Paying attention primarily to the meanings of words, one loses so much. In retrospect it almost seems as if we went to Montreal for the music — those of us with no French — and on the weekend of the Pentecost, no less. We saw how the stones of language make ripples in the pool of a stranger’s face, traveling outward in rings of gesture and posture and gait. Flakes of poplar down made the air visible, and in lieu of tongues of flame, we were beset by schisms of drizzle.
Uncertainty about meanings and intentions can spawn misreadings that are both unsettling and delicious. There was graffiti that resembled publicly sanctioned mural and mural that imitated graffiti, and in each, the letters turned vegetative and sexual in defiance of the canons of legibility. “Choose your noodle,” said one restaurant menu, and we did. The rain ran between the cobbles in the Old City and we heard a loudspeaker from somewhere overhead like the voice of God saying “Testing, one, two!” in the absolute language of Descartes.
“When I travel, I just go,” said the self-styled vagabond, whose skills at packing made him far more useful than the ordinary run of poets. And so we went, for hundreds of miles aiming the car’s tires straight between the painted lines, until arrival released us into the blissful wandering of a small school of fish.
On Sunday, dissonant blasts of the pipe organ — a postlude by Olivier Messiaen — released us from the spell of the Anglican service, and we spilled out of the hard pews and stood in a circle in the square with the cathedral’s arched entrance to our backs and the double arches of a McDonald’s facing us from across the boulevard. The hymns had made us weep for no particular reason. “The language of ritual is not the language of reality,” the poet intoned.
Next to the polyglot angels of merchandise, I felt inscrutable. The robotic money changers under the temple effortlessly translated between currencies and denominations. A couple blocks away, we posed for pictures in front of a giant, anthropomorphic cairn made by the Inuit. It shone bluely among the glass skyscrapers, arms extended to either side like a squat traffic cop. Whatever site or trail it once had marked must now be bathed in the unbroken light of a day that lasts all summer.