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Montreal Journal: Bridges

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The gates to both Quebec City and  Montreal are bridges, the traceries I remember from a childhood in England's industrial north; paradoxes, engineered to hold thousands of tons, yet delicate in the sky, and reaching, reaching upward.  The Tyne bridge in the north of England opens like the clasp on an expensive necklace, and it is white like ice, snow, clouds; things insubstantial.  Yet, as with so many new bridges, the old bridge exists by its side, and people still use it.  Blackened, crouching, the seams and planks filled with memories and soot and ingrained dust leading back in time.  In Quebec City we entered on an old bridge like this; copper brown and thick and faceted with mysterious planes and intersecting bars of iron - le vieux pont.  We departed over the new bridge, le Pont Pierre LaPorte; slender and reaching for the hope of people; harmony, grace.  And the gate of Montreal, our destination, is another bridge - Pont Jacques Cartier.  It leads from the cornfields and velvet cattle of les Cantons de L'Est, the Eastern Townships, where we visited my husband's family, to those Montreal streets Juliette and I have studied, for months, on our maps.

So many parts of what we call our infrastructure appear as concessions; we forego beauty in the name of function.  Bridges are not like this.  From the tiny concrete bridge over a smalltown stream; a bridge that might have 1967 stamped in it; to a swinging pedestrian bridge like the one in the abandoned settlement of LaManche on Newfoundland's southern shore; to a bridge that is gateway to a city like Montreal; the ruling principle is graceful strength.  On one side stand old trees and mountains.  On the other, a city, or the dream of a city.  Because as you approach the connection, the city rises behind it in receding ribbons of rose, then mauve, then blue.  The water underneath is the imagination sleeping between the two realities.  The water is the mother of the dream on each side, and the bridge is her daughter.

My heart lifts every time I travel over the smallest bridge.  Here is a moment, longer than a moment; a span.  Around me rise the beautiful lattices and rails the designer dreamed into being; a kind of protection from the rest of the world for this span of time that exists without seconds or minutes.  The span of time and iron exists as an unbroken bar of gold, of light.  For there is light over and under and around; the bridge is filled with sky, and underneath the bridge is the breath of the water, the light of the river.  Twinkling, flickering, and insubstantial.  I would love to stand on a bridge even if there was no destination on the other side.  Just for the airborne dream.

Yet there is another side.  And for us, the other side has spires, and markets, and churches.  It has a new language we will have to learn, and all the nuances of meaning that go with that language.  Language contains more than the definition of its words.  It contains the gesture of my husband as he talks to an old friend about tomorrow's construction holiday; the start of a two week break for everyone in Quebec who might build bridges or any kind of building.  The words mean build, and hammer, and truck, and scaffold.  But the sounds of the words include other meanings: five a.m. coffee with the crew before work starts, size twelve boots that climb a scaffold like cats' feet, the three loaves stuffed with olives in the lunchbox of Gaetan, and how he will also eat a full box of creme glace.

The other side of the bridge has botanical gardens.  Knots of bread filled with almond paste in an Italian grocery. The oldest library in Canada. Bicycles for sale on the porches of Mile End.  But not yet.  The bridge is a span of time and space before these things.  Like the map we studied before we saw the spires, the river, the biodome; the bridge is an abstract intersection of lines and angles of vision.  The map was made of paper, the bridge of steel.  Yet they are each still part of the realm of imagination.  Perhaps the city itself is as well; who can know the real city, since every city is the product of the collective imagination.  This will be harder to remember, once we pass over the bridge, but for now, we hang in air over water, and everything glimmers. 
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