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The Schwartz

Charles Richard-Hamelin with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Prokofiev’s Concerto no. 2, Maison Symphonique, 13 May 2023

Ambivalence characterizes everyone who’s ever managed to leave a cult. Nobody just quits. Everyone hems and haws and deliberates. There are reasons to join, after all. The sense of belonging. The us-versus-them mentality. The Kool-Aid.

But really, when it comes right down to it, cults are a bit silly. They often have arbitrary and opaque rules, their members always reveal themselves to be individually weak, and their leaders never possess the qualities their followers attribute to them. Jesus Christ probably couldn’t really turn water into wine. Not after 3am anyway. And if Charles Manson’s singing voice was any indication, his leadership and management skills likely left a lot to be desired.

There is strength in numbers — I supposed that’s why gangs and armies are such a thing, never mind cults. And yet one person can change the world. Look at Einstein, or Putin, or Jim Balsillie. Cults naturally form around great people. Great people don’t go out there trying to start cults.

If you’re going to give your life over to crazy ideas, why would you decide to adopt someone else’s crazy ideas? It just seems nuts to join any fringe movement when you can be your very own fringe movement. That is why I don’t want to be a cult member. What happens if their crazy ideas are wrong? Or worse, what happens if they’re right? No cultist really wants to lead; it’s much easier putting the entire cult in charge.

One problem with leaving a cult is that former members often struggle to find their own identity again, to remember who they are independent of the cult. It is important to nurture and encourage these people, to remind them that they are special and unique individuals capable of thriving and flourishing on their own. Being gentle helps.

The Orchestra Symphonique de Montreal’s Season Finale concerts run 31 May, 2 June, and 3 June at Maison Symphonique.

Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 16 May 2023

“Art is what makes us human. Art is what makes us civilized. Art is the glue that holds us together. Art is a record of our cultures. Art gives us identity, gives us meaning.”

Listening to Dempsey Bob speak these simple, true words restored, if only for a moment, my faith in people and art. I suppose that faith has faltered of late. Because we still live in a world where cultural genocide is tolerated, even encouraged. Ukrainians are Indigenous people of Ukraine. In that genocide, I fear the worst is still to come. My hope, though, is that after the worst, it won’t take another century to make minefields and mass graves permanent history.

Wolves: The Art of Dempsey Bob runs through 10 September 2023 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Rhinoceros in Love, Dir. Huirui Zhang, Mainline Theatre, 16 May 2023

Love is impossible to define. But everyone knows exactly what love is. And things done for love are defined comparatively easily. Their traces, their consequences, are real.

I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love. Certainly not enough to kidnap a person — that seems unlovable. You can’t make someone love you. Nor can you make yourself love someone else.

My views on love are inspired by late-1990s Robert De Niro movies: never get too attached to anything you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner. Maybe it’s climate change, but every corner seems like a hot corner these days.

The Montreal Fringe Festival runs 29 May to 18 June 2023.

Schwartz’s Deli, immediately afterwards

I had never been to Schwartz’s Deli. In 20 years of living in this city, I had never actually set foot inside nor even slowed down when walking past the place. Ever since I’ve been here, Schwartz’s is where tourists with too much money and too much time line up for a smoked meat sandwich, which is literally meat in bread. It’s not complicated. Smoked meat is available all over Montreal, and there are a number of places that do it very well indeed. I didn’t go to The Main, either (I was a Ben’s man) but I never felt required to give Schwartz’s my money, or feed the mythology.

But as I walked past immediately following “Rhinoceros in Love” and noted with curiosity that there was no lineup, and hardly anyone inside, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. A few tables were occupied with a few regulars; I surmised this because they bantered familiarly with the nighttime staff. Two guys behind the counter were ready to take my order. I didn’t want to sit. I wanted a smoked meat kit to construct at home. So I ordered 300 grams of meat with a bit of fat and a loaf of rye bread, to go.

A sturdy woman behind the register rang me through cheerfully. I mentioned that I had never previously eaten there and she looked at me and said, unselfconsciously, “you’ll be back.” When I put together my home version of this classic Montreal sandwich, a mountain of meat wedged between two slices of soft bread slathered in yellow mustard, I knew what she’d meant. The stuff’s addictive. Use the Schwartz responsibly.

Folk Noir, Collectif9, Bain Mathieu, 20 May 2023

Nicole Lizée’s compositions are so completely of their time. Like the music of Philip Glass, which celebrated our previous generation’s fascination with machinic perfection, Lizée’s pieces — when performed properly, mind you — stutter like CDs skipping, stretch out, contract, trip, glide, jump forward, stop, start again, and loop back like a facsimile curling into itself. In the best possible way. They mimic the cacophony of an era awash in digital noise, competing platforms, broken links, incomplete transmissions, routed through various channels, those channels being human beings making sound with archaic musical instruments. In music as in life, harmonies are obscure, elusive, and ephemeral.

It’s impossible to say what this or that Romantic or Baroque-era composer would be writing today, and it is equally impossible to imagine Lizée in another musical moment than this one. By capturing the present, this music becomes timeless.◼︎

Cover image: Dempsey Bob, Transformation, 2011, Yellow Cedar, 51.5 x 38.5 x 12.9 cm, Collection of Cheryl Gottselig QC and Yves Trépanier, Calgary.