Resolutions. My resolve to bake fresh bread every couple of days has fallen by the wayside. Not the result of laziness exactly, but a lack of motivation in the face of steep competition: there are just so many Portuguese bakeries and Jewish-style bagel outlets offering cheap and delicious goods nearby.
My resolution to walk everywhere, however, is still in full force. Resolve was tested on Thursday by the prospect of a long walk in the hot sunshine and the knowledge that I’d have to do the very same walk a day later. In the end, I packed a canteen of water and a couple of cookies and walked anyway. I may have failed the bread project slightly but my enthusiasm for walking remains exceedingly intact.
It was a wonderful walk. I was able to observe that the seasons have changed slightly since last week. We must be entering the second half of summer now. Last week was about ants (swarming underfoot and in the air) but this week was about bees (busily commuting from flowering plant to flowering plant). The cicadas have also begun making their impossibly loud noises from the trees. It must have been this time last year when I first heard cicadas in Montreal. It sounded like a powerful electric current, emanating from somewhere unseen in the rooftops. I had stopped in my tracks and my girlfriend had to explain that the noise was the song of a harmless summer insect.
I had taken a slightly different route to usual, going via the main shopping precincts and Quartier des Spectacles. The Quartier is still very much under development and even though I was treated to some live Latin-style music from one of the public stages and saw some Papier-mâché sculptures of Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges, I was also accosted by several genuinely desperate-looking homeless people. A teenage boy with a German accent offered to give me a blow job for 25¢, though he may have been joking and I wasn’t sure who he intended to be on the receiving end.
Halfway to my destination, I bumped into Sean. I told him about my recent discovery of Portuguese bakeries. “This is my life now,” I said, “I read books in the park and hang out in bakeries”. He had to admit it sounded pretty okay. Knowing I used to be a librarian, he invited me to a tour of his workplace: an Islamic Studies library, apparently home to a rare 14th Century Turkish dictionary. I didn’t want to break my stride today, the walk beckoning me ever onward, but I’ll certainly take him up on his offer another time. Libraries are my favourite places to visit.
For a while, I pretended to be a character in The Long Walk: a dystopian story about a bloodsport in which young men must maintain a fast walk across forbidding terrain. If they stop to rest, fall over from exhaustion or slow to an unsatisfactory pace, they get shot and killed by a sniper. Why did I fantasise about this? Why not?
I passed a playground from which a unique squeaking and squealing noise came as multiple swings rode back and forth. I decided that this sound would be the first thing I’d make the audience hear if I were ever to make a Hollywood movie about a sympathetic padeophile. I don’t make films. This is the kind of place your mind wonders when you don’t have a job to go to. Directing imaginary movies.
One of the things I always pass on this walk is a rehabilitation centre for people who’ve been in extreme accidents. There are usually people with missing limbs, sitting in wheelchairs or hopping around on crutches, smoking and chatting and laughing in a recreation area at the front of the building. I’m always amazed at their resolve and good humour, but I usually slow my stride when I pass them so as not to alarm them with my fast pace. Today, three men sat on the bench, smoking cigarettes and talking. A sudden mad thought crossed my mind. What would happen if I told them this joke: “What’s got five feet, five arms and six eyes? You guys.”
The walk took an hour and twenty minutes, which is pretty good considering (a) Google Maps predicts a two-hour walk, and (b) it takes an hour by bus (including the time spent walking to the bus stop and waiting for it to arrive). My resolve to walk everywhere was cemented firmly.
Today, in the park, I had an excellent White Squirrel Encounter (WSE). Our local park is haunted by ghost squirrels: they are completely white and only seen on rare occasions. Sitting in the sunshine today reading In Watermelon Sugar, I became aware of movement in my peripheral vision. It was the white squirrel, snuffling around in the grass. I made a beckoning noise, his ears pricked up and he tentertively made his way over to me. I didn’t have any food with me, but I poured a little water into the lid of the canteen. I offered it out and the phantom squirrel came up close to investigate. He was within one foot of my face. He had cold, milky-blue eyes. He sniffed at the water, but didn’t take any, and then casually sauntered away.