Montréal Lit: Dog Days

Photo by McDemoura

Spacing Montreal is pleased to present this bi-weekly column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

Even at the height of summer, we Montrealers  never take a gorgeous balmy day for granted. At this time of year, winter resides in each of us like the residue of a dream we once had, recalling its tactile sensations on our skin, the piles of clothes required to step outside, the mess we trample through on every street corner. But the grey is what I mainly remember, here on this warm August afternoon, reading Madeleine Thien’s beautiful novel, Dogs at the Perimeter. I am secretly comforted and equally alarmed at the wind and ice she writes about in certain scenes, laying just beyond this warm & humid day from my balcony on the Plateau. Reading a Montreal winter scene at the height of summer is like a kind of déjà vu:

I catch the 535, heading downtown. The man next to me is nodding off to sleep, his body propped up by his fellow passengers. When the bus jumps, startling him awake, he looks up surprised to see us. Rivulets of melted slush glide back and forth along the floor. In our heavy boots, we step daintily through the muck.

We arrive at my stop and I exit through the back doors. Above me, in the clearing sky, pigeons roost on the high wires, clouds descend, and I turn and walk east along the frozen skirts of Mount Royal. The mountain, dipped in snow, has an eerie beauty, tree after tree rising up the hill, slender as matchsticks. The temperature is dropping fast and people, blank faced beneath their hats and scarves, shoulder roughly by. This place wears its misery so profoundly. Mean-eyed women, sheathed in stiletto boots, kick the ice aside while small men in massive coats lumber down the sidewalk. The elderly fall into snowbanks. All human patience curdles in the winter.

I love thinking about the Mountain, such a presence here in this part of the city, always there through the heat and the cold and the changing of the leaves, its constantly altered appearance a reminder that no matter how urban our environment, we are still slaves to Nature. And I’ve said it before: those who live in warmer climates can’t truly appreciate summer like we can, suffering through winter, and it’s the reason those of us who call this city home live outside these short few months (on balconies, on terraces, in parks and even on the steps facing the street) as much as we can.

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