The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Awkward à la Montreal

Last night, I went to Casa del Popolo. This is a veggie restaurant/venue for indie bands. When it first opened, it seemed to signify a youthful resurgence for the city of Montreal. That was almost a decade ago. Why do I still think of it as new?

Maybe because the last time I’d stepped inside was in 2001. I still remember the evening. I was wearing a black and white checkered dress that had a lot, a lot of give. I was pregnant. It was smoky. I thought that I might die.

I was there with my husband to meet an old friend of his who was in from New York City, where he’d been living in his van, for more than a year. I’d met the two of them at the same time, in 1994, at an Allen Ginsberg reading. The friend and I had exchanged numbers, but it was my husband and I who eventually hit it off, united by our newfound disrespect for Ginsberg, who primarily read poems about very young boys. That reading not only turned me off the Beats, it turned me off readings, it turned me off poems.

“It’s really good that you and N. didn’t work out,” my husband likes to tell me. “I don’t see you living in a van.”

So, there we were, reunited. I was trying hard not to choke on the smoke clouding our table. I was trying to keep up with the conversation. What had N. been up to? Travelling through the States, photographing abandoned factories? How romantic. How freaking wonderful.

I was getting angry. The effort was too much. I couldn’t contribute to this kind of highly artistic, flighty conversation. I couldn’t even breathe. I had to get out. I had to leave this behind. Youthful resurgence was clearly over for me. I would devote myself to my family, to my child.

And I did. Until the Fiery First Fiction people came to town yesterday. The Montreal launch was at Casa. I’d just have to get over my annoyance with youthful resurgence. I’d have to go inside. And I’d have to do it alone. There are only so many people I know who are interested in attending readings, and it seems that they are never available. A. was with her kids, K. was in New York (being highly artistic and flighty, damn her!). As for my husband, he never recovered from that Ginsburg thing. Literature is dead to him, but he always encourages me, “You go. Go!”

I read the menu a hundred times. This is the kind of luxury solitude affords. I decide on a cider. And then I sit down with it at the end of a very long table. I see a lot of people who I recognize, but, with one or two exceptions, we don’t acknowledge each other. This has been my experience of the literary scene: pedophile poems and awkward interactions or lack thereof. To pass the time, I think of all the things I know about the people around me. There is this one guy who I’ve met a thousand times. I always have to say, “We met at that dinner party. With the bellydancers? And the Tex Mex food? You really don’t remember? It was R’s birthday. She had just left her husband. You were the catalyst for the breakup. Don’t you remember what her husband found on the couch one night after you snuck out? I certainly do.” I can see from the blank look on his face that I will have to give the same speech the next time we meet. And the next time.

I also recognize one of the authors, although it takes a while for me to figure out why. I don’t know him, but I know his features. I’ve seen them on his young son. Once, at the library, when Junior was going through some kind of violent preschooler phase, he’d leapt out of the stacks to attack a younger, smaller, infinitely more fragile toddler, whose mother, my friend, promptly freaked out, making me feel sad for the author’s wife. The kid hadn’t really hurt anyone, and it was definitely my most memorable trip to the library ever. I’d seen her wandering the streets alone with him, waiting for him to outgrow that particular phase. That was a long while ago now. Last fall, when my daughter went for her first sleepover, her friend’s older brother invited a friend, too. It was the library attacker in a much calmer, happier, more mature form. He had the top bunk. By all accounts, it went well. I believe there were pancakes for everyone in the morning.

This is how I occupy myself, alone with my cider at the big table, thinking about library attacks and pancakes, bellydancers and angry husbands. Until something amazing happens. A woman comes up and introduces herself. She is with the LPG. She is hosting this event. And she knows Tricia! I enjoy our conversation and marvel at her social skills: is that a Toronto trait? Maybe, because when it happens again, it is a young guy, also from Toronto, this time from Coach House Press. It is so lovely talking to kind, socially ept strangers that I almost want to follow them back to Ontario. Probably pregnant women never have to breathe in smoke there. Probably no one ever gets into fisticuffs at the children’s library. And probably marriage breakers have the courtesy to remember more of the details, so they can rehash them as they forge social bonds at literary readings.


Blogger T. Lee said...

This is fantastic. So true about readings; they can be a bit of a grind when people take them(selves) too seriously. It's such a relief when people break loose. What made you choose this particular reading to go to?

Tue May 06, 01:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne said...

I was hoping to pick up a copy of Tricia's book. Plus, I'm totally caught up in the Fiery Fiction campaign.

Tue May 06, 01:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

I am from Toronto and believe me, though English people are in general more polite, they can be pretty darn frosty!

I think you happened upon a couple unusual Torontonians (or maybe neither of them were from Toronto originally which would explain it).

Tue May 06, 03:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne said...

I'm from Ontario, too, and my social skills could use some work, but I think that there is a certain Montreal crowd that I'm never going to be able to negotiate.

Tue May 06, 03:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

You must have met Kulsum! She IS nice. And you must have heard Arjun Basu read. I haven't met him yet but we've gotten to be supportive virtual buddies. Lovely writing, Anne. I didn't realize there were still smoky bars in Quebec. I thought that bit of social re-engineering had been accomplished across the country.

Tue May 06, 04:11:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne said...

Oh, it's not smoky anymore. Just on the terrasse. Where everyone gathers. Every five minutes!

p.s. You do run with a nice crowd, don't you? Kulsum was great. And Arjun had to do an encore.

Tue May 06, 05:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I don't miss smoky bars. I thought I would even though I don't smoke anymore. It's an atmosphere thing. I'm pretty much always pretending to Humphrey Bogart when I'm in a bar. A gay Humphrey Bogart. But it turns out that just dimming the lights is enough.

Super to hear nice things about Ontarians! We can be very very nice.

Wed May 07, 09:22:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger sass said...

this is what i miss when i'm off being flighty in NY? the social event of the decade.

btw, i have to use the interwebs at the apple store. that's how flighty i am. might as well be living in a van. and i photographed some "night architecture" last night...

Sun May 11, 09:47:00 pm GMT-4  

Post a Comment

<< Home