Bohemian Rhapsody in the British Empire Building

This afternoon I walked around Place d’Armes, where Wolfe would have seen the French lay down their arms if he’d come back in 1760 to complete the unfinished business that killed him on the Heights of Abraham. I’ve walked there a few times since I moved to Montreal eight years ago, usually to accompany some sightseeing friend. Today as always a painter daubed a canvas portraying Notre Dame Basilica. He was at the point of signing it and giving it a title, but needed advice from his friend on how to write Montreal at the bottom. Then he needed her to spell Canada.

This was beside the domed Bank of Montreal Head Office, part of the square where a plaque boasts of Maisonneuve killing the chief of the Iroquois “with his own hands” in 1644. I walked around with a feeling of dread—the heaviness of armaments, force and bloodshed oppresses the square. Its stones, pavement and statues testify to centuries of violence that a person can still feel.

A man and his horse and cart wait to give tourists a ride but this is January. There’s a bag of carrots on the seat. If the horse finally gets a fare his shoes will clop on paving stones the city has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore. Some of the original stones came over in Wolfe’s time as ballast on ships. I walk on them to a magnificent wedge-shaped building with the name British Empire Building built into an oblique wall with pilasters and mullioned window arches. I’ve never noticed this building before, and wonder if I’ve dreamt it into being by thinking about Wolfe night and day.

It’s a café inside. I order chai and a slice of chocolate pear cake. The plaster-work is scrolled with incredible intricacy around the windows, on the ceilings, even in the toilets. Leaves, scallops, whorls and orbs—Freddie Mercury belts out Bohemian Rhapsody. Then the Beatles—All you Need is Love. A real British Empire serenade.

Wolfe's dressing gown

I'm studying James Wolfe so I can write a book Knopf has commissioned. It's to be inspired by 232 letters he wrote, mostly to his mother Henrietta, from the day he enlisted as a child soldier in the British army to his last letter dated two weeks before his death in the battle on Quebec's Heights of Abraham. The letters are housed in the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library in Toronto: five floors of volumes in a vaulted, pentagonal space whispering old secrets.

I'll study many words in the coming months, on paper stained and rendered transparent by ink or sealing wax and the touch of long-gone hands. But here I'll share my drawings and sketches. This first one is a pencil sketch of the white quilted dressing gown in which Wolfe is said to have been wrapped shortly before his burial.

Chat Perdu, a poster and a poem

I saw this poster then wrote the poem:

O chat perdu
dear chat perdu
upon a light-pole poster
Your photo tells me plainly, you
despised your loving master

whose dainty flowered
(I see its leafy end)
undermined his best appeal;
he drove you round the bend

Your eyes malign
as do the lamps
of any cat worth knowing
all sentimental lullabies,
all love that leaves one owing

You're never coming back, it's plain
you're fine where now you prowl
comfortless, ecstatic, free
from Home's sweet horror foul

(no subject)

Wore backpack to Ile des Rapides and back, about 11k, in the rain, to test new raincoat and see if I could make the distance without collapsing, in preparation for my summer walks. Said hello and welcome to wild parsley and foxglove shoots, pink leaf-buds on the wild rose twigs, glittery drakes and their demure ducks, redwinged blackbirds, a longstanding heron, and a bird who appeared subdued but turned out when in flight to have a wild yellow lining in his coat and a flashy white pocket square. Met hundreds if not thousands of snails on the glorious mudbank, shining in the rain and looking very much like entities with prettier and more efficient backpacks than mine. Found a bird cafe on the island in company of ravenous goose and fat robins - sat and devoured my brown rice, hummous, kale, cabbage and umeboshi, and a hemp heart buckwheat honey energy ball, and a cheese and onion sandwich for Virginia Woolf. The backpack weighs 15 lbs with my tent and gear in it, and we'll see how my muscles are in the morning. Will I be able to walk the 120k from Baie St. Paul to Tadoussac this summer?

Sweet Smoke Sugar Shack

The maples in this part of the world are giving their sap to the sugar shack workers. Melting creek, wagon wheel, boiling sap, inferno, gauges and sugar on snow. We had the blessing of visiting one hard-working family in the Eastern Townships this week: at other times in the year the parents and sons produce vegetables, meat and honey. But in these few days when nights freeze and days are warming, the sap runs.  New syrup has a fresh blooming golden flavour mixed with the smoky maple taste, happening right now. Gratitude to the trees, to the family, and to springtime in Quebec.

Good Friday Bird

Halfway through my cafe au lait this bird appeared. I drew it in the sketchbook. I'd been fooling around with the golden spiral on the previous page. The barista and the baker came to see. They said the bird is a sign, like in tea leaves.

(no subject)

On BC's Discovery Coast I lost Montreal's snow and found Sequoias, hearts of fern, carpets of emerald moss, a meadow full of bridal blossom, then the beach. And on that beach, someone had made a little hut. And on that hut, they had scratched a sign. I enjoyed this very much. So did three eagles who came to visit me, and a lamenting loon. Thank you, Quadra Island.

A Emerald
B tangle
C blossoms
D beach
DD hobbit hole
E avocado

Clown in the new Hood

I've moved from the hood where tea comes in a glass bearing a peacock, to Verdun, where an off-duty clown waits for his bus, gigantic red shoes perched on his suitcase. He's off to sell ice cream for the day. A woman pours cereal for starlings on cafe tables from a box she found on the sidewalk. Behind the arena lovers throw snowballs at each other from a pile left by the Zamboni.

tea in a glass

LTD Crown Victoria, Dijon & Lilac

It's awning week at Jean-Talon Market - the annual time when vendors set up poles and awnings to move produce out into springtime. Here's a Crown Victoria station wagon full of awnings and poles, in front of awnings and poles that have just been set up. I saw this station wagon last spring, same time, same place. I guess LTD here means Lilac tops Dijon.

ltd crown victoria station wagon 300 dpi