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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Montréal Lit: Returning

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

I love Pointe-Saint-Charles. It’s one of those neighborhoods where one can walk down the street and feel history all around. Not the history of movers and shakers, not the men of industry or past glories of our city but the common person’s history: generations of kids who’ve grown up and whose games have changed from kick the can to marbles to video games in basements. Mothers in aprons yelling dinnertime from porches to the neighborhood packs of kids, fathers lounging in easy chairs or tinkering with cars out front.  It’s not posh history like Westmount. It doesn’t have the long gentrified avenues like many of the Plateau. But it has an esprit all of its own. Though I think of Point St-Charles as an anglo or bilingual neighborhood, Dany Laferrière reminds us that one can’t generalize about any neighborhood in modern Montreal:


Je ne sais trop pourquoi
j’ai eu tant envie de voir ce matin
mon ami Rodney Saint-Éloi au 554, rue Bourgeoys.
Appréciez l’ironie de ce nom de rue
pour une modest maison d’édition de gauche
dans ce quartier ouvrier de Pointe-Saint-Charles.

M’attendaient en haut de cet escalier raide
le large sourire de Saint-Éloi
et un saumon cuisant à feu doux
sur un tapis de fines rondelles
d’oignon, de tomate, de citron et de poivron rouge.


Nous voilà assis,
Saint-Éloi et moi.
L’un en face de l’autre
Tous deux venus d’Haïti.
Lui, il y a à peine cinq ans.
Moi, il y a près de trente-cinq ans.
Entre nous trente interminables hivers.
C’est le chemin difficile qu’il devra prendre.

Then later, when he leaves Montreal for a trip home (the subject of his 2009 novel L’Énigme du retour), he juxtaposes those early, warm and flavorful images against more familiar images:

On dernier coup d’oeil par le hublot de l’avion.
Cette ville blanche et froide
où j’ai connu mes plus fortes passions.
Aujourd’hui la glace m’habite
Presque autant que le feu.

L’Énigme du retour shows us how an outsider experiences the process of becoming an insider, in much the same way that Pointe-Saint-Charles tells the story of those who lived and never achieved power or influence. Laferrière’s tale chronicles the process by which this city and its streets infect a newcomer and change the way he or she views the rest of the world.


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