Entry: Cinq Un Quatre... Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's the city of a million church towers. It's the city of the forked tongue - once split evenly along St.Laurent boulevard into an Anglophone West and a Francophone East, now muddled in an Allophone melange. It's the city of the meticulously beautiful - conscious enough of appearances to border on fakeness - and the flamboyantly care-free. It's the city of escaliers - snaking stairways on which the snow falls in sodden silence on white wintry nights. It's the city of the beastly northern cold - colder than Moscow during frigid February nights. It's the city of laughter, fireworks and summer jazz. It's the city of subterranean lights - where consumerist kitsch tunnels through miles of underground shopping malls like a glowing earthworm. It's the city of the "biblio-ambulists" - those with the uncanny ability to navigate through crowded public spaces while engrossed in a book. It's the city of Haitian and Lebanese cabbies, Chinese & Persian deppaneur owners, Indian restaurateurs, Albanian hairdressers and million other enterprises from a million other corners of the planet. It's the city where the weekend party begins on Thursdays in the numerous pubs and clubs on St.Denis, St.Laurent & Crescent. Beneath it all, Montreal is the city of dropped gloves...

On any given winter day, as you keep your head down and gingerly navigate the icy pavements, you can find a few dozen gloves punctuating your path. Colorful baby mittens, sleek and stylish leather gloves, thick fingerless ones from hands that dread the cold, functional ones that'd snap snugly unto workman fingers... Soft inner-gloves fashioned out of New Zealand Merino... Water-proof over-gloves...  They all lie on the sidewalk, in slowly thawing pools of icy snow, often trampled under heavy snowboots, or on rare occasion, fresh and bright like unlikely flowers in the snowbanks... You may see them, you may not. Owners might look for them, they might not. Kind souls might hang them up like lynched outlaws at cafes and offices or truant young feet might kick then around in the slush... But the gloves are there - strewn along the city's sidewalks amongst cigarette buts like little amputated hands...

Montreal has a thousand stories to share if you'd light up a fire and stretch out with a drink! Of the long-forgotten Iroqouis Hochelaga at the foot of what would later become Mount Royal, of the French trading outposts, of how enterprise sailed up the St.Lawrence and built it's capitalist defences against the North Wind, of the '60s socio-commercial heyday and Expo-67, of how the Canadiens once sent tremors through the ice of Montreal Forum and how they descended into relative oblivion like the city itself. If you are willing to listen, any long time Montrealer will wax eloquent in French, English or often both, of long hard winters, Viva Le Quebec Libre, bagels, the sixties and more... But are these the city's story? Doesn't Montreal live as much through the fast disappearing footprints on the fresh snow as it does in the timeless edifices of Vieux Montreal? Isn't a city's story best elucidated by what it forgets? Then, Montreal's story is best written on the wrinkled, withering, stamped out fingers of a zillion gloves...

There are tales that only the gloves can tell - tales that were never written and shall never be. Tales that float through ever fading voices until no tongue shall remember, no ear shall yearn for and no heart shall care... The tales of the millions who have called this city home over the years - their life, their lot, their joys and sorrows... While the city trundles past them in its staid linear journey through the years, the forgotten gloves still retain the warmth of hands in a parallel space-time continuum. They open doorknobs to take the tired home... They retrieve car keys in hasty thrusts into jacket pockets... They fumble clumsily to disentangle a cigarette from the pack... They hold waists gently when passionate lips can't wait to get home... They channel ancient wisdom through when the old hold young hands for a walk across the generations... And sometimes, when a Chinese hand shakes a Lebanese one, or a Peruvian a Quebecoise, the gloves learn to draw unseen strings across the seas and weave them into the city's tapestry. Oh, there are tales only the gloves can tell... Amidst all that we forget in winter's early evening darkness, they constantly murmur Montreal's tale into the howling wind...

I moved to Montreal on a pre-winter evening when freezing rain fell like incessant reproach. And for over two years now, I've called this beautiful city home. Predominantly French with an economy that's dwarfed by behemoths like NYC, Chicago or even Toronto, Montreal didn't seem to hold enough to sustain me through more than one winter. And yet, last night, as I stood out on a friend's porch in La Prairie, staring at Montreal's city-lights brightening the low, snow-laded ceiling in the Northern sky, I realized I don't want to move.

I've learnt over these past years that I'd probably never be able to drop anchor anywhere. There's the global economy and the restless race we all run... There's the unmistakeable Indianess (or SriLankanness or whatever) that sometimes tugs at the heart pulls it South-East... There's family and the hope that one day we'd indeed settle down in rural India that B and I both so love.

But for now Montreal is home. In her own way, B has made a whole bunch of friends... Indians, Canadians, Chinese, Moroccans, Italians, Quebecois, Lebanese, French  - they all drop by for magical evenings of rich Italian red wine and B's excellent food, where we all talk about our distant homes. During these nights, our varied pasts somehow morph into a common dream that we all shared the previous night - full of South Indian rice-fields, Sezchuan grandmothers, beaches in Casablanca, orange orchards near Beirut, soccer evenings in Rome, they all mesh into a dream that zooms into starker recollection as we all speak of it. And slowly yet surely, the gloves weave us with unseen fingers into an unknown fabric.

May be some of us are just not meant to drop anchor and stay... May be all we can afford to leave behind are a few gloves on snowy sidewalks... Montreal and it's beautiful people have kept my tropical heart warm through three winters and I'd like to stay forever. But if I don't, there's a couplet already written for me in the black and grey gloves of which I lost one each in the last few months. And on we all walk, me with my mismatched gloves thrust in my pockets, towards yet another chapter of the human tale.

Orbiter Dictum: "Cinq un quatre" is 514 - the area-code for Montreal.


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March 10, 2011   10:31 AM PST
Any chance of Atticus returning to this domain?

Or care to share the new one, if there is one? :|
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February 18, 2010   01:12 PM PST
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December 29, 2009   03:49 PM PST
Atticus... It's almost been a year... getting super starved for your writing...
Or is it that since you're getting 'comments' from directly across the room, you have no incentive to blog anymore :)
Really miss your writing..do come back!
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February 18, 2009   02:39 AM PST
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February 8, 2009   12:31 PM PST

The way this are going, I am more rooted in cyberspace than I can ever hope to be in the physical one... :D
February 8, 2009   12:31 PM PST

Many thanks for checking back frequently... I'll really try to be more regular this time around :)
February 6, 2009   07:39 PM PST
Yippee ! Atticus is back :)

"I'd probably never be able to drop anchor anywhere" - You mean you're not always in Maycomb county ?!!
February 6, 2009   06:46 AM PST
wonderful to see something new on this page after such a long time!
Do write more often... :)
February 2, 2009   12:15 PM PST

Many thanks :)

Hoping to write at least once a month... Damn, I need to stay sober on weekends :D
January 31, 2009   01:40 PM PST
Beautifully written! ...Your Blogs are a pleasure to read! Looking forward to many more! :)
January 29, 2009   11:29 PM PST
Merci beacoup, Madame...
Miss my gloves though...
January 29, 2009   06:04 PM PST
Such beautiful beautiful post :) Loved it mate;)

I love the last paragraph. Truly its a city of beautiful people..
January 28, 2009   10:45 PM PST

Thanks :)
January 28, 2009   10:45 PM PST

Hmmm... (sic)

The ellipsis is an old habit mate. Usually, I correct it before posting. Not much time for that this time around...
January 28, 2009   10:43 PM PST
@ Santhosh:

Took me a while to finish this one mate... Hopefully, there'll be more to write in the coming days...

January 28, 2009   09:51 PM PST
Beautiful article. You have given an interesting picture of Montreal :-) Looking forward to reading more.
January 28, 2009   06:24 PM PST
Such Joy... from a simple flick of Atticus' pen :)
Write more often buddy, it does bring cheer to a few of us far far away (even though you seem to have picked my '...' habbit)
And please try to send a return ticket Bombay-Montreal over if you can :>
January 28, 2009   11:54 AM PST
good to see something on your blog after a loooooooooong time !!

i enjoyed reading it .

Reminded me of saturday evenings at RS,Bangalore :)

January 28, 2009   10:23 AM PST

Hello Shreya. Thanks a bunch!
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Your writing is jus beautiful... Looking forward to more!

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