In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
My dear friend V. brought these flowers yesterday: how absolutely gorgeous they are! We're at the height of fall color here, with some leaves starting to come down, but other trees still green. Last week brought a string of the crisp warm days, crowned by blue skies, that all New Englanders and Quebecers anticipate and love. J. and I walked back and forth to the studio on a couple of those days, enjoying the slowness of foot-travel, and the swish of the dry leaves in our path.
Exciting announcement coming on Monday, so stay tuned! Right now I'm heading off to the market, where the fall harvest is in full swing.
It's unseasonably cold here in Montreal. We haven't turned on the heat yet, but we're definitely into the fall wardrobe. I had to wear gloves yesterday morning, biking downtown to sing - seems awfully early for that - and there's a frost warning for Thursday night. Typically for our city, as I wandered around in the underground yesterday between services, I saw people wearing parkas, wooly scarves, and hats, and also plenty of young people with bare arms and tiny skirts, though often with tights and ankle boots. My leather coat is as far as I've been willing to go so far - it's still September!
There's color in the trees, but I'm still anticipating an Indian summer with lots of warm days ahead. (Hold that thought, please!)
I'm sleeping better now, and yesterday had the joy of singing all day. Why do I feel reluctant before going back to it in the fall, when music is the place -- that country completely without borders -- where I feel the most sense of "home?" In the morning: Lassus, Pitoni, and John Tavener's "Lord's Prayer;" in the afternoon, Orlando Gibbons and a big anthem by Charles Villiers Stanford on the same text as one of the Gibbons pieces, "Glorious and Powerful God."
I've included a clip of the Tavener for you. The music, almost too simple (which is where its difficulty lies) is marked "At the limits of audibility." We sang it after communion, and it was one of those moments when we sang as one body. I think everyone was glad to be back together, doing what we do.
During the afternoon rehearsal, as we were singing from the chancel, a visitor came up and stood near the director's podium until we reached the end of one of the Gibbons pieces, and then spoke to the choir - our director seemed pretty put off at first; understandably, he doesn't want rehearsals interrupted by strangers, and usually when someone approaches the chancel while we're rehearsing, they turn out to be unstable, and need to be gently guided away by a verger. This man, though, spoke with authority and understanding.
"I've been listening to you for the past half hour," he said, "and I'm terribly sorry I can't stay for the service at 4, but I have to reboard a tour bus that is leaving soon. I just want to say that what you're doing is extraordinary -- the sound is very very beautiful -- I just walked into the church from the street and never expected to find people here, doing this. And I know: I am a choir director myself, from Switzerland. Thank you, thank you," and then he smiled at us, inclined his head to the choir and nodded to our director, and walked off. I caught a last glimpse of him standing by the side door in the dimness, where he could quickly leave for his bus; he was leaning against a pillar, head back and eyes shut, still listening.
Already, almost September, after a beautiful summer. In my weaker moments, I've complained that we spent too much of it in the city, but honestly, the weather in Montreal has been so lovely this year, the trees so green, that I've enjoyed nearly every day. It hasn't been hot - we've managed with fans and didn't even go to the basement to lug up the air conditioner and install it - but that's fine with me. I haven't gone to the botanical garden or walked on Mount Royal, and because of work pressures I've been in my garden less than usual, and in the studio more, but we've also gone to the market more often, and discovered some new treasures in Little Italy, along with many happy evenings and days with friends here, and friends who've visited. It's been a delight getting to know my new friend Priya who just moved here from India, and to think about what it must be like to see this part of the world through her eyes.
Happiness begins (I remind myself when I start to get nudgy) by wanting what you have. Even though I will always have the woods and wilderness in my heart, I've become a city-dweller for good reasons. Living in a fairly far-northern city like Montreal means dealing with weather, a short growing season, and constant change. People here aren't static, and although life is perhaps slower than in the U.S., they move, adapt, change; they are open to new experiences, and many of them consciously seek that out. The flow of languages in the buses and on the street has seeped into my own life and my own head; I'm studying Spanish on Duolingo, and working on my French there too; it astounds me how many of the people I've come to know here are bi-, tri-, and even more multi-lingual. Last night we sat with friends outside a cafe eating cornets of delicious frozen egg custard (like soft ice cream but richer, with eggs). Another group of friends gathered nearby, drinking coffee, petting a little Italian greyhound, their conversation moving seamlessly from French to Italian to English. Later, we stopped in the neighborhood park to watch tango dancers in a covered bandstand; it was the last of the weekly Tango Argentinian nights for the summer: slowly, the dancers circled the floor, the women elegant and strong; the men focussed, assured; their tango an expression of desire, tension, and surrender, of the bittersweet and beautiful dance of life between our beginnings and endings.
The world remains violent and troubled, and we are all very aware of that, but last night I was reminded how the peace and renewal I've always sought in nature are also available right here; I just have to look more deeply. Human beings are an intrinsic part of nature, and we too contain all of its silence and mystery.
Notes below...you might prefer to watch the video in fullscreen mode.
The Lachine Rapids are a stretch of impassable water in the St. Lawrence River just upstream from the city of Montreal. Jacques Cartier was the first European to discover them, in 1535, and they stopped him in his search for the Northwest Passage.
Ships can now go around, via the St. Lawrence seaway, but the rapids are just as impressive and daunting as they must have seemed to the early explorers. Kayakers go down them, and tourists in inflatable boats...we saw both while we were there...but the risk of drowning seems very real. Fishermen are required to wear flotation vests, and visitors keep a close eye on their children.
There's a narrow path between the river and the still ponds on the opposite side, and a lot of native wild flowers augmented by natural plantings with species chosen to attract and support wildlife.
This park is a public area within a large migratory bird sanctuary that encompasses several islands in the middle of the river, and it's filled with bird life all year. Redwing blackbirds were very prominent while we were there, along with many ducks and geese, and of course many seagulls and other marine birds. We saw a dozen white egrets on the protected Isle aux Herons in the middle of the river.
We sat for a long while watching a flock of common terns feeding above this section of the rapids. They're one of my alltime favorite birds -- I love watching them fly.
It's pretty amazing to stand in the same spots where Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain must have stood -- you can almost hear them saying "Merde!" The rapids can't have changed much at all in the five centuries since then, and the power and magnificence of La Fleuve remain undiminished.
Last Friday was our 33rd anniversary, and as we usually do, we took the day off and went out for an outdoor adventure. This time we took our bikes to the path along the Lachine Canal, and rode up to the Parc des Rapides, where the inland river journeys of Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain ended many centuries ago. The rapids are extremely impressive, and I'm working on a little video to show you what we saw.
But we also took some photos of ourselves, and J. took a few of me, standing by these rocks on the path. To his complete surprise, when he looked at the pictures after getting home, something else had appeared in the frame, just at the right moment! I can't identify this hawk because I can't see the wing bars or tail bars. The compact body and general dusky tone of the feathers make me think it might be a marsh hawk, but I'm wondering if any of you can give a more positive I.D. In any case, it's one of those weird photos you couldn't take if you tried.
What a devastating week it's been. I just wanted to post this snapshot I took a few days ago, from the upper floor of a medical clinic. These two waiting mothers had been smiling and interacting happily, drawn together by their children, who just wanted to play with each other. It's not as though Montreal is a city rife with ethnic or racial tension -- it's not, though there is a certain amount of separation, perhaps to be expected in a place where there are so many immigrants. This scene simply made me feel a little better: a reminder both of what's possible, and of the happy naiveté of children who haven't learned hate or fear. Honestly, if the world were run by women, who bear the responsibility for life's continuation in their very bodies, I don't think it would be the way it is.
On a recent weekend we made our first foray to the Jean-Talon market with friends (she writes the blog Passage des Perles, he is one of the best and most knowledgeable cooks we've met in Montreal.) Thought you might like to see the colors and beauty too.
Enchanted mushroom forests.
Considering the wild asparagus.
Artisanal breads at Joe le Croute.
Foxglove plants, wanting to go home with me (they didn't.)
Radishes that did.
Are you starting to shop at farmers' markets or get deliveries of a CSA basket, or harvesting some produce and flowers of your own? I'm curious if the variety, freshness, and local availability of produce and local food products (honey, cheese, yogurt, etc.) have improved in your region in the last decade. It's a simple way we can all help the earth, support local agriculture and the local economy, as well as improve our own health and state of mind. What could be better than that? Bon été, bon appétit!