An afternoon of Art

Musical accompaniment Claude Debussy –
The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, La fille aux cheveux de lin

I decided it was time to break free of the last 3 week’s illness and actually get out for the day, do something fun, maybe even spoil myself. Besides which you must be getting sick of pictures of berries by now. My “plan” had me doing a full day trip out to the Olympic site and Planetarium, but a sleep-in after binge watching Season 3 of The 100 till 4am put paid to that. So I headed downtown for some French culture instead.

First stop was a bookshop near McGill to get a text for my Paris seminar – thankfully they had an English version. Armed with that, I headed up Sherbrooke to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal

And of course, his men. No prizes for guessing who has the privilege here.

Continue reading “An afternoon of Art”

Summer Sunday


The soundtrack to this post is Rufus Wainwright, Hallelujah, from Shrek, of course

After 11 days stuck around the apartment with flu that had me sounding alternately like Darth Vader, or a pack-a-day smoker, I felt well enough yesterday to head back up through the streets of Little Italy to Jean-Talon market. I just love the curbside gardens, they’re gorgeous. I even sung aloud to my headphones on the way! IMG_3111

I mean, LOOK at that garlic!!

Had a great coffee, ok and a chocolate croissant. Got kale and kohlrabi and tahini and lemons and made an amazing salad. Bought berries and incredible hot smoked salmon and mackerel. I mean aren’t they the most adorable little squash in their baskets? All in all a sunny Sunday, something to celebrate with many smiles, flowers, bees and berries.

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah…



It was not fear that helped our ancestors to collaborate and build civilisations.

I think this is my fourth day in bed with flu, it’s all a bit of a haze of codeine and coughs. That and the regular peels of church bells, I don’t know just what they’re signalling but I like them. They’re calming, regular. At 1645 Saturday they went on for ages. 

I think there was a thunderstorm at one stage. I made sure I’m wearing pj’s for the forensic pathologist, and I staggered out to feed the cat so he wouldn’t eat my corpse.  Have managed to shower a couple of times. I’ve had some stupid fevered dreams, but nothing as stupid as the news pages seem to tell me has been happening out there in the ‘real’ – WTF?  A coup attempt in Turkey, now hundreds of soldiers are arrested after the leaders flee. More Police shot in the US. Australians march in solidarity with US Black lives matter movement and I wonder if they also think to protest that black Australian lives matter, or to do anything tangible about it. Another “honour” killing of a woman in South Asia. More people are traumatised after Nice, more people implicated, blamed, shamed… Oh and people everywhere are escaping reality chasing Pokemon Go? Really??
Continue reading “Humanity”


Jean said this week “If a thing happens twice, it is possible it can happen a third time.” Well, we just had our third national parade of the month – albeit impromptu this time and any holiday tomorrow will be sick-leave. There is clearly a large Portuguese community in Montreal and they were all out celebrating some soccer victory this evening. I don’t know.

Anyway, I went for a walk to investigate the horn blasts I could hear, maybe get a coffee, and 9,000 steps later I’m home with a headache. Up close the horns were more constant than a Mumbai traffic jam. Crazy, good-natured fun. The line of cars jammed along Saint-Urbain must have been more than 2km long at one stage. All along people were out on their balconies waving. Hundreds of people were walking like me along the side of the street, in the bike lanes, dodging through the cars. Everyone was happy, laughing. Just crazy. Bet I’m not the only one with a headache tonight though, and mine’s just from the noise. But why would you stay home on a warm night when there’s a spicy Portuguese party in the streets?


Huron-Wendake Village

Here’s another late post, visited the Huron-Wendake first nation village outside Quebec City on 2nd July and had an amazing experience. Part of the delay has been not really knowing just how to write about it.

We arrived in the rain and quickly joined the next English language tour. I suspect we were the only native English speakers in the group of Chinese, Spanish and other tourist nations. As our group coalesced I felt a little like a duckling floated forward, encouraged along by the gentle beat of mother duck’s wings, zhushed into the longhouse for a welcome dance. The Wendake people are not nomadic and so their buildings are permanent structures. Longhouses, we were told could house up to 40 people under the management of a matriarch. They are a matrilocal people and the women would select the male leader of the community.

These are my photos from inside the longhouse of the welcome dance:

The elders would sleep on the floor, under the level of the worst of the smoke. Younger people would live on the mid layer, the top layer being for storage. The people ate 80% vegetables, with agriculture dominated by the “three sisters”: corn, beans and squash. Seeds were planted in small mounds above the ground so the people did not penetrate mother earth. Continue reading “Huron-Wendake Village”

More Market Magnificence

After a huge week and a big sleep-in, I decided it was time for a soul (and fridge) restoring trek to the market. Strengthened in body by the calamari and in spirit by the amazing sights and smells, I dodged showers and now I’m home with berries, baguettes, rhubarb and strawberry jam, baby carrots & hummus, and hot smoked salmon and mackerel. Should keep me going for a day or two. Just wish I could think of something my tiny kitchen could manage to use some of the amazing mushrooms (even if Cuz thinks they’re imported!) Garlic, clams, cauliflower, potatoes (amazing, varied and picturesque just not pictured) and mushrooms…. add some cream and it’s starting to sound like a soup.

The things that look like green cherry tomatoes are incredibly sour (I forget their names) as are the cute fruit inside the Chinese lanterns. Not so palatable straight up, but dead gorgeous to look at. Oh and yes, those boxes of strawberries, the sweetest strawberries you’ve ever tasted, they’re $10 each.

In case you’re wondering I got myself a punnet of the mixed berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, cherries and blackberries.

Canada Day

Well it’s a week since Canada Day on the 1st of July, sorry for the delay posting, been busy! Held exactly a week after Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Canada Day had some similarity, I mean the same Chinese community marching band was there for both, and it’s always good to see a line of French Horns approaching down the road. But really the Canada Day parade had quite a different tone. Quebec National Day was all about pride in Quebec – history, liberty, fraternity – we are Quebec. Everyone celebrated their joy, their freedom and unityIMG_2490 as Quebecois. This was a positive, alive nationalism. Canada Day instead celebrated the migrant communities who are Montreal, who are the tapestry of Canada today. That may not sound like much of a difference, a subtle change of emphasis, but it led to a totally transformed experience.

You see Canada Day celebrates the migrant communities, no matter how big or small, who bring to their Canadian identity a connection, a continuity from their tradition, a wild, proud and empowered diversity of colour, vibrant pulsing sounds, long standing cultural traditions, dancing, drumming, costumes. And every group waved Canadian flags, had Canadian flags transferred on their cheeks, called “Happy Canada Day” and was proud to celebrate in their own way their new shared cultural heritage as Canadians. You see these communities are proud to be Canadian AND Sikh, Iranian, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mongolian, Caribbean, African, Bolivian, Indian, Indonesian, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Scottish, Irish and more. And Canada encourages that pride and empowers the celebration of holding fluid, multiple identities. Even the Comicon characters brought their virtual community identity and marched.

The Filipino nurse on the footpath beside me enthusiastically welcomed and cheered every single group. She would have embraced every marcher if she could have. Hugging, shaking hands, yelling a thousand times “Happy Canada Day!”  She filmed the whole parade on her phone to show her family in the Philippines. She became quite indignant when one group of brightly festooned ladies went past talking to each other, taking selfies, offering no response to her “Happy Canada Day!” “They are not nice” she declared to me, pointing her flag angrily. “They are only there for themselves, not for Canada.” Continue reading “Canada Day”

A Turkish Muslim, a Canadian Hindu and an Australian agnostic go into a Catholic Basilica

Early in the morning idiots in bright coloured lycra run up and down the oratory stairs to destroy their knees. The humidity is intense. In the séance the French continues to wash around and over: it is obdurate I am impermeable. Yesterday we had several sessions in English and I am promised more today. But for now the French drones on. Right now a lawyer is talking about human rights, I think. I wish I could understand.

After class yesterday we ascended the holy mount, 14 flights of stairs according to my FitBit. The edifice 97 meters in total height. Built in 1904 it’s a very austere design. A barren, dark, masculine tomb – womb of the world, harsh and sharp edged, perched on top of the world, thrusting, penetrating the god’s domain.

I wanted to sing into the vacuum. To break the frozen muzzle on human expression. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

Half way down, burrowed into the mount, amid the foundations of the mausoleum, there is a hidden space: the female, throbbing blood of belief. A uterus of faith rimmed by external fallopian staircases. In this womb candles flicker red and green. Prayers are offered. Hundreds of walking sticks and crutches are left behind as souls are strengthened. A smaller, older, more intimate place of communion. I took no photographs here, instead left candles lit and offered feelings of hope. If such a god exists, I trust those I have lost are held close in her womb. Continue reading “A Turkish Muslim, a Canadian Hindu and an Australian agnostic go into a Catholic Basilica”

Stairway to knowledge

Musical accompaniment – Pergolesi Stabat Mater
as per Jesus of Montreal

It is many years since I’ve spent as much time staring at a cross as I have since I arrived in Montreal. You see St Joseph’s Oratory is outside the window of the lecture room where I’m spending a second week in summer school… summer school delivered in French. Mont Royal is approximately to my east and so the Oratory begins the day with its shadow facing me. With a 4 am sunrise I’m not here early enough to see a silhouette but still the shadows lean toward me in greeting.


The sun processes through the sky and the shadows retreat. The shadow cast by the cross on the green copper dome moves slowly like the hours of French lectures. Tourists climb the flights of stairs. I’m five stories up and they rise above me, three, maybe four more stories to the entry. They are brightly clad dots rising and descending, ebbing and flowing. Traffic in the lower foreground moves silently through dappled green boulevards. Wind blows through the tree tops. The lectures continue, more unapproachable than a Catholic god in his high house. Canada’s largest church looks back at me. Turrets. Dome. Arched stained glass windows dark with lead tracing brown in the strong summer sun.

Kids run across on one of the terrace levels. More tourists climb, sun beating on those who did not come in the morning while the hundreds of stairs and the entry were in shade. They approach the huge pillared porch, the brass doors, inside into the cool, calm, unintelligible divine knowledge. I guess some light candles, small points of momentary enlightenment like the occasional word of French that I recognise. The odd cloud breaks the blue of the vast sky but brings no cooling relief. The sky is different here. Wider, higher up, is the cross holding it further away? The impassive stone monument sits, majestic, impossibly big. Silent. A minor basilica. Am I looking at the cross or is it looking at me?

The huge, deep morning shadows are gone, scared to the far side of the mount, all that are left are the dark black lines solid around the southern edges, sun far in the northern summer sky. The tourists too are gone. I expect now we have those devotees who having fled city and office, racing homeward bound, pause to breathe, climb the steps and contemplate their small place in the enormity of a divine universe. I too breathe. My head hurts, my neck a knot of tendons and pain. Not sure if I want to punch something or run up the mountain. Excluded. Unreal. At least the pain of a run would be real. I feel like the scaffolding on the side of the oratory. I mean it may be impressive scaffolding, but from here it looks like a tiny extraneous piece of clutter interrupting the elegant, imposing whole. Extraneous. I refuse to contemplate any implication that I deserve only a small place outside the divine universe of knowledge. I breathe.

This angle of the sun makes the oratory look like a 3D paper card cut out, baked into flat hard surfaces by the hot late afternoon sun. Is that all that our knowledge is? Flat layers, overlapping perhaps, a huge false edifice hot under the glaze, lacking substance. The cross has lost all detail against the flat blue sky. The detail of the séances eludes me. Excluded was wrong, I feel more dislocated, fractured, disconsonant. I’m so fractious I could pick a fight with a saint.

… so I came home and fed the cat.



Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste

In the shower this morning I was thinking back over yesterday’s parade and there’s a reflexive post script to add. It was a long shower, I also thought about Brexit, but we may leave that for another time. Québec’s Fête Nationale started life as a very religious holiday. In France midsummer festivals and the feast day for John the Baptist were combined. As the patron saint of Québec, St John’s day became a day of national pride in this very Catholic province. It’s only in recent times that religion has faded from the parade program, and national Québec history and tradition, a strong and proud identity has come to prominence. And even the day’s name changed from the Feast of St John to Québec National Day.