Death Around the Corner
Don't be fooled, every corner in Montreal is hazardous. For pedestrians, for bikers and for drivers alike. Just look at this death tunnel. Every street seems to harbour the Grim in its gentle concrete embrace; the one who always comes but is never expected. But that's ok. It's nearing death-time anyway. It's fall now. Yeah we're on this side of the tunnel, and just like we do every year, we're about to take the long walk through to the dreaded other side, where life itself is stripped away. It's fall so leaves fall. Even if the weather remains warm - too friggin warm - still, you can't fool Mother Nature so easily. She will still make it all fall down. Game of Thrones only popularized what we in the northern regions have always understood perfectly: "winter is coming."
Winter is coming.
But not yet. We're still on this side of the tunnel. We're still admiring the red leaves; they're hanging on. We're hanging on. It's funny though, how this is the most colourful, the most beautiful, time of the year. It's almost as if the early setting sun and the cooling air conspire together to offer up one last glimpse of raw beauty - of striking pastels, before it all disappears and goes white. It's a short window of time but meaningful nonetheless. Only steps in the journey, but never underestimate the journey. Even when, especially when, the journey is that of going through the tunnel.
Halloween is the upcoming event; a bona fide reason to pause along the way. Think about it, this macabre holiday we adopted in the west isn't quite macabre enough, one might say. It's a plain ole American coalescence of pop culture meets sex meets death. It's a fusion of ancient Wikka customs (so they say - but don't ask me about that) and North American harvests (i.e., think glowing/glowering pumpkins).Think ghouls.
Ahh the ghouls. It's the ghouls I love, them that fascinate me most. Could it be they were always meant to be mere representations of the death to land upon the lands for the next six months or so? Not death as in non-existence, more like spirits; continued existence, there but not there. Like green buds still innate in the trees covered over by feet of snow. Like the running streams underneath a veneer of ice; the green grass underneath its own depletion. Like a symbol of the spirits floating in the underworld, in the meantime. Buying time while winter passes. Éli Bloom and I contemplate it every year.
What also fascinates me is how our precious Halloween falls just two days before the Mexican Day of the Dead - which is in fact a two day celebration; the first day is for the children, the second for adults.
Leaves fall in Mexico but they don't turn red like in Quebec, or fall like they do here. Life doesn't get buried underneath snow or ice; it stays and stays yet they celebrate the dead anyway, better and harder than we do in Montreal. UESCO has even recognized Day of the Dead as a part of the intangible cultural heritage of Mexico.
But this isn't about competition, we're all entitled to celebrate aspects of death in whatever way we see fit. I don't know where you're going to be when it all goes down this year, but I'm doing it like a true North - American - Canadian - Montrealaise gal: I'm going to do it here with parties (a bit of pop culture zombieism, to be sure) at some poppin' party (right?) in St. Henri or in the Mile End. Then I'm taking me to Mexico, and I'm going to do it right and respectfully. I'm going to honour those I've known and those I never met in the flesh but still touch me, whether through art or legacy. For all of them whose buds still grow and rivers still flow, whatever the appearances.
Then I'm coming back to Montreal, and I'm going to promise myself to remember this all winter: somewhere in the frozen landscape life is not gone. At least not forever, it is only resting.
And I will spend the winter days into the spring, I'm sure, and maybe even into the summer, passing through the death tunnel, enjoying every moment. Until finally the construction signs come down and someone from above judges the passage safe once again.
See you on the other side.