“Any Bill Evans in there?”
Yves flipped half a dozen records and then raised the cover of Everybody Digs Bill Evans. “You must be psychic Dunc. This is a Riverside recording, his second as leader. Not bad shape. Nice gold colour. RLP 12-291, recorded December 1958.” He withdrew the shimmering disc from its yellowed paper liner and smelled the vinyl before placing it on the turntable behind him. Duncan admired the dexterity and care with which Yves handled his wares, much like he himself handled books. “Let's try Side Two, Tenderly.” Piano music flowed from the numerous speakers in Disques Deux Côtés, an upbeat bright number ideal for the morning. They settled down and drank their coffees.
The stylus on the record began to skip.
“I'm having the déjà vu? Dunc,” he said, “A scratch, merde.”
“Nothing like living in the moment . . . moment . . . moment.”
Grabbing the wax pencil from behind his ear, Yves began to write words on a sheet of paper on the sales counter. “Sounds like a song to me, Dunc, could be a hit.”
“Parlez-vous déjà vu, le ciel est bleu, bleu chez nous, déjà vu, déjà vu, parlez-vous déjà vu.” Duncan improvised a tune to his words, moving his body side to side with the syllabic swing.
Yves held the pencil over the paper staring at Duncan without expression. A moment of silence, a soap bubble moment. Then they laughed while Yves turned around and placed the stylus on the second song, Peace Piece. “You're so coo-coo for coco pops.”
An ambient calm enveloped them, the notes slowly filling in the spaces around them like muted colours on a canvas.
Duncan smiled over his coffee as a memory was aroused of having seen the film Trois Couleurs: Bleu by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It must have been 1995. Or was it 1996? It was a Wednesday or a Thursday afternoon. The Cinéma de Paris on St. Catherine Street, a repertory cinéma, offering great films marked down like remaindered books. They had climbed the narrow staircase, he could see Amelia advancing towards the old-fashioned ticket booth while he looked behind him hearing a conversation at the foot of the stairs. A man at the open door below, was turned sideways listening to a well-dressed older woman who was apparently not accompanying him. Duncan knew instantly who he was. The golden corduroy suit with the rose in the lapel were the man's trademarks. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada was on his way up the stairs. He didn't tell Amelia. They stood in the small lobby with half a dozen others, mainly students. Amelia was oblivious to Trudeau's presence until she looked round to see him standing nearby with a large drink and a large popcorn in his hands, and she had immediately started chatting to him, introducing Duncan to him, discussing Kieslowski and film. Trudeau it turned out was a friend of Uncle Edward. He shook his head remembering the occasion. They had followed the now private citizen up the stairs and to the left into the darkness of the old cinema. Red carpeting seemed to come to mind. Trudeau had wished them good viewing and they likewise. They had sat quite far back on the left side while Trudeau made his way towards the front. There had been something very poignant about seeing an extraordinary figure in Canadian politics sitting in the sixth or seventh row, by himself, watching Trois Coleurs: Bleu in a run down old repertory cinema on a weekday afternoon. Poignant, sad, and yet, absolutely wonderful. After all the difficult politics of the past decades, he could still walk the streets of the city and go see a film when he desired. Just a lawyer now. Just a fellow citizen. It was only a few years later his son Michel died in an avalanche. The news had made them both remember that day. The memory more poignant still.
As the Bill Evans tune completed its canvas with a final flourish, they both breathed deeply and nodded at each other, words would have tainted the beauty of the song and the playing.
“So, how's the family?” Duncan asked as the soft brushwork of Philly Jo Jones on the drums accompanied the developing melody of the next tune.
Yves pushed aside the papers and settled on the stool looking out the window, the passing trucks and cars casting reflections upon his face, at once matte and then glossy. “Pas pire, pas pire, mais, Tristan wants to stop school and become an entrepreneur!”
“An entrepreneur? How old is he, fourteen?”
“He wants to be the next David Karp.”
“The next who?”
“The guy who started Tumblr. Tristan says the guy left school and started his own business when young. Now he's worth gazillions.”
Duncan warmed his hands around the coffee while looking out the window at the early morning passersby, wondering how many parents were facing similar situations. “We missed the boat on this computer thing didn't we? I remember back in . . . 1977, Tom Culacino took that summer job at Zeller's head office. He showed me round one day. The computer was the fifth floor. No doubt all that information on those huge reel to reel behemoths in their air conditioned bliss could fit on something the size of my baby fingernail now. Or less.” He shook his head thinking he was sounding like his Father.
“I took the Fortran in the CEGEP back in 1977. Punch cards, crazy printouts. I didn't see no boat Dunc. Not even a row boat.”
They both raised their eyebrows and laughed at an old memory together concerning rowboats.
“I didn't see it either,” Duncan confessed sipping his coffee. “Head in the sand I guess. And now, everything's so fast. People have the attention span of a key stroke. Tumblr, Flickr, Twitter. I don't get Tumblr. Someone posts a photograph and then fifty people leave a monosyllabic response, some with just an emoticon. Really!”
“Whumblr slackr spittle splatter,” Yves said as if in a trance. “That's no lie. What's happening to our little brain cells, eh?”
“Nano-fried Mr. Poirot, nano-fried.”
“So my friend, you find any books on Boris Karloff for me?”
“Sorry. No Karloff items,” Duncan said. “You're the Karloff collector for me. Don't worry, my eyes are out there for you.”
“I can't understand it, you know. Boris Karloff was playing the part of Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace on the stage for three years, three years, and when they go to make a film, they leave Boris on the stage while the rest of the cast goes to Hollywood. What were they thinking?”
Duncan settled himself on the stool, knowing that Yves, a Karloff aficionado, was on a rant.
“They could have cast someone else for the stage, non?” Yves sketched something on the paper before him with the wax pencil, something reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster. “Raymond Massey! Wasn't he in tractors or something? Massey-Ferguson. Who gonna laugh at that great line about killing a man because he looked like Boris Karloff, when it not coming out of the lips of Boris Karloff. I tell you, it could have been a great film, but . . . and Cary Grant, tabarnac! Running around like a chicken with its head off. A terrible film.”
Duncan tried not to laugh but he couldn't help himself. “Yes, yes, I agree with you, Grant was terrible in that film.”
“So, what about you, have you found any rare books worth the big bucks?”
Duncan didn't want to be the bibliographic bore and tell Yves all about the strange Latin manuscript he had found. His mind was tired. He had stayed up late reading and researching possibilities, only to lie awake, tossing and turning, conjuring up images of legendary occult classics lost to time, John Dee's defence of Roger Bacon, or Giordano Bruno's Clavis Magna. He had been studying a brief monograph on the Jesuit College Library of Québec which began in 1632, a library with 600 books, many quite rare. Interesting books including Rembert Dodoens's Florum et coronariarum (1568), Nicolas Monardes's De Simplicibus medicamentis ex occidentali India (1574), Louis Maimbourg's Histoire de l'arianisme (1673), and Philippe de Meulebeecke Lansbeghe's Tabulae motuum coelestium perpetuae (1653). There was also a volume by Oswald Croll, a noted follower of Paracelsus, his La Royale chimie de Crollius (1623). He had wondered how many suppressed volumes might have been brought into Québec by the Jesuits in the early years. It was possible that the Latin text was a fragment of a work by someone like the Hermetic philosopher Michael Meier who had lived in Prague as the physician to Emperor Rudolph II. Possibly his Viatorum, hoc est de Montebus Planetarum Septem, (1618), where he searches for the alchemical truth in nature using the cloak of mythology, or one of his last works, Cantilenae intellectuales de Phoenice redivio, published in Rostock, Norway in 1622, and dedicated to Frederick Prince of Norway. He conjectured that such interesting volumes could possibly have been smuggled into Québec. The Jesuits were certainly against the Rosicrucians but they were also scholars. They had been somewhat successful in subsuming the works of the Rosicrucians by reinterpreting their rose symbolism as referring to the Virgin Mary, helping to undermine the remnant followings of the Hermetic tradition after 1620. It was possible such books found their way to Québec. Getting to know the enemy through the Index librorum prohibitorum. Then, in 1773, after the suppression of the Jesuit society in Canada by order of Pope Clement, the books might have been stripped from their mates, perhaps saved from the flames and dispersed by the few booksellers and bookbinders of the day, ending up as filler, spine reinforcements or fire lighters on cold winters nights. All conjecture on his part, but one that fuelled a certain bibliographic desire to have discovered something unusual. Then again, it could quite easily have been in a private collection and suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. All these complicated thoughts passed briefly through his thoughts as he sipped his coffee.
“No, I haven't discovered the Mother lode yet.” He paused thinking of the golden opportunities he might have missed, the valuable pamphlet at a Church sale, the slim volume at the bottom of a box at a garage sale. “Perhaps I should write a book. We could really use the money.” Duncan pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at Yves hoping for a moment of seriousness. “C. Day Lewis, an English poet, was living in a cottage that needed a new roof. I think the cost was around £100. What did he do, he wrote a mystery novel, A Question of Proof, published in 1935 by Collins. That book is very scarce in its original British first edition with a dustwrapper. May not even exist anymore as such, in mint condition. But anyway, he went on to write about nineteen other mystery novels, many of them with his gentleman detective, Nigel Strangeways. Yes, maybe I should create a gentleman detective and make my own Mother lode.”
“What name you going to call your gentleman detective?” Yves asked stretching his arms over his head.
Duncan noticed the grey hairs creeping into Yves's goatee and imagined him as one of the first explorers up the St. Lawrence, or a Voyageur with a canoe full of beaver pelts. “I don't know, something unusual, like Mortimer Nightingale, Fulwood Williams, Diderot Wilkins, or Ashmole Evans. Yes, I've been thinking of names for awhile. Of course I'm still on the hunt for Poe's Tamerlane.” Duncan said. “Every slim bit of nothing between a few books could be the one, or it could be hiding within a volume of worthless religious sermons. If only we had Dr. Who's Tardis eh? Go back in time and buy 10 copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, 5 copies of Poe's Tamerlane . . . .” Duncan's mind wandered into the realm of fantasy while Yves waited for his return.
“And Boris Karloff's signature, too ciboire!” Yves added. “This came in too,” he said, showing Duncan the grey album cover of André Gagnon's Le Saint-Laurent. “Signed by the man. Not my kind of music, I can't love everything. Have a listen,” and he slipped it on the turntable. “I'll give this to ma chère maman. She likes André Gagnon, Felix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault and those guys.”
“Isn't it odd that we never talk politics?” Duncan said as the soft pop piano music flowed around them as if they were indeed bobbing along in a boat on the St. Lawrence river.
“What do you care if I vote PQ. Got to keep you Anglos in check somehow, criss.” He laughed.
Duncan laughed along with him. “Remember when we were young how they would put the voters list on the telephone poles for anyone to look at, but who you voted for was a secret. Now,” Duncan hesitated with his arms in the air, “the voter's list is secret and sacrosanct and yet people place signs on their front lawns broadcasting who they're voting for. Upside down world it is. And here we are, still friends even with all the politics over the years.”
“What's separatism between friends!”
Their laughter startled the pigeons on the sidewalk in front of the shop.
© ralph patrick mackay
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