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Travelogue F44

October 22, 2015

The Maison de Marguerite d’Youville, three-story in grey stone and mortar, stood before me. Its facade was broken up by narrow windows evenly spaced. D’Youville called the place home in the second half of the 18th century, but the building had arrived before her, as with the rest of the hospital complex that she was later to take in charge. The complex had reached its predetermined dimensions under the work and guidance of the Frères Charon, who bore this name, as I could only best imagine, for collecting coins from dead eyelids and ferrying patients across the Saint Lawrence. According to the surrounding signage, the house promised a journey back in time to the days of d’Youville.

The house-time machine amused me to no end, for I had always found the notion riddled with fallacious analogy and willful misunderstanding of human cognition. A time machine could no more be a house than a carrot. Certainly, the sight of an environ might produce a jarring effect in the person’s latent apprehension of time’s passage, but at no point did this prove strong as to disrupt the person’s continuity with her own history and social context, which only a complete break with her time and social surroundings would produce. Yet my amusement grew all the more if I took the idea literally. For the mere idea of a house serving as one’s vessel to climb the timestream struck me as ridiculous beyond reason.

To one side of the house, I spied a wall from which sprouted odd stone devices. As I drew nearer for a better look, I found their explanation. The wall before me, the last survivor of the first era’s chapel, had only joined the hospital complex in 1704, again under the aegis of the Frères Charon. As so often happened with religious establishments, purveyors of the eternal, this one’s history swam with changes: granting of deeds, building, burning, transfer of deeds, remodelling, partial knocking down to make room for the swiftly expanding city thoroughfares.

Following demolition, certain elements had survived only by disappearing swallowed up by the earth, of which a good number now adorned the wall and narrow lawn before it. Strangely, certain ornaments had originated from rather higher in the structure, from the arches and colonnades lining the chapel’s upper wall. It puzzled me to no end how heads and sculpted flourishes had found their way below ground. I contemplated the flourishes fixed to the wall blocking the one-time opening between chapel and sacristy before moving on to other things, far from the “rebuilt” wall and the materials that were on hand.

Ahead, at the street’s end, my eyes fell upon the bleak grain silos. Although I imagined that they remained in use, their bulk hemmed in the view before me, and I tried to decide for the better part of a minute whether, recognizable though they were, they would meet with the same fate as the chapel, subject to transfer and rearticulation.

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