Love in an Italian Village

I must have walked past him a few times at least before I realized it was him. Tall, check. Blonde, check. In a Nautica sweatshirt. Check. Yes, it was crowded, this Italian square at 8pm on a weekend night, full of young couples and small families, talking excitedly in that way Italians do, people pushing strollers and bikes, eating gelato and gesticulating. But still: not many tall blondes in Nautica t-shirts to compete for one's attention.

He's handsome but in a way that makes it clear that he used to be a stunner, a tall blonde Nordic-type although he's Italian by blood. He's a full head taller than I am and he smiles widely, very white teeth, probably bleached. We shake hands.

F30a77f215c9a2ba629f81561436d687We wander down the lane and he acts as tour guide, explaining the importance of the aristocracy in the development of this town as a major centre for Italian art and scholarship. It's two steps above a backwater now, though, this is not uncommon in European cities. It's easy to forget that cities, like humans, are frail, temporal, go up, down, fade away, die. Many have spent their careers unburying those stones which once seemed a permanent fixture of life. No, cities, towns, villages are not permanent but they operate on such a different time scale to human life that we can't quite comprehend their loss.

The square is buzzing with all kinds of people, but this side street is emptied out and we take up positions at a small table across from a bar/cafe. He goes in to order our drinks and I watch him walk away, slightly self-consciously as he knows my eyes are on him. Facing me at the bar, he smiles widely and then returns, placing the beers on the table with a little flourish, "Voila."

He says this for my benefit, knowing that I live in a Francophone city though I am not a Francophone. And so the evening begins.

I leave his apartment at 4am, after having fallen asleep in his warm bed at 1:30. I wander down the cobblestone street, faint music wafting up out of an apartment down the alleyway. There is no moon but the amber street light bathes everything in a glum sterile hue.

 

 

 


Love Letters in Greek from the Professor Long Dead

He arrives before me, sitting at the table immediately next to the entrance, his white hair the first thing I notice as I push open the door. He's older than my parents but has a vitality that they seem to lack.

The sky outside is blackening and I am relieved to have made it into the bar before the rain starts, though slightly worried because I have to leave at some point and have no umbrella.

This is why we drink.

We chat, talk about business, talk about our partners, our dogs. We discuss Mark Knopfler and and Jon Krakauer. Then he forces Greece on me, something clearly he's wanting to talk about. His eyes wander, a smile lights up his face as he recalls 1971 and being a 21-year old man bumming around the Grecian isles, smoking weed and sleeping with girls. 

The rain has come and huge swaths of it flood the street. The neighborhood looks green with the rage of it.

He talks about Tassos, the Greek tutor he had, a former professor of Greek literature at a university in Athens. About the letters he received from Tassos for years after he'd returned hom. He'd visit the old man's apartment in those long months in Greece, three times a week for an hour and talk in Greek about Greek history, Greek culture, Greek cooking.  "It was the seventies. Civil unrest, terrorist bombings in the streets. And we'd talk Cavafy and Alexander the Great on the 4th floor balcony and drink strong coffee in those tiny coffee cups. I feel guilty for that, for discussing culture when real political unrest was all around me. But I guess that's the luxury of being young." Our glasses are empty, we call the pretty waitress over for another round. The rain begins to taper off. Then, very matter-of-factly:

"He fell in love with me, this old man. And in a way I loved him, too. Of course, nothing could have happened. I was young, he wasn't. And anyway, I'm straight. But I did consider it. Though I'd already met the woman I would marry that summer." The woman he was still married two these 44 years later.

"We are all on a plane, we are all waiting for something to happen," he adds. "I often wonder if I'd let myself..." and he stops then, absorbed in the what-if, in the way his life might have turned out.

"Anyway, I'm happy."

Rain-droplet-roof


If...

If I were 15 years younger, I'd have asked you to stay late after the meeting and seduced you in my office, leaving your glasses resting on my deks, pulling down the blinds slowly.

If I didn't have to get home to cook dinner before the salmon goes past its sell-by date, I'd invite you out for a drink and sit on one of the summer terraces along Notre-Dame and ask you to tell me about how you got that small scar in the middle of your neck, almost as if you punctured it with an ice-pick. I want to place my finger there...

If tomorrow weren't Saturday, I'd suggest we schedule the afternoon downtown for lunch at that French bistro with tuxedoed waiters and overpriced wine. During the entree, I would strategically place my hand on yours (after a beer or two) and watch you respond. Would you laugh it out? Squint your eyes in surprise? Roll them? Would you push away from the table and storm out or hem and haw uncomfortably?

Or would you lean into me and accept that turn, that unexpected detour?

If I weren't in my 40s and buttoned up, I'd have rented a small one-room apartment in the Plateau by now, I'd invite you back there and kiss you in the back of the taxi, pulling up to the old white brick building, my tiny one-room furnished with a futon and Ikean artwork. This is how things would unfold: we'd kiss on the elevator going up, fighting with every impulse to not fuck right there, once in the door, our clothes instantly undone and opened wide, we'd fall into bed, endlessly hungry for one another, my eyes, my hands, my tongue on every inch of your body so that nothing on you was left to my imagination. I'd install you there, buy you what you want, visit you on the weekends, pay for your telephone and your New Balance shoes.

But. I'm in my 40s, I'm responsible, today is Tuesday and I have to get home to cook that salmon because after this night, it will be past its sell-by date. I'll shake your hand, walk to the subway and slide through these underground passageways to my apartment near the river.


Portrait of a neighbor

We walk our dogs along the same rough path at roughly the same time each day. Sometimes we speak in English, sometimes in French, and it's the language we greet each other in that determines that language we speak that day.

She tells me her husband is from Strasbourg. That they have a house up north where they spend half of their month, driving back and forth between the city and the country with their enormous black Newfoundland in the back of the car, sleeping almost the entire way. When they get close to the city, she says, the dog wakes up and gets excited because he loves the city. She has to clean her back seat windows at least three times a month because of wet nose prints. The dog's name is Angus and he is six years old.

She comes from Ottawa but has lived in Montreal for 37 years, almost as long as I've been alive. 

Dog


Keeping Distance

When I arrive, we are both wearing black. He is in a v-neck sweater, small hairs sticking out as the v exposes the top of his chest. I am wearing a black jacket with a vest over it, a black scarf, a black pair of gloves. We are dressed to go out, to sit in a corner of a club in our black outfits, to size people up, to judge them.

But instead we sit in his empty dining room, the width of the table deceptively vast, and eat slowly
Tablein the chilly fall night. 

Soon it's raining, cold rain that makes going out seem impossible. We move from finger foods to alcohol and he adjusts the stereo across the room with his iPhone, louder, quieter, more bass, different song.

We talk business. Very little personal information is exchanged though it's Saturday night. I imagine what it would be like to wake up in this apartment in the morning, how the light would fill this room as I awkwardly sip his unfamiliar coffee. To see him and his life from the inside. That's not in the cards for tonight and I know this from the start: but I still imagine the way it would feel, to break through this barrier between us, to open up and talk about real things, to make this evening something we will both think back on with fondness.

At 11:30 I get up to leave from the dining room table. We hug in the entry way, the only time we touch all night.


The pessimist

Cell

 

Sorry, buddy, no. I won't take a looney from you so that you can make a 15 second call on my cell phone.

Your hand could be covered in doughnut jelly and powdered sugar. That shit will never come out of the crevices.

You could walk off with my phone and I'd be unable to stop you since I don't have a violent bone in my body.

You could be calling Abu Dhabi and speak to your CEO brother for an hour and leave me stuck with a $40 bill.

You could be calling some mafioso and give him the signal that tonight's the night to firebomb that cafe in Park Extension. Would this make me morally responsible?

You could be calling your eight-year-old daughter whom you haven't seen in three months and tell her she's a pig or an imbecile, some epithet she will remember all her life.

You could drop my phone, since you're clearly drunk, into that vast puddle you are standing in.

You could be calling your drug dealer to order three hits of methamphetamine and the cops could come pounding down my door at 3:30am tomorrow morning after tracing the call.

You could be calling some fuck buddy you've known for a couple of years and be rebuffed since she recently decided to get back with her ex-husband Brent who just came back from working out west. Then in your sexual frustration you could throw my phone over that tree into that school yard where it will be lost to me forever.

No, sorry. Walk on, buddy.

 

 


The dream of the unknown is always more appealing than the known quantity of contentment.

I love where I live. I love my apartment. I like my neighbors.

I like that when I am not working, I can go a week straight without having to leave my quartier. I am in love with the 80 year old trees that line the street.

I walk in the park in the mornings all throughout the year and witness first hand how the seasons change nature (buttoned up city nature though it is).

At least 70% of my friends live within walking distance of my place. And around 80% of all the events or social functions I attend are within a short walk.

Within a 10 minute walk there are restaurants, drugstores, cafes, clubs, cake shops, candy stores, appliances, frame shops, shoe stores, book stores, sex toys, sushi, quirky gifts, bakeries, a library, clothing stores, and much much more.

Despite all of the above, I still look at real estate websites with the idea that we will move. The dream of the unknown is always more appealing than the known quantity of contentment and happiness.

Plateau


Nice to meet you, too...

It's a small group of friends, people I've known for years, yet I wouldn't call any of them close friends. We drink India Pale Ale at a bar on St-Laurent and because it's Saturday afternoon early and because it's raining and because it's cold, we are the only figures in the vast warehouse-like space. The paintings are huge and show young women and men who look Japanese, all painted without mouths. Angry expressions on their faces.

OrangeJ___ tells us about the first time she met Y____, what he was wearing, what he said to her. When A__, who is sitting across from her, asks what she was wearing, J____ says it was a green tank top and relives details of A____'s hair all those years ago. 

"For some reason, I can always recall with perfect detail what certain key people in my life were wearing the very first time I met them." She then goes through a list of four or five people (only some of whom I know), cataloguing the shirt colors, coat styles, hairdos. "But only for people that I really care about, for people who mean a lot to me."

The conversation moves on and we discuss American television, old apartments we inhabited, bars or restaurants we've been frequenting.

Later, when A_____ asks J_____ about the first time we met, she cannot recall a single detail. "No...when did we meet? How long have we known each other? How did we meet you?"


The Introvert

Brian never leaves his office, hates outside meetings and having to drive into unfamiliar neighborhoods. Even calling a new person from his desk feels like a violation of the security he has built up in this job, in this leafy suburb of the city where every face is familiar, every corner comforting in what he knows will be there.

A new guy arrives, waits at the elevator, chatting happily with the receptionist who looks at Brian with relief when he shows up to guide the new guy down the hall, away.

Later in his office, Brian tries to feign listening to the new man, talking excitedly about his project, but he doesn't care about his project. He waits for the unfamiliar man to stop talking, then says, 

"To be honest, none of that really makes any difference to me. All I need is a way to assess..."

In five minutes, the new man has left his office and Brian has a list of what he needs. He closes the door of this office without any windows and pulls his lunch out of the mini fridge, eating slowly as he watches the clock.

That evening as he prepares for bed, he recalls the new man, the only person he spoke to face to face all day. Hopefully tomorrow will be an improvement.

 

 


Desperate

A hotel bar, swanky, with quietly carpeted floors, a rough edge to the waiters that NW cities all seem to breed. I'm drinking wine, quietly, waiting. The wine is white though this is a summer drink where I come from. The rain is falling outside in the way it only falls in the Northwest: without deliberation, haphazardly, almost as an afterthought. My hair is damp but not from the rain...I have just taken a shower in my warm hotel room tucked upstairs on the 4th floor overlooking the 19th century downtown. Between flights and taxis and highways, I haven't had anything but a cursory conversation with any living soul for two days. It's chilly in here.

"Love me," the man at the next table says quietly to the woman facing him. "Please. Just let me love you," he is wringing his hands, water rings from their drinks spot the small marble table. Her hands are folded in her lap. "And love me."