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One Perfect Shot

Marcus, 12 November 2022

As with all things Scorpio, birthdays are fraught with ruminations, existential angst, examinations of life, and preparations for the inevitable long winter sleep, whatever that may bring. No human being has ever experienced winter and returned intact, so it’s a surprise every time around.

This year, I treated myself to another mini Montreal staycation—a weekend sojourn at one of downtown’s fancier hotels, topped off with a solo Sunday dinner at Marcus. I was turning 45 and had no one special to spend the weekend with, so I took it upon myself to make my own day special. Although I could have paid for some company. The man staying below me did, and awkwardly, I heard their antics from dawn ‘til dusk all weekend long, complicating my writing schedule, and serving as a reminder that capitalism rules everything around me, including intimacy. Especially intimacy.

Later that evening, I sat by myself at a table on the third floor of the newish restaurant at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. I wasn’t entirely solitary. There was an Indian tech bro sat next to me trying desperately to impress his hot Asian date with talk of start-up ventures and his family’s business connections; there was a large party across the aisle with several well-dressed teenaged cousins sipping mocktails and bantering with their flirty middle aged aunties; there was the wait staff who very attentively served me a lovely meal of portobello mushroom with a perfectly done filet mignon to follow; and there was Leonard Cohen’s mural outside, haunting the place, mythical literary tradition veiling the foggy November city. All the while I felt extremely seen. None is as naked as a man dining alone.

As I finished my meal, which was characteristically exquisite (why, exactly, are there no Michelin-starred restaurants in Montreal?) the waiter asked if I had saved any room for desert. I said no, that I would just pay the cheque, and he coolly told me to take my time. A few minutes later, the very same waiter emerged again from the kitchen carrying a wedge of caramel chocolate cake and two sparklers, which he proceeded to place before me and ignite with a barbeque lighter. I am not sure how the restaurant knew it was my birthday. Maybe I had entered my date of birth into the online reservation system when I signed up. Maybe Big Data is thoughtful, after all.

The entire restaurant swivelled around to watch the sparklers sputter and spray sparks all over me, and the cake, and bounce onto the floor. The good teenagers at the party table smiled genuinely and wished me a happy birthday. The tech bro and his date made Leonardo DiCaprio-ish faces and raised their glasses in my direction. The sparklers continued sparking for an inordinately long time as I sat in place waiting for them to fizzle out, like the first 45 years of my life had just done—before my very eyes; too long and yet too short.

La beauté du Monde, Composer Julien Bilodeau; Librettist Michel Marc Bouchard, Opéra de Montréal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, 19 November 2022

I am fascinated by tourists who stop to take photographs next to the concrete slab of the Berlin Wall that is preserved for some reason in the atrium of the World Trade Centre in Old Montreal, when there are several other perfectly functioning walls the globe over—between Israel and Palestine; between the US and Mexico; between the COP 15 conference and the rest of Montreal—that still serve to divide nations and their natural citizens.

Like an opera meant to mythologize the abject horrors of World War II while another, realer war wages on in our midst, it’s too soon.

Mue, Télophases, Les Vasières (Halocline Trance)

What is it about modern ambient music that is at once relaxing and unsettling, simultaneously calming and tense, like a cup of third-wave coffee followed by a hit of some strong-ass indica? Les Vasières, by the Montreal electronic duo composed of Catherine “YlangYlang” Debard and Léon Lo, quintessentially captures this ambi-ambivalence, a slow and beautiful speedball of tortuous rhythm and melody.

Unruly Sun, Composer Matthew Ricketts, Librettist Mark Campbell, Orchestre Classique de  Montréal, Cirque Éloize, 1 December 2022

The English artist Derek Jarman left an indelible impression upon countless cultural scenes, from avant-garde film and music, to experimental literature, dance, photography, and painting. Now, a new operatic song cycle entitled Unruly Sun, inspired by Jarman’s journal entries during his final demise due to HIV/AIDS, serves to celebrate a man who helped pave the way towards awareness of sexual health and liberation. We’re not there yet.

Toula Drimonis in conversation with Leila Marshy, Paragraphe Bookstore, 4 December 2022

Nearing the end of a lively Q&A around the Montreal columnist Toula Drimonis’s excellent memoire, We The Others (Linda Leith Publishing, 2022), I decided to lob a rhetorical question: How many cultures are there in Quebec? Attendees immediately met me with incredulous responses like, “too many to count!” and “the more, the merrier!” All valid answers. I admit, though, that I was trying to tease the author and audience into acknowledging our basic assumption that there is such a thing as “Quebec Culture” in Quebec. It’s a kind of singular spirit or groove, if you will, that we expect others to get into when they come to call this place home.

The word “integration” is instructive. We often use integration in this province to talk about whom and how should best fit into Quebecois society—people from the Francophonie; refugees fleeing conflict; skilled workers; families, &c. Surely Quebec has more power than other provinces to pick and choose who is allowed to come here to stay, and integration is first and foremost on the minds of those who do the picking and choosing. The word presupposes a monolithic—or, at best, binary—Quebec society into which immigrants should integrate.

But Drimonis saw my rhetorical move coming up the 40 and adroitly made the important distinction between integration and assimilation. Of course Quebecois culture exists; it’s a mishmash of Indigenous, French, English, Irish, Greek, Ukrainian, African, Iranian, Syrian, Chinese, and myriad other nationalities, languages, customs, and worldviews. The government in power today would prefer that new and recent transplants assimilate into the French version of Quebecois society. But Quebec more broadly, and Montreal, specifically, has evolved, increasingly rapidly in recent years, into a truly international social mosaic, a mosaic for which integration is a more proper modus operandi. Integration is a journey, not a destination.

Acknowledging this means that even those of us who were born in Canada also need to integrate and reintegrate into our own society, a distinct society that nonetheless constantly ebbs and flows as new people come and go, raise new families, forge new communities, build new neighbourhoods, and remake society in a new and improved image.

I think that another sound metaphor for Quebec, or for any distinct society for that matter, is a vinyl record. Trick question number 2: How many grooves are there on an average LP?

One. There is one long groove that spirals around and around and around again. Within that groove, on any given recording, there are possibly many songs, many movements, and moods. But they all belong on that particular record together. It’s the groove that unites them.◼︎


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Autumn Serenade

Janet Werner, STICKY PICTURES, Bradley Ertaskiran, October 15th 2022

Tucked in the back room of Bradley Ertaskiran — the old Parisian Laundry, and one of the finer gallery spaces in the city — was the book launch for Janet Werner’s formidable new publication, Sticky Pictures. People talked and drank wine and had their books autographed by the artist in attendance and pretended not to look at one another.

I adore the frequent subjects of Werner’s paintings — girls. And I revel in the pleasure of adoring them through Werner’s painterly gaze rather than my own sharp male one.

A joke about Andy Warhol’s desire not only to be a part of the art scene but to be seen being a part of the art scene was that he would even attend the opening of a drawer. I am such a space cadet for art in this city that I go to the launch of a book.

Il Trovatore, Opera de Montreal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, September 13th, 2022

An open letter to my dear ex-wife of 43 years, the lovely Ms. Marlene Ssøørreennsseenn:

Dear Marlene;

It is with heavy heart that we must equivalently admit after trying to make things work despite having been divorced for over four decades that our 12-day marriage was a mistake. Had we children they might have given us grandchildren by now, but alas we were only wedded for a little less than two weeks in the late 1970s, and starting a family didn’t come up in conversation, as women’s liberation at that time socially forbade any unsolicited babytalk.

Suffice to say that we did not bring out the best in each other, what with the fourteen-year legal battle in the mid-‘80s over the fortunes from the fortune cookies following our second and final dinner date at Wings, which as you will apprehend is long since closed due to health violations.

With this Wing fortune, I thee forfeit the last scrap of our love affair, leaving you the worse luck, both figuratively and literally. Should the numbers on the verso ever win a lottery, I trust your solicitor to contact me forthwith with my fair share, as determined by concurrent legal precedent for post-nuptial fortune cookie winnings.

In closing, please forward any and all future correspondence to:
L. Oserfield

Heartbreak Hotel, room no. 237 (haunted)

Backxwash, with with LaFHomme, Morgan-Paige and Jodie Jodie Roger, October 28th 2022, Le Monastère

There is no doubt that Backxwash is the hottest hip hop artist in Canada. The crystalline concentration that comes with sobriety shines on HIS HAPPINESS SHALL COME FIRST EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SUFFERING. This year’s Halloween weekend album launch was a triumph of both style and substance, fashionable and profoundly meaningful, profane and sacred.

Backxwash is the antithesis of mainstream rappers who self-aggrandize and court controversy, or make patent pitches for luxury products that their listeners can ill afford. A constant and self-reflexive state of awareness permeates the recording and was ever-present in its live performance, too. Refreshing is not the word because the album is akin to gargling with activated charcoal, but whatever the descriptor, it’s deeply cleansing.

Boris: His Life in Music, Orchestre Classique de Montreal, October 18th, 2022, Salle Pierre-Mercure

The loss of Boris Brott to Montreal’s classical music community is immeasurable. Still, the show must go on, and the Orchestre Classique de Montreal paid appropriate tribute to the verve of a man who lived for that orchestra. The OCM began its 83rd season by lovingly presenting some of Brott’s all-time favourite musical works.

Before the performance, a photographic montage of Brott cycled onscreen, images of the maestro with celebrities and dignitaries, clowning around, full of wit, wisdom, and life. What a life lived, and what a legacy Brott left behind, carrying dutifully on in the tradition of his musical family before him who dedicated their days to tuning the world.

Brott’s death seems all the more tragic considering its accidental nature, and after his miraculous recovery from the nastiest strain of covid at the beginning of the pandemic. However, as the saying goes, the man who dies in an accident understands the nature of destiny.

This Is Not A Scarf, Soha Zandi, Somaye Farhan & Elahe Moonesi, Place des Arts, October 30th 2022

In protest of the shocking human rights abuses taking place in Iran right now, a group of artists created an inspired imaginative response that took place on the steps of Place des Arts, without any fanfare or official permission from the usual authorities. They showed up with a pile of scarves and stood there waiting for passersby to tie them on in any fashion they saw fit. The result was a sincerely moving performance, which was a performance by virtue, but produced a spontaneous moment.

I was temporarily enlisted to stand guard next to a pile of camera equipment on the busy Saint-Catherine Street sidewalk when an elderly gentleman approached me inquiring, in French at first — a Quebecois accent from another time and place — what was going on. He appeared to be about sixty-five, tall, lean and cleanshaven, with an enviable headful of smartly styled salt-and-pepper hair. He had on a fitted black leather jacket and hanging around his neck was a comparatively outdated digital camera, an old Sony with a top-mounted viewfinder.

I apologized that my French was not as good as my English, but he was well-spoken in both languages and when I told him this was a performance art piece for Iranian freedom he looked at me for a moment, his face becoming very grave, and said, “I think this is the end of the world. But I won’t be here to see it. I’m eighty.” I was surprised by his candour and tried to nod knowingly as he took leave to photograph the happening.

Returning, he mused, “A lot of people in Quebec complain, but we are lucky to live here.” I knew what he meant. Peace activism begins and ends with peaceful activism, acting peacefully.◼︎