After my companion had taken his leave, I found that my last sight within the airport lobby proved that of a wood cutting reproduction, above the JetBlue counter, which depicted Champlain’s 1609 conflict with the Iroquois. In the cutting, Champlain led his “native allies” into battle, all of whom were represented as identical in every way to the Iroquois: vague silhouettes, unclothed, bereft of hair, facial or other identifying features, so many pale shadows armed with bows. The only figure distinct from the mobs was, unsurprisingly, Champlain himself, standing between the two sides, reloading his musket in particularly brave or foolish move. I was unable to decide as to which term better fit.
Certain memories of my bus trip from the Burlington airport to the Montréal bus station have remained with me, long after the bus left behind the the mixed waters of Champlain and the Winooski: a few attempts to picture the trees and green mountains in fall garb, the Gothic Revivalist buildings off the university’s main green, my reptile-skinned seatmate. Or, at least, such are the memories that my notes see fit to pass on.
Back in Montréal and en route for the hostel, the dangers of my close resemblance to a twink again became clear. As I was making my way through Le Village, men occasionally turned to stare or moved as if to head me off. None did, save one, who went so far as to reach out and lay a hand upon me before I found the nerve to tell him off. I arrived at the hostel without further incident.
A week later, the hostel’s oddities confirmed themselves once more with the arrival of four French teens who had set out, whether intentionally or not, to destroy the fragile balance in this dormitory, shoving each other through doors. Yet the oddities did not cease there: consider as well that, in the space of two minutes, I met two James both hailing from Vancouver, though different in height and build, imperfect doubles of one another, and to both of whom I failed to ask a single question about Mood Hut and its club nights.
In the common room, I had achieved a comfortable distance as regarded the other hostelgoers: in a chair arrayed by itself, near enough to feel social, yet far enough not to be isolated. When elsewhere, be it sidewalk cafés or tearooms, I applied much the same logic, preferring the small table against a wall within earshot of other patrons. To this distance, carefully observed, I owed the time and opportunity to watch and remark upon the people passing by and what, if anything, they could tell me of the city.
One of my first observations determined the trending men’s hairstyle, which rather resembled a samurai topknot, or at least what I imagined it to be. I found it again and again, indoors and out, hair shaved on sides, the top left long and bound up either once in a short ponytail or twice over in a topknot. As to my own hair, from what feedback others managed to give me, it seemed make them take me for a brain.
Back out in the streets, I was forced on occasion to interact with others. This ranged in kind from making up information for passing tourists to passing myself off as a resident of the old continent. Other interactions dealt less in deception, such as when a pair of street people approached me in a park and set to mumbling furiously. I took care to respond in kind before they wandered off, still on about a “spot”, and found a seat beside one another on a bench farther down.
Safely away, in the corner seat of a Mile End café courtyard, I turned to another line of thought, more inquiry than observation, and set for myself the task of determining whether Mile End was Montréal’s Brooklyn? In truth, my inquiry set out from a question that showed just how little humans can be trusted with two instance of any category, for in their bumbling manner of relating the two, they bring the two either entirely too near or too far, that is to say, either they reduce one to the other (equivalence) or they opposed one to the other (contradiction).
When relating two things, the question always proves that of finding that critical distance which allows them to remain distinct and yet in some relation. I have always admired this distance in the délicatesse with which Barthes approaches the “traits” of his various works precisely at those moments when the need is strongest to imagine still other modes of relation and relating.