Patriots at my back, I meandered towards the downtown and followed no clear path, not even to the eyes of god. My observations multiplied. My eyes found mildly anarchist posters (“ce n’est pas pour faire monter la rage que j’attise le feu – si les lumières s’allument, c’est pour mieux voir ton sourire dans cette course où chaque argument est flou et chaque pique politique”), a radical message which, underscored by expressivist art and warm colors, captured something of my own thoughts on the political ubiquitous in that all thought, speech and deeds negotiate a shared space. Slightly puzzled though I was at its placement on the service door of a Russian Orthodox church, crowned with a small blue dome, I pursued the matter no further and stepped back to inspect the church itself. The dome, in particular, stands out from the city’s other religious structures, which most often appear capped with a belfry in tarnished copper or instead some silvery metal, the material slightly dulled, retaining light rather than reflecting, and standing above cut-stone walls, of a grey color tinged tan in places.
The non-religious structures, at least in the part of the city, alternate between older brick, turn-of-the-century cut-stone, and contemporary metal and plate-glass. Certain lanes could as easily be found in the colonial-era American cities; I myself thought of Fones. Small parks and squares dot the city blocks and are seemingly to be found on each and every street, lane, and alley, a welcome splash of green. I lingered for a time in one such park, along Boulevard Dorchester, whose trees had been a gift, according to an inscribed plinth nearby, of the local Buddhist Temple of Montréal, following the visit of Kyoto’s Lord Abbot in 1984.
While certain stand out, native to other climes, and such as one might see from photos of Japanese temple grounds, low spreading evergreens, others hail from far closer as I could make out the distinctive leaves of a maple upon reviewing the photographs I had taken. Yet what most held my attention were the stoops, to be found everywhere in the city, and in every state and quality imaginable: running straight up, doubling back along the walls, nooks and crannies, spiralling around on themselves, almost always in wrought iron, though occasionally in wood or stone, and I wondered at the social and economic conditions which made their emergence possible on the North American continent, for, I have as of yet encountered them nowhere else in my, albeit limited, travels.
Certainly, it would a considerable amount of space, precluded by Europe’s narrow ways, as well as an industrial level of metalworking not present before the industrial revolutions. The iron itself would have undoubtedly been somewhat plentiful. Still, I wondered at the stoop’s suitability for winter weather, indeed whether the metal steps would not simply freeze over earlier than the ground and result in how many broken necks. Come a hundred years earlier or later, Montréal would have been other than a city of stoops and my own tellings unmoored in time, its story rather different than that found here.