♪ With time, they go away, everything goes away) ♫ – Léo Ferré
The Rachelle Béry grocery store, an institution on the Plateau which was located on Rachel near Berri, moved to the corner of St-Denis in the fall of 2018. In the process, it was transformed into a mega grocery store. That woke me up. Walking along, I noticed how much businesses had changed. On Mont-Royal Avenue, it’s like an economic revolution. Stores disappeared, replaced by others, ones I hardly go to anymore—fingernails, tattoos, florists, herbalists, waxing, vinyl records (and to think that I’ve already been in with my tapes cassettes as in a Walkman), grocery stores for the rich with non-industrially modified and politically demystified food, bars and restaurants. Since the shops close and open one at a time, it is only after years that the overall effect becomes noticeable. In fifteen years, at least eighty percent of the businesses on my Plateau have disappeared or moved elsewhere.
For example, when I arrived in 1977, the corner of Gilford and Boyer rented for $95 per month. It was a neighbourhood of workers, old people, single-parent families, up-and-coming artists and students on loans and grants. From one season to the next, new neighbours appeared, some businesses closed, just like the products on the shelves of the Riendeau grocery store (which has since become condos) would change. The same is true for my bachelor’s degree in philosophy that progressed, and my vocabulary became more specialized.
The Space of a Time
A memory came to me, causing me to look back, doubly so. A little north of Rachel, on the west side of St-Denis, there had always been an antique dealer housed in a half basement with a pine plank floor, like so many old shops along this avenue. I was checking whether the standing lamp crowned with a grey marble hawk was still for sale. It remained so for years. There had also been a small train on a circular rail (Charlie Brown’s) and miniature cars made of sheet metal. The whole thing dated from before I was born—rust included.
South of the antique store, Tau, an alternative grocery-pharmacy once stood. It had become an authentic relic of the hippy era in Montreal (1966-1975); a direct consequence of the 1967 World’s Fair, the film Woodstock, young Americans fleeing Vietnam, the arrival of pot, hash and LSD, Jimi Hendrix and CHOM FM, which itself became a relic.
At the top of the antique shop, a staircase gave access to the terrace of a small residence on two floors, with its charming roof and its late nineteenth century sculpted wood. At the time, it was home to a French couple with whom I played Tarot. I remember that when I went upstairs (where the bathroom was); I had to be careful because the staircase cracked and it woke up their toddler.
The antique store closed in the summer of 2009. Brown paper covered the window and my daily life forgot about it (just like the sparrowhawk). One day, an unknown image appeared in the usual suite of facades, awakening my attention. The window of Zone promoted GC,GT (good chic, good taste, for those who are not of the disco generation). The store had just swallowed the antique store, accentuating the conversion of St-Denis Street into a straight shopping mall.
I walked in.
They had levelled the floor to street level. Inside, the staircase that had cracked for a century or two, now led to the first floor, to a clean and tidy décor where it seemed inhumane to me to see in my mind at the same time the living room where I had played Tarot thirty years earlier.
A Portable Carousel
Back on the sidewalk, I hear behind me a teenager—a self-proclaimed pro of Platô exclaim to her friends, “he’s been there for a long time. Two years!”
She points to a rental space across the street. It housed a business with unrelated gizmos. Two years? That’s nothing for a neighbourhood. To think that my great-grandmother raised her family on Marie-Anne (the street of Les fées ont soif de Michel Tremblay), near St-André (a hundred and fifty meters from my home), at the beginning of the twentieth century, in an old theater converted into family homes.
Young people. Every fall, new ones come out of nowhere, surprising me with their unconscious indifference, only looking ahead of themselves—desecrating all that is the past.
Like me starting from 1977, I saw businesses I never or almost never went to, close one after the other. The laundry service in front of my house, at the corner of Boyer, became a Zen dojo. Nasty switch!
Fascinating how quickly one loses one’s youth. One day, songs you hear don’t bring back memories; the new actors surprise you with their young age. Here we are telling of ♪ a time that the under twenty-year-olds can’t know. ♫ (Aznavour)
Even vocabulary changes. At the Maisonneuve College cafeteria, nurses inform their students that they should bring a carousel (a cylinder that fits on top of a slide projector, in which slides are placed to present them in a specific order) to class. The girls are surprised that their teachers want them to bring a children’s carousel to class!
We are born naked in spirit as well as in goods. That’s why young people drive with dreams. Rarely does it occur to a young person to take an interest in outdated dreams. If we become visionaries as we get older, it’s because we can now look at both sides of time—at the same time. Wisdom is a matter of perspective, otherwise you end up as a has-been, babbling and whining.
It was then, on this sidewalk where I walked thousands of times and where so many ideas were resurrected, that I understood. Not only does each generation have its own theatre of happiness, but it also sweeps away the previous ones (and I’m not talking about the entertainment district, the mega hospital center, or, even older, the revolution provoked by the construction of UQAM in the “Latin Quarter” in the eighties). Not to mention the tidal wave needed to make room for Radio-Canada in the early 1970s.
The Lucidity of Duration
It is necessary to know how to give space to life. Every young person wants to live their dream. “It’s my turn,” they say. An elderly person perceives space in its duration, and not simply in its actuality. They’ve seen places—blossom, bloom, fade and die away, now wanting to use a for sale as their epitaph. They know that everything is ephemeral. Being old is not just about having known many dead people. As we grow older, we start feeling—all the self-denial that the consciousness of time, implies.
Eternity is an impertinent quest out of context. One guesses it as one grows older, observing how everything one erects is doomed to oblivion. Not because of simple wear and tear, but because every effort to live is, ultimately, to help a new life in the making; one that will look ahead and turn its back on us.
The being who withdraws little by little from ordinary life understands that a timeline extends beyond them, through them. So, sometimes, we begin to tell our life story because it was a beautiful dream.