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Travelogue F39

October 8, 2015

Set off the next day, I found in the inset of a Latin American Catholic mission, high off the ground, an angel, rather like the one adorning Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Père Lachaise, minus the missing member. Not long after this intact angel, I came upon a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. The courtyard was lined with an army of white stones statues of different sizes and postures, representatives or representations of the Buddhas. From what little I understood of the religion, I had always been surprised by the diversity about it given its simple core, though much the same could be said for Christianity and its message of love burgeoning with saints.

My morning destination, the old Olympic Park, lay the other side of this passage beneath the rails. The passage’s length was columned on one side and hewn from the rough rock on the other. I had still some way to go yet, but the monotony of my walk was broken up by the occasional sight. There came into view a fuel station, its back wall marred with “tar sands” marked out in black spraypaint. I collected evidence to the fact that, while not as manifestly patriotic as the Americans, some Québecois were in fine form for the Fête de Saint-Jean, Québec’s national holiday, as I found in one brick townhouse which had been draped from cellar to rafters in blue streamers and miniature flags. I deemed it a strangely forceful display from the otherwise understated citizens.

Upon finding the Olympic complex at last, I was struck both by just how much concrete had gone into the surrounding structures and by the fate of slow decay to which it had been consigned thereby. I guessed at what would remain of it in a hundred years and in what state. Even now, some forty years on, the concrete no longer had that same smooth, uniform appearance as at the beginning, as best I could make out from photos, and I was left with the impression that it was far older than that which I had seen at Munich, though four years its senior. Indeed, I strode through what might charitably be termed a rotting behemoth which had bankrupted the city and now pocked the landscape. Come to a stop at the central plaza, I spent some time picturing the inclined tower’s crashing down, with me in it, as the city heaved a collective sigh of relief, unburdened at last. It was precisely the sort of reflection to which I am often given or, more accurately, to which I give myself over, as though by an obscure instinct not to preservation but to sorrow.

North of the plaza, the city’s botanical garden stretched over a considerable acreage. I found my way to the entrance only to turn myself away at what I judged a prohibitive price. So, I made use of their facilities to fill my water bottle and proceeded to make a circuit of the public parks surrounding the garden, whether out of a desire to find an opening in the perimeter fence or to spy from afar the Japanese water and Chinese rock gardens. Or perhaps it stemmed simply from a lack of clarity in my vision for the afternoon.

In those parks, it seemed that a pest was raging, a fact which only took on meaning for me at the sight of the spraypaint marks in which I read the fate of the trees around me: yellow x, safe; red dot, at risk; orange ring around the trunk, condemned. These trees ordinarily provided a source of comfort to those who walked among them but had here been tried and found wanting, according to a standard set for them by others. As others before me, I turned my back on them to continue along the asphalt way.

To my right on a large green, my eyes settled on a man flying a kite, or instead something subtler, for I could not, for the life of me, make out. It occurred to me that he was on to something beyond my ken, in search of those virtual fireflies which a panel before the botanical garden exhorted visitors to become, “soyons lucioles (virtuelles)”, though whether this owed to the light or the lightness brought on, I was not in a position to say.

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