Friday, November 16, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Twelve

To J. van Starke
c/o Pascal Tessier
Galerie d'Art Crépescule
Montréal, Québec

Bergen, Norway.
October 21.

Dear Jerome,

I know you have been used to my absences in the past, weeks, and sometimes months, so my departure and my note, I felt, would not be unusual. I had hoped you had read between the lines. Why did I leave so suddenly? Forgive me. My apologies for any emotional trauma. I waited three months to contact you hoping this would help counter the momentum, and provide us both with a safe distance from the obscure events that were aroused by my investigative work. All I will say at this moment, is that I had been researching a story and was beginning to receive flak. A few shots across the bow as my Father used to say. Samples of threats that were spreading outwards, to friends, associates and family; efforts at cutting away my connections to those who support me in any way.  I have stored most of my few belongings at my Mother's house in Varennes. I have addressed this letter to your friend at the gallery to cover its tracks. I know this sounds bizarre, it is Canada not Russia, but I quickly felt endangered and did not want it to spread to those I love. My lawyer in Montreal is looking into the grim details while I am away.

But enough of this, for now. 

I spent two months in Edinburgh staying with my friend Judith. A wonderful place to live, but the cost of living there is very high. I wrote a few occasional pieces for arts magazines using my father's surname, Sinclair, Tess Sinclair. It is still my official surname. I am fortunate in having the two names to use as I wish. What is that classical reference I am looking for, Janus faced? I can't remember if it would be appropriate but there it is. While in Edinburgh, I met a woman from Bergen, Martine, and she invited me to visit. So, here I am, living in uncertainty. In limbo. She is a lawyer and has a very nice house with a number of rooms which I rent for very little. I even feel she may be keeping the money to reimburse me somehow. I take care of the shopping and help keep the place tidy, do some cooking. Just like my old roommate years. My savings have been seeing me through.

I was up early this morning and out for a walk, the showers of yesterday gave way to a light blue sky with an azure promise. The dark puddles on the pavements reflected images of the few passing clouds, clouds that reminded me of the ones in some of your paintings.

The northern light here is, at times, seemingly filled with vestigial reflections. A special light. I sometimes see ourselves in the shadows of this city, as if we have been here long ago, penumbral presences on the narrow cobblestone streets, turning corners, looking back, laughing.

I have been taking pictures. Autumn surrounds the city like a mosaic cloth, a rich complement to the colourfully painted wooden houses. The mountain as a backdrop reminds me of Montreal. There is graffiti here as well. Montreal graffiti is so commonplace now, and I know you have your opinions on graffiti, but what we have gotten used to in Montreal as expressions of a youthful Zeitgeist, is here more shocking. The buildings with their wood-clad siding of soft blues, yellows, greens and reds are, to my fresh eyes, exquisite, a pastel landscape with red-tiled roofs, like a picturesque fishing village that retains a miniature toy-like feel. I still find the graffiti on these buildings disturbing, but I know that some of the younger locals must have a different perception of their own city.

It is beautiful though. I can see us living here.

This morning I walked down by the wharf, the Bryggen, where the old Hanseatic fishing buildings face the water and the tall masted Statsraad Lehmkuhl, with its webs of attractive rigging lies at anchor. The hordes of tourists have diminished and to wander about in the early morning, the shop keepers busy with their preparations for the day, the pedestrians and cyclists on their way to work, makes me feel like a local, breathing local air. This harbour city exudes its watery essence much more than Montreal which seems to have turned its back on the water as it developed,  its barricade of high rise buildings blocking out the view. Bergen is so much smaller that it still retains its direct connection to the port.

The old Hanseatic buildings, their multicolour exteriors and their peak roofs reminded me of a visit to Port-Menier with my parents when I was small. My Father had business in Havre St-Pierre, and he decided to combine the trip with a short family vacation. I remember a picture in Havre St-Pierre as we waited for the Ferry to take us across to Ile Anticosti, my Mother standing beside me, her hand behind my back as I sat on an enormous dock horn or cleat they tie ships to, my little foot resting on the thick coiled rope. Such innocence and momentary pleasures we have in youth. These very old buildings on the Bryggen stirred up a memory of a street in Port-Menier, one facing the water with a row of colourful homes, old fisherman's houses, running obliquely off to the south west, a natural perspective of diminishing colour. Aren't we all just a storehouse of memories waiting to be aroused? That visit included feeding the white-tail deer that roamed the streets of the small port town. I wonder if they still wander freely. Probably. It is safer in the town nibbling people's lawns, than in the scrub forest eating blueberries during hunting season. Very human of them.

You probably know the story of Ile Anticosti. I remember reading about Henri Menier when I was in my young teens. I was fascinated. A man from France who made a fortune by making chocolate buys an enormous private island in Quebec, builds a huge Scandinavian-style mansion, introduces white-tail deer, and tries to develop local industry; it had many elements that led to some of my early romance writings while in my teens. Yes, a romantic recluse in his mansion in the woods, white-tail deer roaming about freely, a heroine and, yes, chocolate. Unfortunately, the mansion was purposely burnt down in 1954. What a loss. Would have made a wonderful Inn for tourists. Reminds me of the loss of many of Montreal's old mansions during the 1970s. A twenty floor high rise apartment makes for more tax revenue than a deteriorating mansion... I am sorry, here I am writing you a letter and I have gone off on a journalistic rant about the architectural history of Montreal. My apologies.

Bergen is indeed lovely. So much to tell, but I want to get this in the mail this afternoon. I will write again soon. Write to me at Martine's business address but do not put my name on the envelope and do not put your name and address as a return either. Just draw Mercury's helmet in the return area. Martine will know it is for me.

I hope you are finding inspiration for your paintings. I have been wondering what you have been working on. My lawyer has kept his eye on you from a distance, providing me with assurances that you are alive and well. Since he owns that odd little building you live in, I imagine Maurice is, unknowingly, his source of information.

As I write this, the red ink drying before my eyes, I worry over its passage to you. It feels as fragile as a paper boat. The time between the last touch of my fountain pen on the envelope and the moment your hands touch it, will be a test of fate. May the water between us be accepting.

All my love and seeking your forgiveness,

End of Chapter One

© ralph patrick mackay

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