Parc Jeanne Mance
In September of 2012, when I first moved to Montreal, I made the trek one Sunday afternoon for the weekly ritual drum circle and overall good time called Tam-Tams. I took the green line then the orange line to Mont Royal metro where I met up with my new friends. We walked up the avenue of the same name, stopping in Portuguese bakeries for Natas, depanneurs for beers, and enjoyed the inescapable festivity that is the Plateau on Sundays. The walk took longer than I had expected and my tote bag was heavy with the necessary park supplies. Finally, though, we made it to the corner of Mont Royal and Esplanade—we were almost there. As we walked passed Esplanade towards the mountain I shook my head and laughed at the people in the small park to my left. They were in the wrong place! Didn’t they know that the place to be was just across the street?
Six years later, I can’t be bothered to cross that street. That little park that I shook my head at is exactly where I find myself most days. Today is one of those days. I’m sitting in my usual spot on the corner of Duluth and Esplanade on the sunny little hill just below the soccer fields. I’m leaning against a small maple tree looking towards the mountain and though I can’t see the statue of the angel from where I sit, the cross that crowns this secular city looks down on the scene. I’m facing this direction because I want my face in the sun, but it means that my feet are farther uphill than my torso and my back begins to ache after a while.
I twist around to stretch my muscles and when I do I make eye contact with a girl sitting with a group in the shade. Well, I make eye contact as much as one can with a person wearing aviators. She looks away and laughs at something one of the others in her group has said. Her laugh makes me smile. Three years ago, almost to the day, I sat in that exact spot with a bigger group. We had many blankets and plenty of beer and snacks of all kinds. I laughed often that evening because we were celebrating my birthday. Throughout the night friends came and went on their bicycles and I opened cards and gave hugs. I remember the evening stretching on in the brilliant infinity that is a summer night in this city. Still, we put sweaters on perhaps for the first time and knew that when the sun rose we’d be that much closer to fall. It made us laugh harder and stay out later and added extra magic to turning twenty-two.
My memory is interrupted by a crash to my left. I turn to see a young man about my age sprawled on the ground next to his bike. He sits there for a minute but he’s clearly fine, just embarrassed as the girl he’s with yells to ask from where she’s walking farther up the path if he’s okay. When she gets to him she asks him why he did that, referring to whatever attempted trick I missed that caused his fall, as if it isn’t obvious it was to impress her. Not far from them another guy falls down, this one off his slackline. He, too, is fine because here the grass is soft. Here, even adults are given the space to make mistakes. There is time to read and space to run and enough sunshine to swim in.
The people around me are enjoying this slice of freedom. Especially on days like today, a Tuesday in September, there’s a hush over everything. People are gathered not in the large groups of Sunday afternoons, but in twos or threes, chatting idly with their friends and lovers. Every once in a while a laugh leaps up above the consistent murmur, reminding me that not all quiet conversations are serious. On most blankets there’s a baguette and some fruit or some sandwiches from Santropol. Perhaps because it’s lunchtime but more likely because alcohol is allowed in the park as long as it’s part of a picnic. Très sympa. Occasionally a whiff of weed wafts through the wind and reaches my nose but it’s casual—nothing to write home about unless you happen to be a writer. On Sunday the mood will be more festive. The sound of Tam Tams will echo off the buildings on Esplanade and give the park a consistent rhythm. But still Jeanne Mance will be chill. It’s the space for those people who don’t want to be at the centre of it all or who have found their centres at the periferes. Here people are reading their books and a blond woman in a blue bikini soaks in the last of the summer rays.
I wonder how many books I’ve read here in this park. I wonder how many poems I’ve written. I wonder how many lazy games of chess I’ve played. John and I used to spend hours playing. I lost more often than I won but I was just happy to be playing with him. Those were the days when we were both in school and our schedules were the same. We both felt we could afford the hours lounging in the sun, drinking ciders and playing game after game. He doesn't come here as often with me anymore. We organize our time so differently now and while my art can be scribbled out in notebooks in the park, his cannot. But I don’t really mind being here alone anyway. I like to let my mind wander.
My current train of thought is interrupted by a tiny yorkie that comes to sniff me. I smile at it and its owner but I don’t react nearly as strongly as I usually do when a dog blesses me with its presence. Yorkies are among the short list of dog breeds that I do not care for. The pair moves on passed me and towards a couple sitting farther up the hill. They clearly have warmer feelings towards Yorkies than I because they reach out to pet it and laugh joyfully as it prances about their picnic blanket. I love watching the dogs walk like royalty through the park. Each group they pass reaches out to them, hopefully that the dog will stop and sniff their hands. Sometimes, if dog and walker oblige, they do and the humans involved exchange pleasantries through words technically directed towards the dog.
One day I’ll have a dog of my own. A husky. One day I’ll also live in the red house with the silver roof that’s behind me. I’ve fallen in love with it over the years as I’ve walked up and down Esplanade. In the summer I pass it on my way to meet friends at different spots in the park. In the winter I pass it when I descend the 80 bus at the base of the mountain and walk through the middle of the park. I always choose to walk down Esplanade because even in the cold Jeanne-Mance is so peaceful and the houses are so pretty. They’re almost prettier in the winter when the snowflakes fall gently passed the façades and the homes look so cozy through the windows. As I walk towards my own lovely home I always stop in front of that red house near the corner and dream of living there one day as I let the snow land in my eyelashes.
As of now it’s not snowing. Today it is 26 degrees and sunny. The Montreal beauties are still in sundresses and glow as they lay about or saunter down the paths. I’m sweating and the air smells of freshly cut grass and the squirrels chase each other up the maple trunks into the safety of deep green leaves. But as my eyes follow them through the branches I see a splash of colour in an oak in the distance. It’s a small island of orange in a sea of green but it reminds me that despite climate change the summer won’t last forever. The green grass will be covered in white and I’ll come home in the dark of night. Either way, I’ll walk through Jeanne-Mance and it will calm me, reminding me that I’m home.