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Travelogue F43

October 21, 2015

As I wandered away from the port into the old town itself, I froze before the exposed side of a brick building on the surface of which I could follow the structure’s evolution, or, at least, that of the building next door but now missing. As with a nuclear shadow, I could make out the successive outlines, the ghost of a peaked roof and a high chimney in grey stone. Higher still my eyes found a similar form but in red brick. Yet I was struck most of all by the sight, above all the traces left by years of demolition, construction and building on, the stretch of brick wall thereto uncovered and weathered by the elements and shaded with automobile exhaust.

These pasts had only revealed themselves with the neighboring building’s tearing down to make way for a carpark. As I made my way into the lot itself, I came upon still more indistinct structures, overlapping and washing one another away, with, at the rear, what I fancied to be remnants of the old city wall. In this remnant, lower than the surrounding structures, I could take careful note its progressive growth in a series of what appeared small terraces. Wistfully, I could only conclude in the end that I had met not with the wall of a city but of a courtyard.

At the center of a square farther on, amid a knot of skyscrapers, stood a pedestal topped by a column and a bronze statue. At its foot there lapped a fountain. Above its water and at the column’s base, a series of metal reliefs depicted either personages or scenes from Montréal’s past. The pedestal itself bore a quotation from Maisonneuve, to the effect that, were the trees of Montréal to become Iroquois, he would have been to die, knowing his mission was at an end. Said mission received no further explanation. Bronze statues flanked the reliefs. In one such statue, I found an Algonquin, looking suitably wild, as befitted the city’s primordial threat.

Down a perpendicular street, I caught my breath a sight, which intrigued in virtue of its utter absence from the day and age which I had known: the gas lamp. If, at one time, the city counted some three hundred such lamps to ward off the night, this host disappeared with the advent of electricity and had only been resurrected, some twenty in number, to recall this early advance in city lighting technology. The lamp now burned by day and night as best I could then tell. Rather than bulbs, I found at its center a cluster of four white oblong envelopes, almost like cocoons, only vaguely transparent. They burned not so much with a single light but a glow. As if the cocoon had been home to a moth, having long since expired and its body having passed into light to burn away gently with the passing days.

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