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.◼︎