Monday, July 24, 2017

A Sonic Temple Fallen: My Pilgrimage to Le Studio, Morin Heights

Part 1) Foundations to the Temple of Sound

It was Christmas 1981.  I would come to remember it as the best Christmas I had ever had.   It was the last one where all of my older siblings would attend at my parents’ house before  having families of their own and/or starting careers that would take them far away from our little farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Micronauts.  Silly Putty.  One of those chocolate letters that came in the shape of our first initials as per Dutch tradition at Kerstdagen, as the old country family would call it in the cards they would send around Yuletide.  But the most important gift I would get that year was a ten dollar gift certificate from Sam the Record Man.  I was getting more and more into heavier music than the ABBA albums that I had started off with, just recently acquiring Back in Black and Blizzard of Ozz.  This time though, I wanted to get a Rush album.  I had first heard Rush while wandering the halls of my high school, waiting for my father to come get me after missing the bus one day.  The caretakers were setting up the gymnasium for bingo and I heard ‘Limelight’ for the first time, streaming from their ghettoblaster.  The song drew me in, so fresh and yet so strong, giving me a real feeling of something different yet comfortingly familiar.  I asked one of the caretakers whose song it was and he told me it was Rush.

So that Boxing Day, my older sister and brother-in-law drove me and my two brothers through the slush of the soggy Southern Ontario winter to the Pen Center in St. Catharines, where I singlemindedly sought out whatever album “Limelight” would be on. When I found it and pulled it out of its place within all those other albums, it was like holding something ominous in my hands.  The LP was, of course, Moving Pictures. I eyed the cover with its almost sinister but stately glowing red title font then immediately caught the clever triple entendre with the concept of a ‘moving picture’: workers moving paintings into the Ontario Provincial Legislature, a family moved to tears on the steps as the paintings went by, and on the back, a shot of a movie set of the whole scene from the front cover  It showed right away both the band’s sharp intelligence and goofy multi-planed sense of humour all at once. Once I got home, I ripped through the shrink wrap and put the vinyl platter on the turntable to let the needle do its magic.  Of course, you know that feeling, when you are hearing something for the first time and it seems to open a new chapter in your life, as if you’ve arrived at a home you had never seen before but would sustain you for the rest of your days. As the album played, I studied the inner sleeve, reading the lyrics and then the liner notes.  I wanted to know where it had been recorded, hoping it had been in Canada, being Canada’s premier band at the time as they were.  Le Studio, it said.  Morin Heights, Quebec.

More Rush albums would later be added to my collection.  Permanent Waves was recorded at Le Studio, I was to find, and the liner sleeve showed pictures of their work in the studio.   Music videos would come out from the Moving Pictures promotional campaign, filming the boys hard at work, with the pristine natural surroundings providing a beautiful backdrop to an otherwise no-frills visual aesthetic.  Later still, from the Rush’s Backstage Club; their official fan club organization, there were newsletters that could come out with even more pictures of Rush in what was their environment at the time, in the studio with that gorgeous and enormous picture window facing out to Lac Perry.  To my virginal eyes and ears, Le Studio was as much a part of Rush’s lexicon as the Starman from 2112, indelible as my enduring image of them.  Over time, Rush would record as many of six studio albums there. It became part of Rush’s cartography, just like Strawberry Fields, Haight/Ashbury and CBGB.

Built in 1972, Le Studio was the brainchild of one Andre Perry, who had recently gotten notoriety as the engineer for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Give Peace A Chance recording in a hotel room in Montreal.  Perry wanted to create an ‘environmental studio’, as opposed to a completely walled off and sterile structure in which to record.  He wanted there to be complete freedom to create sounds, while having full view of the gorgeous views afforded to by the Laurentian hills and lakes.  He employed carpenter/contractor Jean-Paul Coulombe to put his ideas to work and succeeded to introduce its unique recording experience to the world of rock and roll.  Soon, established rock bands would come to record there.  Cat Stevens, Nazareth, The Bee Gees and April Wine would stay at the guest house across the lake and paddle across Lac Perry to put in their hours to produce their albums.  A big draw for bands was the facility’s recording console and master system, the SSL 4000, which was state of the art at its time.  Their unit was only the second of its kind in existence; the only other one residing at Abbey Road studios in London, England.

When Rush arrived to record their Permanent Waves album in the fall of 1979, they all immediately fell in love with the wholesome natural surroundings and partook in the outdoor activities it had at their disposal.  It was a healthy and refreshing retreat for the band, and came to be the impetus of many lifelong loves that they would have later on, such as cross-country skiing, canoeing, hiking and volleyball.  Neil Peart himself fell in love with the Laurentian hills and soon bought property in the vicinity, where he raised his daughter Selena, and later spent time in dark solitude after Selena’s and his wife Jackie’s deaths.  Today he still lives there part time with his second wife Carrie and their daughter Olivia, while the other half of their time is spent living in Los Angeles.

Other bands would later record landmark albums there.  The Police would record parts of Synchronicity there.  Kim Mitchell, Shaking Like a Human Being.  David Bowie, Tonight.  Sarah Maclachlan, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.  The list goes on and on.  Over time, Andre Perry would add on practice rooms, offices and a film studio for special effect cinematography.  Perry was an enterprising man and knew what niches to fill, what needs could be satisfied.  Eventually though, he wanted to move on to other things and sold the studio in 1988.  Inexplicably, in 1993 that buyer sold it at a loss to a nameless corporation, which announced vaguely that they were going to turn it into a musician’s retreat.  That enterprise never materialized and in 2008, the company gutted the valuable equipment inside and closed its doors for good.

For years, the studio sat empty.  No one seemed to take notice as it languished in the Laurentian forest.  In 2010, Banger Films filmed a documentary of the history of Rush, and managed to have Neil come up to the property to take a look around. The footage shows the glass and cedar shakes still intact, while Neil said that ,it was sad to see it that way.  He looked through the window out back and reminisced at how he had set his kit right there in front.  He spoke of the image that sparked the imaginations of so many Rush fans, myself included.  Heads shake, eyes downcast.  Sigh philosophically, turn around, go home.  Leave it behind.

In 2015, news reports started to come out that the site had been broken into and vandalized.  Youtube videos started to emerge of broken glass and graffitied walls.  I saw those images and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The Youtubers would record their infiltration, drawl a heavy “wow” and titter like schoolboys at the vulgarity.  Drink your beer, filch a souvenir off the floor, turn around, walk away, go home.  Leave it behind.

Part 2)  Pilgrimage to the Ruins of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Mecca

This summer, the summer of 2017, I was given an opportunity to go and see the place for myself.  I was finishing a three day stay in Montreal (Un Espace a Repose), and had resolved to drive north to Morin Heights to pay my own respects to my own rock ‘n’ roll Mecca.  So after getting properly caffeinated with Italian coffee, I left the city and followed route 15 towards the Laurentian Mountains, “Workin Them Angels” off of Rush's Snakes and Arrows album played boldly from my cd player.  I had brought both Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures along as well, but I wanted to save them for when I would be closer to the site.  I chose Snakes and Ladders for its intensity and themes of movement and travel.  Many Rush songs had that theme, likely because of all the hours Neil spent on the road, whether in a Winnebago, a tour bus, on a ten-speed bike or a BMW motorcycle.

There were place signs along the highways identifying small destinations along the way, all of them named after Catholic saints.  The names signified the strong foundation the Church had in the first days of settlement in Quebec, and suggested a strong spirituality underlying everything. Seeing all the urban sprawl and commercial renderings that North American culture is rampant with, I wasn’t sure how deep that spirituality could be.  The saintliness could exist there only in name, but with my own deep Catholic heritage, I took comfort in seeing signs for Ste Agathe des Monts or Ste Anne de Lacs.  I would need that comfort, driving through the persistent rain and fog that had come to the area that day.  I knew the hills could be quite picturesque and kept the camera of my phone ready to snap any sights I would see, but had to resign myself to hazy vistas of green and grey. Coming into the hills, the cd arrived at the song “Faithless”, Neil’s ode to worldly wonder in the absence of organized religious faith: “I don’t have faith in faith, I don’t believe in belief.  You can call me Faithless, but I still cling to Hope, and I believe in Love, and that’s faith enough for me.

I came into Morin Heights and started to wonder what sights Geddy, Alex and Neil would have seen coming into town back in the early Eighties.  There seemed to be a lot of new development in the area and, seeing a few luxury sports cars driving by, there also seemed to be money in town.  Winding through the turns of route 329 though, I could imagine the boys laying eyes on the lakes and rocks, while getting jostled in the centrifugal turns.  I passed by Mickey’s Cafe, which Neil mentions in the Grace Under Pressure tourbook as the place where the band and crew would seek refuge when the tension of the creative process lapsed into tedium.  I thought of stopping there, but it was Canada Day, the country’s 150th birthday in fact, and alas, it was closed.  I noted landmarks I had seen in maps when I was considering the trip, and when I passed the first Rue Perry, I knew I was getting close.  It took an almost-hairpin turn, but I made it onto the gravel road where I had spied the studio to reside, nestled in the trees like a tropical temple reclaimed by jungle.  Through the foliage, it came into the view, ghostly, lonely and still, looking very much forsaken and abandoned.  I parked the car and got out and had to gasp at the view.  The windows that I had last seen intact had now been boarded up, though most of the plywood had been pulled off and displayed the broken glass like they were vicious wounds.  I saw the Tolkienesque wooden stairs that I remembered seeing Neil rise upon in the documentary, though now there were steps that had been torn out or rotted away.  The familiar circular window in front was there only in shape, the glass completely disappeared, while a brick wall next to it had a lame warning spraypainted onto it: “The Devil is Inside.”  I thought to myself; he may have been but he trashed the place, then left.  Faithless.

A door at the top of the stairs was missing, and allowed me to enter.  To my complete enthrallment, I found I was looking directly at the room where all those iconic pictures I had cherished in my memory had been taken.  The main recording studio.  I had to look around in earnest to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, but it was true.  I had arrived.  But the state of the place made my heart sink.  Entire sheets of drywall had been taken down.  Glass was underfoot everywhere and I crunched over it as I moved deeper and felt my heart breaking.  That majestic picture window had all three of its acoustic panes utterly shattered.  The idyllic lake scene that was once behind it was overgrown and weedy.  On the ground outside was more glass, as well as the plywood that had once been employed in a weak attempt to protect it.  I went deeper yet into the building. The miasma of mildew and mold was overpowering. There was graffiti on every wall. Office furniture and couches had been thrown down stairs.  I looked out a window in the back and saw a patio one flight down, so I carefully used the stairs, using the flashlight on my phone to find my way, then came out the ravaged patio door looking at the lake.  I remembered that lake; Lac Perry, and how it is the scene of my very favourite picture of Neil at his drumkit.  During the recording of Signals in 1982, photographer Deborah Samuels had the inspiration to photograph Neil with his kit on a swimming platform that was out in the lake, surrounded by water.  The kit was set up by the drum techs, Neil was paddled out to improvise a solo with Deborah precariously snapping shots in a rowboat, while crows flew close by to investigate the racket and the shiny brass of the toms and cymbals.  It became one of the most iconic pictures of Neil; its nearness to nature, its powerful percussive imagery.  Indeed nothing could have been more Canadian, or emblematic of the band at that time.  Now, I stood, recognizing the slope of the hill on the other side of the lake, but the platform was gone.  Indeed, though in the middle of summer, it was a pale comparison to what it had once been.

Back inside, I returned to the main recording studio.  Standing by the picture windows once again, I tried to visualize the band there.  Neil, in front of the window.  Alex, sitting on a bar chair playing guitar off to the right.  Geddy at his bass, off to the left in front of the vocals booth.  Behind Alex would have been Terry Brown, the annual producer affectionately known as “Broon”, and engineers Paul Northfield and Robbie Whelan behind that behemoth console in what was once the control room.  I could see it all in my mind’s eye, but when I looked around in real time, I saw nothing by grotesque ruin.  I knew I should not have been there, and all I was seeing was making me immeasurably sad and angry. Out of respect to the place, I decided I should leave, having seen all that I had wanted to see, and so much more.  Perhaps too much more.  I descended back down those precarious stairs, got in my car and drove away.  Was I leaving it behind?  I don’t think I was.  I was too upset, too outraged to just leave it behind.  That place had always meant so much to me, and now it felt like a friend in dire need.  I drove home to Ottawa, not wanting to play the cds I had planned to play, now emotionally imprisoned in that ruin with the detritus and forsaken history.

Part 3) Fables of the Reconstruction

When I returned to Ottawa, it was a remarkably simple two hour/two turn drive straight down route 329 south to highway 50 west.  It was a picturesque trip, with the winding 329 and the 50 affording vistas of the emerging Outaouais Region beneath the rising Gatineau Hills, through which the highway was carved deep into its granite mantle.    Once in Gatineau, I could find my own way to the Champlain Bridge and I was soon back in Ottawa.  It was Canada Day and the downtown was basically inaccessible because of the Canada 150 celebrations, even though rain had been coming down intermittently all that day.  When I finally pulled into my driveway, the rain had stopped and I considered possibly following through with my plan to go to the lookout bunker at Remic Rapids to watch the fireworks over Parliament Hill.  The bunker had an unobstructed view of The Hill, so I figured if I got there early enough with a lawn chair, I could get a good show.  Lightning crashed.  Thunder roared and sheets of rain blanketed the earth anew.  Foiled those plans.

Still reeling from the outrageous sights I had seen in Morin Heights, I sought out Richard Baxter, who is the man spearheading a campaign to rebuild and restore Le Studio.  I had found about his efforts a few months prior and thought I would donate to it by buying a tee shirt. I don't know how he got the rights to use the logo, but there it was, up for sale, emblazoned on a black tee.  He sent me the shirt along with a few business cards, asking if I would spread the word for him, which I did, though most people I spoke to seemed cynical about it.  Why would this one guy be so interested in this project?  I had been planning to post some pictures and I wanted to make sure it was a safe thing to do and I wouldn’t be accused of trespassing.  Richard responded and assured me that the owner has allowed him and several other people to do this, so I should not worry.  That surprised me.  Where had he gotten the permission?  Was it from Andre?  Who were the owners?  Why would they be so laissez faire about letting him walk in like that?  Richard then went on to say that he would be organizing a clean up in the near future.  He was in the midsts of getting permits and could give me a call when things were a go.  I told him I would definitely be on board for that.  I would finally be making a positive dent in the damage already done, I thanked him told him to give me a call.

Two weeks went by and the rains left behind a heavy humidity which the persistent sun ignited into a sweltering heat wave across what seemed to be the whole swath of the 49th parallel.  I went on a two night literary pub crawl with some fellow writers one weekend, and visited my sister in Kingston for another and was hoping to have some quiet days to hunker down and do some work on my novel when the call from Richard came through.  He would be at the studio that Friday with a crew and we could start some cleaning up in earnest that day.  I booked a dormitory bed at the Auberge et Micro-Brasserie le Baril Roulant in nearby Val-David for $42, then hit the sunbaked road Thursday afternoon, appreciating the opportunity to employ some “4 by 40 Air Conditioning”, which means four car windows open and driving at a minimum of 40 miles an hour.

Val-David is a beautiful little town nestled in the Laurentians, which seems to center itself around its winter industries; the ski resorts that surround the place.  It definitely looked like it would be picturesque in the wintertime, lending one neighbourhood’s nickname as Ville de Pere Noel, complete with Santa Claus signs here and there along the side of the road.  Le Baril Roulant itself looked like a Swiss skiing chalet.  Situated by a rambling river and a pretty little park and trail, it had the perfect surroundings for me as a destination.  Sitting on a picnic table and writing my notes, I mused that if I could tolerate sleeping in a dorm full of strangers, it would be nice stay.  It turned out my dorm mates, a couple university students and a family of a father and four teenagers, were all as quiet and introverted as I was, so with the help of an extra sleeping pill, I could sleep with my back to everyone and get a sufficient amount of shut-eye.  The next morning, I awoke at 7 o’clock, showered, stealthily gathered my things and split to a Tim Hortons for a croissant breakfast, some internet and a tall coffee.

I arrived at the studio at nine that morning and the sun was shining.  No one was parked in front of
the place yet, so I messaged Richard to ask where he was. He  was still an hour away, getting supplies for the job.  There was nothing to do but to go inside and take another look around.  The sight was still saddening.  There had been more change, more damage, more grafitti added to the place.   In the main recording room someone had pulled a couch up to the window and inexplicably put some car seats upon it.  Beer cans and solo cups were strewn everywhere, with even more glass littering the floor at every turn.    A man’s underwear had been thrown in the corner, but I was glad not to find used condoms anywhere.  Thankfully there were no needles to be found either.  In the better light, I was able to see the game room better, where I would find the old pool table, turned over and legless like a bull carcass devoured by a pack of gnashing hyenas.  I was also able to find the hallway from that room to the console booth where there was an ultramodern angular framework for a window facing outside.  It was boarded up from the outside, which did nothing to save its tinted glass from being shattered from the inside.

I thought of David Bowie passing by this same window and it disgusted me to see it as it was.  Down to the patio for a second time, I went further down to the water so I could get a picture of the lake in the sunlight.  I had only managed a couple shots before being set upon by carnivorous blackflies eager to nip at my flesh.  I had to retreat back into the building, muttering epithets under my breath.  The vandals would just keep coming, I was thinking.  They would most likely return after we had left and start the damage anew where we had cleared away.  With all the graffiti tags everywhere, they probably thought they had laid claim to the place.  With the empty McDonalds cups and the couch set up in the main studio, it certainly seemed like they had made themselves at home.  With rock ‘n’ roll, there has always been a kind of nihilistic attitude seated into its culture, where destruction was the rule, whether it be a hotel room, a sports car or one’s own body and mind.  Maybe that was the notion that was in people’s minds when they found it right to piss on the floor here, or rip down a sheet of drywall.  I thought of how stupid and sacreligious that attitude was, so misguided and ignorant.  I muttered again under my breath.  At that moment, a blackfly had managed to find me inside and I was able to swat it out of the air.  While it struggled, stunned on the floor, I gave it a heavy stomp and ground it into a paste.

 Going back down to my car to recharge my phone and wait further for Richard and crew, I thought about how haunted this place was.  Haunted by memories, by the powerful energies that were once so alive here.  How it was now also haunted by ghouls with evil intent, battling an almost apocalyptic struggle with the pure spirit of the place, the spirit that deserves to be protected and preserved. After a while, a car came up to drive.  I obviously expected it to be Richard, but was surprised to see a woman getting out of the car.  I introduced myself to her and she said her name was Danielle, and I was almost star-struck to hear she was the daughter of the man who had been contracted to furnish the studio, Jean-Paul Coulombe.  Waiting for the rest of the crew to come, we struck up a conversation where she told me the history of the place from her father’s perspective.  Jean-Paul had first gotten to know Andre when Perry had purchased a church in Montreal that he wanted converted into a studio.  Jean-Paul did such a good job of it that when Andre wanted a studio built in Morin Heights, he was the man for the job for putting his interior design visions into wood and glass.  Danielle said she remembers staying at the guest house across the lake during her summers  growing up, and the many phone calls from Andre with more and more fantastic ideas that often had to be shot down by a more pragmatic Jean-Paul as the studio began to take shape.  She told me the story of the time the guest house caught fire and how the musicians and technicians sleeping there had to leap out of windows in varying states of undress, into the snowdrifts to escape death.  She also told me about the time when the SSL 4000 arrived and it took a team of men to struggle and carry the hulking monster up the stairs and through the doors.  I asked her if she remembered the bands that came through the studio and she said that she was only 12 at the time when it opened, but could only remember the French artists, as she was more interested in them than the others.

She looked up at the building that sat on the rise above the driveway and heaved a heavy sigh.  She hadn’t been there in about 30 years, since about the time when her father passed away, which was also very near the time when Andre sold the property.  After her father’s passing, the family had walked away, just as Andre had, and it was not until she had heard about the damage it had sustained that she contacted Richard Baxter and wanted to see it again.  I went in with her as she stepped through the doors for the first time since the late Eighties.  She couldn’t believe her eyes.  At every turn, she had a story to provide, where the console room was, where the soundroom was, that was the receptionist’s area, that was an addition that was added later on; all things that her father had a hand in installing.  Like me, she couldn’t believe the audacity that people had to come in and lay such havoc upon the place.

“My father Jean-Paul is probably spinning in his grave right now,” she said.

We took a walk up the road and she showed me the house next door where Andre once lived and how
he would still challenge her father with strange design concepts and ideas for the house.  I noted how Andre must have been the crazy artist and her father had to be the voice of reason and master of reality.  She laughed and said that was completely true.  When we returned to the front of the studio, Richard finally arrived.  Richard is an old-school rocker, as evident in his long jet black hair though balding high on his forehead a la Kim Mitchell in his Akimbo Alogo days.  A drummer for most of his life, he’d had some success building his own studio, which is what had attracted him to looking at Le Studio.  He approached Danielle and I and greeted us with his heavily accented English, his breath smelling like an old ashtray.  When he found that Danielle was the same daughter of Jean-Paul Coulombe that he had messaged on Facebook, he  gave her a hug, talking to her in excited French.  He had come with two other men who looked like they had some construction experience with their steel toed boots and tanned complexions, so we immediately went inside to start work.  Richard told us how he had a vision to resurrect the recording studio, while making it a museum in part as well.  He imagined the receptionist desk to be converted into a bar and imagined moving some walls to afford more space for his plans.  We set to work, with Danielle picking up garbage and sweeping glass around the games room, Richard breaking the jagged shards of glass that still remained dangerously in the frames, the other two men tearing off the moldy drywall while I worked on making the entry way clear of glass and obstacles.  While I picked up glass, Richard asked me to separate the larger pieces from the small, as he had gotten permission from the owner to sell them for the fundraising.  I was a little taken aback by Richard’s commercially driven perspective on rebuilding the place, but then I also remembered that he was the only person out there doing anything for Le Studio’s benefit.  Satisfied that I had made the entry way safe, I announced to Danielle that I was going into town to find some lunch.  She said that she might not be there when I returned, so told her how glad I was to have met her and said goodbye.  A quick chicken wrap and a pitstop at the IGA in town was enough of a break.

Returning to the site, I could now go to the place I had really wanted to work on; the main studio.  I threw myself into the task of shoveling up piles of shattered glass with what seemed to be a panel from an old computer, not sorting into sizes but getting it off the floor.  I found a box to deposit it all into.  There was a door that was from the washroom where the toilet had been smashed almost on the other side of the building- I could tell because the sign ‘toilette’ had been stuck on.  It was so heavy, made of oak but I lugged it off to the side.  I picked up the fast food litter and beer cans and cast them into a box of their own.  I had found the brush end of a broom that had been snapped off its handle, so I took a shard of glass and used it to twist the old threaded nub out of the brush and fastened it onto a telescopic painting handle.  I then used it to sweep the dust, dirt and remnants of glass off the floor, scooping it up, dropping it into a box.  As I did this, I kept thinking to myself:  Geddy once played the bassline for YYZ here.  Neil probably looked up after finishing a take of The Weapon and saw this same ceiling.  This is where Alex looked so tired and rested his head on the body of his DOT 335 while they were recording Permanent Waves.  I moved into the sound booth and started picking the thick glass up from that floor, thinking how David Bowie once stood in here and sang Blue Jean.  How could it all have come to this?

I thought of how all the major players seemed to have turned their backs on this studio. Andre Perry is on record (link) saying that the place has lost its soul now and he is happier with the memories of the people that have made history here, rather than the structure itself.  Nick Blagona, Andre’s business partner seems to be of the same mind.  All the members of Rush are known to say that they hold a special space in their heart for Le Studio, as Neil had written in his website journal in October of 2014. (link), but he was content with leaving it all behind.  Neil is a progressive man, especially now; his eyes fixed forward rather than back into the past.

For myself, and others like me that have seen the images that furnish our memories of the music that provided the soundtrack to our lives, it is inexcusable to see it in such a state of disrepair. 
The current owners seem to just allow people to take liberty with the place.  The best of people will come, those who want to preserve it and view it with a sense of reverence, so we lovingly clean it up and hope to restore it.  Unfortunately however, those doors are also wide open to vandals who take license to deface and desecrate it.  It seems now that we have reached a sickeningly teetering balance where the lowest common denominator rules.  We can continue to clean it up and others will continue to destroy it more until it burns down or has to be condemned.  So far, apathy, the vandals and the elements of nature are winning.

I worked until I was satisfied that I had at least restore some order to the room.  It was getting late and I thought I had best leave soon to avoid a strange highway in the dark.  There was a lot of work still to be done in the rest of the place, but it looked like Richard and his crew had things in hand.  They would be there for the next two days continuing to tear down the soggy drywall and shovel broken glass.  I had cleaned up the inner sanctum of my rock temple, which was why I was there and that satisfied me that far.  I found Richard, bid him farewell with a macho soulshake and chest hug, then hit the road again.  Rather than taking the 50 all the way back, I crossed the bridge over the Ottawa River at Hawkesbury and finished the trip on route 17 into Ottawa.  My thoughts churned over the debacle of how we can really help Le Studio retain its former glory.  Someone at some level of government needs to step in and protect it from further damage.  Money needs to sink into it to ensure it does not… what do I want to say?  I can’t use the phrase ‘fall into oblivion’ because what has been seen cannot be unseen, nor can what has been heard, unheard.  The present is water, but the past is granite.  Memories are indelible in a person’s character.  Our memories have shaped who we are.  So how can I deny this place that has brought me so much happiness and inspiration?  I don’t think anyone that has been there, in person or in spirit, Builder, Artist or Patron, can deny the good from that place.  I still cling to Hope, and I believe in Love.  And that’s Faith enough for me.

Post Script:  Following that day, my mind was heavy with misgivings about what Richard was doing with the Studio for real.  His website quickly became filled with pieces of that parquet flooring that I had scooped up that day, as well as the thick glass from the sound booth I had cleaned off the ground and rested off to the side.  Clearly Richard was making money off this whole thing.  I went on some Rush fan groups on Facebook and the mere mention of his name raised streams of rancour from those I talked to.  He was a crook, he was a charlatan.  They said that he had taken numerous fake identities to try and sell his stolen articles online and draw people towards his cause for rebuilding the studio.  He had been very aggressively challenging people who called him out, and subsequently had himself removed from pretty much every group he had been involved in.  To counter this, he then created his own groups,  dozens of them, to try and lure people in to buy things from his site.  The Geddy Lee Fan Club,  Rush Lovers, Alex Lifeson Forever, and on and on.  I started getting requests from these groups in my Facebook and Instagram and each time I blocked them, a new one would be in my messages.  Richard Baxter has been a busy little boy.

Richard then messaged me personally telling me he would be doing another cleanup in August and asked if I would be there.  I said I would not, citing a lack of money.  He offered to put me up for the night at his own apartment, but the thought of sleeping in an ashtray didn't really appeal to me.

Then came the news.  Just the evening before the cleanup, there was a fire at the studio and by looking at the pictures, it seemed that the entire office wing of the building was gone.  The studio end seemed intact, but who could say what smoke and water damages it had taken.  The vandals had gone too far.  The timing was all too bizarre though.  The night before the cleanup.  Was Richard behind all this?  What was happening?  The Rush groups and forums howled that Baxter was behind it.  And Richard himself disappeared from me after that.  No more calls for help, no more offers to stay at his place before a clean up.  In fact, there were no more clean ups, but the anonymous group requests kept coming, friend requests from people with odd names kept coming in.  His webstore is still selling detritus from the place.  His GoFundMe site is still there and its total donations is stalled at $7656, sickeningly short of a $100 000 goal.  Thankfully only one donor has paid him anything in the last year.  I pity that poor rube.

And right now, Le Studio sits there in the dark Laurentian wood, gutted and rotting, surrendering to the elements and succumbing to all the damage that it has sustained in the last 7 plus years.  No one is interested in saving it now, not the ones that built it, not the ones that recorded in it and certainly not the ones that currently own it outright.  Such a tragic end to such a beautiful place that housed so many powerful memories.  It's fall is a blight on rock history.  The apathy that it faces is outrageous, but nothing can be done now.  It's now no more than castle made of sand, and it will slip into the sea, as all palaces are destined to do, eventually.  Look at the floor, shake your head and sigh.  Leave it behind.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Un Espace a Repose: Montreal

It was the end of June, the end of the school year, the start of the summer.  For me, that’s the real new year, when life falls back to give me a chance to rejuvenate and tackle new things.  I had decided I would put myself out into the world this summer, do some road trips, scratch some things off my bucket list and make it a season to remember.

I had been thinking of a Montreal trip for some time already, knowing how it was only a couple hours away from my home in Ottawa.  I had never been there before, but had read a lot about it in the books of Mordecai Richler and Heather O’Neill.  Through those two authors the city had attained a kind of mythical quality, with their tales of streets teeming with a rich humanity and the delicious aroma of ethnic flavours wafting in the air. So I resolved that I would take at least a single day trip to see Ville Marie, the old city, and Mont Royal for its vista of the whole city and maybe a stroll down Rues St. Catherine and St. Urbain to see the environment that had been described to me so deliciously.

Fortuitously, I saw a post of a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend who was offering her apartment for part of the month of June.  I thought maybe I could grab a weekend if the price was right.  After a couple of messages back and forth, the price was more than right and I managed to get the place for three days immediately after the last day of school. Excited, I e-transferred the money to my newfound friend and benefactor and began to count the days.

This would be the first major trip I had ever done on my own after the break up of my marriage.  When I would tell people about my plans, they would ask who was going with me, and they would be taken aback when I answered I would be alone.  I’d been living alone for a while, which was difficult and even heartwrenching at times, but I had come to find a kind of freedom and peace in being by myself.  In that solitude, I could rely on and dote on my own self, learning the pleasures of doing so, the existential minimalism of single life.  I wanted to experience that joy in the context of travelling solo.  I suppose there is an advantage to travelling with a partner into a new place; two heads being better than one and having someone at one’s side and watching one’s back, but that isn’t the context of my life right now.  I was alone, so I was determined to use the occasion to do things at my own pace and see the things that interested me without any impedance.

Past trips had been with family, where the trip had to be entertaining, which usually doesn’t translate into being enriching, or even satisfying.  We would go to the kind of corporate, franchised attractions that really could have been anywhere, so far removed from the local flavour that you would never experience anything close to what the area actually had to offer.  This time, I wanted everything that all those trips lacked, to indulge the local flavour to its complete fulfillment.  

Exactly the day after school was over for the year, I packed my car for the trip.  A gentle
but steady rain had been falling, but I didn’t have any feeling that it would impede me or dampen my enjoyment.  I knew that this would be the theme of the summer, as forecasted by most weather authorities; periods of rain and coolness with waves of heat and sun between them.  There was no way to get around it. Rain is part of the climate here and when you can come to terms with that, nothing will dampen your spirits. It can’t deter you if you have a good umbrella.  Besides, to expect your destination to be sunny and then complain when it’s not is to be infantile and shamefully shallow.

I hit the road out of Ottawa via highway 417, which morphs into Highway 40 when you skip the border with Quebec.  There is a noticeable change when you come into Quebec.  For one, the road is much better maintained than in Ontario, almost seamlessly smooth and painted with clear fresh lines.  Secondly, the landscape changes with it.  While the eastern Ontario farmland seems to appear unattended and old, the Quebecois countryside seems greener and groomed.  Quebec drivers tend to have a bad reputation for being reckless and oblivious to other drivers, but when I passed onto La Belle Province, they didn’t show themselves.  That is, until I entered Vaudreuil-Dorion at the junction with Highway 20, which carries the traffic from Ontario Highway 401 into the area.  Immediately the weavers and tailgaters arrived to complicate the drive.  Montreal’s nearness became more apparent with the increasing industrial sprawl and congestion on the road.  At one point, my GPS alerted me to an approaching traffic snarl (thank you again, new millennium!) and suggested an alternate route.  I should note now that when I drive, I like to keep a healthy distance between myself and the car ahead of me in case a sudden requirement to brake arrives.  When I took the suggested detour to avoid the jam on my original route, I was almost into the onramp when an SUV darted in and swiftly butted into that sacred space I was keeping.  Advantageous, aren’t we?  I thought.  Although the detour had avoided an altogether stoppage, traffic was still slow on the alternate route, so we inched along from intersection to intersection.  I created that pillow space again, letting the car in front of me move ahead while I waited, which prompted an impatient honk from behind me, urging me to move ahead. I threw my arms up in the air. “We still aren’t getting ahead, my friend!” I shouted. All I got from my rear-bumper chum was a dissatisfied scowl.

Driving into the city proper, I began to see what I would later find to be the architectural style of Montreal, where two or three story buildings are packed very close together, or in some instances, directly against each other.  You might think that packing 1.7 million people into a small area would be a bad thing, stacking them one floor upon another, but Montreal seems to make it work.  The traffic flow system coming into the downtown can also be a little overwhelming with a near-maddening array on one-way streets, but once one learns which street goes in which direction, you can lock into the concept and actually find your way around over time.  Parking, however, is another thing.

Knowing that the apartment where I was staying was situated downtown and the parking situation could be a little squirrelly, I had messaged my friend a few nights before to get a heads up on what it might be like.  Her response was none too assuring.  Apparently parking on Montreal’s streets is a task of deciphering permit allowances on street signs that signify as such.  One has to be sure not to park within a certain permitted zone signified by arrows and numbers, lest you want to risk your vehicle being ticketed. As a non-driver, my friend couldn’t supply an adequate explanation beyond that, so it was with some trepidation that I came into the neighbourhood of Plateau du Mont Royal, where I would be staying.  When I arrived at the apartment, thankfully the landlord was talking to a friend on the corner, and she explained the complicated concept to me.  She also let me in on a little local secret, wherein the school that was around the corner from us had free parking all along the front of it.  During the school year, parking was not allowed there, yet while school was out, a spot was easy picking- given you came at the right time.  It turned out there was a spot open right then, so I quickly took it and my parking debacle was solved.

Chaud et Froid
The apartment was on the second floor of a century-old 3 story building, with a perfect layout that included a balcony out front and back.  Her decorative stylings reminded me of the minimalist sensibilities that my older yuppie-aged sisters had, sparse pictures on the wall that were there were meaningful, minimal and artful, and bookcases full of poetry books.  I had brought a stack of my own books that I had been in the middle of reading, but some titles drew me in and I made a mental note to sample them.  I wish I could have showed you the art and books that she had but out of respect for her privacy, I don’t display them.  Rest assured though, that everything about that apartment conveyed a sense of gezelligheid that would make my stay comfortable and content.  Once I moved all my things in, I took a walk around the neighbourhood to see if I could find a place to have a good steak.  I found the neighbourhood of Plateau du Mont Royal to be vibrant to each one of the five senses.  Although most of the buildings were most likely at least a hundred years old, they were well maintained and kept a kind of eccentric personality that spanned the decades they’d gone through.  Walking past shops, you could smell coffee, cooked meats and baked goods, simply because every doorway and most windows were wide open and people sat in the open air enjoying the urban fare.  Conversations were everywhere, in French and with English.  Nowhere did I see the divide between languages that seems to be portrayed in our media nowadays.  Bilingualism works here, and don’t let them tell you anything different.

While walking down Laurier Street, I noticed a
small open sided structure that was painted brightly with benches all along the inside and planted flowers all along the exterior.  Curious, I looked at the sign that was displayed inside and though it was in French, with the help of Google Translate on my phone I was able to discover that the structure was simply a place where someone could stop and take a rest, "un Placottoir" or “un espace a repose”.  I thought this was a wonderful concept.  Montreal was such a pedestrian city, with bikes to rent on almost every corner and sidewalk fare everywhere you looked, I would find these places of repose a welcome feature in the long walks I would take.

On St. Laurent, I kept an eye out for something that looked like it might give me a good steak.  I had barely eaten anything that day and at 3 pm, I was ready to sink my teeth into something.  I was glad to see that there was nary a franchised fast food joint to be found.  It really says something about a city where individual and independent businesses can flourish with vitality on their own .  That said, I wasn’t really finding what I was looking for, as far as a good beef dinner.  I didn’t really want to stop to ask anyone to betray my serious shortcomings in my fluency in the French language.  I can be borderline functional with the language but was far from the point of being conversational, and I didn’t want to employ it only to receive a Bird Parker flurry of French as a reply.   It was not really unusual for me to hear French as a conversation to eavesdrop on anymore, living in Ottawa, but I knew that my hometown of Niagara didn’t have this kind of language diversity.  There are only pockets of Canada where bilingualism actually functions fully.  Also, I had to remind myself often that I was in North America, not Europe, in the only part of it (Quebec) that decidedly wasn't English first… except for Mexico, of course, although it can be said that Mexico is decidedly not European; identifiable with its own distinct culture apart from Spanish influences.  

I found a burger joint on my own, which thankfully also served steak for a good price to satisfy my carnivorous cravings.  I grabbed a seat by the window so I could survey the street scene and was happy to see a mural on the side of one building of P.K. Subban, who was defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens from 2009 to 2016. He was one of the NHL’s leading scorers for defencemen, and had achieved a kind of cult figure status for being outspoken and adventurous rather than the usual game-face stoniness that players usually take on, much like the Eddie Shack of old, flamboyant and fun to watch.  It was also his admission that even while growing up in Maple Leaf dominant Toronto, he had always wanted to play for Montreal that had the city fall in love with him, with all his flair as well as his flaws.  Like in any Canadian city, hockey plays a huge role in the culture of Montreal, but because of the Canadiens having won more Stanley Cups than any other city in the league, and the fact that their best players have always achieved a godlike status in the city, hockey’s glory has never been brighter than it is in Montreal.  So I was glad to carve up my steak while looking on a rendition of one of Montreal’s hockey greats.

On the way back, I stopped by an artisanal beer shop called Épicerie Unique on St.Laurent, conveniently just around the corner from where I was staying. Inside were shelves from floor to rafters, wall to wall of rare and unusual beers and ciders  I was looking for one in particular, a Quebecois beer called (swear word alert!) Maudite.  Years ago when I was collecting unusual bottles, I had found a case simply in Brewer’s Retail in Niagara.  For the beer itself, I found it too heavy and bitter, but that’s not really what I was interested in.  What I was really after was the label.  On it, there was the beautiful painting of a group of voyageurs, fur-traders that travelled Canada by canoe in the 17th and 18th century, of which French Canadians are very proud, as many are descended from them.  But what makes the scene so memorable is the fact that the canoe is flying high in the air above the trees against a backdrop of a blazing, almost hellish sunset. It comes from the legend “La Chasse Galerie”, or The Bewitched Canoe, in which some paddlers were homesick on one New Year’s Eve and begged the devil to send them home as quickly as possible so they could celebrate with their families. The devil agreed, on the condition that none of them mention religion during the trip.  To fail in this would mean the loss of their souls.  The devil then sent them on a terrifying and reckless ride above the treetops, during which one of them shouts the religious curse “Maudit!”, thusly sentencing all the men to forever paddle through hell, and on the last night of every year, above the rooftops of Quebec.  I looked for the bottle, only wanting one for display, but they only came in six packs.  I asked the lady behind the counter in English if she had it in single bottles, but she didn’t understand me, so I stumbled through the question in broken French.  It felt very awkward to say “maudit” to a French woman.  I almost couldn’t say it.  Nonetheless, she showed me a large bottle, the size of regular wine bottle,  and there it was, La Chasse Galerie, in all its demonic glory.  I purchased it proudly.

I ended the night writing all my notes and observations for this blog entry, checking Facebook once in a while and even had a brief phone conversation with my brother Henry.  He had always been concerned for me in my solitude, often checking in to see how I was.  I could tell him that night with certainty that I was happy, excited and exactly where I wanted to be.  After pouring myself a nightcap in the form of a glass of sherry, I went outside and sat atop the steps by the front balcony and watched people walk by.  It had stopped raining.  In fact, the clouds had broken and given up an expansive view of the stars.  I tried to guess which constellations I was looking at, but wasn’t sure which direction was North, knowing my own map of the sky with that bearing in mind.  Another hindrance was the fact that, being in the heart of the largest metropolitan area in Canada, most of the stars were obscured in the haze of light pollution.  I just had to be glad that the stars were out.   I sat atop the stairs and spied feral cats, like the ones that haunt Heather O’Neill’s Montreal, ever present, walking casually in and out of the narrative like a choral aside to her flowery butterfly sentences. I watched small herds of friends walking through in their animated talk in different languages.  I saw how there wasn’t a single person that was walking alone, and it made me think of what an anomaly I was, to be there all by myself, doing all the things I am, alone.  It didn’t bother me.  In fact, I felt free. I was there, completely on my own terms and at my own pace, sitting up above, watching life go by.  I was happy and content.  When the sherry made me muzzy and dull enough to lapse into sleep, I closed everything up and went to lay down on a foreign bed.  

The next morning became a mission to find a cafe.  I googled for the ‘Nearest Cafe’ and five of them popped up.  Cafe Noble was the only one open and at a walkable distance.  I got dressed, packed my wallet, my phone and a book to read into my shoulder bag and took off down Rue Laurier.  It was overcast, but without rain, so it was a nice short walk to Rue St. Denis. I found the cafe to be just a small corner shop, more kiosk than shop actually, with tables crowding the doorway on the sidewalk. With my coffee, I tried to sit and read there, with Lou Reed, then Bruce Springsteen attempting a mood from the speakers inside, but I couldn’t abide the sense of other patrons hovering over me while they poured their cream on the counter behind me. To allay my autistic senses screaming for space, I got up and walked along Laurier some more.  I noticed people coming out of a building in droves and when I went to look at it, I found that it was the subway station.  I hadn’t known that it was so close.  Another chalk-up to this already wonderful neighbourhood.  I tried to find some information on how I would be able to go to Ville Marie via the subway, already knowing how tricky the parking would be, but when none could be found, I walked back to the apartment to look on the internet to answer my question.  Again, even with translation into English, I couldn’t be educated enough to risk using it without confidence. With numerous places to go in just a little bit of time, I wasn’t convinced it would cater to my meandering itinerary.  I would have to do the trip with my car, which would mean giving up my coveted spot in front of the school and surrender myself to the mercy of the invisible parking gremlins downtown.

I found that the route to the old city to be relatively simple, so I drove southeast with only occasional small zigzags to the waterfront. Arriving there, it was disappointing to see the carnival atmosphere along the St. Lawrence riverbanks. There were zipline parks, bouncy castles and ice cream shops all along there, but the worst was the large towering ferris wheel hogging the landscape.  It all reminded me of Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, which is a screaming, gaudy, obscene tourist trap, complete with its own overpriced giant ferris wheel ride.  None of it said anything at all about Montreal, but clamoured for your money like a belligerent midway hawker.  Every major city seems to think that they need that same goddamned ferris wheel. I hope to God that Ottawa never considers it.  

I had thought that Ville Marie, or Old Port as the anglophones call it, would be along the water, but it is actually hidden behind modern buildings a city block above the waterfront.  Again, even though the actual buildings are 500 to 300 years old, with the distinct dimpled limestone blocks that denote the architecture of that age, the buildings were occupied by modern commerce; restaurants, clothing stores and souvenir shops.  Yes, there were the famous cobbled streets, but it was all Disney-fied into rampant capitalism.  Had Montreal cashed in on its past?  Going this far back, I would say they have.  I knew I was done when a busload of Japanese tourists were herded in to take pictures of a medium-sized polar bear stuffy displayed in one shop window.  Thankfully my leaving early meant I only needed to pay the minimum for parking.

Escaping the tourist trap, I drove directly up Rue St. Laurent and began to search for my lunch plan; the mecca of Montreal Smoked Meat: Schwartz’s Deli.  Schwartz’s had been around since 1928 when Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania opened up the shop and became famous for his specially smoked brisket meat piled high into slices of rye bread.  They still use Reuben’s recipe, without preservatives and full of that honest decadent flavour.  It was a trick once again to figure out the wonky parking allowances, but I managed and soon had one of their legendary sandwiches in my hands.  I found another placottoir where I could sit and indulge and it was truly one of the happiest experiences my taste buds have ever had.  When I was finished, I could feel the food-induced endorphins ease every care I had in the world.  I was one with the Schwartz and the Schwartz was with me.  

On the way to finding the deli, I was able look north and see the imposing rise of Mont Royal between buildings.  I set the GPS, and followed its nose to what would hopefully be the crest of that hill where I would be able to see all of the city at once.  The route was winding and I was glad to have the GPS, as I would have surely gotten lost without it.  Even still, I missed the turn where it was saying I would be able to park and look around. Frustratingly, because of all the one way streets that plague the downtown core, it was a fifteen minute loop to get back to where I was supposed to be.  When I arrived, I found it was only an odd little parking lot for the Montreal General Hospital, with no access to a park or lookout to be seen.  I aborted the whole idea and reset my GPS for the apartment.  It wasn’t until I had just started winding down the hill, when I came upon the lookout I had been looking out for.  It was looking north-east, so I could make out the unmistakeable spire of the old Stadium Olympique, the site of the 1976 Olympics.  I had been wondering when I would come across it, but its location was shrouded in mystery in my focus on the geography of the Plateau and downtown.  That Olympiad was the first one I had ever cognitively witnessed as a 10 year old, and it opened my eyes to all the other countries in the world, while also instilling a kind of nationalistic pride while rooting for Canadian athletes.  The sad reality was, however that the stadium is now plagued with structural problems and has become a financial albatross around the city’s neck, prompting the inevitable discussions concerning its possible dismantling.  Such a shame for such a memorable venue.

After heading home for a brief sleep, I stretched out with the laptop to investigate the subway for a possible route into Little Burgundy for what I was hoping to be the capper for this Montreal trip, a meal at Joe Beef’s on Rue Notre-Dame Ouest.  They were a bit of a current sensation as of late, having been spotlighted by Anthony Bourdain and had recently had a high profile bro-date between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama at their famous tables.  One thing that really turned me onto them was, when I  when Anthony Bourdain highlighted their dish “Hot Oysters on a Radio”, which is actually three oysters on an antique radio.  It was so out there and… I don’t know- photogenic!, I just had to sample that.  So I studied the website for the Montreal Metro and found that its Orange Line had a direct train straight to within a kilometre of the restaurant, no transfers.  This was looking really good.  Through the website, I saw they wouldn’t be open until 6:00 and it was only 3 at the time.  Enough time for another walk around the neighbourhood.

I was happy to find that I was close to Rue St. Urbain, just a few blocks south of where I was staying.  St. Urbain was the setting for the best offerings of Mordecai Richler.  He described the street and its community so well, with its rich character and colourful humanity, I felt like I was on my way to meeting a celebrity.  It was that familiar to me.

On the way there, I stopped at the Fairmount Bagel Bakery.  I had gone by it on an earlier walk, so out of curiosity, I looked it up on the internet and found it was the first bagel bakery in Montreal, opened in 1919 by Isadore Shlafman.  I had always loved me a chewy toasted bagel, and when I stood in line, I saw they had a caraway seed bagel.  I had always loved Gouda cheese with caraway seeds (my father was born in the Dutch town of Gouda), so I thought this would be a good choice.  When my turn came, I asked for my bagel, toasted with cream cheese.  The lady serving me dropped a bagel right from the shelf into a bag with a little packet of cream cheese and practically threw it at me.  I suppose I wasn’t first schmuck goy that thought he was at a Tim Hortons.  Nonetheless, I turned the corner onto St. Urbain’s, pulled off the top off the cream cheese packet, and once in a while ripped off a piece of bagel to take a swipe of cheese to enjoy, not caring if I was the most annoying example of Montreal cliche ever.  The streetscape was beautiful. Apartment buildings three stories high lined the street, with doors, stairways and balconies painted brightly in an assortment of colours.  Flowers were everywhere and mature trees provided shade for those on the sidewalk.  Some of the buildings had Stars of David inlayed into brick work, and on one entranceway, there was a plaque written out in Hebrew commemorating a donation from one Jewish couple in 1955.  Indeed, as I turned the corner onto St. Viateur, I saw an Orthodox Jewish family in their traditional dress walking down the street as any family would, although the men and boys all had the ringlets along the sides of their faces as per the observations of their faith.  But although there was a strong Jewish presence in le Plateau du Mont Royal, other cultures also displayed their wares straight up, a Latino store, a Greek Orthodox church complete with a shiny dome-like spire and a Vietnamese Pho shop and a sushi restaurant further down.  I stopped in a few shops just to browse, but also picked up a Charles Bukowski novel in one bookshop I had found.  Unfortunately, the rain returned in earnest and being without an umbrella, I had to concede defeat, cut my stroll off there and head straight back to the apartment.

Thankfully, the rain let up in time for me to walk over to the subway station for my trip to Little Burgundy. Not wanting to be caught in an unanticipated rain again, I made sure my umbrella was hooked onto the belt loop of my shorts just in case.  Gladly, I never needed it.  I found it pretty easy to buy a two way ticket at the machine, as it also provided an English option.  I just went through the turnstile and descended the stairs and a train was right there.  What a convenience to have a train come every 5 minutes!  I followed the route map and counted the stations to Lionel-Groulx.  Once there, the GPS on my phone was a little put off by the fact I was walking and not driving and took me a little out of the way, but I soon found what I was looking for:  Joe Beef!  There was a lineup outside and everyone looked so formally dressed, I was a little ashamed to be in my tee shirt and shorts.  I should have known.  When the doors finally opened, I met the hostess at the podium to tell her I was a party of one.  She asked me if I had reservations, and I said no.  Her face kind of went weird and she told me that they usually only take reservations but if I could hold on a minute, she would see what she could do.  When she returned, she apologized that they were all booked up.  I told her it was alright and turned out back to the street.  Again, I should have known.  I should have known to check to see if there needed to be reservations made to a restaurant of this notoriety. What a bumpkin I was.  Bitterly disappointed, I walked along Rue Notre-Dame and tried to figure out what I should do.  I knew there was a sister-restaurant to Joe Beef in The Liverpool House, but most likely that would need reservations too. I had budgeted for an expensive meal, didn’t see anything that would satisfy my plan.  I contemplated just returning to the apartment, until I saw L’Gros Luxe just across the street from Joe Beef.  It looked fancy enough to make me happy, yet pedestrian enough to not be out of reach.  I walked in, took a place at a bar and ordered a L’Gros Burger and a pint of St-Ambroise Noire.  It was all delicious, but I couldn’t console myself over my stupid oversight.  There I was, sitting at a bar with a hang-dog look on my face, surrounded by happy couples and groups talking away while I nommed and grogged away silently all by myself.  When I was done, I paid a hefty tip for the bartender, then went back out into the night.  Remembering the mistake that my GPS had made earlier, I took the short way back to the subway station and made a quick run back to le Plateau and back to the apartment.  

At the desk, I checked different reviews for Joe Beef and found that there were both good and bad reviews for the place.  Indeed the food was always excellent, but at times the staff would drop the ball and keep a patron waiting too long for their food.  This seemed like a common complaint.  I sighed to myself,  and to no one in particular I said I would remember next time.  I wrote my notes, then like the night before, went to sit on the front steps.  Sitting above the heads of the people that were walking by through the amber light, I could listen to their murmurings to each other.  I had been feeling my thoughts slipping into that pit of self- loathing, the thoughts of punishing myself for being alone and wondering if I should partner up with someone again.  I texted a few people and waited for their responses, but during that wait, I realized I should not have to wait at all.  I didn’t need to depend on anyone.  I was there in a gorgeous city, rich with culture and personality, totally on my own terms, and even with some disappointments, I was happy and excited to be there.  It was something I had wanted to do for a long time.  When I was talking to people about my trip beforehand, a lot of them said they didn’t like Montreal.  It was too busy, the traffic was insane, the drivers are horrible and it’s one big tourist trap.  I came here and found that all of those opinions have a solid base.  All of that was true.  But here in le Plateau du Mont Royal, I had found that magical and beautiful place that I had read about and fallen in love with.  I had found Mordecai Richler’s Montreal.  I had found Heather O’Neill’s Montreal.  This is what I would take away.  It was a beautiful thing and I felt richer for having been there.  These thoughts made me feel worlds better.

The next day when I woke up, I stripped my friend’s beddings that I had slept in, straightened out her apartment and watered her plants.  I took the beddings down to the laundromat directly across the Fairmount Bakery, went to the Italian cafe next to it and ordered an Americano coffee, then headed to a bench to read the poetry book the laundromat had in its stack of books it had saved for its patrons.  I watched life come and go from the bakery and sipped from what was probably the greatest cup of coffee I had ever had in my life.  It was Canada Day, and I was considering going to the lookout bunker that was at the Remic Rapids in Ottawa so I could watch the fireworks over the Parliament Buildings after the sun went down.  First though, I planned to head north to Morin Heights where I could take a look at Le Studio, the former recording studio where Rush had recorded their watershed albums Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures and several others.  It would be a kind of pilgrimage for me, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.  I was alone, but I had so much to do just in one day.  I had a whole summer of things to do.  I would go visit my sister Margaret in Kingston and my other sister Liza in Toronto.  I would go to my hometown of Niagara on the Lake with my younger brother John to see the Rheostatics play their reunion tour. I would write poetry, entries for this blog, short fiction, but would mostly concentrate on finally writing a novel, something I had always meant to do.  There were things I wanted to get done and this was the time to do them.  Who knew how busy a solitary life could be?