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Travelogue F9

July 16, 2015

To one side of the park, a converted schoolbus offered all manner of quick summer restauration: meat and dairy products above all. I made my way back to the waterfront via a long, sloping path, passing some indistinct marble sculptures and arrived at a map displaying the front’s length and breadth. The map showed an impressive collection of new and repurposed structures, boutiques and services replacing industry’s empty halls and a bike path occupying the length of the old rail. I noted that the map, contrary to most, was not oriented to the north but to the west and again asked myself precisely what pushed mapmakers to subvert this convention or, still more, what had led to its enshrining as up in the first place. Were I to investigate more closely, I might well discover that the difference between headings owes not to mapmakers’ decisions but to their very perception.

From a nearby sign, I gathered that I now stood on manmade land, the Port of Burlington being no other than the creation of the railway companies and the prosperity brought by renewed lumber sales after the first trains’ arrival at the lakeside. Yet lumber shifted to other places with the turn-of-the-century, and the Port entered a period of transition and repurpose, grain, transit and fuel its principal occupations, only to pass into city stewardship in 1990. A century of transformations had at last issued in the bicycle path on which I now stood. So much of post-industrial New England’s history is perfectly capture in this Port’s evolution. Off the bike path, I glimpsed a sculpture perched atop a building’s corner turret. Though difficult to make out with the difference in elevation, it seemed a flying monkey and an indirect call to Montréal’s own broken guardian.

On my way back to the hotel, I cut through the local mall and spent no few minutes speaking French with an American salesperson in a teashop. He had been happy for the opportunity to push his product in a different language, and I saw no harm in obliging him, contenting myself with counting the “calques” (direct translations) with which his presentation was littered. Still, I have always found something, if not refreshing, at least novel in this manner of bending one language to another, for, in it, striking new ways of life can open themselves before me. On this occasion, I saw one in which tea was an “éducation” unto itself: not a field in which the person might be educated as the speaker thought, but an upbringing, such that, in his words, I glimpsed a time and place in which the child was brought up amidst the tea plants or perhaps even under their tutelage.

His presentation at an end, the salesperson left me with a colleague who, in similarly impressive fashion, painted for me the history of pu-erh and the Wò Dūi process, whose 1970’s beginnings he attributed not to method but to chance, the teamakers having left the plants to age beneath a leaky tarp and which, predictably enough from my position, allowed water to seep through and accelerate the fermentation. From inattention there resulted a new classification of tea, and I imagine that I only just refrained from asking him what such inattention might bring us in other fields.

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