A decade or more ago, when I was married and living in Boston, my then-husband and I spent an impromptu weekend in Montreal, where he had occasionally traveled on business. I remember precisely three things from that weekend. First (and probably at my insistence), we walked around the Parc du Mont Royal, climbing the humble hill that gives Montreal its name. Second, we went to a Saturday night hockey game in which the at-home Canadiens were beaten by the visiting Senators. And third, we walked down Rue Ste. Catherine on Sunday morning while proper matrons in church-going finery walked past strip clubs displaying full-length posters touting the earthly delights within.
Although this weekend I didn’t stroll down Rue Ste. Catherine, that image of church-going women in dresses and heels clicking past life-sized strip-club posters remains indelibly etched in my memory, an emblem of how French Canadian sensibilities differ so greatly from the puritanical dualities we are saddled with here in the States. South of the Canadian border, we Americans see sex and spirit as being irrevocably separate…and we let loose to cheer on our sports teams only when we’re sloshingly soused. At that long-ago Saturday night hockey game, there were women who were similarly attired as those church-going ladies on Rue Ste. Catherine: although passionate about sport, the Canadian fans I observed a decade or more ago weren’t smashingly drunk like the hockey hooligans you’d encounter at a Boston Bruins game. In French Canada, it seemed, people knew how to indulge their appetites both appropriately and in moderation, not fearing the bodiliness of either sport or sexuality but allowing both body and spirit their proper expressions.
I hope, over time, to remember and cherish more than three things about this past weekend’s return to Montreal, this time husband-less and accompanied by a band of blog-friends. My bloggish appetite for word and image, I think, has awoken me over time to the writing on the wall: whereas a decade or more ago I didn’t dare admit the puritanical abstinences and ricocheting excesses that marked a marriage headed toward dissolution, these days I’ve honed myself both to look and see. Montreal and cities like it are no longer his destination, places I visited as a tag-along as if travel were the ultimate Gentlemen’s Club: this weekend I drove as Leslee navigated, and I saw Montreal streets as if for the first time, again.
Montreal is a city of paradoxes, an alluring mix of the sacred and the profane. What better place to meet in the flesh (either again or for the first time) some of the virtual strangers with whom I’ve felt spiritually akin over the years. A decade or more ago, I learned the hard way that sharing even a bed doesn’t preclude you from loneliness…how odd, then, to meet this weekend someone like Dale, a blogger with whom I’ve meditated across time zones for 100 days and then some.
What does it mean to “commune” with a person? Must you have sat together in the same place and at the same time? Or is it enough to have glimpsed glimmers of the same Self, or to be on the path toward such glimmerings? Christians sometimes talk of living amongst a “cloud of believers”: an intangible aura of persons past and present who support and watch over one’s way. If spirits can transcend space and time, why can’t living souls? Is friendship something that walls, distance, or even bodies can contain?
Saturday was unrelentingly rainy in Montreal, much as it was when I visited that girl in New York in October, where we toured Chelsea galleries with one of the Anonymous Ones I saw again this weekend. The Internet, they say, is a World-Wide Web of connections, but it would be wrong to say these connections are merely technological. Walking the rain-slicked streets of Vieux Montreal on Saturday with a barely contained band of rowdies–at times walking together, at times wandering apart–I was struck again at how easily the essence of individuality is communicated across the Internet ether, each of these blog-friends seeming exactly how I’d imagined them, only more so.
I’ve met enough virtual strangers by now to have thought long and deeply about the process: what is it that makes meeting a long-time blog-read seem so natural? There’s nothing, of course, intrinsically natural about typing words onto a screen and clicking “Send” or “Publish”…and yet as social creatures, we’re always reaching for both connection and mutual understanding. In meeting long-time blog-reads this weekend and in the past, it strikes me that these in-person relationships start in medias res: instead of frittering through the usual geting-to-know-you chitchat, you can settle in to talk about the things that truly matter, things that longtime friends or even spouses have never touched.
What I’ll remember from this weekend won’t be the things people said, for I’ve already read plenty of words from Beth, Dave, Tom, and the like. No, what I’ll remember from this weekend are the ephemeral images of memory: Dave’s ivory-billed woodpecker hat, the curl of qB‘s perpetual grin. Tom is taller than I’d imagined, and he was surprised at my shortness; Beth has a hitherto unsuspected ability to appear almost silently and to instill a palpable sense of calmness on a bustling Rue St. Denis coffee-shop, the sort of funky hang-out where I’ll now eternally imagine her.
On Sunday morning while the others went to church, Leslee, Dale, Rachel, and I played pagan, watching unleashed dogs cavorting with human and canine companions in the Parc Lafontaine. After a weekend of massive (and massively talkative) meet-ups, it felt appropriate to wander as a small group, there being little need for profound conversation. As I’ve said here before, “with a dear, true friend, there’s so much more to say than words can capture.” I’ve read enough writing on the virtual wall to know the best time in blogging is when the blogging stops: when presence replaces words, and you and several cherished others can dwell simply together in the place called Real Life.