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” Bonjour Monsieur Morrison”, our waiter sayss in a familiar tone, “Quelle belle journée, nes pas?”
“Oh for sure Damien”, Morrison reply’s.
“And what will Monsieur have?”
The question now directed at me, and wanting to be polite, I forget that it is unnecessary to speak anything other than my native language and with a certain trepidation, after all the city was still full of Parisians. I respond with, “un petit cafe pour moi Damien.”
“Parfait” is his reply and as he turns he adds “Je reviendrai bientôt avec votre command.”
I look at Morrison. He seems unable to sit still, twitching, fidgeting and turning to look behind himself. It was unlike his coolness to be so agitated.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I said, becoming irritated with his restlessness.
“Is there something special about this woman… it’s not Courson is it?”
“No man. Last I heard she was back in Orange County.”
“Well who is it -anyone special? What’s her name?”
“Well if you must know man, her name is Carmen Cansino.”
“Who is Carmen Cansino? Never heard of her. Is this like a high school sweetheart or something?’
“No she is not a high school sweetheart and you’ll see when you see her.”
So we chatted for a while. Morrison was distracted however, and I repeated that it must be someone special, only serving to irritate him more.
He reminded me to keep my questions to a minimum when she arrived.
“Morrison, what does it matter? It’s not as though you’ll have paparazzi buzzing around you snapping pictures and hounding your girlfriend Carmen Casino!”.
“Cansino”, he says, hanging on to his feeling of irritation.
“Cansino… whatever.” I shot back. No sooner did I do this that Morrison bolted up straight and tall. It was like he grew two inches in a millisecond.
In all the worlds and all the universes the effect women still have on men seems impossible. Made me think that maybe Pound was right. Maybe physicist could never understand the half of what poets did.
I looked up to see why Morrison had shot up with such military precision. I thought for a brief second that Morrison’s father had found us and as is so often the case with children, Morrison had regressed to a habit he had once reserved for the authority figure that was Rear Admiral George Morrison. But as my eyes adjusted to the sun back-lit shadowy figure that now loomed over our table, I was treated to a statuesque beauty with ivory white skin and a mane of red hair lustrously glowing in the sunlight.
This woman was an unbelievable beauty. In fact, I had never seen anyone that beautiful. Thing is, she had the continence of a movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood, except that she wore white sneakers, no shoe laces and no socks, boot cut jeans and a white t-shirt. Still, she moved like she was wearing the most elegant couture in Paris.
Now the thing about red heads was that they were either very attractive or very plain. Didn’t matter whether they were men or woman. Some years ago scientists from several reputable institutions came to the conclusion that red hair may be a legacy passed down to modern humans by our now extinct cousins the Neanderthals. It occurs to me as I look at this jaw dropping beauty sitting across from me; were Neanderthal communities blessed with prehistoric drop dead gorgeous red heads? Maybe the image of Raquel Welch standing in a fur bikini was not so farfetched. Maybe that’s why our Homo Sapien ancestors were “motivated” to procreate with the Neanderthals. Were the men equally attractive?, Could it be that there was some truth to the notion of the “handsome brute” passed on from generation to generation down through the ages? It’s origins in the prehistory of Homo Sapiens lost in its ancient mist?
Lost in my reverie, I forget myself and am forced to awkwardly extend my hand to Ms. Cansino. Morrison, looking for once a little embarrassed, not to mention agitated by my absent minded rudeness. He offers up the excuse that I am new to this reality and still somewhat disoriented.
“We’re all new at something Mr. Distelli” is her response, a wide and beautiful smile adding to the luminosity of her almond shaped eyes.
Hypnotized by her gaze I stand up and in a gesture that is an act of chivalry borrowed from a loose attachment to a forgotten medieval morality I compliantly kiss her hand.
“Oh, you’re from the middle ages, I was once wooed by a knight, he claimed to have accompanied William the Conquer to England in 1066. Dear Drew, he was always so chivalrous. Almost Cliché, isn’t it!?” a precocious smile revealing a certain self satisfaction. All the while even in this indiscretion her instincts told her she would be forgiven.
“No I’m sorry to disappoint you Ms. Cansina but I occupied the other realm in the later part of the twentieth and early part of the twenty first centuries.”, I said, catching myself not to sound indignant by her mildly arrogant disposition.
“Please call me Carmen forgive my presumption, it’s just that that degree of gallantry is seldom offered by any man coming from any time past the nineteenth century. And more’s the pity I dare say.”
I could tell watching from corner of my eye Morrison was getting irritated by the attention that Carmen and I were sharing. While I deferred Morisson’s irritation Carmin was undeterred.
“So you’re a contemporary of Jimmy’s?’
“No” I replied with no uncertain relief that I had been saved from the vagaries of the 1960s.
“Then, you weren’t alive yet?”
“No I was alive, I was just not old enough to participate.”
I am on my way to meet with Morrison at his apartment in the Marais district. My route will take me along the right bank of the Seine. I decide it would be fun and admittedly a little nostalgic to browse among the book and magazine stalls that are there. The stroll is a bibliophiles’ dream and in my mortal existence I could waste time and not a small quantity of money among the vendors. But happily there is no longer a limitation of money or more importantly time.
When I was in Ottawa, time like money held an inordinate sway over my life. Most people, my own friends and family, Elie included, would have insisted that while it was unpalatable or even distasteful, “it is, what it is”. Or my favourite “it’s reality”. But clearly reality is not necessarily “what it is”. Even in the universe where quantum phenomena (or whatever this is) were not so “in your face”, the underpinning of that universe was nevertheless built on a an edifice of quantum dynamics. In that previous life this was not always an acceptable disposition to take towards my, or anyone’s responsibilities.
The illusion that “time is money” is plausible only as its own justification. Wages, interest rates, or charges, stock values and return on investment are all predicated on a notion that there is a standard value to something based on it’s relationship to a money-time calculus. And finally, this calculus is then applied to the variable of greed that suggests that a person has a certain propensity to spend ‘x’ amount more on something, to possess it. And all this verbosity packaged under the title Marginality and then subdivided into, Marginal Utility, Marginal Value and Marginal Costs. The result more often than not was Marginal Jobs, Marginal Communities and Marginal People.
I wonder, “What about finance or even economics?” How can we even have finance and economics when time doesn’t exist? It may be that knowing when is easier than explaining when. But being unaccustomed to this vernacular, thought and perception can be a little perplexing to say the least. If one is not careful, life and perception quickly becomes a mise-en-scène subject only to ones stream of consciousness. Reality tends to turn into outcomes without cause, punctuated with cliché conclusions like “I create my own reality” or “the world is what I make of it”. Existence here, however, seems to defy the calculus of time.
It has occurred to me that it might be interesting to have a little chit-chat with one of the luminaries of economics. I would have just one question. In a universe where neither time nor money exist and there is unlimited energy and resources, where is economics? It would be one of the most delightful experiences of my existence. What would Mises, Hayek or Freedman have to say about a place where want or greed are no longer necessary; where invisible hands can be, in fact, invisible. Because greed and want are impossible, there is no Marginal anything. Marginal value, Equilibrium or the Theory of Labour exist only in the fantasy of the human mind as, in fact, they have always. I suppose that there may be those who, unable to exist without the struggle of competition that results from a Zero Sum dynamic may create, even here, exactly such an environment for their amusement. The difference would be of course that if one did not want to play anymore… they can just leave.
I eventually find my way to Morrison’s residence. I was surprised to find that for all his previous life extravagance, his place was simple and even Spartan. Jim had tried to maintain as “terrestrial’ a life as possible and even went as far as decorating the flat with pictures and other curiosities that were available in the Marais district along La Rue Saint Antoine. However, there was definitely a theme to the few pictures that decorated his walls. The ornaments sparsely fixed on simple heavy furniture were also variations on the same theme.
“Hey Morrison what’s with the Lizards?” I asked in a mocking tone.
“What are you talking about it’s my logo, mantra and my spirit animal” came his declarative response.
“Your spirit animal?” I puzzled. “I didn’t know you had native in you.?”
“Ya man, don’t you know we’re all native from somewhere!?” he shot back.
Not wanting to press the matter I responded somewhat derisively and soto voce, “Ya groovy man, groovy!”
“So what are we doing”, I called out to Morrison.
“First we’re going to grab a bite down at the Arse”, replied Morrison.
“The what!”, sounding put off by the name of the establishment.
“The Arse”, repeated Morrison.
Then with a great sigh of frustration he explains “Cafe l’Arsenal. There, is that better?”
“Look man, be cool. I’ve invited a special lady to the Arse and I don’t want a million question. You dig, are we cool?” His words sound like both a request and command.
Morrison lives in the same flat where he died in 1971. He insisted that he did so in the hopes that he would experience a paranormal phenomenon –his own. He actually thought that he would witness his own ghost. He was the very epitome of California of that period. Magical, mystical and marvellous.
We walk up the rue Beautrellis to the rue Saint Antoine across the street, actually kitty-corner from where we were standing I could see the canopy of the Cafe l’Arsenal. Like so many other cafes in Paris this one had its tables and chairs set out alfresco where one could be entertained by the coming and going of the city traffic.
“Are you hungry”, I ask Morrison with a puzzled expression on my face.
“No man, I never get hungry and neither should you.”
“Ya!” I reply, “I thought it was kind of weird because except for the coffee, I’ve consumed virtually nothing since I’ve been here”.
“That’s right, you don’t need to sleep or eat, you never get tired or hungry.”
“But I see all these people eating and drinking in cafés and restaurants?” I said.
“Ya, true but that’s mostly because they still enjoy it”, he said emphatically.
“So you’re saying they don’t need to eat, they just want to eat because they enjoying the act of eating?”
“No man, eating –tasting food!” This time he emphasized the “tasting”.
“We don’t need to eat any more, we can simply experience it? We can experience our own life. We can experience pleasure or even pain if that’s what we want to do”, I said.
“That’s it!” he said, as if I had come to a revelation.
And, just as I thought, having unravelled this little conundrum, Morrison threw me a curve that should not have surprised me.
“But if you eat you still have to take a shit!”
I ponder this answer with a thoughtful pause and in turn somewhat facetiously reply,
“Does it still stink?”
It’s early afternoon but I can’t be sure. I feel like it really doesn’t matter much anymore as I’ve lost any sense of time. I can’t tell if it’s morning, noon or night. I wouldn’t even notice the passing of the days were it not for the fact that it gets dark and then light again. Suffice it to say that catch-all phrases like “for a while” or “round about now” seemed more appropriate for this new reality.
Sometime yesterday, and I know it was a yesterday because I had slept and slept over night, I had met someone, a woman, who gave me more of a sense of grounding than did Mr. Morrison. We had gone to the Saint Severin where she had explained some of the nuances that were now endemic to this place. We had agreed to meet again today, “round about now” in the hope that I could situate myself better in this new found existence. Oddly and as always very confusing, I knew exactly when and where we are to meet. How it was that I knew? Well therein lies the mystery.
Before going to the Saint Severin, I thought it might be a good way to “kill time” and look for Vern at the Café de Flore just like Morrison had suggested. I chuckle at the thought of “Killing time”. When I got there I walked through the Café but I could not find anyone who looked even vaguely look like Morrison’s “Vern”.
I was anticipating my rendezvous with Shulie at the Saint Severin Café down the street from my hotel.
I’d met Shulie while browsing the stacks of books at Shakespeare and Company. When first I arrived in Paris, it was one of the first places I visited for no other reason than it was familiar. I found comfort in that familiarity.
During the seven times I had visited Paris in my mortal existence, which is how I now referred to my previous life, on six visits to Paris I had spent time and coin at the famous bookstore.
Shakespeare and Co. originally founded in 1919, first at No. 8 Rue Dupuytren and later moved to No. 12 Rue de l’Odéon, is in the 6ieme arrondisement in the heart of the intellectual centre of Paris. Some would say of the world in the 1920s, it was a gathering place for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and Ford Maddox Ford. Brief though his stay was.
During those visits, I would imagine being among the stacks of books and crossing paths with Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. Listening to Fitzgerald read from Gatsby or ponder the prose of that infamous anti-Semite Ezra Pound.
While I stood flipping through a biography of Emma Goldman, my eyes caught the shadow of a figure standing just behind me to my left.
“I’m sorry am I in your way?”, I said, politely.
“Oh no that’s quite alright I’ll just go over to the philosophy section for now.”, and she began to move away heading toward the part of the book store that contained an enormous collection of philosophical tomes many of them first editions. Something that was no longer the case in my mortal existence.
“No please, I can move and we can share this space,” I say, insistantly as I moved to my right so she could take up a position beside me closer to the bookshelf.
“Well actually, I don’t want to be intrusive but I came to borrow the book in your hand. If you were going to read it, however, I can wait until you’re done.”
“Please be my guest”, as I offered up the book to her.
“You sure you don’t mind?” she said, looking up through a pair of metal frame granny glasses.
This struck me as odd. I had spent a lot of time focusing on being observant hoping that due diligence in this regard would afford me more of an insight into the predicament within which I find myself. I observed that one consequence of being reborn on this level of existence had a salutatory effect on one’s physical frailties. Chronic diseases were gone; deformities regardless their origins were repaired; and challenges of senses or cognition were removed.
I made a mental note to remind myself about it.
We exchanged some small talk when I realized I had not introduced myself. Honestly, I just wanted to know her name. So I interjected at an opportune moment: “but you know I forget myself, my name is Mark Distelli.
“My friends call me Shulie.”, she said, in return. but then paused with a pensive gaze and asked, “are you Jewish?”
“Well I’ve been mistaken for someone with more Semitic origins, but no I am not Jewish, my Parents were Italians.”
“Well Disraeli is an odd name for an Italian.”, she said, cautiously.
I laugh and her cautious look turns into a stern gaze.
“What is so funny” She said, with a demanding but subtle undertone of irritation.
“It’s Distelli not Disraeli!” I said, “But thank you, I am flattered, however, I would make a very poor conservative as they have molded themselves these days. If I had to be one, however, Disraeli would be on top of that very short list”.
This brought a smile back to her countenance. She was again seemingly open and accepting and I was relieved as it was always difficult to communicate with anyone who for whatever reason was not receptive.
“Shulie, would you like to share a drink with me, maybe a coffee, down at the St. Severin?” Having asked, I was overcome with a feeling of boldness that I seldom felt before. Maybe boldness was not quite right. I was feeling an odd comfort level with this stranger who I just met and almost as quickly asked her to share a libation.
“I think that would be lovely Mark “, she said with a glistening smile, her eyes sparkling from behind the crystals of her glasses.
We walked back towards the St. Louis District stopping briefly at La Rue du Petit Pont. It was here that Shulie grabbed my arm and asked, “How long have you been here Mark?”
“How long…? You know I’m not sure. All I can tell you is that I’m a recent arrival. It has not been long since my…”. I paused briefly as I was still uneasy saying the word. “… death and except for the odd events and circumstance that seem to be a regular occurrence in this place, I would never know that I’m even dead or that I’m here.”
“You mean you don’t know you’re in Paris?”, she said, in disbelief.
“Oh no! I am keenly aware of where I am. I’m a little bewildered by it, but there is no question about it, this is the city of lights”, I immediately said.
I looked across the street where Elie had once made a phone call from the public telephone situated right beside the entrance to the Rue de la Huchette. But it was no longer there. I looked at Shulie who had now released my arm and asked her in a slightly baffled tone.
“Where’s the phone booth?”
“What phone booth?”, She said, in return.
“The one across the street, I was sure I saw it on my way here!”, I said and urgently turned to walk toward it. But I stopped suddenly jarred by the realization that there it was, right in front of me.
“There it is!” pointing to the phone booth clearly visible across the street. I turned to Shulie and grabbed her by the shoulders, placing her in front of me.
“There do you see it now?” I said in a confused and almost angry tone.
“Well sure, now I see it” she acknowledged as though suddenly there was a certainty to what I was saying.
But as I looked up it was gone. It was then I also noticed that the women’s clothing shop at the corner of the Rue de la Huchette and Rue du Petit Pont, Dam Dom and the souvenir shop beside it, were no longer there. In their place was an academic book shop.
Holding tightly to Shulie’s shoulder I panned up and down the street and I noticed that the people walking around looked different. It was as if all of Paris had decided suddenly to dress retro circa 1973.
“What’s wrong Mark?” Shulie said, inquiring in voice of concern and apprehension.
Shulie turned and looked into my eyes and in what seemed to be a purposeful act, grasped my arm.
“You don’t know do you?” she said, with surprise and just a hint of self-satisfaction.
“Come on let’s get to the St. Severin and I’ll give a better understanding of the lay of the land.”
We disengaged from each other and the world seemed to shimmer back to my more familiar surroundings. As we crossed the street I stared intently at the phone booth expecting it to disappear right before my eyes.
“Very weird,” I muttered.
“Patience Mark everything will be clear in a few minutes.”, said Shulie, reassuring me as we walked towards our destination at the other end of La rue de la Huchette on the Boulevard St. Michel. Neither of us said anything until we sat down and the waiter came to take our order. It was then I could think of only three words to say.
“What the fuck!?”
“The fuck, as you put it Mark, is simple. In this universe the laws of physics have had some of the filters and restrictions common to that other, ‘our’, universe, disabled.”
“What do you mean this universe?”
“Yes that’s right, as Vern puts it…”
“Vern…?” I pronounced his name pensively and as if it was a question.
“Hangs out with a bunch of his buddies at the café de Flore?”
“Oh , you’ve met!” She said.
“No, but Morrison mentioned that he was the one to talk to regarding this reality.” I said.
“Not reality, universe, but you have to stop taking what Morrison says at face value. That child of the sixties doesn’t need drink and take drugs to be messed up. It comes naturally to him.” She warns me emphatically.
“Ok, universe.” An answer that both acknowledges her correction and warning.
“I think I remember something in physics about the existence of a parallel universe.” I say.
“Well you’re getting there. There is no one parallel universe, rather there are many universes. Actually, they exist like bubbles floating in the air. They move towards each other or away from each other. Sometimes they collide and one disappears or both do. They stick together and intersect.”
“Are you saying that we live in a dual universe and when we die we don’t really die we are just move to the other universe.”
“No! We are a part of a multi-verse and this is the intersection of multiple universes.” she says
“And just out of curiosity, how many is multiple?” I ask.
“No one knows.”
“No one?! Not even Vern?”
“Not even Vern. Although they say he has some working theories. Unfortunately, I’ve not been privy to them.”
“So tell me Shulie how is it you know all this stuff? You don’t look like the science- geek type?”
“Oh really, and what type do I look like!?” She asked moderately annoyed.
“Well your look is Hippie-chick. But your demeanour is Germaine Greer.” I replied. Trying not to sound judgmental.
“I’m not sure if Germaine would like that very much.” She said it like she had some personal insight into the thoughts of Germaine Greer. So I had to ask.
“You say that like you know her…” Fully expecting a response from Shulie, but instead she reminded me what it was she who was supposed to be helping me understand as she proceeded to explain the mysteries of my new existence.
“Ok, Mr. Mark, the reason you think you’re seeing or not seeing things is both simple and complex. The complex can only be explained by someone who has a good foundation in quantum physics. I will leave that to any one of the many luminaries; or how did you put it? Science-geeks that have become our contemporaries.”
“I’m all ears… but I still want to know if you know Germaine Greer!” I say, insistently.
“Maybe, some other time Mr. Mark” Holding out the possibility of both finding out if she did have personal contact with one of the great minds of the 20th century and the opportunity to share more time with her. Shulie, to my delight, is someone with whom I felt an honest warmth and camaraderie.
“So what happened back at Shakespeare and Co.?”, I said..
“Remember how I said that there are many universes and like bubbles they float around colliding and intersecting?”
“Ya, and you mentioned that we now exist at the intersection of multiple universes. What was it you called it?’
“A multi-verse.” She replied
“A multi-verse.” I repeated, like I was verifying its authenticity.
“We each exist in our own universe. Let’s say for the sake of simplicity that these are dimensions, so that we don’t get confused by using different terminology. In this multi-verse when our respective dimensions intersect, that is when we each come in contact with each other, we become aware of the other’s dimension or if you prefer, we experience the others reality.”
“You mean that by touching you, I entre your reality?”, I said, puzzled by the significance of this realization.
“Yes and no! And it’s more than that.”
“More!? How much more?”, I said, with a bit of anxiety in my tone.
“You don’t actually entre my really. It’s actually more like you entre my mind or more correctly my thoughts. What you’re doing is accessing my knowledge and memories of my former reality. It’s like you get access to the information in my mind. In fact, if you had any experience of the same time and place, in this case Paris in the 1970’s, then the reality is even more subtle and complex. Did you ever visit Paris in the 1970’s?”
“Actually, I did in 1976. I stayed at the Hotel Select on the Place de la Sorbonne.”, I said, with a tone of self satisfaction that made me feel like some of this made some sense. If nothing else it helped me put up a more courageous front than was in fact the case.
Shulie tried to stifle a sympathetic laugh. She was obviously all too familiar with the look on my face; the look of the confused newbie struggling with the bizarreness of quantum physics.
“Let me get this straight; by making contact with you I am reaching into your thoughts and accessing the knowledge and memories of the 1970’s as they happened to you?”
“Yes in a sense, but it’s much more interactive. We are really making new realities. Our dimensions are intersecting and we are experiencing new realities. It’s like… it’s like this is not just a dimension of time and place but also of mind.”
“The Twilight Zone…“ I whispered just loud enough for Shulie to hear.
“Did you just say the Twilight Zone?” Shulie seemed surprised by the reference.
“Ya, you know Rod Steiger, that eerie music in the background. Then he says, you’re traveling in another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind… or some such thing.”
“Wow, your right it does sound like that doesn’t it! So does that clear up some confusion?”
“I wish I could go into more detail but from time to time, as you can see, I am still perplexed myself.”
‘Really, how so!?”
“Well conceptually I understand how individuals interact with others in the multi-verse, but I couldn’t explain what forces are involved or how the universes intersect with our minds. I’m also not sure about what else I, you or anyone can expect to happen. I am still trying to figure out the whole time thing. “
Time! Sitting at the St. Severin and staring out across the Seine I think back to the first time I sat here with Dionita.
I find myself sitting at a round table at a café in what is Central Paris. It’s a sunny day. By the position of the sun I would guess it is around 4 pm.
Even more disturbing is the reality sitting across from me sipping on a glass of CC. Jim Morrison is the first “personality” I met after I woke up in the bedroom of the Hotel Cluny where Elie and I had stayed on our first trip to Paris together. Groggy and feeling terribly confused, I could still hear the Doors singing in the background, only this time the music did not originate from a car radio. Slowly getting up from the bed I had moved to the window that as I remember overlooked the Boulevard Saint Michel at the corner of Saint Germain. Looking down toward the corner, I could see that a street performer was doing an uncanny imitation of Jim Morrison singing Light My Fire. I stood there for a long moment unraveling the knot that was the state of my confusion.
I needed to get answers so I gathered myself and went down to the street to make some inquiries. It seemed reasonable to conclude that if anyone could sing so well in English they just might be able to speak it as well. Imagine my surprise, however, that instead of finding an English speaking Morrison impersonator from whom I hoped to get some answers, I found myself talking to the original article.
By my best estimate, that was several hours ago.
I was as yet unaccustomed to the sounds of my surroundings, as a result my first night arrived silently. A gentle mist had given the city street lights a reflective power that mirrored the hues of the Paris night on an impressionist canvass. I was sitting at the café Le Depart Saint Michel in a comfortable and relaxed state. I think I heard church bells that presumably came from Notre Dame and that by my estimation was just around the corner. To my right was the river, directly in front of me was the Boulevard Saint Michel gently sloping uphill towards the Luxembourg Gardens. Kitty corner from my location and slightly to the left stood the giant statue of the Arch Angel Michael, a fountain flowing just below its pedestal. I should be more worried, but for some reason I had this overwhelming peaceful feeling. It is probably likely also that the bottle of wine I had imbibed… or was that two bottles of wine, made the conclusion that I was quickly coming-to about my situation all the more acceptable. Death is not an end but simply a transition. But to what? Wine, croissants and Paris?
I stopped registering Jim Morrison’s ranting. His observations turned into background noise. Instead I became catatonic, fixating on trying to make sense of my situation. I was now pretty sure that I had died and that somehow I had transitioned into… what? Another state of existence?
I am sitting at a Paris café with a long dead icon of rock’n’roll, I thought to myself, my sense of reality is as dead as apparently I am. Yet here I sit! I check my heart beat and pulse, taking a deep breath and feeling my chest expand and then contract, both seem fine.
How odd that death is so much like being alive! In a way it makes our lives, or is it previous life, almost laughable.
Finally, I decide to interject in Morrison’s ceaseless chatter…, who knew the man could talk so much.
“This can’t be right, this is a lie or some kind of medicinally induced hallucination brought on by a mistake in the administration of medication at the hospital.” I think out load.
Morrison looks at me, realizing that my mind is elsewhere and that I have not been listening to anything he has said.
Raising his voice, but not his gaze to get my attention he announces, “The truth is here man!”
“What! What are you talking about? Where is here?” I said with an impatient frustration. My frustration would continue to obscure my understanding of this reality for some time. What I would eventually discover suggested that I should stop seeing things from the reality of my former residence. But for now I needed to follow through on the process of discovery, and that meant I had to listen to the intellectual meanderings of Jim -fucking- Morrison.
“Here… beyond the grave. It’s where we’ll find the truth. You’ve broken through to the other side man.” A toothy grin spreads precociously across his face.
I look at him sternly and decide that even rock icons need to be slapped down. “Jim I have known people who’s conversations are annoyingly cliché, but you’ve just added a whole new level of annoyance.” I cast out to my infamous drinking partner.
“Oh! I don’t follow man?” He hooks himself.
“Well there are not too many people who can both create a cliché and then use it. Maybe that makes you one.” I say, equally prominent smirk. Clearly, Morrison is confused but doesn’t seem to know why.
“Alright, so what you’re saying is I’m dead, but I`m also alive at the same time?” I say, with a tone confirmation.
“Well in a manner of speaking, like I said, if you had been paying attention, nothing really dies! It just changes. But it’s probably more accurate to say you’ve stopped existing in one place and started in another.” He says, by way of explanation.
“I wasn’t paying attention because I don’t understand what you’re talking about! How can I be both dead and alive?” Now it is me who is feeling confused and not a little concerned.
“There is this guy called –Vern, who explains it better, but he says that it’s because we actually exists in all places at all times. But there’s some kind of force that interferes with our ability to experience all places at all times simultaneously.” Morrison says, expanding on the subject.
“What Force?” Feeling as stupid as the question I just asked.
“Sorry man, you would have to ask him. He sometimes hangs out at the Café de Flore with his buddies.”
“So am I really where I think I am?” My was mind losing the battle of profound confusion.
“Well, look around you man” he commanded.
“The other side is Paris?” I said, exclaiming gesturing with my head.
“Right man… Paris! Look man what’s eating you anyway? This is cool, I still don’t understand it all and I’ve been here for a long time.”
“Jim I need to undertsand, it is a problem for me because I can’t stand not knowing.”
“You mean you can stand not controlling!”, and there it was. Someone said that the longer people stayed together the more they morphed into the other and in the afterlife I had morphed into Elie. I needed to know the plot before I actually watched the movie.
“Elie… I miss you how are you? Are you sad do you miss me. Are Tom and Charlie with you? Are the kids ok? I wish I could hug them all. I wish I could hold you again.” Came my thoughts in quick repeatition.
Morrison snapped me out of my reverie when he said, “Hey man, this is not the end my friend.”
“Again with the self made cliché” I said. and I thought to myself, “Dead and Alive… dead and live, dead and alive?” I kept repeating it, not like I was looking for an answer but more like I was flipping through a filing cabinet looking for a long forgot file.
“Dead and alive, hmm”
In his turn, looking both puzzled and hurt, Morrison insists…”Hey, I am not cliché man!”
“Why are you turning it down?” She said with a tone of irritation.
“I thought you didn’t like the Doors!”
“I never said that, I just don’t like some of their songs”.
“But you like ‘Light My Fire’?”, I said.
Elie was not what one would call a stunning beauty. Neither was she plain or ordinary. She had a slightly boyish-feminine look about her. She stood at about 1.63 metres, had that kind of whiTE skin that is stained with freckles, hazel-green eyes and carrot top red hair. She was slight of build with a body more like that of a 15-year-old tomboy that made her otherwise small breast seem larger than they actually were.
She was an altogether practical person, with above average intelligence and a strong maternal instinct. She was kind and very empathetic. She was not quick to anger but if pushed over a long period, she could become nuclear. You didn’t want to cross her.
Elie is not a risk taker nor was she so cautious that opportunities slip by right under her nose. She is someone who weighs the pros and cons of a situation. She tends to be cautiously optimistic, not wanting to proclaim success until all the hands are played. She loved country and western music, some pop and except for some Offenbach and Strauss was not impressed by most classical music, especially opera.
She had a behaviour pattern that was nothing if not interesting and it was this; Elie would reject anything that seemed out of the ordinary, unpredictable or possibly uncontrollable. Hell she could never just watch a movie without knowing what it was about beforehand. While she tended not to be judgemental, hers was not a value system that favoured what Robert Frost would call the road less travelled. But if she could be convinced of a better way, look out, she would own it like it had been hers from birth.
We drove on. It was a sunny Monday morning around 8:00 am the city traffic was beginning to die down as we headed west on the 417 towards the Civic Hospital. It would seem that the completion of the new LRT had a very positive effect on city traffic, Particularly from Orléans.
Elie sang with the radio missing the occasional word until the chorus.
You know that … be untrue
You know that I would be a liar
I joined in and looked at her with a combination of love-lust. I think my disposition to her androgynous looks made her that much more attractive to me.
She turn to me briefly with a knowing “Whaaat?!”
“Nothing! I was just looking at you.”, I said.
“No really, what were you thinking?” She said, while taking my left hand with her right.
“How long has it been?”, I said, in a soft tone.
“How long has what been?” She said, with a smile that gave her away to the fact that she knew the answer to her question even before I gave it.
“It’s been twenty-four years”.
“Wow that means that next year will be our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.” I said with a sigh.
“Technically we will only have been married fifteen years… and what was that sigh for?” She said playfully.
“Do you ever wish you had changed partners?” I said, seriously.
“No! I Love you and I wanted to share my life with you. That’s why I had children with you.” she said, with an equally serious response.
“Yes but you also loved Charlie and Thomas… and the others. You would go on vacations with them and when you came back you always seemed so happy, so content?” I said, trying to hide my hesitation and fearing what her response would be.
“Well first of all, the others were just little capricious flings, it was only Charlie and Tom that I spent any real-time with. And what about you? You weren’t exactly an altar boy in the twenty-four years we’ve been together .” She protested.
“Ya, but I never fell in love like you did.” I protested.
“Really, I recall a certain tall, leggy redhead! What was her name?”
“Ya Janet, Well I recall you spending a considerable amount of time with her. Talk about being smitten!”, She said and giggled. “But you always did have a soft spot for red heads.”
“I may have been smitten by Janet but I wasn’t in love.”, I said with a pouty tone.
Elie hated when I played at being the jealous partner. She knew that I didn’t really lose sleep over her “spare” relationships as we called them. But she was also aware that on the occasions that we felt any sort of insecurity and it could be about anything completely unrelated, each of us would be there to listen and respond in such a way as to help the other feel safe and secure again.
“You know Mark, did it ever occur to you that perhaps I was not so much content and happy about having spent time with Charlie or Tom…” She started to say.
“…or Charlie and Tom.” I interjected.
“Ok, but that only happened once and you could have joined in rather than sit on the sofa and watch like it was a hockey game.”
“I was not watching like it was a hockey game!” I said with a knowing smile.
“Oh that’s right! You got so excited that your trigger finger shot off in no time at all and hit Tom across his cheek. And boy it took you no time to reload either.” She said with a playful laugh.
“Ya ok, so I like to watch!”, I said, a little red-faced.
“Oh stop! I thought it was cute and the boys said it made you seem even more virile.” She reminded me.
And there it was from the woman who was loathed to consider such a radical change in lifestyle to someone who can only be described as a true practitioner.
“Anyway as I was saying, I wasn’t “happy” to have spent time with them or rather, yes I was happy to have spent time with them. But more to the point I was happy and excited to be coming home, our home, and looking forward to being with you again.” She smiled a broad smile when she said it. Her eyes sparkled at me and she started to sing again as the song on the radio repeated the chorus.
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire
After I awake I was rested and more clear-headed
“God, what a dream I’m sore all over!”
With my eyes still closed as they usually are in the waking moments after a long sleep, I thought, christ this bed is getting lumpier and lumpier. It’s beginning to feel like those three star hotel beds in Europe. And if they weren’t lumpy the support was gone and you would sink into them almost disappearing into the mattress.
I don’t know how Elie and I ever slept in that bed in Paris on our first trip. Not only was it lumpy but it was narrow. However, I loved the feeling of her body pressing up against mine.
Then there was the evening we began to hug each other with a casual embrace and a loving kiss, but we pressed our bodies together with a hungry urgency. Tighter and tighter we pressed against the other like our only goal in life was to become one person, spirit and soul. As always I wanted her in me and to be inside her. We made love, a timeless love. A love without limits or rules. Our love-making was so powerful that it subsumed our will.
When I woke in the morning I was still facing her and kissed her softly on her lips and I turned and look out our room window that overlooked the corner of Saint Germain and Saint Michel.
HEY WHAT THE FUCK… HOLY SHIT… WHERE AM I??
“EL! EL – IE!” I called out.
Oh my god it’s the window of our bedroom in Paris. I’m in our hotel room in Paris! I’m going crazy! I gotta sit down, lie down again! I’ll close my eyes and I’ll be home and it will be early in the morning. Elie will be next to me and I’ll go downstairs and make coffee, just like I’ve always done. That’s it just lie down close my eyes and wait a minute. Feeling panicked, I thought I might still be in that stupid dream.
I lay there, eyes shut, now more from fear than from any desire to sleep.
How could this be? I thought. I was waiting in the anteroom of the MRI, waiting to be inserted into that infernal machine thinking that this time I was going to do it without the help of a tranquillizer. As I waited I tried to think of a million distractions. But they didn’t come. They hid behind the irrational fear of confinement. Of being caught inside that metal monster’s clinical bowl.
I opened my eyes slowly. It was all just the same. I was in our hotel room in Paris.
“This is crazy. I’m going crazy. finally, it has happened, it’s that tumour, the source of so many health problems – the diabetes, the blood pressure and now insanity?! “
I looked around.
There was the television that only transmitted two channels and then badly.
The small bathroom at the back of the small room and the desk and window over
looking Saint Germain. I got up slowly and looked out the window. Just like
that morning, Elie and I woke up, it was sunny with a few clouds that blocked out
the sun occasionally. I remembered that there was little traffic on that morning.
But this time I was surprised and concerned that the street was empty of cars.
No buses either!
Odd. What`s more there were people everywhere and while I was not wearing my
watch anymore… they made me take it off waiting to go into the MRI, I could tell
it could not be later than 8 am in the morning. Then there was the song we were
listening to in the car on the way to the hospital, “Light My Fire”.
I opened the shuttered windows as I had that morning so many years ago expecting a blast of cool fall air, but instead my face and hands were caressed by a warm and pleasant breeze reminiscent of the soft winds in the Mediterranean instead of the cool fall air of central Europe. There was something else!
With the years, the tumour induced diabetes had made my hands lose some sensation. It was a condition known as Neuropathy, common among people who had diabetes. My toes and feet also suffered from the affliction and were numb and cold all of the time. But this morning they felt as they once did, warm and without the numbness to which I had become accustomed. I brought my right hand up close to my face to check a slow heeling cut, but it was no longer there.
As I looked past my hand, I noticed a street musician standing at the corner of Saint Germain and Saint Michel across the street from the hotel. He was the source of the music I had heard playing in the background. There was a crowd of people listening. Some were even singing along with him. They all seemed to know the words as he played his guitar. I turned my ear towards the sound.
Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fi-re, yeah
This is becoming curiouser and curiouser, I thought. I wake up in what appears to be a dream that seems so real. Symptoms of conditions brought on by diabetes are gone; and I am in Paris, in a hotel room I shared with my wife four years ago. There are no motor vehicles on the streets instead people walk freely and there`s a street singer performing “Light My Fire”. Sounding uncannily like its original performer. A song that had been playing on the radio just before I apparently passed out.” No not passed out. I’ve died. I am dead and with these spoken words I am at once again gripped by fear and a deep unbearable sadness.
Just as these thoughts are running through my head the crowd disperses and I get a look at the singer …OMG!!
I run to the bathroom because at that moment I felt an overwhelming desire to hurl. All I could think of was OMG! OMG! OMG! And just like that my concern for being dead was momentarily forgotten.
“I just saw Jim Morrison! It was him! it was really him! I saw him clearly! He was standing at that corner playing the guitar singing Light My Fire. I saw him as clearly as…”
And then the thought just hung in my mind like a suspended chandelier in the ball room of the Windsor hotel in Montreal. It hung there bright and glittering, refracting the colours of the rainbow and filling the ballroom with its brilliant light. As clearly as if he were standing beside me. But that was impossible, yes it was impossible because as everyone knows Jim Morrison was dead, but this wasn’t what occurred to me at that moment.
I suddenly realized that I could see in the distance again. I could see clearly and the details in the distance were no longer fuzzy. The black spots, the floaters, that had plagued my eyesight for years were gone. Then I looked up into the mirror, and this time losing all concern for my dignity I promptly threw up.
When I was able to lift my head from the sink again, albeit through bleary eyes, the reflection in the mirror both frightened and confused me. The person in the mirror wasn’t me but it was… me… at twenty-something! If this is a dream it is the most amazing dream ever. However, it feels as real as the water I splash on my face to clean myself up. If this is not a dream then I’ve gone totally mad – loonie toons, and I’m actually in a padded room in a drug induced sleep for my own safety. The only other possibility and this may actually be proof that I’m crazy is that I’ve died and… naaa!
I gathered myself and resolved that I would go with it! So far, things seemed benign enough and my anxiety level had at least reached a plateau. I thought I might be able to shed a little light on what is now, if nothing else, a very perplexing situation and go down to the corner and talk to Mr. Morrison, if that is who he really is. How do I address him Mr. Morrison? Jim? Sir? Maybe James would be better?
“Code Blue, all units’ code blue!”
Ok so it happened! I had spent the better part of the last six years waiting for this moment, this “thing” to happen. Well then, it should not come as a surprise. But I’m really not prepared to go yet! Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I’m trying to avoid it. There’s no voice inside of me going, no please god, I don’t want to die, nothing of the sort… even though, come to think of it, who really wants to die? I guess I should be thankful that it happened in the hospital. All this shit about “going” with all your loved ones around you. Ya right! What if in the processes of dying you crap yourself? How embarrassing! Why would you want your loved ones’ last memories of you to be of a corpse soiled and smelling like a public toilet that hasn’t been cleaned for four weeks because city maintenance workers have been on strike on account of municipal budget cuts. No, thank you!
What now? Am I supposed to see a bright light and shadowy figures standing by on each side of what appears to be a hallway leading towards the light. Walk towards the light! Walk towards the light! What! Am I, a moth drawn to a flame? Maybe only people who are going to hell see the light! The light is really the fires of hell and you’re going to burn for eternity. I mean really, when you think about it aren’t you going to be just a little resistant? So why not put a beautiful light, all benevolent and white, that way you are attracted to it? Hey, it makes sense!
Oh, look they’re bringing that machine. You know, the one where the doctor takes two electrical thingies puts some goop on each one and then yells out, “clear!” sending everyone two or three strides away from the patient. Every time they do this to the body … yup, it jumps and convulses… cool! Ouch that hurt! Jesus take it easy guys.
Fuuuck! Fuck! Fuck! Don’t these idiots know how much that hurts?! No wonder people come back from the dead. This shit will resuscitate a mummy.
If I come out of this, I’m going to see my MPP. I’m going to start a non-profit organization that looks into the rights of the dying or potentially dying people. You know something like the Committee to Stop the Torture of Potentially Resuscitable Persons. CSTPRP.
No that’s no good I can’t even say the acronym quickly, it’s a damn tongue twister!
I know! I’ll give it one of those names that sounds like it has something to do with the issue.
Ya, I’ll call it “Coming back” or “Back From the Afterlife” or “Back from the dead”. Maybe not, …. that sounds like the E.D. is George Romero .
I can just see it now. Smart ass reporter asks “What’s your MO… brains!?”
Well whatever. I’ll figure it out later.
Later! What if there is no later?
Why am I babbling? Shit I’m dying and all I can think about are these inane thoughts? What’s wrong with me? It’s strange but I recall my therapist observing that I joke around more when I’m stressed than when I’m calm. So dying is stressful. No surprise there.
Shit, fuck, mother fucker, cunt, piss, cock sucker! Shit! Shit! Shit!
Emergency rooms are oppressive. Flood lights, machines going beep, beep; oscilloscopes with their black and green screens recording exactly when you stop being…and then that long continuous beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
I feel tired. So tired.
Hospital has probably called Elie by now.
She is going to lose it especially after our conversation in the car coming to the hospital this morning. We were listening to the Doors playing on the car radio It was a cool sunny morning, there was no wind and if you stood in the sun, it was strong enough to keep you warm. Just like that first morning in Paris…
We had arrived in Paris and checked into our hotel at the corner of Saint Germain and Saint Michel. Elie was feeling both overly tired quite overwhelmed by the simple idea that she was walking in Paris … it was after all her first trans-Atlantic crossing.
Being in Paris had been a childhood dream that followed her into her adult life. When she was around 15 years old she had visions of studying fashion in Paris. The truth be told, had she been born and brought up anywhere else other than Timmins, Ontario, she may have fulfil her that dream. But life had a different direction for her, one which she eventual settled for until she saw an opportunity to get out. When that opportunity came, she took it.
On the day we arrived, I advised against going for a nap. I had insisted that it would be better if we got use to the sleep cycle right away by going to bed when it got dark. She had agreed without any argument.
After checking in to our hotel, we freshened up and headed out for some coffee. Sitting in a café in Paris, it was one of those things that Elie had on her bucket lists.
I thought it would be good to stretch our legs a bit, so I took her to Les Deux Magots on the Boulevard Saint Germain, about half a klick from where we were staying.
As we walked along Saint Germain I don’t remember Elie ever dropping her gaze from the looking up.
“You’re going to get a stiff neck if you don’t stop looking up El.”
“I can’t help it. It’s exactly as I imagine it. Paris makes me feel like I do after I’ve eaten a particularly satisfying meal, but it makes me want more.”
“Hemingway? What does Hemingway have to do with it?”
“Well you know Hemingway lived in Paris for a few years.”
“Everyone knows that.”
“Yes, but it’s interesting you said that, because he said something similar.”
“Well, I’m no Hemingway… what did he say?”
I was about to share one of Hemingway’s notable quotes when I was distracted by our arrival at Les Deux Magots..
“Hey,there it is.”
“Is that where we’re going?”
“Yup, “Les Deux Magots””
“Couldn’t we have gone to some place closer? It’s not as though it’s hard to find a café in Paris.”
“True, but this not any café. This café was frequented by some of the greatest artist, writers, and philosophers of the 20th century. It is to Paris what the Masjid al-Hara is to Mecca.”
“What is the Masjid al-???”
“It’s where Muslims make a Pilgrimage to Mecca.”
“Will I have to wear a Hijab?”
“You know you, shouldn’t make jokes about that. “
“Ya , ya , ya! So what did Hemingway say anyway?”, she said as we sat down
“What did Hemingway say,? What did Hemingway say? I’m not sure I can remember now.”
“Yes you do, you always remember stuff like that. You don’t remember to pick up after yourself, but quotes are no problem.”
“Ok, well I think Hemingway said. ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’”
She paused and became thoughtful. She seemed to be staring at the church across the street
“What church is that?”, she said, almost as an afterthought. Which was something she would do so as not to hint at what she was really thinking.
“That’s Saint Germain des Pres, why?”
“It just seems out a place here. It’s like it belongs in the centre of a small town.”
“Well, actually you’re right it does, and at one time this was not part of Paris. It was the village of Saint Germain des Pres back in the middle ages.”
At the end of our trip on the plane home Elie turned to me and said, “I think Hemingway was wrong”.
“Wrong! Wrong about what? “
“Remember when we were at Les Deux Magots the first day in Paris, you mentioned something about Hemingway describing Paris as a movable feast.”
“Ya, Hemingway said it always stays with you because it’s a moveable feast.”
“Well I think he’ was wrong. I think Paris is a Chinese dinner.”
She smiled, I laughed and said “such a funny girl”.
“We returned to Paris in the early spring… I guess she was right.”
“Wow I am really tired. I think I need to sleep.”
Ok I’m calling it! Death occurred at 14:35 of cardiac arrest.
–An Island of Two Worlds
Historical Note for Traveler 37:
After 2020 in the period that followed the turbulent years of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s, the G-20, World Bank and IMF were able to impose a rigorous regimen of Neo-Liberal austerity that re-established the supremacy over social-ecological economic paradigms that had predominated in the intervening period.
The emphasis on a continuous growth paradigm regained popularity among governments and communities of the developed world. This resurgence became the mitigating factor in the eventual collapse and great crash of 2092 and the setting up of the ECS in 2095.
After years of fighting over the true meaning of the ecologically based commercial disruption, the Economic Conjunctive Synthesis, (ECS) was formed from the various stock market exchanges after the great economic collapse of 2092.
The Great Crash of 2092 was considered by most to be “the big one”. Bigger than 1929 and with greater devastating impact than 2008, the Great Crash of 2092 ended the hegemony of the dominant economic system that had lasted for 300 years and consequently all nations that had been associated with it.
After 2009 much had been made of a new and improved economic system. Gone was the Neo-liberak economics characterized by pervasive and too often punishing global deregulation and privatization. With went a cultural ethos that greed-is-good. An ethos that since 1776 maintained the primacy that it was selfish not selfless acts that motivated human progress, manipulated by an unseen force no less powerful than the force of nature. This notion was so powerful that it was even integrated into ecological thinking and analysis. Suddenly the invisible hand that moved humans to consume was made visible because it was made green.
It was, however, with a certain ironic justice that nature overwhelmed the power of what was a construct of human arrogance and not some unseen force that fuelled the economic engine of civilization. Moreover, the tragic irony lay more so in the fact that humans new that our activities, how we lived and ultimately how we consumed took unrestricted advantage of our natural heritage, making the Great Crash inevitable.
In the early and middle parts of the previous century there had been many who had sounded the alarm of impending collapse. After 2008 there seemed to be a consensus among the denizens of the planet. People and their governments seem to agree that perhaps change was necessary. The election of the first black individual to hold the office of President of the United States seemed to inspire hope in many. But this was short lived and everyone seemed to quickly revert back to their wasteful consuming habits.
In the previous century had there had been warning from learned people that inherent contradictions existed within the economic system itself and were in effect the seeds to its own destruction. While the structural dynamics of these contradictions were incorrectly applied and ironically the solutions offered were sometimes worse than the reasons for the contradictions, the general overview revealed that it was at the juncture of the 19th and 20th centuries where the fundamental cultural-economic contradiction lay. It was at this cross-road that civilization began to be in conflict with itself.
The cultural values of society, Western European society, had been predicated on a paradoxical dynamism that had individuals living by different values as producers versus their lives as consumers. In the former individuals sought to work hard and to adhere to a moral code of austere lifestyles and were motivated to accept a discipline and readiness to defer personal gratification for the wellbeing of posterity. This was certainly true for a good part of the early period for a large portion of the population. In time, however, it became apparent that the austerity suffered by the many was not necessarily shared by the few. As consumers individuals were encouraged to be self-interested, hedonistic and given to living only for the moment. It was these contradictory values that drove and economic system that was blind to its preponderant reliance on the abundance of nature, maintaining instead that it was its own economic processes that were responsible for its success. The end result was a planet that could not sustain the almost seven billion people at the time who came to enjoy and expect the rising living standard achieved only by methods of production required to sustain the levels of consumption to which society became accustomed.
The Pathway was always cold in the morning. The solar collectors installed a century ago no longer functioned to their optimum. They were only generating energy at forty-percent capacity and with fewer sunny days the collector batteries were no longer able to hold their charge. As a result the heating and cooling distributor needed to establish a lower threshold. This had the effect of hot summers and colder winters inside the shop.
Arianne was not used to the extreme of temperatures. In fact, she was unused to all the extremes. Since she began her tenure as the cashier at the Pathway there were many extremes to which Arianne was unaccustomed. But the blight, both of the spirit and human condition that permeated every part of this world was perhaps what caused her to feel and experience the most stress. Yet even among all this dark desperation there appeared a glimmer of hope. She knew she was a part that hope. That’s why she was here now, and that’s why she also knew that was why she also knew her destiny and that of Harry Sikes were tied.
“But enough!” she thought, “feeling nostalgia about a place that did not yet exist will not make me feel any warmer”.
The Pathway Book Shop had been at this location for almost 50 years. Previously, it had been located in the central part of the city inside an old building at the corner of Peel and St. Catherine streets. After the crash of ’92 the downtown section of Montreal became more and more desolate. The Pathway had been one of the last establishments to leave the district. The owner-manager, Tudor Daks, tried to maintain the shop as a meeting place for the locals providing hot coffee and donuts that had been purchased in the “New Westside” the first and still largest of Montreal’s re-developed prime-burbs.
The prime-burbs were created to replace the old sub-burbs. There were five in total and were built from the outskirts of the city inward. The central prime-burb being the last among them to be constructed. Tudor Daks in his day referred to it as creating an urban donut.
“Montreal was turning into a donut, …an urban donut”. He would say to anyone who would listen to his meandering social analysis.
“All the good is on the outside and there’s a whole lotta nothin in the middle”
In fact, legend has it that that is what is written on his headstone “There’s a whole lotta nothing in the middle”.
While the ECS Re-construction Authority was rebuilding the sub-burbs the downtown district became a ghost town. It was inhabited by the old, poor and destitute and the “voisins” the French word for neighbours. There has hardly ever been a more appropriate misnomer that voisins for gangs that would sooner cut your throat as take your money. Curiously they never bothered Harry nor did they ever try to mess-up the Pathway. It was as though it was hallowed ground. And Harry? Harry, after all, was a thief. Who says there is no honour among thieves? Neverthelees, Tudor was concerned about the privileged position the shop help in the minds of the voisins. When the regulars asked Tudor what he thought might be the reason for their benevolence he would respond with;
“beats me, maybe they like to read!”
Always ending his answer with, “go figure”.
The story is told, however, however, that Tudor did eventually find out why it was that the voisins left the book shop alone. And while the electronic archives make no mention of it. It was that event that led to the creation of the ECS. Which was rather ironic as Tudor Daks never had much love for them. The ECS Daks surmised had not come their position of authority honestly. The fact is Tudor knew they hadn’t.
Five years after the great crash things were pretty much in a total state of chaos. The great national governments had all but disappeared and what was left was a scattered number of city states that more or less ran themselves. More or less, because most urban centres had become so devastated by the falling away of their infrastructure, the destruction of lines of communication and the loss of all viable means and conduits of transportation to and from the cities. The cities that had faired the best had been those that still had a viable agricultural hinterland. The great mega-cities were doomed. Five years after the crash it was roomered that cities like New York and Chicago were crumbling shells empty of population and useful only as salvageable materials for the many small town that grew-up around them.
There was little I the way of civic authority in those early years even in the viable city states. Most people had to live had to mouth. In 2094 all international lines of communication, transportation and distribution had deteriorated from a point of no return. Or at least none that was foreseeable in the immediate future.
Most people had their own theory about what happened and who was to blame and for a while no one was in a forgiving mood. What was certain, however, was that law enforcement began to fall away thee mood of anger and resentment turned into a blank cheque to do whatever pleased the as yet unorganized street gangs. Which in turn led to travel restrictions, the disruption of the distribution of goods, food and supplies of energy and further anger and resentment. If people lived outside the cities, however, they were able to get by with some creature comforts. Two years after the crash, moreover, a number of local communication systems were still working even though their rage was limited. Not surprisingly the one means of communication that stayed functional was the internet. Many of the larger sites went down but there were so many small operators that still continued to be available. But in retrospect it hadn’t been too long before the crash that the core of most major centres began to deteriorate. The gangs moved in while families and the affluent escaped to the surrounding suburbs. They only returned to visit their nostalgia and share in the quaint ambiance that the core of the city afforded them. IN those pre-crash days the security forces were still intact and could concentrate resources to maintain the travel-line free of danger for the weekend tourists.
In the early days after the crash the gangs went on a rampage of senseless destruction that lasted eighteen months. The most intense period of upheaval occurred in the heat of the summer of 2093. Ironically, however, the gangs exhausted what lttle supply and resources that remained in the city, or inflicted so much damage on each other that they became icapable of sustaining any degree of malicious destruction. By the spring of 2094, and except for the occasional acts of individual violence, the gangs had all but spent their energy. In fact, they had all taken to scavenging and salvaging what was left of the old city, with the exception of two or three gangs.
The old city was bordered by a zone of uninhabited and devastated residential areas of Montreal called simply the “DMZ”. Like so many de-militarized zones, the DMZ divided the old city from its former suburbs. It was the most dangerous section of the entire region. The suburban side of the city was physical separated from the old city buy a three meter high wall that circumvented all three central zones and both shores of the island on the north and south sides. It was built from the salvaged materials in the DMZ. The DMZ averaged about a kilometer in width. It was a third of a kilometre at its narrowest and almost 2 kilometres at its widest. The wall was a security barrier that ensured the inhabitants of both the old city and the suburbs protections against whatever lived within the DMZ.
While the people who lived in the old city had less material to work with for construction of a barrier, they also had less of an area to cover. Unlike the suburbs that could draw on materials from outside the city via transportation system that was more or less still viable and could access manufactured products from diminished industry that still made useful things. The old city dwellers were confined to using what was readily available. Rather than a fence and wall, the old city was surrounded by what appeared to be a levy of discarded concrete and steel between two and a half to three metres high. In place of towers abandoned buildings were used as lookouts along the perimeter of the makeshift barrier.
The DMZ was not just the place where the worst dilapidation had occurred, it was also the dwelling place of the dregs. The DMZ became the dominion of the dregs. It was a territory that was both chaotic and a wasteland demarcating the old city from its suburbs.
The dregs, as the name implies, were the remnants of the homeless and destitute that haunted the streets of Montreal before the great crash. They were not so much as a result of the crash; rather they were a symptom of it. They were the cast-offs living at the margins of society. The dregs were broken carcasses of human refuse some so emaciated that they seemed more like refugees from a Nazis concentration camp. The pre-crash authorities assigned them economically without value; unmanageable, un-trainable and condemned to live in the darkness and shadows of civilization. There had been attempts to rid the city of them with forced resettlement to a segregated section of the city dedicated to their needs. When it became apparent that they could not be confined to “their” section they were moved out to a special camp away from sympathetic eyes that might object to the conditions within which they were living. For a time it seemed to be an effective solution but after about four years they found their way back to the city. Just before the crash the dregs were everywhere. With the economy becoming increasingly fragile the authorities could no longer afford to build the facilities or even organize a forced relocation. Consequently, there few places, if any, where they could not be found. It was this chaos that was the harbinger of the great crash.
In order to move from the western suburbs, to the old city and out to the eastern suburbs the inhabitants reclaimed two lines of the old metro. The east-west green line and the north-south orange line. By the time Harold had entered the guild of thieves the ECS had added an overland extension moving further from the Angrignon terminal station. Ironically, it had been rebuilt with dreg labour, not surprisingly and not unlike the experience many past indentured workers, staying on after they acquired the skills. Those that didn’t moved to be labourers in the building of the first prime. Others went on to join the gangs in the old city which by itself had to effect of making the gangs far more organized and effective. It was to one of the Old-city gangs that a homeless, abandoned but highly skill young dreg known simply as Lagarde.
Since she was eight years old all LaGarde had known was struggle and deprivation. She had had a day-t-day to fight for her very survival. What was even more difficult was that LaGarde had known so much love, warmth and security. It had been difficult after her father had died. But she and her mother coped because they had had each other.
Chapter I -The Thief
Historical Note for Traveler 37: At the beginning of the 22nd century thieves are an integral part of the Economic Conjunctive Synthesis. The ECS was the highest authority during the First Prime and was a kind judicial-government. Thieves were trusted members of the Prime and were the only economic pods to move freely between First, Second and third Primes. In order to become a thief a person had to be initiated into the Chamber of Guilds by a member of the guild. He or she would guarantee your membership. They would co-sign your membership and be responsible for insuring that the thief-inductee met his or her quota for up to five years. Although most of the time the respective thief would become a free thief by the third year.
The thief’s job was to steal although that terminology was no longer in usage as it evoked negative images of the profession. The meaning itself was updated in 2030 by the R.A.H.K. (pronounced “rack”) Repository of All Human Knowledge dictionary and encyclopaedia. The RAHK explained that stealing is actually trade when it is conducted by a thief. The thief traded with consumers. If some had property traded by a thief it was considered an honour. As products and commodities became harder and harder to produce due to the diminishing amount of natural resources on the planet the major economically developed nations guided by the World Bank and the IMF transformed into the ECS. BY 2027 it became clear that if continuous economic growth was to be maintained, then something need to be done about the production and distribution side of the economic ledger…
Being traded with meant that you made a contribution to your prime and you were given a commendation – a purchase coupon of sizable value which you could use to make new purchases. There was very little crime, if any, left in society. Except for the occasional psychotic or crime of passion, property was never damaged. There was really only one crime, getting caught.
Harry Sikes was a thief. When Harry was a young boy his mother called him Harold and he hated it. It was especially un-nerving when she did it in public. Then the taunts would begin.
“Haaar – old! Haaar – old! Haaar – old!”
It would go on for some time until the other children would tire or he would run away. His face tight with rage and tears forcing themselves through the tear ducts, crying with anger.
But, that was years ago. Harry was now in his late twenties.
It was a cool October morning around 3:10 am. This was an easy job, he thought. He had picked it because there was nothing particularly noticeable about this place.
Harry had a theory.
Actually, it was more like a system.
He had noticed years ago that some places attracted attention to themselves. In the case of commercial establishments, this is of course part of the reason for their success or failure. But, Harry realized, that if some calamity had befallen the establishment, in some instance, people were almost unaware or unconcerned. It was as if they didn’t notice any change.
This was for a thief exactly what was needed. You’re in, you’re out and no one is the wiser. “Perfect”! Harry thought.
The pathway, as it was called was a small establishment that dealt mostly in a variety of things. There were school supplies but not too many, hand creams and perfumes but nothing too extravagant. You could pick up a pack of smokes or a comb. Chewing gum or a candy bar and the owner sometimes left out a small stall for fruit that he had picked up at the wholesale market for a song but could make a nice piece of change on its resale.
There was never any great stampede to take advantage of sales or specials but the traffic was steady and Harry knew that meant that there was a sizable amount of cash in the old cast iron safe in the back room of the store.
“Perfect”! Harry thought out loud one day while checking out the inside of the store.
“I’m sorry is there something you were looking for”? replied the clerk to what she thought was a question by Harry.
“No, I mean they’re perfect”, Harry said, not paying attention to what he had picked up in his hands while scanning the area inside the back room.
“Yes they are”! replied the clerk. She paused and said, “I’m particularly fond of them as a way to disguise myself for those weekend bank jobs!”
Harry’s brain screamed at him. Run! But he knew better. He looked down. In his hand was a pair of women’s nylons.
“I think you’ll need the next size up. Your head seems a little on the large size”, smiled the clerk. Harry looked up at the clerk and noticed that she was new at the Pathway.
“First day”, he said realizing as he did that he should not become familiar with the personnel of the establishment that he was planning to rob.
“No it’s not,” she said with an inquisitive tone that caught Harry by surprise and made him think that this was a really bad idea.
“Perfect”! He exclaimed sotto voce.
“You say that a lot” the clerk shot back. “Say what”? Harry inquired. “Perfect” said the clerk.
“Perfect?” replied Harry in a tone that was just a little like being caught with the proverbial hand in the cookie jar.
“Ya like that, perfect. You’ve said it three times since you’ve been in the store”.
“So what”! Harry fired back. “So what’s wrong with saying or repeating perfect”?
“Well nothing” said the clerk feeling just a little off-balance because maybe it was rude to listen in on someone else’s conversation, even if they were only talking to themselves.
“Look Miss…” Harry paused as though he felt conscious about not knowing her name, “Arianne, Arianne Grimaldi” she said as though she was making an official announcement”. “Ya whatever! Miss Grimaldi, I don’t know you and you don’t…”
“You’re Harry or Harold Sikes”, she said, again making it sound like an announcement.
Harry was dumb founded. “How the hell does this chick know my name? This is bad very bad,” Harry thought to himself, while trying to throw her off with a knowing smile, whoever she was. Still it was just a bit unsettling.
“Oh don’t worry Harry your secret is safe with me” she quickly replied, in a pleasant and familiar way that would make anyone think they were lifelong friends.
‘That’s it, I’m outta here” and with that thought Harry Sikes left the Pathway without saying good-bye or even a look back.
Arianne smiled as she waved good-bye and wondered when, and not if, Harry Sike’s path would cross with her’s again.
It was cold this time of year in Montreal. Octobers were notoriously wet and therefore notoriously cold. It seemed that the city was shrouded in grey. It was empty at this time of night more empty than usual. Harry remembered that as a young boy his father and grandfather would tell him stories of the days when Montreal was alive with people. “People with Pasta”, his grandfather would say. One day Harry asked his grandfather what that meant.
“Well my little t’gee”, another mysterious word for a 6 year old. “When your grandmother was alive she would refer to people’s characters as being full of pasta or not. You see Harry; many years ago there was a food people used to eat called pasta”
“Was it good p’pere”? Harry would ask.
“Oh it was very good mon t’gee. It was so good that people would eat it all the time and you could buy it at restaurants, delis and pretty well everywhere.” Harry’s grandfather explained.
“What did it look like, p’pere”.
“Look like! Well it’s been a while, but as I remember pasta was off white and maybe a little yellowish”.
“That doesn’t sound too good to eat p’pere”, Harry made a face as he spoke. “What was it made from”? Harry asked.
“Harry, pasta was made from flour, water and eggs”, his grandfather told him.
“Flour – water and eggs” Harry repeated as though he were reciting a line from the Wizard of Oz. All that was missing was the “oh my!” at the end of the phrase.
“Yes Harry, but the people that first made it mixed it with things like Bolognese, Carbonara or Alfredo sauce and it would make you feel very good inside…it made you feel like you were at home, safe and loved with lots of family. When people ate pasta they would always feel energetic and ready to work hard. Great athletes would eat it in the evening before a competition to help them perform better”.
Harry listened to his grandfather, hanging on every word, as if it could reveal some unspoken secret. “Did you eat it before your competitions p’pere” asked Harry having over heard conversations about his grandfather and father in competitions and something very special. Something they referred to as the olintics. Harry wanted to know more about the olinitics but never got around to asking his grandfather or father.
“So you see mon t’gee, when your grandmother said people had pasta it meant that they were full of energy and life. That is what Montreal was like in those days…a place full of life” Just as Harry’s grandfather was finishing his story his mother called them for supper. “Come – n – eat!” She would call out in her now familiar rising cadence.
This October was colder than usual Harry always found that odd given the state of the world’s environment that cooler weather prevailed rather than the opposite. That was it wasn’t it? People had been sold on the idea that danger would come from global warming not cooling. Warned by scientists about the way that the threat to civilization would arise from a change in climate, governments were always struggling with the complexity of climate dynamics.
“But this was the outcome of the problem anyway”, Harry thought.
Harry knew that the real problem was human habits and specifically the habit to consume far more than was healthy, certainly more than was needed. Even so, it was all confusing for most people; moreover, public officials were still more concerned with the political fallout that arose from the economic dislocation that would result from changing the consuming habits of human beings. In the end, it was easier to convince people to accept the notion that the climate was getting warmer rather than colder, even though the greater danger arose from the latter rather than the former. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the truth either. That, however, wasn’t important, what was important was that people did not panic and went ahead doing precisely what they needed to do.
Harry was clear on the subject. “People were complicit in civilization’s demise! OK, maybe that’s a bit strong but things have not been the same for over fifty years”.
Even 20 years ago, Harry remembered, in his grandfather’s house there had been a room filled with hundreds of books. Harry grew up in a time when books and paper were uncommon. His father had told him that there had been a good reason to reduce the production of wood and paper products. The collective wisdom, meaning the official line, made the claim that there was still enough time to mitigate global warming through a combination of different strategies. One of these strategies was to reduce the amount of forests cut down by reducing the amount of wood and paper products being produced. It was thought that this would enable nature to use its own process CO2 to oxygen conversion reducing the green house effect all over the world. Naturally, the first thing to disappear was paper money, paper products like tissue and toilet paper, newspapers and books.
At first, it seemed like the lesser of many evils. It was said it was a bitter pill to swallow and many people, in fact most people were willing to do what was necessary to stem the tide of environmental disaster that humanity would be facing. In short time, however, it became evident there was more window dressing than substance to this plan.
Harry’s father had said, “What did it matter if paper money was being phased out anyway”.
It was easy to implement as a public policy as most everything had already transitioned from paper to electronic form. E-books, e-money these were a sign that things were changing. That they would change and the world would be spared an apocalyptic catastrophe. It had been fifty years since those events. Things had changed all right. But, had the world really averted the predicted catastrophe or had the pace of change simply allowed people to gradually acclimatize themselves to it? What was it that Sheldon his partner in crime used to say, “When you’re standing in shit long enough you forget that it’s even there anymore”.
Harry wondered how Sheldon was doing since he had left the trade?
Harry was deep in thought as he walked to his one bedroom apartment that evening. It was actually only 3:30 in the afternoon but the time of year and the overcast skies made it appear much later in the day. He braced his collar against the cold and switched on the heated lining of his thermal coat. It didn`t seem to help, however, and still felt cold. It had been overcast for several weeks, and the sun had not warmed his skin for what seemed an eternity. He remembered as he walked how in his youth there had still been days when the air was bitterly cold but the sun would still warm his skin with its touch. Sadness fell over him as he walked on.
Harry climbed the stairs of the tenement house where he rented his one bedroom apartment. He reached into his satchel to retrieve his sensor key. “The sensor key!” Harry thought, “Now there was the piece of technology that epitomized the times”. When landlords began replacing key lock mechanisms they convinced people that it would become an indispensible convenience and then sold their rental units with this “value added” device.
A knowing smirk appeared on Harry’s face as he held the sensor key in his left hand. “NO MORE FUMBLING WITH KEYS WHEN IT’S COLD! REDUCE THE DANGER OF THEFT.” He remembered how insurance companies offered a special lower premium to people who bought a sensor key lock. If there were those unable to afford this new convenience the insurance companies would offer a monthly payment plan with a tidy interest charge tacked on. After all, as their promotion would remind people “a little extra cost for a lot more security”.
The sensor key lock was the perfect metaphor for how the world worked. You bought into it because you were led to believe that it made you better or better off. You became happier, healthier, more exciting and fulfilling or safer. Without you even realizing it, however, the modern convenience became a modern trap. You were suddenly enslaved by it and/or for it.
“That’s what they are” Harry thought. Slaves.
There were many things one might say about Harry, slave, however, does not spring to mind. Harry was no consumer. As a thief he could have anything he wanted. But, Harry chose instead to conserve his accumulated value. This meant living sparsely without many of the conveniences and comforts that made living in the year 2112 more bearable. He had what he needed; Harry reflected about that, – getting a bigger place in the new suburbs maybe even in the Western Suburbs where he had lived with his parents and grandfather for the better part of his childhood and teens.
Being a thief had been hard for Harry at first. Unlike other more traditional vocations thieving required one to be flexible with respect to time and circumstance. You had to take advantage of peoples’ mistakes and their goodwill.
Harry could have owned an ITU, Individual Transportation Unit, he certainly made enough trades to accumulate the value required to acquire one. Instead he preferred to use public transportation. Traveling greater distances beyond his district, Harry would hop a T.I.E., Trans Island Express; he could be outside the old city districts in fifteen minutes tops if no one embarked or disembarked at a district platform. Within the old cities districts there were plenty of rickshaws available for hire. He liked the rickshaw. Unlike the TIE you did not need to share the rickshaw and as they were pre-programmed for travel within each district he did not have to exchange pleasantries with “Rickies”, as they used to be called, who were notorious for prattling on about everything and nothing. He could be alone with his thoughts snugly ensconced inside a rickshaw watching the places go by like a video on You Tube.
The inside of Harry’s apartment was as Spartan as it was small. The kitchen and living room were one living space. His one bedroom was an inset area six by ten metres with a bed and one night table. Under the night table Harry kept the only mementoes of his grandfather. Two shelves containing ten books and five comic books. To Harry these were his most valued possessions. They included five novels; a very old book on economics that his grandfather had given him on his sixteenth birthday, another one was about how to grow fruits and vegetables in cooler climates, and a Practical Guide to Passive Energy Production. One had the curios title, Building Dwellings from Nature” and finally A Citizens Guide to Fair Representation. But it was the novels Harry enjoyed the most. He was particularly fond of one novel that his Grandfather used to read to him when he was a young boy. It was his favourite story; it was in rough shape now and as books no longer existed except in small private collections such as his, he couldn’t very well replace it.
On a day like today Harry looked forward to coming home grabbing a bite and lying on his old leather couch reading his books. Today he would reread the Count of Montecristo and it would flood his mind with not only images of his Grandfather reading to him but of his mother and father occupied nearby, the warm feelings of his parental home and the smells that permeated the entire apartment.
He pulled the book carefully from the shelf and returned to the couch and lay down with a sigh of relief. He touched the worn edges of the books browning paper and was reminded of how his grandfather had slowly turned the pages of this book as he read him the story:
“Marseille – The Arrival” the title said. “On the 24th of February 1815 the watch-tower of Notre Dame de la Garde signalled the three-masted ship Pharon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples”. Harry had read this book hundreds of times by now, that if he shut his eyes the words would instantly appear in his mind like lines of text on a computer screen. He would sometimes dream that he was Dantes Edmond and living in the world found within the pages of Dumas’ Novel. He would fantasize about being transformed into The Count of Montecristo. Curiously, and Harry really never made much ado about it, all the memorizing he had done developed in Harry the uncanny ability to recall pretty much anything with ease. This not only availed him of a photographic memory, but also an above average intelligence. He could see patterns where others would see only chaos. This gift, however, was lost on Harry. Harry saw himself as just a thief. His mantra was a simple one, “better a thief then a slave be”. Harry promised himself that he would never be a slave to anyone, let alone some inhuman process. His grandfather would often say that people were in constant danger of being consumed by their own anxieties. The danger lay not in having the anxiety, after all nature put it there to help us survive the dangers of the primeval forests. Like so many other human the survival mechanism, anxiety could and was turned against us by those who saw in it the potential for control, manipulation and not surprisingly profit.
Harry’s grandfather had once told him about how the ancients had searched long but without success for something called the Philosopher’s Stone. It was a legendary alchemical substance, said to be capable of turning base metals, especially lead, into gold (transmutation); it was also sometimes believed to be an elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and possibly for achieving immortality. For a long time, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy, meditated upon by alchemists like Sir Isaac Newton, Nicolas Flamel, and Frater Albertus. The Stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. The discovery of the philosopher’s stone was known as the Great Work. Not surprisingly neither a viable process of transmutation nor a “stone” was ever discovered or created. Although there is some claim that success was achieved. According to legend, the 13th-century scientist and philosopher Albertus Magnus is said to have discovered the philosopher’s stone and passed it to his pupil Thomas Aquinas, shortly before his death circa 1280. Magnus does not confirm he discovered the stone in his writings, but he did record that he witnessed the creation of gold by “transmutation”. While not real the Philosopher’s Stone became a metaphor for unrealistic goals, dreams or foolish illusions.
“That’s the problem with the world” Harry’s grandfather would proclaim every time there was a news item that featured the negative impacts of the economic process. “Too much consuming…nothing doing…we knew even in my day that too much consuming was wrong and to make things right they’ve made stealing an honorable thing” and while Harry’s French was never his strength he understood when his grant father would exclaim, “c’est tout foké!”
But, Harry eventually came to embrace the trade of theft, it was ironically the only way to be free. Many years after his grandfather passed away Harry realized that people gave up their freedom when they began to consume. He understood that consuming was not unique to humans, plants and other living things consumed, it was necessary for survival. Survival was hardwired into all living things. Just like reproduction. Just like death was. Harry did not deny this but why so much consumption?
“Invariably this lead to waste, mountains of waste.” Harry thought. “What did they expect to gain from all the consumption and waste that chocked the rivers and spoiled the land? Why did we suffocate the air for the single minded desire to have more?” As Harry reflected on these things he was reminded of another of his grandfathers sayings, well it was more like a jingle. Harry pondered on how he would repeat it over and over again like a mantra. Where it came from he was not sure, but it was a safe bet that he would have found it in one of the many books that were strewn thought his grandfather’s appartment6 before he had moved in with Harry’s parents.
“How did that go again?” Harry pondered.
“More, more is the cry of the mistaken souls, not enough shall satisfy a man. That was it!”
Harry was not really reading now. He was simply starring at the pages while these thoughts raced through his mind. Yet he was still conscious of what he was reading…but in an unconscious sort of way. He could never seem to understand how this was possible, it just was. He stopped trying to understand this strange and curious little trick or talent. It was like two people were doing their own thing inside his head but somehow each one knew what the other was doing.
It was at this juncture that Harry’s thoughts began to form the image of the Pathway Book Shop girl Arianne. She seemed familiar but he was sure he had never seen her before in his life. He caught himself smiling while thinking about this stranger.
“I’m must be tired”, he thought.
“Tomorrow I’ll feel better, I’ll sleep and forget about the shop girl and everything will go back to normal.”
He put his book down on the floor, turned off the light and turned towards the wall pulling on the bed covers , submerging himself in blankets and instantly fell asleep.
It is said that most people die in the early morning hours…
It was a Saturday morning in mid May, a kid’s downtime. A day to decompress from the rules and regulations of school. A kid can even stay up late, because Sunday like Saturday was another day off. Except for one drawback. Monday followed Sunday and that meant back to the grind. Another five days of servitude and submission. But for now all that seemed far away. Now it was Saturday, glorious Saturday!
At my home Saturdays were punctuated by certain activities. Early in the morning my father, a man who I firmly believe had not slept-in a single day in his life, did a general cleanup of our apartment. This was a good thing as it excused me from doing it.
Breakfast consisted of a big cup of café-latte and two pieces of toast with butter. That’s butter, not margarine, butter! As I ate my toast I caught myself humming to one of the classical pieces blaring from the living room stereo just across from the kitchen where I was eating.
“You like that?” my father asked with a satisfied smile splashed across his face.
“Ya, kind of” I replied, trying hard to fain any enthusiasm.
I said nothing for about ten minutes until my father made another pass through the kitchen then I asked, albeit sotto voce,
“So what’s it called?”
“What’s what called?” he responded with a nonchalant demeanour.
“You know, that music!” I exclaimed.
“Oh that music” drawing out the “that” for emphasis. That’s called the Concerto Number One in B Flat.
“Who’s it by?” I asked, again I fain my enthusiasm.
“Tchaikovsky” he replied, still smiling.
“Tchai-who?” I had heard him but I didn’t feel like giving anything up, least of all my pre-adolescent ennui.
“Tchaikovsky, he’s a Russian classical composer…” and just as he was about to give me a brief history of Tchaikovsky, or Russian composers or what B Flat meant…it sounded to me like a bra size, I left.
“Hey where are you going?” he asked as I went to get the object of my amusement for the day.
“Oh ya, Jerry lent me his pellet rifle and I thought I would go out to the woods down by Torpedo hill and try it” I called out from my bedroom.
“I didn’t see any pellet rifle this morning when I went into your room?’ came his response.
“It was under my bed…I didn’t want mom to see it. You know how she gets.”
“Well, try not to kill anything out there” he called out as I was leaving the apartment.
My response was typical of a ten year old ” with a pellet rifle?!”
My home was an apartment in a CMHC project on the West Island of Montreal. Until I moved out west to go to university, that’s where I lived.
It wasn’t big nor was it opulent. But I would challenge anyone to eat as well as I did. It was a home, my home. Which was more than I could say of so many other places where a family shared a space.
Now one might think that CMHC projects had little in the way of green space and if it was located anywhere else one might be right, but not Cloverdale. The defining characteristic of the project was that it backed up onto a forest and fields hundreds of acres in size. It was a garden undisturbed by landscaping. Flowing through it was a shallow stream about thirty A shallow stream about tem metres wide flowed through it. The stream cut a canyon for about a kilometre through the forest before it flowed into the open fields. The water was clear and there would on occasion appear a large cat fish, finger length minnows and the usual frogs and crayfish. Ducks and herron would nest in some of the more secluded places along the canyon section of the stream as it was usually free of marauding dogs or overly rambunctious ten year old boys. As the stream flowed through the fields it past a smaller stream that emptied into it and it was there that the land took a sudden upward incline. This was the back side of torpedo hill. It was called “Torpedo Hill” because of the tremendous speeds one could achieve when tobogganing down its front face. It was this location to which I was headed this morning.
On my way to torpedo hill I had picked up some empty coke bottles and two tin cans I had found along the dirt road that went through the forest. I had set these up at the bottom of the hill and I started up it’s summit where I was intent on trying my marksmanship on the cans and bottles blow.
When I reached the top of the hill I sat on a large bolder. Getting comfortable before taking aim, I felt a sudden sense of contentment. I thought about having all of this as my backyard and in that instant I realized that I would be hard pressed to give it up for any pool-crowded, landscaped, lawn-manicured single-family home. No this was a backyard. Moreover, I got to share it with all my friends. It was a place where we fought fantastic battles against make believe enemies or monsters. Where hide-seek was a real challenge and where, as yet unbeknownst to me, I would discover the pleasure of sexual love and the magic that is a woman.
I took aim at the objects in the distance and slowly began to squeeze the trigger but I was distracted by a Redwing Blackbird flying by. I watched it perch on a branch at the apogee of a large thorn bush about fifty to sixty feet away.
Looking up at the black bird I was overcome by a curios feeling that made me aim the rifle at it. Without thinking, without so much as a second of hesitation for what I was about to do, I pulled the trigger.
The black bird stopped singing. A second passed. It didn’t move. Then as though it was a sandbag being dropped from a height, it fell to the ground.
I stood up throwing my arms into the air in ecstatic jubilation and start out to inspect “my” kill. But as I approached the dead black bird I was overcome with a suffocating feeling of remorse. By the time I reached the lifeless body tears were rolling down my face. There was terrible nausea developing in my stomach and I felt I need to sit. I knelt down in front of the bird and pondered its demise.
This bird with beautiful onyx black plumage and that vivid swoosh of red, outlined with a white stripe, was dead because of me. It’s death served no purpose other than my own ego gratification. It had flown off this morning to look for food or as it was spring perhaps a mate, never once realizing that before the sun was high in the sky it would be dead. Stupid, stupid me, I told myself. How does anyone just go out and shoot something.
My father would recall that during the war he and my uncle would strategically hang a fish net iin the flight path flock of pigeons. Then they would scare the birds into the fishnet. The dead birds would become entangled and become evening meal for the family. They were killed for a purpose.
After finding an appropriate burial spot for the bird under a tree, I went home. My walk back home was crowded with thoughts of loneliness and isolation. I had killed another living thing, an animal that had done me nor anyone or anything else harm. Its death was empty. I tried to console myself by think it happened quickly. The bird would not even have had time to think about or realize that it was dying, I told myself. It could not even have reflected on a whether its life had been worth living for himself or anyone else. It had lived and then died. No meaning, no use.
Many years have passed since that morning when I first met death. Death has visited more often than I expected – No one in my immediate family is still alive. Members of my extended family who I cared for dearly are gone. Even very close friends with whom I shared special and tender moments were taken long before they’re time. Isolation and loneliness are no longer thoughts, they have become constant companions. I am often gripped by a need to be somehow transported back to those Saturday mornings when my father would rush around cleaning our apartment, playing his classical music. Saturdays’ that were full of sunshine, promise and hope. But those Saturday’s ended long ago. In a way they ended on that morning in an instance of misguided ego when I met death.
Parigi e’ una dona dai capelli rossi!’ Paris is a redhead. Such was my father’s fascination with the City of lights that he combined two of his obsessions into one thought.
Unlike my father, I have had the privilege of visiting the city of lights on no fewer than seven occasions. My father passed away in September of 1980, never seeing Paris. I returned to Paris in 1985 as part of a cycling tour I did with a girl friend before starting my Masters degree at the University of Alberta. Our tour began in Rome and we cycled north towards our destination, the city of London. We stopped for a week in Paris and while it was a delightful experience I felt something was missing. I would return once more in 1988 before a long hiatus that saw me not visit Paris until 2008. But before this next visit in 1998, and as proof of the truth to the saying “The fruit never falls far from the tree”, I married a redhead.
My wife Lise grew up in the gold mining town of Timmins Ontario. Since the early twentieth century Timmins had been a source of great wealth. Lise, however, experienced it as a place empty of the creative forces of civilization. One of her passions was learning how to sew, spending hours sewing by hand and machine. She would, in her private moments, escape to daydreams about places and people from which she extracted the ideas for the designs of the doll garments. She dreamt of flowing creations and innovative lines; garments that were both useful and practical as much as they were works of arts. She always awoke, however, to her life of cold winters and desolation; punctuated only by the short summers of Northern Ontario. School was the other way she afforded herself a respite-escape. She learned Spanish, eventually speaking it as well as her accented English. But her favourite subject, history, was the cornucopia that provided the raw material of her imagination. Her fantasy was lived there in the places and names that occupied the annals of human experience.
In her daydreams Lise travelled to ancient Rome, the lavish courts of great Chinese dynasties and Paris. Paris of the enlightenment; she was a Madame with her own salon where she hosted the likes of Descartes, Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau and took part in conversations that spoke of a better world, a better humanity. She envisioned Paris of the Belle Epoch, where the seeds of modern culture and fashion were being planted in a fertile soil; a time when beauty, universal ideas and literature would flourish. In those reveries she lived in the Paris of Channel and Dior, Sartre and de Beauvoir, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Porter, and nourished her imagination. She found herself escaping to her imaginary Paris more frequently. She would close her eyes and she could hear Piaf, smell the café with croissant and brioche served at the morning breakfast as she walked along the boulevards in her mind. There she would be, sitting at one of those cafés savouring her favourite beverage as it should be enjoyed. In time, however, while the hunger persisted, the tastes faded and Paris again became just content for the pages of history.
Years later, living in Ottawa, she would walk by a café and briefly stare through the window that looks out onto street. In a brief moment, as brief a moment as the eye could comprehend, the reflection behind her on the window was not that of Ottawa, but of the rain soaked streets of Paris.
‘Hey! Stop staring into that coffee shop, you’re making people uncomfortable and I’m getting hungry.” I said, getting impatient with Lise as we made our way to her birthday feast.
‘Okaay, you know, this is crazy, why are you taking me to supper at the Fish Market? It’s so expensive!’
‘Shut up already about the cost, it’s a present from me and Kathy.’ I pleaded in frustration.
Walking hand-in-hand across the Byward Market, I sensed that Lise knew a surprise was in the offing. What she did not realize was that surprises are best when they have to be peeled like an onion.
‘What –a-you up to Dan?’ She asked suspiciously
‘Supper at the Fish Market’, each word pronounced as if it were its own sentence and with emphasis.
‘But I don’t even like Fish!’ she implored emphasizing the folly of my attempt at surprise without giving away that she was on to me.
Arriving at the Fish Market and I held the door open, she stepped through. Fighting back a Cheshire cat smile I quickly whispered.
‘You’ll like this fish!”
The door greeter asked if we had reservations, I replied that we did. ‘Under what name?’ she asked.
‘Right this way she offered.’
I followed her. Fortunately, Lise walked directly behind me, her view sufficiently blocked to deny her a view of the tables brought together for family and friends to celebrate her 49th birthday. Though she may not have been surprised by the gesture, she was certainly a little shocked by the volume of the cry “SURPRISE!’
Several hours passed. Lise was feeling the warmth of the wine (red) but hardly “surprised” by her party.
‘You realize that I had a feeling you had something up your sleeve.’
‘Was it the fish?’ I asked feigning irritation.
‘Don’t be silly’ she said bending her head to my shoulder, ‘It’s the best party anyone’s ever given me.’
‘So it wasn’t the fish that gave it away?’ I asked still persisting in my deception.
‘Oh no, it was the fish!’ she replied with a tone of victorious self-satisfaction.
‘Ya, I kinda thought it was going to be a problem’, was my impotent comeback.
At the other end of the table Kathy was getting up just as the waiter had finished with the coffee and tea service.
‘Excuse me, can I get your attention please?’ everyone slowly turned and looked in her direction with almost knowing expectation.
‘I know that you’ll probably complain but… too bad. Some of us still have a few little gifts for you to end the evening.’
Lise was about to protest, but Kathy intervened with a simple and curt ‘zip it!’
What followed was a succession of gifts being past-down the table to where Lise was seated. At the end of that convoy, she thanked everyone with tears leaking from under her glasses.
In the middle of her slightly slurred monolog I interrupted and pointed out that I had forgotten to give her my little present.
‘Oh that’s enough!’ she blushed, taking my gift and putting it aside.
‘Now wait a minute! You opened everyone’s gifts but not mine!’ I protested.
‘Alright I’ll open yours she said, with a smile of complete ignorance.’
She opened it, realizing what it was, she gleefully lifted it up to show everyone.”
‘It’s a desk calendar with pictures of Paris; you remembered that I wanted one.”
But from across the table her son Erik pointed out to her that there was something sticking out of the calendar.
Lise opened the calendar at the bookmark on the page for October 23rd, her birthday.
Between the pages was an envelope.
‘What’s this?’ she inquired, a little confused but more so curious at this point.
‘OPEN IT!’ everyone yelled in unison.
Lise opened the envelope and pulled out two train tickets, destination Dorval and a regular 8.5 by 11 page. She looked at the tickets and completely ignored the destination. Still perplexed, she looked up and said, ‘we’re going to Montreal?!’ To which I replied ‘No’ and everyone else yelled
‘READ THE PAPER!’
It was at this point that Lise figured out she had been had. She realized that the goal of this soiree was not the surprise party, nor was it a weekend in Montreal.
She opened the paper, hands shaking and tears just noticeable under her glasses. The table was silent as everyone’s eyes watching every movement like golf fans on the 18th hole.
Lise read… A moment past, she suddenly collapsed on her chair like someone fainting. She took off her glasses and began to cry. She didn’t whimper, nor did she sniffle –she cried. The flood gates of a life time of forgotten hope flowed out in her tears. She bawled like a new born babe. She put her hands to her face, but not even those could stem the tide of tears. They were tears that reached back to that little girl who dreamt of Paris. At last she would touch and be touch by the city of lights. The hunger would be fed and the taste would be full in her mouth and she would finally feast.
‘OH MY GOD, I’m going to Paris!’
She turned looked at me and asked, ‘When?’
Now came my moment as I triumphantly said,…’tomorrow… surprise!’
Some time ago, I remember thinking, as I drank my third glass of Coca Cola; why do I like the things I do? Why don’t I just drink water? Why do I always drink Coke, buy Coke and offer Coke? Habit? Perhaps, or is there more to this caffeine laced beverage than mere essence of coffee bean? Probably not! Since, I believe, it may have been one hundred years ago that the last bottle of the “world’s favorite soft” drink contained any quantity of cocaine. So maybe I like Coke because I’ve been bombarded by images of Coke associated with things and moments that in my memory are conveniently linked to emotional hooks. Isn’t finding those emotional hooks and manipulating them the reason people in marketing and advertising are paid the big bucks?
Most of us know that one of the basic precepts of marketing is the process of creating a need or a want where none previously existed. Add to that advertising as a tool to manipulate perception to make marketing viable, and you get individuals influenced into consuming. Indeed, one offspring of marketing and advertising has been the re-creation of meaning and language. We have gone from being citizens of a society to consumers in an economy. No longer are we individuals, except when the dominant political philosophy is challenged by a competitor philosophy — Communism and Nazism, and almost succeeded. Instead we are all consumers, who are offered up pre-packaged, least offensive and most appealing alternatives. This is being applied to soft drinks, car wax and even politicians. And I submit to you that it is being done to comedy.
In my rubric of likes and dislikes, one of those things which falls under the former category is the television show “Politically Incorrect”, hosted by Bill Maher. “Politically Incorrect” was the spicy chili pepper in an otherwise bland and tasteless sauce of television stew. Provocative and challenging, I was left changed at the end of every show, with a sense that in our society it was ok, even fun, to agree to disagree. Shortly after September 11th it was cancelled.
Comedy is an exclusively human endeavour. There are no stand-up routines or snappy one-liners among even the higher primates. Cheetah Youngman is not delivering the line, ”Take my lice… please!” Nor are the hyenas laughing at some jungle comic’s monologue. In a time when our choices from personal hygiene to political representation are being sanitized, downsized and rationalized, comedy helps us cut through the milquetoast pap and provoke our sensibilities. As a vehicle for laughter, comedy needs to invoke the lighter side of the human psyche. But as a forum for dealing with issues, both great and small, it often needs be offensive, rough and bluntly honest. It needs to blast through prejudice and fear, and challenge preconceptions. It should not be the domain of the safe or comfortable, nor should it be the preview of political correctness.
Comedy must maintain itself as a method by which we may deal with difficult issues in ways that are sometimes subtle: ”How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: “That’s not funny!” And not so subtle: A son-in-law is fighting with his mother-in-law. She gets so angry at her good-for-nothing son-in-law that she says, “If I were married to you I would poison your coffee!”
He responds, “If I were married to you, I would drink it!”
Comedy should always leave you transformed from how it found you. Is there a danger? If we limit comedy aren’t we limiting free speech?
Here in Canada, rules of social and political conduct have subdued any overtly enthusiastic criticism of our society and our selves. On the other hand, we as a society and our institutions have been more laid back than our neighbours to the south. (Maybe we just have a better sense of humour!) Some Americans, for example, suggest that comedians express opinions that millions of white trash neo-nazis would love to say, if they could hide behind the first amendment under the guise of comedy. They may be right, but what’s important is that they express a sentiment that exists and ought to be dealt with, not just by legislating it away but by confronting it. And the comic makes us confront it, not only in others, but also in ourselves, without sanitizing, downsizing or rationalizing it. But what about the occurrence of mindless hate and/or cataclysmic events? Indeed!
Imagine if the World Trade Center had been attacked on another date say the 11th of April, and the weapon of attack had been a computer information virus that continuously queried the computer systems at the twin towers to a grinding halt. Would we refer to that cataclysmic date as 411 instead of 911?
History will say that President George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20th, but took the oath of office on September 11th.
Dark humour? Perhaps! But it makes us look at the events of September 11th in a different light. If memory serves me correctly, September 11th is the single greatest loss of life in such a short period of time, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and maybe the bombing of Dresden. These were all disturbing events, but additionally troubling was the self-imposed censorship of most American and some Canadian comedians after the events of September 11th.
Horrific as it may have been, there was no excuse for protecting the American institutions that were negligent in their defense of the people of the United States and those foreign nationals who worked at the twin towers. From the Oval office, through the FBI and CIA, no one seemed to want to take any responsibility. Harry Truman would have been mortified. Moreover, at a time when Americans needed to be challenged out of conventional thinking, the very people who could have provided some of the provocation to think beyond the black box silenced themselves.
In a convoluted sense of sympathy for the victims, comedians of all stripes, save one, Bill Maher, marched to the beat of mindless nationalism. It seemed that any comedic attack on the institutions responsible for a lapse in vigilance, would be misconstrued as an attack on the victims of September 11th. Certainly not just a few media outlets in the U.S. and some in this country led the public at large to believe that such behaviour would be unacceptable and unpatriotic. After September 11th, this silence, I think, contributed to the rationalization of creating an institutional behemoth such as the Department of Homeland Security, which did more to vanquish the core social and political values of freedom and liberty in the United States, than 20 years of terrorist attacks ever could.
Sure, humour can hurt and even alienate. But the risk is better than the alternative – a steady diet of innocuous, flavourless gruel. Americans and Canadians should demand to be challenged, to risk being offended, to be treated like thinking, reasoning adults and to raise their children to be the same. Don’t let a media network, a senate or parliamentary committee, a publisher or the local morality rights nationalist citizens group take away your freedom to laugh at whatever you want.
You know, I think I like Coca Cola simply because I choose to…do you?
The activists of the French Revolution seemed to have an inherent understanding of the relationship between wealth and time. They gave all manner of public announcement as justifications for the eradication of one class of people by mechanical means. With the efficiency of an assembly line, the guillotine provided them an affordable and expedient, not to mention very public means, to eliminate the perpetrators of their oppression. In an Orwellian way, it would have come as no surprise if Henry Ford had taken these processes and applied them to the manufacturing of automobiles. There may have been, however, method to their madness.
Today it is matter-of-fact knowledge that money has barriers of neither time nor place. However, two hundred and thirteen years ago the movement of capital through time and space as it occurs today was inconceivable. Wealth, moreover, was inextricably tied to persons, families and hereditary lineage. The times were such that if you were “noble” born, your great grandfather’s, grandfather’s and father’s wealth were yours. Unless you had siblings who might contest your right to it, it was pretty well a done deal. So what if your human chattel objected or worse yet unceremoniously exiled you from “your” domain! You could always wait it out with one of your cousins or uncles with life and wealth intact until the ingrates came to their senses or simply forgot their reasons for exiling you. It was more likely, as it is today, that the “ingrates” would forget your malice, than be overwhelmed by any thought of reason. Even if they did, reason may not necessarily work in your favour.
Forgetfulness, at the same time a failing and a reprieve, is one of the most enduring and least complex of the human frailties. Both scholars of psychology and pedestrian commentators know and understand that what humans find too difficult or painful to remember we simply choose to forget. It has been observed that the degree of meaning an event may have for an individual is inversely related to our forgetting it. Similarly, the more distant an event or person is to our everyday activity the less likely we will ascribe meaning to it or him. Finally, we all carry with us a core set of values that we use as templates for not only understanding, but also interpreting the world and how we interact with it. Human beings are notorious for trying to pigeonhole everything. The very nature of pigeon holing is applying our mental templates to our perceptual world. The more complex and colourful they are, the more meaning we extract from our world. In this case, meaning and memory are maintained not through the process of stored information, but rather from the degree to which our templates allow us to extract meaning from events that occur in our world. If we have rather black and white templates to understand and interpret our world, then many of the subtle nuances of an event will be missed or ignored and therefore the event will be meaningless. In an extreme case for example, if our musical templates allow for only the recognition of noise and silence, much of the beauty that is evident in a symphony would of course be meaningless…remarkably forgettable. So it is with anything in our world including our relationships, be they private or public.
It should come as no surprise therefore, that as time and meaning become less clear with respect to an event, the details of the event become less clear. Did Nixon actually misinform the American people or did he lie? Was Trudeau a defender of our legitimate authority or was he simply an autocrat when he asked parliament to invoke the War Measures Act? Are neo-conservative economics new or are they simply the re-treading of laissez-faire ideas of the 19th century?
Whether they were aware of it or not the radicals of the French Revolution changed the direction of western society not only because they implemented the ideals of that revolution, but also because they effectively ended any possibility for the French nobility to mount a come back in any effective numbers and force. They did this in the most brutal, but effective of ways, by killing them. Horrendous as this was, it achieved the goal of ending the domination of one class over the other. Though it could be argued that the French nobility was reinstalled after 1815, it was but a pale perversion of its former self and in a great twist of historical irony, it had as its master and benefactor the middle class, from whom it had received its deathblow. Just as ironic, moreover, was the apparent loss of memory suffered by the French middle class with respect to its former oppressors. Plus ça change… indeed!
The difficulty has been that Democracy is an ever-evolving process and not a static goal. It is not what we have, but rather it is what we do. In a society, where there is a tendency to seek convenience, Democracy is anything but convenient. While we tend to seek the path of least resistance, democratic institutions require the most effort in order to deliver optimal results. The path of least resistance is also the path of least effort. Unfortunately, democracy requires effort. It demands that we engage ourselves in the process. It is a process demanding more than a lemming like stampede to the electoral cliffs. Democracy is not a blunt instrument that achieves its objectives by bludgeoning a community with a majoritarian bat. Nor is it the convoluted meanderings of “consensus building” as spectacle or audience participation sport that struggles in a quagmire of competing “stake holders”. Democracy is also a barometer that measures the maturity, diversity and wisdom of a society. It simultaneously tells us who we are, as well as, what we should become. Aristotle wrote in the Politics that; “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” This is the goal of Democracy, that all should share in the government to the utmost. This is, in effect, the unfulfilled expectation.
Years ago I was lucky enough to have been involved with an intelligent, beautiful and vivacious woman. We were together for about six years and to our friends we easily complimented each other. However, it was not in the cards, as it were, and we parted as friends.
Our break up was, like our time together, unconventional. We had for some time planned a cycling tour through Europe and while it had not been our original intention when first we planned our tour, the trip together became the relationship’s swan song. Essential we were to make our way from Rome to London and at that destination, we would part ways. She was meeting her new partner there, like I said we had an unconventional relationship, and I would return to Italy and spend the last two weeks of our European trip in the land of my father with my relatives. While our terminus was the city of London we really ended our lives together in the stop before that… the City of Paris.
It was, I think, the most appropriate place for our relationship to find its end game. We spent two weeks in Paris. I’m not sure, but if my memory serves me correctly I believe that on the evening before we left for London, we visited the graves of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir in the Montparnasse Cemetery. Seems morbid, perhaps, but as I repeat we were unconventional. The reason for our pilgrimage to Montparnasse was our shared interest in the work of these two great minds of the twentieth century. In fact, until we grew out of a rather delusional notion, we tried to live a metaphor of their lives. When I reflect on this, it is both disturbing and comical as the only similarity lay in our respective genders.
Paris plays an important role in many if not all of my stories. The reasons for this are many and varied. Having visited and spent time there on nine different occasions I have a respectable comfort level with the city. It was, as well, a favourite subject of conversation with my father and while he never “gushed” about the place, he did seem to have a genuine interest in Paris. This became apparent to me after my first visit to the City of Lights in 1976. He enthusiastically poured over the photographs I had taken when I retrieved them from the photo-processing shop at Miracle-Mart (Like Wal-Mart but Canadian). Another reason may be because my place of birth bore a striking resemblance to Paris in both style and visual impact. Buenos Aires, my birthplace, is referred to as the Paris of South America… I would like to amend that to include both North and South America. You can imagine that my first visit to Paris made quite a visual impact on my memory not to mention my sense of nostalgia. Finally, it may be because the first Science Fiction story I ever read and still one of my favourites, “April in Paris” by Ursual K. Leguin had as its backdrop the city of Paris.
Regardless, whatever the reasons for Paris playing as prominent a role in my stories as it does, it is, as it should be, a significant backdrop-montage for some of my more important life experiences. This is no more evident that in my latest and still unfinished work, as most of my stories are, “I’ve Died and Gone to Paris”. While I have never formally resided in Paris, I can honestly say that it has felt like I have lived there both as a young and middle-aged man. If I may be indulgent then, and by way of leaving you wanting to read some of my stories, I offer one of “Poppa” Hemingway’s most famous quotes.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”