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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Isolation Journal: Magical Rains of Montreal

I arrived in Montreal on a Thursday afternoon. It was cool and damp enough that a light jacket was necessary. The ride into downtown, from Dorval was strange. The driver wasn’t the friendliest of people, an angry stocky Quebecois. He proclaimed annoyance that with the warm weather a horde of rude Americans invade his ancestral lands. These people, he informed me, polluted his province with their loud presence. He turned up the radio and we drove into Montreal without speaking.

The irony: the radio was playing American classic rock from the 1970s. The sky was several shades of gray. Through the odd crack of blueish sky an occasional flash of silvery lightning. It was so strange because for all the light show that we got treated to, there was no thunder. Silent lightning, who knew that was even a thing? I’d never seen such a thing.

The taxi deposited me in the Latin Quarter, at a quaint Victorian house. I was again at the bed and breakfast I stayed at whenever I dropped by my favorite city. Run by a lovely couple, Alain and Colette, in their home. I’d arrived as Colette’s daughter Aurélie finished cleaning the rooms.

She was rushing down the stairs, to meet up with friends somewhere along the rue Saint-Denis, I bet. During festivals, groups of youngsters gathered and hustled cigarettes from the tourists. The American tourists were the easiest. First they'd venture past the areas on the maps pointing to concert venues. Then, they'd try to explain in English they'd lost their way, and the kids would feign knowledge of the language, except for one who’d offer to help them find their way back . . . for a cigarette or two. Sometimes they even sent them back in the right direction.

“Bon jour, Aurélie!”

“Rory,” she said through clenched teeth.

The face emerged from a curtain of hair that covered exactly half of it down to the chin in a neon red. I peeked a scowl, then a huge grin accompanied by an uncharacteristic embrace.

Her mother, shocked, sucked her teeth and muttered, “Incroyable.” She watched as her generally surly girl volunteered to grab my bags and ran up the stairs. Colette shrugged and smiled at me. Her smile was always warm and sweet. “Bienvenue, mademoiselle,” she said as she handed me a key. “I reserved your usual room.”

“Merci,” I thanked her. “It is always good to see you, Colette.” I handed her my credit card and a small gift bag. I knew she loved floral fragrances, so I always stopped at the duty free and grabbed a new bottle of perfume for her.

I headed to the third floor, the family quarters as it were. Aurélie/Rory was sitting on the bed waiting for me.

She said a string of words so fast that it sounded like a single sound. All I knew was that she was happy to see me. I had been a staple in her life since she was a gawky pre-teen. Along with her parents, I too survived her rebellious teens. Now she was entering her slacker twenties.

I pointed to the leather duffel bag, “There’s a carton of Marlboros in there for you.”

She was going to be the queen bee of her posse for the next few weeks. She embraced me again. Then she ran out. Her breathless proclamation which I understood exactly three words: je t'aime and merci.

I did not bother to unpack. Instead, I grabbed by Gypsy bag, the leather purse with fringe. I made sure I had the wallet with Canadian money in it and my ID, and headed out. At the foot of the stairs, I met Colette and she handed back my credit card. I signed the receipt, as we’d done at least 25 times before over the years.

Alain had come in the house with a box from the bakery. I knew it contained sweets for their late afternoon coffee, and dessert for their guests.

We exchanged a few pleasantries. They walked me out and sat on their porch with a friend for a cup of coffee. The neighbor, Madame Boucher, lived across the street and she did not approve of me. She never had. An insomniac nonagenarian, she'd watch me leave in late morning and return after 3 or 4 a.m. She was sure I was up to no good. And sometimes I was, but she didn’t know that!

Every time saw me, at least a couple of times a year, her eyes would narrow and she’d lift a judgmental eyebrow.

“Bon jour, Madame Boucher,” I said. ”Comment allez vous?”

She harrumphed. Alain became very interested in dissolving sugar in his coffee. He stirred it with vigor and unprecedented focus. Colette stifled a smile and sent me on my way on a friendly note, “Have fun, my friend.”

So I headed up the hill to Sherbrooke. I knew after I crossed the boulevard I’d enter a whole new realm. Then back down the hill to where all the action was. Already the Latin Quarter was electric, and it was still early. After sunset there would a general atmosphere of pure merriment with hundreds of people. Music everywhere!

I cut through the square, a small community park. Despite the grayness of the day, pockets of young hippies gathered around. Some singing and others smoking; some reading or writing or painting; and a few sleeping on the grass. Once I made it across the park, through old and beautiful trees and bushes, I had shed all the stress I’d brought with me. I was in my happy place.

I headed to my favorite café, and was very pleased to see that it was still there. I found a small empty table, and sat. A few minutes later a waiter came by. He introduced himself and asked if I was ready to order. I’d been fantasizing about this moment since the moment I boarded my flight to Canada.

“Chocolate cappuccino and madeleines, please,” I said and smiled. He seemed a little confused, a little disappointed, almost as if he did not expect me to answer him in English. I took it as a compliment.

Finally, a clap of thunder in the distance, and a cool breeze swept through. Inside the café, a young man with a guitar sang French ballads. Outside, the wind battered umbrellas flapped and made the sound of castanets.

A few minutes later, my waiter reappeared. He had a small plate of madeleines and a heaping tall glass of cappuccino.

“It will start to rain soon,” he alerted me. “Perhaps you come inside, oui?

I shook my head and handed him twice the amount I owed him and waved him off. “I’ll be okay,” I told him.

“It’s too much,” he said almost regretting it immediately. He tried to give some of the bills back.

“No,” I told him. “That’s for you. I’m staying and won’t need anything else.”

A tall and thin young man with a mane of brown curls he looked unsure how to react. Or he thought I was insane. The jury is still out on that these many years later.

“I don’t mind the rain,” I said. “But I don’t need you to serve me in the rain. I have what I wanted… Go in before it starts coming down.”

He shrugged and ran for the safety of the café as it began to drizzle. It was soft and cool and misty. And it had its own soundtrack. My cappuccino was exactly as delicious as I remembered it. Crème de cacao, maple syrup, ground cinnamon, whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings. The bitterness of the dark chocolate counterbalanced the sweetness. The whipped cream--fresh, cold and unsweetened--added a decadent richness that was heavenly. A sip sent waves of pleasure from my palate down every inch of my body. It felt like falling into a velvet cloud and riding it until you became one with the chocolate. It was almost a religious experience. I was grateful I only had this when I came to visit, because I’d be the size of a polar bear if I lived in Montreal!

The rain picked up in intensity. It splattered against the cobblestones, some of it splashing back in my direction, but I was happy. I did not mind. Montreal rain was magic. I sat back, under my umbrella with my cappuccino and my little cakes. I watched as the cobblestones changed colors and became a glistening mosaic. And in the distance, behind now closed doors, a young man sang of love lost.

Soon enough, the lulling sounds of the rain and the muted guitar entranced me. The sun retired for the day and I unfocused my vision until it felt as it I was in the middle of a Leonid Afremov painting. 

Twenty minutes later, the rain had stopped. Soon thereafter the square began to bustle again. But now, that enchanting scent of petrichor added a musky richness to the air, and my vacation had officially begun.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Carlotta's Wedding Reception Meltdown

After a tumultuous courtship, Carlotta and her boyfriend quietly held their nuptials at City Hall. When her friends Mel and Isabelle find out about it, they set into motion plans for a surprise wedding reception that same evening.

But after the newlyweds make their grand entrance at the restaurant where Isabelle works, it becomes clear that the bride is not exactly in a festive mood. She has things to say. Important things…

Carlotta’s Wedding Reception Meltdown is the story of that fateful evening (in its first installment).

Available exclusively at Amazon (e-book available right now, and print version should be on sale in a day or two).

Thursday, February 6, 2020

We Have Liftoff (almost)

I finally started, finished, edited, revised and sent a story to a few brave beta readers. Feels good to make progress with any writing--especially because I've been stuck on a few projects.

The problem, of course, is me. My inner critic keeps thwarting my progress--that b17ch keeps creating problems where there should be none!

Still, it is a harder thing to practice than to preach: write and edit later. It's easier to let that annoying little voice in the back of your mind criticize your every move within a story until it brings it all to a halt or down like an avalanche. After that, even when you have an idea, it becomes easier to dismiss it outright than to sit and write it down, and try to work it out in writing. Then it becomes a bad habit and getting back to writing becomes harder.

At some point, whether by divine intervention, inspiration, or pure creative overdrive, you pick up a pen or a device, and words begin to flow again. It boosts your energy and your confidence, and you're back on the path.

I have learned not to worry too much because I know I can and will return to my writing, but it feels like an eternity when it lasts longer than five minutes! Now, all I have to do is convince my brain that it needs some discipline and it should just embrace it. Maybe it'll even work this time...

There's three things I must keep in mind, and feel free to do as I say (be better than I am at remembering the following):

  • Your first draft doesn't have to be perfect. It may even suck! But keep going because in the process lies a hidden gem that you will not discover if you stop writing... Just write!
  • Recognize when that inner editor, its ugly sister the inner critic, and their mother Ms. Self-Doubt are whispering in your ear and disrupting your connection to true creativity. Silence it: "Hey! I'm working here..." Just keep writing!
  • Mistakes? I've made a few. Making mistakes in the process, it's all par for the course. Mistakes are the foundation of learning, getting better at your craft. Practice makes perfect: w-r-i-t-e!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Addicted to Love was Our Song

[Trying out an idea to run microfiction to go with some of the daily sketches... This is the first attempt. Not quite sure if it works as well as it played out in my head, but I'm looking at these flash fiction pieces as sketches themselves. Enjoy!]

Another kiss is all you need

It was the winter of ’86 when Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” came into our lives. It was a catchy tune, but mostly it was an iconic video that sprang a fashion trend whereas every club girl could pass as a super model, and all it took was a little black dress, pumps, and the reddest lips you could paste on (gloss optional, in my opinion).

Azzedine Alaïa became aspirational. The whole video was like a fantasy/dream sequence in the minds of girls and young women from their teens into their thirties—and it the video has had remarkable staying power.

It could be argued that Robert Palmer touched on the human condition of the young at heart. Addicted to love is a lovely way to describe that need to be perpetually thunderstruck . And while the video’s imagery may toy with sensuality, the more romantic among us may have taken the words in a more poetic sense.

You can't be saved
Oblivion is all you crave

Personally, the words did not mean much to me. I liked the easy beat. I loved the fashion! It defined a good portion of my closet for the 80s and several decades beyond it. Granted, there were other style icons that influenced my look during the Greed Decade: from Madonna to Cindy Lauper, from Debbie Harry to Boy George to Prince, and from Tina Turner to David Bowie. It was more a look than a statement, but it spoke to our fluidity and the desperate need we all had to be edgy.

Somehow we’d graduated from the Me Generation to wanting to be different like everybody else and our own personal, living magazine cover (whether Vogue or GQ depended on whether it was a week day or the weekend).

Punk, sexpot, and ingénue all in one! That was my twenties in a nutshell. And I did spend a good portion of it falling in and out of love. Not too many heartbreaks, I just fell out of love and moved on to the next adventure.

I prided myself on the fact that I was pretty neutral about the process. I did not invite much drama into my life, especially not involving love. Love, to me, was as stylized as my hair and my look down to my toes. I knew I was superficial, but I was okay with that.

Then I met and got involved with Axel, a German expat that rocked my world to the core. He liked to point out that I craved him as some of our peers craved cocaine, but I waved off his words, and laughed it off. I tried to dismiss it, but he hit on the same theme Robert Palmer was singing about, in almost the very same words…

Whoa, you like to think that you're immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough
You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love

Was he right? Perhaps. I dismissed it nevertheless. In my mind, I was with him for a lot of reasons—none of them love related. But I did like the idea of building a fantasy love life with him. It made no difference after he caught himself in the middle of a sudden heart attack that struck him down in a matter of minutes. I knew I would miss him and I paid my respects at his funeral. I mean, I didn’t give condolences to his wife… That would have been fucking rude! But I did wear my Robert Palmer Girl outfit to the funeral.

It was the winter of 1989, and at the church there were three Madonnas, four Tinas, one Sade, and a sea of Laura Ashley loving suburbanites. I loved that I was the slick, stylish presence to usher him to the other side. I sashayed down the steps of St. Patrick’s cathedral singing my favorite 1980s song--our song.

Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love
Might as well face it, you're addicted to love