Friday, August 13, 2010

O Montreal

I started this post last week in Montreal, a few hours before catching my bus to Toronto. It was soon after this point that things shifted up a few gears, and I've barely had a spare non-exhausted moment since. I've been on the road a bit over three weeks now, and general fatigue is just starting to set in. Here goes:


I've got a belly full of poutine, a few hours of fresh tape, and several hundred new graffiti photos. Montreal, you've been good to me.


My bus to Toronto leaves at 9:00 tonight, so I'm currently killing time at a pizza shop in the Latin Quarter. I just saw some crust punks carrying two pet rats in a cage. I just saw some other crust punks washing windshields for change. I just saw some other crust punks with elaborate full-face tattoos, lugging their worldly possessions in olive knapsacks. It's summertime in Canada, and things couldn't be more pleasant.

When I last left off, I was a few minutes away from checking in at my hostel, a small place on Ave. Mont-Royal. It was only moderately filthy, which I appreciated — and just four out of six beds were occupied in my room. Not bad!

So I took a quick shower and walked to Sina Queyras's place, three or four blocks away. She was quite nice, and we got on well. She read from her recent book Expressway, and we talked about its relation to the last several years she's spent living in Brooklyn. During that period she was teaching at Rutgers, so she also discussed the differences between creative writing students in the U.S. and Canada.

Sina Queyras

I headed back to the hostel afterward, where I hung around sending emails and half-watching television for the next few hours. In standard hostel form, people were sitting around drinking beers, swapping travel stories, and flirting with the cutest girl in the room. I'd seen it all before: three Germans poring over a map, an Australian dude with an eyebrow piercing, a guy who was clearly too old to be staying in a hostel, some shy Spanish people, etc. The Australian also had a tattoo on his foot, which read "You will never walk alone." He said it was the motto of Liverpool's football club, and that he got it while "drunk as fuck" on a trip to England. He also told a story about waking up on the median in the middle of a German autobahn and having no recollection of how he'd gotten there. Traffic was moving too fast for him to cross back, so the cops had to stop traffic and pick him up. I sort of stopped paying attention halfway through.

At one point Two and a Half Men came on, and I took it for granted that the people around me would let out a collective groan and change the channel. But no! The Australian and the older guy (a Canadian) started talking about what a funny show it is and how attractive one of the female characters is and its development from one season the next. Good grief.

I ate a cup of instant noodles for dinner and headed out for a nighttime walk through the city. My sense of Montreal's scale was a little off, though, so I ended up walking well over an hour before reaching the subway stop from which I knew how to get home. Developed some serious blisters on my feet, and soon obliterated them.

The next day I walked to Darren Wershler's new place, which was ten or fifteen blocks from the hostel. I had a good time talking with him about typewriters, steampunk, and Apostrophe, his book of search engine distillations written/collected with Bill Kennedy. I also got to meet Max, his new baby.

Darren Wershler

After meeting Darren, I decided to take out a bike from the Bixi rental service and go for a little ride. I made my way down to Chinatown for lunch, where it actually seemed like Vietnamese places outnumbered Chinese. So I decided pho would be best. As usual, I picked the spot with the highest ratio of Asian patrons — and boy was that soup delicious. I got tripe and tendon and everything, and sat there for a long while reading The Globe and Mail. This was the only time in Montreal that I felt comfortable speaking French beyond "bonjour," mainly because it wasn't the native language of the people running the restaurant. I found the same to be the case in Marseille last year, where I had a friendly and mostly intelligible chat with a cookbook seller in the Arab market.

Bixi Bikes in Montreal

After lunch I talked to Matt Abess on the phone, mostly for the sake of prepping for my interview with Paul Dutton a few days later. Matt knows a whole lot about concrete and sound poetry, so it was a useful refresher. I also read bits of Erin Mouré's books for an hour or so to get ready for the next day's recording.

Then — still thinking about the visual text — I set off on a graffiti walk. Montreal is one of the best graffiti cities in the world, at least to my eye. Nowhere near the mastery of Naples or the sheer volume of Berlin, but the work is consistently inventive and the technical standards are generally high. I found something surprising on every block.


I'm considering writing an in-depth post just on Montreal's graffiti, but I'm not sure anyone else is interested. Anyway. On the inventive side of things, I came across a little runic squiggle dozens of times, all over the city. It took me a few hours of close attention across various iterations (some clearer than others) to figure out that this spells "Caper":


After, I biked back to the hostel and hung around with (ie near) the Australian guy and ate more instant noodles. Earlier in the day I'd passed a dim, dank place called "Club Chaos," which I took to be a punk bar, and made a mental note of its location. So I brought my Erin Mouré printouts and stopped by around 9 or so. It turned out, however, to be more of a metal bar — lots of leather and spikes and odd hair, etc., but the music they were playing was just awful. I left after half an hour and headed home.

The next morning I interviewed Erin Mouré, which was great fun. She's a huge figure in Canadian poetry, known for her translations as well as her writing. So we talked a good deal about her work between and about languages, and about how Montreal is a place where many languages (not just French and English) manage to co-exist. After our interview she invited over Chus Pato, whose poetry Erin has translated from Galatian. I did a side-by-side recording of Chus reading her poems in Galatian and Erin reading the translations, a format they were clearly used to. Chus didn't speak English, so we said hello and thank you and kissed on the cheeks and smiled a lot and generally acted polite and friendly in the way people do across language barriers.

Erin Mouré and Chus Pato

Then I went on another graffiti walk, this time into the somewhat sleazier neighborhood below the east end of Saint-Denis. Got some really gorgeous stuff, including the work of Fiefo, whose faux naive style I find really appealing. These things look like stylized versions of the very first instances of the piece form, by Blade (et al) in the mid-1970s in New York — right? I found four or five others by him within a few blocks.


And that brings me back to sitting at the pizza shop, killing time before catching the overnight bus. I'll stop here for now, and pick up with Toronto in my next update.


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