Memories of Montreal – un petit film

Montreal, Canada. 10-10-’10. I have been busy with my travels these past  several days and shall be traveling for a few more to come…..and Internet access has been sporadic and minuscule, at best. One of the joys of traveling and reconnecting with old friends and places in general is the humane factor of touch, sight, sound and smell which the virtual world, no matter how rich it can be, can never equal. The virtual at the end, serves only as the medium – the conduit through which the essence of the real can be captured only in bits and pieces on a two-dimensional plane.

So until I find the time to write a more reflective or analytical post, I’m re-posting an older article and video which had been, in essence, a quick ode to a city that has always remained dear to my  heart. On this trip, as I packed up the remnants of my existence here and found closure on many levels, I understood with some poignancy that it was indeed “Goodbye Montreal” and “Hello New York” for good. Time flies, people change, precocious girls we knew from our work days get married, have children; men we knew who carried an intense fire for living look beaten and broken in the grind of work life and compromises….those who thought they would live a ‘James Bond’ existence wake up to a reality of  ‘The Office’ (ah! mid-life crisis, or should I say mid-life acceptance, for many a man.)  A girl who was a sworn spinster is now married in a big Greek wedding with a baby on the way. A good architect friend who had the worst year of his life in 2008, is now not only on his best year but has become a successful theatre-actor on the side. Another who I thought would forever remain timid and servile has broken free and has his own firm.  A man who I thought had crazy intensity  ended up truly being intensely mentally crazy when I saw him again after two years. A girl I thought would never lose her integrity, I found, has now sold her soul in the name of society’s cliched definition of success……

We meet many, we lose a few, we remain static with some, we grow for, with and at times, away from others.  And for some like myself, sometimes looking back I have to confess (as a private joke that a few friends will understand) by fluke, I certainly was ‘Saved by the Bell’  in October 2008 in Montreal. Had it not been so, I certainly might not have perhaps found myself in Cambridge and subsequently in New York City. Thank you, Antonio Stradivari!

Life goes on, time never waits and all that is left behind are memories…….Yet for some places and people looking back at them never quite brings clarity – like looking at one’s past and hoping to get a balanced vision – yet instead it feels akin to when you open an old book and find inside its pages a pressed exotic flower from long ago and its faint scents and faded colours prevent detached objectivity.

But: We move on, thus. We must. We look back – sometimes with 20-20 vision, and at times with visions still blurred and foggy. Yet we move on. Or at least try our best. Or hobble on. Or, if we are lucky, sail smoothly away.

And oh yes – one more thing – xkcd-style. Just for the heck of it (or maybe it’s just all these cafes selling baguettes here.)  Either way:

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MÉMOIRES DE MON MONTRÉAL

(originally posted on May 25, 2010)

This is a short and quick film I made to capture some moments at my favourite city where I lived and worked for many years as an architect. I made this to celebrate both Montreal’s unique poignancy AND vibrancy.

Location: The film is based on my photographs through my years in Montreal. The apartment featured is on Ridgewood Avenue where my balcony and windows opened out into the forest of the Mont Royal Summit, behind the gigantic St. Joseph’s Oratory featured both in the early part and in the closing shot of the film. The ‘summit forest’ is the highest point of the city at the bifurcating median of the eastern traditionally ‘French side’ from the western ‘English side’ though of course in reality the city is entirely mixed and diverse. My apartment’s location enabled an incomparable view of the surroundings as well as the seasonal changes of the magnificent trees in its forested backyard. I lived in two different apartments over the years on the same street though I lived in other areas of the city as well, including the Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood, in downtown Montreal, on the east side near the Village and also in the historic suburb of Vieux Longueuil. I’ve had 7 addresses during my years in the city.

The office featured in the film is of my architecture mentor Dan Hanganu on Rue Dizier.  Its arched windows looked out into the art galleries of Rue St. Paul. The three friends in the ‘four architects’ photo are Anca, Lucia and Athena (and no, we are quite the opposite of the self-absorbed, shoe-crazy, man-hungry, navel-gazing ‘sex and the city’ hyper-materialistic girls.) I met them while working at the historic multi-disciplinary and multi-national architecture firm Le Groupe Arcop one of whose founding fathers had a fellowship in his name at McGill university which I had been awarded more than a decade ago, not knowing then that some day I would go on to work at the firm he had founded. There are other pictures here of friends who are dear to me. I have added quite a few well-known streets and landmarks of the city as well as those places that are personally meaningful and memorable.

The repetition of the sunflowers in the clip is not just a reminder of the lively kiosks and flower shops dotted around the town (and the little herb and flower corner of my balcony), but also a representation of the human potential and inclination to seek and search for joy in life despite how gray the skies may become at times and…….well, because sunflowers are my favourite blossoms. I always say that no matter how sad a moment may be, looking at a ‘happy sunflower’ brings back the smile on my face. They just seem to be such sprightly optimistic flowers, following the light of the sun….

Music: The featured musical pieces on this video are ‘Oblivion’ (violin – Joshua Bell; bandoneon – Carel Kraayenhof) & ‘All of Me’ by Jazz great Lester Young (tenor sax), Teddy Wilson (piano), Jo Jones (drums), Gene Ramey (bass). Since I wanted to capture the paradoxical ‘poignant joyousness’ of the city, the first half of the film includes a heartfelt piece ‘Oblivion’ played by the versatile virtuoso Bell (whose movie The Red Violin’s ending culminates in this city and who I met in Montreal, so I thought it would be appropriate to place his rendition.) The second half of the film picks up the tempo, rhythm and joie-de-vivre unique to this belle ville and reminiscent in a very jolly 1950s tune ‘All of Me’ (composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons) played by the jazz legend  Lester Young – which captures the spirit of the famous International Jazz Festival that Montreal hosts every summer and also the ambiance of its many cafes, clubs, youth culture, its ‘book capital’ status and bicycle and pedestrian-friendly street life.

Additional photography: Almost all the photographs used here are my own. The ‘night vision’ shots though hazy, I felt captured the lights, music and movement better of the city’s nightlife and festivals than clean ‘perfect’ ones taken with a camera stand. There are around 5 pictures featured here taken from Montreal tourism. And out of the total 160 photographs used here – 12 are from the collections of two friends who are extremely talented professionals and have their own studios and should be credited – Jessica Petunia and Robin Cerutti who are both Montreal residents

http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jessicapetunia/popular-interesting/

http://robincerutti.com/

The music in the video is beautiful when heard through the right speakers since a tiny mono speaker of a laptop cannot do justice to a big jazz band nor to a 1713 Stradivarius.

This is just a little personal ode to a city that has meant so much in my life and where, in many ways, an integral part of my mind, heart, soul and body will always remain, always belong, and live on through its multifarious memories.

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Random Acts of Sunshine

RANDOM ACTS OF SUNSHINE

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Nothing starts a day better than a little dose of sunshine with the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano and the optimistic joy of sunflowers. This is the first of my ‘Random Acts’ short video series that I’m working on to celebrate the little pleasures  of life. And Bach and sunflowers have been two of my favourite ways to start a morning for as far back as I can remember……Perhaps, like the Himalayan mountains beckon my blood, as does the Mediterranean Sea, so do the sunflowers of Provence and the music of Bach.

My personal favourite in this collection of sunflower photos is the one of the sprightly lone helianthus bravely blooming at the edge of a grey sidewalk. A symbol of spunky joy indeed! I hope you like viewing this little piece as much as I loved making it, though of course Bach sounds its best when the speakers are good.

Please note that the last photo in the closing shot of the little child in the field has been taken by an exceptionally talented young lady Iryna Smolych from jossphoto.com who I hope to interview some day on my blog. Please watch this in the full screen mode. Happy mornings!

Random Acts of Sunshine. (full-screen it please.)

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I do not know about you, but for me – music is one of the greatest affectors of my moods and state of being. I’ve just always had extremely sensitive ears (and an oversensitive nose – but that’s another story). My dad had to take me to several trips to an audiologist or ENT specialist when I was a kid because I’d complain of hearing everything too loudly or pick up sounds that others would not find disturbing, or sometimes not even notice.

Turns out my ears were indeed too sensitive and I was hearing frequencies and pitches beyond the normal range. Yes – the doc played and experimented with several tuning forks and for a while I became his pet ‘freak’ patient. I later wondered if my affinity for dogs and other animals came from this auditory anomaly.

As a little kid, I had the ability to pick up any music by ear and play it on the piano (an ability which alas, my parents never encouraged, pushing me into dance instead to tone down my ‘tomboyishnes’ – but a decision of theirs that still makes me a wee bit sad at times. ok – here’s more looking at you sunflowers! to forget that!) Anyway, the solution was to wear ear plugs for a while and carry them around at all times, but even to this day, I remain very sensitive to sound, pitch, tonality and my entire body jangles in pain if a certain piece of music is incongruous in context or time of day, or just plain bad. I also like music that is ‘pure’ – i.e. the instruments are real and tangible. Till date, I still am not crazy about digital ‘instruments’.

While I haven’t done a survey I wonder how many people are affected by sound deeply, intrinsically, achingly. It was no coincidence that later ‘Acoustic Design in Architecture’ (a great help when it comes to designing concert halls) became one of my favorite subjects and I’d end up even teaching that. 

I wonder if the liquid in our inner ears that maintain ‘balance’ in our body has something to do with our intrinsic sensitivity to sound and songs. Geek readers can check out this youtube video which explains how our ear processes sounds and how the fluid in our inner ears maintain our balance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTiGskc1o48  (Don’t get spooked by the animated biological skinless face at the start – not a pleasant sight to see after the sunflowers.)

I also wonder why  certain styles or pieces of music feel so right in the morning and others only at night? In eastern cultures, classical music was composed and played according to the time of day as well as seasons of a year. I’m sure everyone has different preferences, yet somehow the ‘sameness’ of biology all across the human race perhaps leads to similar effects of different kinds of music on our bodies? I for one, love Bach in the morning. And certain pieces of Mozart. Even Debussy at times. Or Bill Evans playing ‘Here’s to that Rainy Day’. Afternoons, when I feel drowsy I don’t mind a torrid flamenco guitar tune or even a few jolly Gypsy Kings songs to wake me up – their sunny candor taking away the boredom at that time of day. Late sunny afternoons for some reason, stirs a craving for world music – Saif Keita singing songs from Mali, Bob Marley’s nasal wailing or the more classical variations of some old Bollywood song (the ones with tablas and drums), or even Brazilian carnaval rhythms. Exotic. Erotic in the essence of strange accents and exotic languages. Musical metaphors of imaginary (or real) afternoon sex in hot climates. Your lover’s sweat seeping in foreign soil. Where music and moving limbs and eyes surpass the necessity of comprehending language.

Evenings are for more somber or sensuous tunes in Jazz, or even lively big bands, poignant French ballads, or Django Reinhardt-esque brazen liveliness, or classical symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And late at night, I love the pensive mood of Keith Jarrett, or melancholic versions of Jazz, and of course, the nocturnes of Chopin.  Dark nights are also for Pink Floyd, Jimi Henrix, Tool, the Scorpions, a few selected Rave beats, as well as some heavy Metal groups or songs I listen to. They seem so in sync with the mystery and terror of night, with madness and mania, fury and fire, or even just contemplation of the ‘dark side’ of psyches or moons or ‘crazy diamonds’ ;) I do not know if the ‘metal-at-night’ phenomenon is more out of a habit from the architecture-school days when pulling all-nighters was accompanied by the thrash of metal guitars – haunting, screaming thrusting one into werewolf-energy while drawing lines or making sketches in an inspired frenzy. But even without the architectural memory, I still find that genre very effective only at night.

Somehow friends who listen to the Goldberg variations in the night and Metal in the mornings seem to have it all topsy-turvy. In the open studio of my grad school, there were fellow-students who would jangle the hall with  either Judas Priest and Metallica in the early mornings or depressed ballads of Sarah Mclachlan. (Why couldn’t they hear them in earphones, instead of jangling the entire studio and all my nerves??! and I’d retreat back to that kid with sensitive ears, my state of mind anxious and muddied, wishing they would understand the subtlety of tender timid sunrays that ask for the joy of sunflowers, not the stench of death and skulls.)  

I have no problems with either thrashing, heavy and/or melancholic music at night, but mornings – ah sweet, sweet fresh clean innocent new mornings – please give me my Bach, and sunflowers, a good cup of tea, and soft, happy strums of the guitar, the sitar and the piano – and let me glide into the day reflective, alone in my thoughts, alone in the peaceful solitude of a morning-mind, and lapping up quiet exultant serenity……..

So – to those who like genial harmony and genus helianthus  in the mornings – here’s to Bach and sunflowers!

And if such indulgence in making ‘random acts’ videos and thoughts make me an idiot, so be it. There is a great quote by Bach: “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord. ” 

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