Home without a Home

Today is definitely a whiteout day. There’s no wind; the snow falls quickly and the sky and the ground blend together into a lump of soft whiteness. Today is also the solstice, the shortest day of the year. We celebrate the return of the sun and each day will grow longer until the arrival of the next solstice in June.

Several weeks ago someone told me that after being in Paris, I would find Montreal somewhat ugly. But last Friday, when we walked out of the airport and a taxi driver headed us off into a snowy landscape, perhaps it was the emotion of “home” that is able to tint the whiteness of snow into a beauty without rival, but what I saw was a kind of raw beauty with which Paris could never ever come close to even competing.

Paul and I have been back in Montreal for over a week now. Having rented our home out until early January, we are effectively out of house, but with friends’ help, we are finding many homes. It is as if having arrived in Montreal, we continue to travel while at home. Rolling about the city like tumbleweeds, we spent several days in Milend; we then went to my family for a few days in Ontario and now back here continue our tumble around the city landing for a few days on the Plateau. Home has always felt to me more like the relationship I have to the people around me than to a specific house or location.

This morning I have been thinking about the people that I saw everyday from my studio window in Paris. Their home was the strip of sidewalk under the overhanging ceiling which was the floor of my studio. As the sun went down, they collected there to eat and sleep. The fence was their closet and there they tied their belongings in plastic bags and containers,opening them now and then for a change of clothing or some necessary tool. I think of the old woman passing several times each day walking to the park at the end of the street with a big black perssian cat in her arms. Connected by a leash and depending on whoever was the more alert, they took turns pulling each other around the perimeter of the park. And the man who swings the left half his body ahead in order to pull the dragging right half in an odd shuffle and dance every morning and late afternoon to work and back. And also, the elegantly-dressed young man with clean-shaven face and straight blondish hair who comes now and then to spend the entire day on the bench with a bottle of wine. Always alone, his gaze is straight ahead with eyes turned slightly upwards to the sky. An odd mix of arrogance and perplexion is etched into his face. I remember these people as much because of their regularity as their oddness.

This morning Paul and I walked through the whiteness to the market and went to Cafe-In for breakfast. Paul wanted his favourite chocolate-almond croissant for breakfast – the one that requires several napkins to clean up the warm squished-out chocolatey filling it leaves on your face with every bite. We sat Paris-style facing out into the snowy streets of the market. It was quiet, unusually so for a Sunday. It must have been the snow that was keeping people at home on this the last Sunday before Christmas. In the newspaper beside me, I noticed a photo of the English mom, Kate McCann, pleading for news of little Madelaine. That’s well over a year now, I said to Paul, she’ll have to accept the fact that her daughter is not coming back. So often our words are spoken with thoughtless repetition; hardly out of my mouth, the story turned back on itself to reveal my own. Somewhere, forever lost in time and memory, there is a little girl who waits in a snowy landscape for her mother to arrive. A little girl who grew up to wonder at the whiteness that swept away so much and left her standing alone. A little girl imagining that if she peered long enough and hard enough into the snow, a form would take shape. That the letters she scratched in snow, to write -Mama, would mark a mother’s place on that white page and breathe life again. There is no closure -not even in Paris, the fairytale land of beauty and hope; there is only a story continuing.