Clare Duffy writes about Montreal

Time: 13.10

It’s Tuesday. I’ve been walking for over two hours. My feet hurt. The memory of the ice cubes of the ice tea I bought in Place des Arts so that I could have the key to their toilet…that ice, is still ringing in the top right hand side of my brain. Opposite me there is a loud humming air conditioning system called Thermo King, 382005. I’m on the bench by the bus stop, just north of St. Catherine, on St Laurent street.

I didn’t expect to find myself here. The noise of the truck’s air conditioning has just gone out, and so I can hear behind me, fading away the engine of a 55 bus and the retro beats of a car, with the window down. I imagine it’s a car without air conditioning. I imagine therefore that it’s a car that belongs to a young man. I imagine that there is another young man sitting next to him. They both have their arms resting on the open windows, their heads are nodding to the beats and their eyes are following all the men and women crossing the road, or walking down the street. They don’t think about anything much when they look at all the men and women walking down the street. It’s too hot and when the lights change, the driver puts his foot down and the force of the car moving forward in the humid air causes that much needed breeze.

The bin on the corner of St Catherine and St Laurent says “Quand je suis vide, je suis triste.” I know what it means. On this block, on this side of the road there are two contact dancing shops. Between them there is an army surplus shop. Knives and night vision, FBI t-shirt and khaki clothes. Then there is a Chinese costume shop, store, magazin. It also has army surplus in the window, next door to furry knickers and first generation, Native American Indian feathers.

The forecourt opposite me, on your right as you come out of the underground, metro, subway has four trucks up on rusty metal supports. The air conditioning has just come on again. There are two large helium balloons secured just beyond the long white trucks. Un Rendezvous loto-quebec, they say. And there’s a green demonically smug hornet nosed, red pointy eared cartoon figure, (male) flying across them. If I win the lotto will I look like that? The beggar just west of this corner, on St Catherine Street has a sign that said ugly, broke, hungry (maybe not hungry, but something like that). I couldn’t look at his face, because I knew he’d know I was looking to see if he was ugly. A very brief peek, just the briefest of flicks of my eyes, not even enough time to focus, said he could have been First Nation and he could have been good looking. I think he was young. Youngish, like maybe thirty. And not too knocked about either. Not drunk, or high or thin and able to spell.

In London, beggars’ signs are never spelt correctly, right, bien. In Edinburgh beggars sit on the pavement with a box or a hat in front of them. In Glasgow there’s a woman with long dark hair and a soft long oval face, who I imagine comes from Turkey or maybe Macedonia. She wears a headscarf. She works hard. She’s there everyday. It’s an interesting tactic; to call yourself ugly, to get money. If I’d been braver, maybe I would have looked at him properly and then I would have been more likely to give money. If he really was as beautiful as I now imagine, I might have been moved to give money to the good looking broke guy, who’s self esteem is so touchingly damaged, but who I can see is so much more than he believes himself to be.

There’s a metro St. Laurent sign on my left. On my right is a guy, slight body facing south towards the water. Towards St Catherine Street. A woman in a loose floral print dress said just now, “Salut Pa Pa” to him. Earlier a guy stopped to have a word. Perhaps this is his bench. I might be spoiling his day. Sitting on his bench.

Water, is now pouring out of the back of the noisy truck. It’s spilling out of a long black rubber tube, the end of which has white paint on it. There’s a similar tube on the other side that’s more oozing water. It splashes on the black stones and tarmac ground. It runs underneath the white and blue plastic woven cover. It runs to where my feet are. It’s spreading right now down St. Laurent. Moving like ink on blotting paper down the bone white concrete. A Chinese young mum walks past with her two little girls holding on to her hands, still unsteady on their feet. She and the eldest have the same pink sandals. There is a line in the road a metal line and the date 1948. Astral Media own the St. Laurent Metro sign. It is CV50B. On this side it is advertising Casino Montréal, par pur plasir. Randomly, I’m reminded of the pur maple syrop I’ve been looking at in the various different supermarkets I’ve visited.

Time: 13.38

How long should I stay?

Pur Mapple syrop is delicieux, delicious, yummy.

I’ve visited two brocantes, bric a braque, junk, antique shops today. Trying to find a portrait of Montreal in the montage of glamorous everyday and sordid objects. A teapot made as the face of a Native American, scowling. He has a wide thin mouth and deeply furrowed brow. The feathers in his hair are where you lift off the lid. Next to him a picture of Marilyn Monroe’s face when she was very young. Not so much make up. 19 perhaps? There are 15 electric irons all facing the same way. A fantasia of flat triangular metal irons marching towards me. A photograph of a real woman, naked to the waist. She isn’t beautiful or striking. She has a heavy, masculine jaw line, but her smile is warm, her eyes look directly and comfortably into the camera. It looks like the kind of picture you might take of someone you love. There’s no lighting, the picture is outside. She is slightly over weight and probably in her 40s. A woman in the shop responds in English to a question asked in French. “I’m very interested in those”. She points to a 1950s wall sculpture of dancing girls. There were also a dozen bed pans of various shapes an sizes all dating back no more than ten years.

Excusez-moi, ou est la metro s’il vous plait?

Je n’est sais pas Madame. Je suis étranger.



A man on a bike is collecting cans in a large clear plastic bag. He has a dirty back and short dark hair. Two passers by give him dirty looks. They don’t move their heads but their eyes follow him, watch what he is doing. Furrow their brows.

Seagulls. Only two circle much higher than they would in Edinburgh.

There’s an American flag flying at Goodyear tyres, pneus, wheels. From here I can see four bikes resting against a wall, behind the wire enclosure of the forecourt.

The woman, who asked me where the metro is, just walked back past with her five teenage sons, at least I assume.

Hydro Quebec. A white vehicle with a pneumatic ladder and a man sized bucket at the end. I used to love fireman ladders like that when I was little. I wonder why?

Time: 14.41

Empty shop

Time: 14.37

Chinese restaurant

Time: 14.31

à louer

Shillers – a dream in the form of a Chinese run costume store. At the front circular woven decorations, with feathers all around. The man behind the counter didn’t know what they were. Then bikinis and wigs. Then Chinese serving dishes. Delicate pouring jugs and wide china spoons. Then flick knives under glass and police uniforms, army surplus. Dreams are the opposite of censorship.

Kingdom Gentleman’s Club. Contact dancing. A naked lion I think above the door. As I stand outside and man in a suit, carrying a brief case takes a key and lets himself in. Later that night there is a small crowd of smokers outside. They’re in humour, calm and relaxed. Telling jokes.

Suplus international.
1405 Loft Club Terrace.
Restaurant; La Belle Province.

Clare Duffy writes from Victory Square

Just visited the cathedral over looking Victory Square. There are two rooms at the entrance to the church, each contain two large shallow baths of water. Candles are left to burn there in prayer, in hope. The candles’ wax drops continuously and randomly into the water. Creating in these two small, low ceiling-ed, vestibules a spick, spickle, tick sound of hot droplets of wax cooling suddenly. An old woman puts her hands into the water and dregs the spent candles. Pulling the many shaped, brown, wax melts towards her, like autumn leaves in a goldfish pond. She puts them in a black plastic bucket, on which is written AN and then from the same bucket she pours more water into the baths.

She is an ancient church woman.

A couple passing the church cross themselves three times.

A man with a newspaper makes the most abstract of crosses.

These are other Romanian benches.

A man in a brown suit takes off his hat and clearly signs three times.

I’m sitting now on the left hand side as you face the National Theatre on the second bench in Victory Square. The benches are spacious. Generous. The capacity of a sofa: white, wooden, thin slats, painted and repainted. But still corners and edges are dug away. The Orthodox Church at the other end of the square has just rung the half hour. No excuses for not knowing what the time is here! There’s a square pillar at the end of the gardens, which the benches line. It’s got a cube clock at the top.

There are eight old men sat on or standing around the bench opposite mine. The tallest one just stood up and said “Ceausescu”. There’s a man sitting on the bench to their left in a long black robe, with a long dark beard on his young face. He’s reading. I suppose he is an orthodox priest. Or perhaps a seminarian.

Apart from the man who said “Ceausescu”, all the other men wear hats, either caps or trilbies. They wear mute colours: blue, grey, brown cloth. One man in a green baseball cap, wears jeans. Four of them carry plastic bags. One has a leather case. But he is young and has just joined them.

Five of them get up to go and make their way into the square. Then another one goes off to the right. But then he stops. His mobile phone rings, he ambles to the right, where McDonalds is. With his elbow up high, keeping the phone to his ear, plastic bag swinging. He’s not so sure on his feet. And now he’s in the sunlight going towards the right hand side of the theatre.

I’m a bit cold in the shade and there is a breeze. 25 degrees today though.

There’s a statue of Remus and Romulus sucking from the She Wolf in the centre of the square: a nod to Timisoarian Roman history.

The sides of the bench are made from pink concrete with chips of white quartz stone. Some lichen grows particularly in the cracks.

There are red berries in the fir trees lining the gardens. And now that I’ve noticed them I can smell the pine and hear the water of the fountain so clearly.

There’s only one man left now on the bench from the large party of discussion only twenty minutes ago. He sits, feet apart, head forward reading a magazine, which he’s holding between his knees. His belly falls down into its white and brown check.

The first bench on his right has three men, then on his left sits the seminarian. A man in grey has just sat down, holding his knees on the next bench, then there’s a young man in a red cap tapping his brown trainers. He is restless, but doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything in particular. He holds his hands together. Next an old woman, calm, reading a book: then a middle aged man turning a paper, the edges of which are just suddenly illuminated by the rising sun. My face in the sunlight now and the shadows of the manky, ill looking pigeons flutter across my white bench.

I put my sunglasses down. This is nice. It’s 10. 54.

I imagine that the world of Socrates were not so dissimilar to this. Where a philosopher asked people in the public square what they thought about reason or reality.

What is reality? I might ask any of these bench people, if I could speak Romanian. What might they say? How much would it be coloured by the events in this square 18 years ago? Freedom is the ability to decide for yourself what reality is. And how wonderful it must be to argue politics with your mates, where other men and woman have died fighting for that freedom.

The boy in the red cap is rocking slightly now. The bells are ringing. 11am. There’s a gardener sucking up leaves and rubbish with a big, grey trunk and a noisy, noisy motor.

The boy in the red cap has gone. He was the only one sitting in the centre of his bench. Perhaps by sitting in the middle of the bench he hoped that no one would be tempted to try and share his bench, with him.

Another deep conversation has developed between four men on the bench to my left. They emphasize their points with hand gestures, folded arms, sitting back in their seats or standing up suddenly.

Socrates was tried in a square like this. He approached the public bench with his other view of reality and morality, but was found to be wrong. What kind of reality you see from a pubic bench can be a matter of life and death. To my right is the great cathedral filled with candles. To my left is the great theatre, filled with its electric lights. The two buildings over look my bench like proud parents.