears me explain how it is that I come to be where I am today, on a train from Birmingham to Walsall. Sometime after becoming single I sold my business and my home and now completely untied I am traveling the world. “I’m trying to start a development business,” he starts, “oh no, this is my stop.” “Look-up Launch48,” I tell him, “It could be useful to you, it’s a weekend conference where people form groups to brainstorm and set-up businesses in the course of 48 hours. It could be a really good start for you. . . .” and he is away.

The lovely PHD student exits where the University of Birmingham has a suburban campus and the young organist and I chat until the end. “What are you playing tomorrow?” “Something nasty, I really don’t like it.” He tells me what it’s called but I don’t recognise it. I guess something modern. For a pipe organ. One doesn’t really think of modern and pipe organ together, but I suppose why not. “How did you choose it?” “Oh, I had no choice, they told me what I have to play.”

We exited the station onto the high street 20 minutes early. After he gets directions to the Town Hall from a friendly local we part ways. There is more than one exit and we did not decide where to meet because texting makes one lazy that way. “Where are u?” “I’m at . . .” “Okay, walk to your left see you in a minute.” That’s what usually happens.

“I’m here, where should we meet?”
“Unable to send.”
“Unable to send.”
“Unable to send.”

I enter the Carphone Warehouse located right at the exit where I am standing. I don’t have any signal but I know I have credit on this pay-as-you-go phone that I got from ee. “Do you work with T-Mobile?” I ask. “We can top-up T-Mobile.” “My phone isn’t working, can you take a look?” An Indian woman accepts my phone, “You have no connection.” She then goes through the very highly-technical process of removing the battery and SIM card, replacing, and repowering the phone. “It’s back now, I don’t know why it disappeared. Do you want me to check your balance?” “Sure.” She presses some buttons and an automated voice tells us, “You – have – 8 – pounds – 68 – pence. For – more – information – press – 1. To – hang – up – press – 2” or something like that.

“I might as well top-up, can you add £20?” “Certainly, Sir.” “You should take your phone to ee if you continue to have problems, they are just down the high street, just turn right after you go out.”

“Thanks very much.” “You’re very welcome, Sir.”

Outside I run into Clare who is climbing the steps towards the entrance of the Shopping Arcade in which the station is located. “Hi Ya!”

Well that was good, I guess I must have come to the most obvious spot. “Shall we go right to the gallery?” she asks. “Absolutely.”

I really like pedestrian high streets in Great Britain. People walking and lingering and meeting-up on lovely cobbled spaces without the noise and intrusion of vehicular traffic. I cannot understand why these areas are so rare in North America, would it kill traffic to close off one central street to cars? Imagine the feeling in Toronto if Yonge Street was a long pedestrian park, still lined with the streets and shops, but closed to vehicles. Places to walk and sit and relax, all on lovely paving stones with the occasional sculpture, statue, and arrangements of flower gardens and shrubbery. Of course, there would need to be infrastructure on either side of the street to allow it, and at some intersections traffic would need to cross as it does here. It may be impossible for most of our cities as they are now, but imagine the warm and pleasant feeling it would create and does create throughout many cities of Europe and many places in the world. Birmingham has a great pedestrian zone. And so does Walsall.

20130521-172117.jpg

20130521-172132.jpg
The rain was really coming down as we walked along Walsall’s pedestrianized high street, but it was still a lovely time.

20130521-172301.jpg
The New Art Gallery Walsall.

We enter the New Art Gallery Walsall which sits at the top end of high street. A tall, modern structure it stands proudly in front of of a canal pool. Completed in 1999, the gallery was designed via an international competition and has become the largest building in the UK that was designed by a British architect under 40.

“What a pretty puppy!” Clare exclaims when I remove my scarf. I’m wearing one of those horrendous but fun and cheerful t-shirts that have life-like oversized animal faces on them. It’s hard to be looked at too seriously when wearing one of those. I feel like I must look approachable with such a silly shirt, will people judge me as someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, or will they just assume poor taste? I find that I get both reactions.

“Is it a girl or a boy puppy?” I hadn’t thought of this. Spot decision, “He’s a boy!” “What’s his name?” I look down to my chest in consideration. “He needs a name,” she informs me. His eyes, enormous from the enlarged reproduction, look very bright. “Sparkles,” I suggest. “Sparkle Pop!” Clare corrects. “Ahhh, cute little Sparkle Pop! Are you ready to see some pretty pictures?” she asks as we exit the lift to start the exhibition from the top, 4th floor.

David Rowan’s display of photographs will be shown here until July 21st, 2013. Although I would not call his collection, Pacha Kuti Ten, pretty, they are intriguing and I relate to them. I would want to take these kinds of photos myself were I a photographer. He is showing us the bowels of Birmingham. The underground facilities that are rarely seen by the public. I find this kind of thing fascinating. Below this lovely paving stone walkway with trees and flowers, beyond your view, is this dark sewer tunnel system. Is this former coal mine. Is this underground vault. Is this hidden canal.

The Tenth Pacha Kuti is an Inca prediction of apocalypse and translates as being when the world turns upside down. In this collection, Rowan shows us the subterranean world that lurks below us, just out of view as we go about our lives in Birmingham. To me, the message feels sort of like: your world does exist, but at the same time this also exists.

You can see a few of these images by clicking on the following link.

http://www.davidrowan.org/work/pacha-kuti-ten/

One level down we are greeted by a sculpture by Patricia Piccinini. This looks like a deformed animal made out of chicken flesh wearing a hat and training hair. “It’s not pretty!” Clare screams. It is very, very not pretty. Clearly it is not supposed to be. You really must click on this link to see the sculpture I’m referring to.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=patricia+piccinini&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XeyUUY_nCcXChAfL-oD4Bw&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672#biv=i%7C46%3Bd%7C5PHAhK6oH8-UEM%3A

Her other sculpture present is of a “sphinx”, also looks like a chicken-flesh blob. Her work is unique, interesting. I would recommend clicking on this link to see some more of it, I have never seen anything like it myself. (If the link doesn’t work, just Google Patricia Piccinini, this is a link to the Google Images.)

https://www.google.ca/search?q=patricia+piccinini&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XeyUUY_nCcXChAfL-oD4Bw&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672

Hanging on the wall in the same gallery are life-sized paintings of bulls by Mark Fairington.

http://www.markfairnington.com/page26.htm

These are part of the exhibition, “Nature of the Beast” which is on until June 30, 2013.

An installation piece by Tessa Farmer, a Birmingham-born artist who now resides in London, involves mostly insect taxidermy. Ants of various sizes on the open floor consuming a dead snake. Very creepy. A food chain of shell fish to insects. Hundreds of flying wasps, very unsettling to stand at, all dangling from invisible thread within reaching distance. Her piece de resistance, she has made little people using insect body parts.

Definitely worth a look by clicking on this link. If the link doesn’t work, just Google Tessa Farmer and you will see lots of images.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=tessa+farmer&client=safari&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=efCUUYyDPIeK7Ab6-YDgAQ&ved=0CDcQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=672

Polly Morgan creates very disturbing works with her taxidermy. But I like it. “It’s creepy! I want to touch it!” says a distressed Clare, who now realises that she has not brought me to Walsall to see some pretty art. It is all fantastically interesting though. Pretty pictures can only capture my attention for so long.

A small fox intertangled and pierced by octopus tentacles, a tentacle goes in one ear and out the other, a tentacle protrudes from an eye socket. Some taxidermed birds are involved as well.

<

20130521-172907.jpg

View more of Polly Morgan’s work by Googling her name.

This very cool video shows the amount of work that it takes to put-up such an exhibit. Less than 2 minutes, take a look, it’s interesting in a general museum way.

http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=Nonk2-KWkkQ&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DNonk2-KWkkQ

Perhaps the main exhibit was anatomy works by Damien Hirst. A photo of him when he was 16 provides a good introduction. At that time he used to visit the anatomy department at Leeds University where he worked on anatomical drawings. This photo is of a happy, young, smiling Damien with his face posed nearly touching the severed head of a cadaver that sits on a table. It is astonishing to behold. I don’t want to violate copyright, so again here is a link to the photo rather than the actual image:

http://www.damienhirst.com/with-dead-head

Overall I was very impressed with the New Art Gallery Walsall. If you live in Birmingham or somewhere nearby, it is definitely worth a visit.

http://www.thenewartgallerywalsall.org.uk/

Following our artistic appreciation we stop for lunch at the Costa location within the gallery. It’s a nice open space with windows onto the canal pool.

r />
20130521-173016.jpg
A view looking out the window of the Art Gallery.

Outside we walk down the high street and past a statue of Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison who was a hard-working and highly respected nurse in Walsall. When she died in 1878 she became the first woman in the country to have a statue commemorating her who wasn’t a member of the Royal Family.

<

20130521-173121.jpg

Near Pattison’s statue stands a more modern sculpture of a Hippo (See photo of me riding it.) and another of a head with tools of the trade in his/her very ample hair, or falling towards them, I’m not sure. This is not one of my favourite statues.

<

20130521-173121.jpg

20130521-173212.jpg

20130521-173224.jpg

Continuing our tour of Walsall we walk past the lovely Town Hall, a library and another museum, as we make our way to the Walsall Arboretum. We enter the park through the gates of a lovely brick structure that sits across from the school where Clare attended with all girls. She had earlier recognised her former uniform on a group of grade 7 girls who were drafting some of the sights in the animal exhibits in the museum as we wandered about.

br />
20130521-173351.jpg

20130521-173402.jpg
Walsall’s Town Hall.

20130521-173432.jpg
The entry gate to Walsall’s Arboretum.

20130521-173515.jpg
Fortunately, today’s rains had completely abated by the time we were walking about. Colours really come out just after rain too.

The arboretum is a gorgeous park surrounding a boating lake. Occupying 80 acres, it includes more than 200 species of tree and shrub. It also has a play grounds, a bowling green, a playhouse, and a children’s park. We enjoyed walking the circumference where we chatted and met some friendly dogs. And dog owners.

20130521-173647.jpg
When one thinks of Walsall, one thinks of the lovely central boating lake surrounded by trees, flowers, and fields where one can take a country walk very near to downtown.

20130521-173854.jpg
Okay, perhaps one doesn’t, but I do.

20130521-173937.jpg
It’s a perfect picnic spot also.

20130521-174018.jpg

20130521-174030.jpg
This is not a headless swan, he/she was grooming and each time his/her head came up I missed it.

20130521-174134.jpg

20130521-174145.jpg

20130521-174202.jpg
“Ma-ma, are you able to have guests?” Clare asks into her mobile phone. “You could make us a nice cup of tea?” Clare’s parents live nearby the arboretum. Wandering in their direction we meet a wonderful pit bull. Snoopy has a limp. Turns out that 3 years ago he was running full-throttle with a stick in his mouth. He’s a very heavy dog and when the stick suddenly caught on the ground it went right into him through the back of this mouth. Sounds like it was touch-and-go with some major surgeries and they needed to borrow a leg muscle as part of the reconstruction. Poor little guy. He’s as happy as could possibly be now though, he loves his cuddles!

We greet a welcoming retired school teacher upon entering Clare’s home. Clare’s Mum taught young ones, primary school, before keeping herself active with various different activities. Today she had been shopping in Birmingham, bought some clothes. “Don’t tell Father,” she jokes, kind-of, to Clare. She seems young for her age, the high activity of being in the classroom every day has done her well. Running around with children must be better than sitting behind a computer all day when it comes to one’s well-being. “One had to be high energy,” she offers as way of explanation. So true.

Clare’s Dad returns from playing snooker and after some friendly banter retires somewhere to listen to organ music. “He usually plays it much louder, ” Clare tells me. “Guess what Darren’s new name is,” Clare tells them, “Blossom.” Yes, she has decided this to be my appropriate nickname while we were sauntering through the park where there were lots of apple and cherry blossoms. Mostly it was in response to me telling her that in Scotland some of the girls at the office called me “Petal”. The guys called me “Daz” or “Dazzer” (pronounced da-zah).

Our teas long gone Clare walks me back to the station to catch my train back to Birmingham. A lovely day.

20130521-174312.jpg

20130521-174412.jpg