Sometimes a place comes along that surprises and resonates in a serendipitous way.
On a warm July evening, artist Viviane White and her little grandson got off a minibus to take me, a stranger from India to their home down the lake, along rue St Anne, turning right into a lane and up a secret staircase, for a stay over. Finn, a little over 3, wore a shirt illustrated with colourful insects and went on to explain me his life with such articulation that I would over the next days be completely enchanted. He could use the word humungous perfectly and his diction was tinted with Viviane’s Quebec-wa English. He described the way to his former home from his grandmother’s place clearly and the things he saw on the way- he must have walked it many times.
Two big rivers converge at St Anne de Bellevue- the mighty St Laurence and Ottawa and they form the lovely Lake St Louise. Along the lake are homes, tree filled public grounds with benches leading to a board walk that goes under a bridge and at the end the two rivers fork in. Two plastic Muskoka chairs and a table are placed on the boardwalk edge for easy conversations. Anglers fish in the waters and muse over their preoccupations staring into the green island ahead. Behind long freight trains go over the bridge and the lock allows private yachts to anchor in safely. This is the western tip of the island of Montreal and most of the lovely homes perhaps belong to city residents who can sail or drive in for a day of tranquillity here.
I was in the third month of my travels across North America and this little town and Viviane’s home gave me the pause before another few more months of travel across Canada would begin. Her paintings are varied- wistful landscapes, geometric modern art, colourful kaleidoscopes mandalas that seem to contemplate on the magical mystical tours and suddenly you see her playing with digital art. The sunlit studio and living room show her work better than a formal city gallery. Her dreamy landscapes with a solitary home in a misty meadow were places that i would visit in a few weeks on the train to Halifax. Viviane may have only imagined them but on the via rail through Quebec and New Brunswick, those landscapes looked like the lens went sharply into autofocus. Still the paintings had more power than the reality i was whistle stopping through.
St Anne de Bellevue came to be through an incident with a similar fuzzy reality. An Abbot in the early 18th century was returning home, riding through a snowstorm, when he was thrown off his horse onto the hard ice floor and in the pain and haze of his fall, imagined building a chapel for St Anne if he survived. Next thing he miraculously woke up in his home. The chapel in her name was built on the very spot where he dreamt it. Before the town came to be, the place was a trading post for fur and logs of Algonquin and Iroquois tribes and the Europeans with its vantage position on the waterways.
Walking with Viviane at a zen pace, the marvels of her street come to life- pastel coloured homes in the rural style with a very distinct quebec roof- it begins with an inverted V and changes its mind midway to curve and slope once more. One home uses its windows as decorative art displays which change now and then. On my walk, one had hand painted floral tea sets and candles and dolls and lace in the another. Really charming at night when lit with hidden fairy lights. The porches with rocking chairs and bicycles, gardens with black painted iron grill works, windows with lace curtains, all combine to create the slow days of a half century rewind.
On the boardwalk, evenings glow with music and lilac waters of a setting sun. Couples hold hands and walk leisurely looking for a dinner table, the choices are many. A harp player from the McGill university strums Greek melodies, the paper lamps a Renoir effect and the waters shimmer with delight. This charm is almost medieval.
By day st Anne returns to its slow small town life. Three thrift stores linked to the Nova charities were my favourites. I sat with their boxes of postcards that took me from Japan to San Francisco and discovered some gems- Chinese actresses from the 30s, kabuki actors, tram cars in the 20s…. The nostalgic world that has left its footprints here in this little town. I walk over to the post office and release these photo memories to friends in India.
A week later, reluctantly i go into the spinning world of Montreal. When did we leave the slow dance for the wild race. Was the silence deafening?
Here the two worlds are separated by a bus ride on 211. This time I wheel my bag without Finn and his humungous creativity, carrying the still life impressions of magical realistic art and colour.