Anyhow, I'll have to admit that the pickings are getting somewhat slim at the Mission of late. I can't tell whether the local bobos and yuppies are hanging onto their clothes longer, what with the whiff of financial ruin in the air, or the crowd that lines up at ten in the morning to rush in and get the first grab at the goodies are scooping up more....or if the ladies, who seem to have grown fatter and slower as time marches on, have not put as many clothes up on the racks. Perhaps, it's the Haitians and Latinos with the garbage bags that seem to be at every used clothes emporium in the city these days. Who knows? I do know that it's been quite a while since I've picked up any Abercrombie and Fitch pants, or any Versace sports jackets. Having dropped out a generation or so ago, I've tried to avoid wearing my poverty on the sleeve, so to speak.
So, after leaving behind the gang at the Mission, I made my way up Bernard Street, on the look-out for a new place to put down the laptop and try to scribble. I'd been on the look-out for some place new, since the ambience had gotten a bit strained, what with the arrival of a waitress from the suburbs, who'd been used to the Starbuck's type of military discipline. She reminded me of this young woman whom I'd encountered outside of Stratford, Ontario once. I'd been driving this large rental truck, stuffed with the earthly possessions of this Montreal couple, Paul and Diane, who'd decided to re-locate. It had been an unpleasant trip, mid-August heat wave, having to leave Montreal around rush hour, after waiting for hours, while Paul's packrat wife stuffed the back of the truck with all sorts of things that should have been left behind...things like lots of little plants in pots, and peanut butter and other things, which had all congealed into some fifties sci fi monster oozing out of the truck when I arrived in Toronto at midnight, after sitting in one of those endless Trans Canada traffic jams...
Then, spending a night sleeping in a trucks stop, being awakened at seven by some crone who'd stepped out of a Grant Wood painting, print dress, wire rim glasses, etc.....doing a Maggie Thatcher imitation from an old Monty Python skit, whacking me with her umbrella yelling "get up you bum!" Later I roll into a Tim Hortons after passing mile after mile of picture postcard dairy farms owned by Germans, where you could eat off the barn floor...and I'm in this huge truck, and am looking for a parking space, so I head around toward the back, and there's this Low Clearance sign posted-like Clearance-13'30'' or something, and I had no idea how tall the truck is until the thing, loaded with five tons of yard sale bric a brac, wiped out the sign, a rather cheesy aluminum affair. Out of the donut shop runs this young fraulein, nineteen year old summer replacement whose grown up where you can eat off the barn floor, and she goes into hysterics-"Look what you did! I'm going to call the cops!!!"
Well, I was feeling pretty grumpy at the time and didn't have the energy to grovel so that she'd take pity on me, so I grumbled something like, "pretty stupid place to put a sign.." She marched back into the shop and called the cops... and it turned out that the cop was, well he was a uniformed version of the guys sitting in the coffee shop, stoop-shouldered types you'd see in the comic strip Eb and Flo...anyhow, he shows me the way to the storage shed, kind of like the local cops back home, who'd escorted me passed some outraged citizens a couple of times, pretending to bust me, but basically helping me out.
Then, when I arrived in Stratford, I saw another one of those fifties Saturday Evening Post cover towns, with a nod to Hallmark. It looked like you could eat off the sidewalks, like some Canadian version of Switzerland. And there was Paul and Diane looking worse for wear, trying to catch some zzzz's in the parking lot of a supermarket on the main drag. After about fifteen minutes, the bag boy wearing one of those supermarket hats and a spotless white apron, called the cops on them. Now, by that time, I was pining for the squalor and chaos of Pointe St. Charles, where I was living at the time.
Anyhow, I'd settled in Montreal, with its cold, chaos and confusion, in order to avoid these people. Francophone Montreal cafes are not Starbucks franchises. The Arts Cafe, along with the Cafe Depanneur, are what is called "artisanal"....meaning that you are there for the ambiance, the furniture has been gathered from the alleys on trash night, and you have to learn how to scrunch up matchbooks to stuck under the legs of the tables if yu don't want your cafe au lait in your lap....and in the winter, you might have to contend with a building that is poorly insulated, and whose heating system looks like it was imported from post-war Romania.
So, back to that day, the coldest of the year, I decided to check out the old Cafe Depanneur. As I said, I hadn't been there in a few years. It was back when Sylvain and Genevieve ran the place. Well, they tried to run the place, but not having any background in what is called cooperation, the partnership broke off...I seem to remember a rather dramatic scene, with the police called and such, lots of histrionics...the upshot was that Sylvain was left the sole owner.
Now, Sylvain was quite a decorator. He'd once worked as a window dresser. He had certain emotional issues I recall. This pertains to the portrait, which had been on the wall of the cafe for a couple of months. One day, I'd gone in and noticed that the painting had been taken down....about a week after a photo that a friend had taken was also no longer there. He'd, I heard, become paranoid of my portrait. The eyes were following him around the room. He started to take it personally...of course this information came from unreliable sources, one of the local gossips, most likely.
Now, while I'm at it, I want to clear up a couple of things about the painting. I remember that I'd been working toward a certain effect in the flesh tones. Maria, originally from Italy, was staying with me at the time, and she'd gone to a local art school, where the students had an annoying habit of not keeping their brushes clean...or so it seemed to me. They painted their portraits and nudes with a little too much green in the shadows.
I'd been observing the work of Gustave Courbet, French anarchist painter from the mid-nineteenth century. I was taken by his method of painting flesh tones. This local cop and burned-out Vietnam vet, Manny, had commissioned my to do a nude painting. He had this renovation business on the side, and sold me pot that he'd confiscate from longhairs in VW vans on their way to Cape Cod in the summer. Well, Manny never employed the term "nude", considering it unseemly, affected, etc.... He said bluntly, "can you paint me a pussy painting?" In return he'd give me these phony receipts that I needed in order to collect a check from the insurance company, after I'd fallen down the stairs at a friends place while on my way to take a pee. She'd been an art student, too, at the local public university. I won't go too deeply into the story, since it is beyond the scope of a simple blog entry.
I just added this to say that I'd first painted the self-portrait as an experiment with getting a vibrant effect with the flesh tones. So, I'd not been concerned with accuracy in the execution. I wasn't trying for realism, but a kind of fusion of expressionism and impressionism. At the time, I happened to have this straw hat, and it happened to bear a resemblance to the Van Gogh self-portrait. Now, my place back home, a converted woodshed, had a certain textual resemblance to the Cafe Depanneur... except, that my place had mostly art on the walls, and not the country kitsch collectibles that Sylvain seemed to be attached to.
Now, back to that day, with the temperature around thirty below, I went back to the cafe. Sylvain was gone, and the new manager seemed like a pleasant guy. He'd come in and was vainly trying to put plastic on the window. Since ice had formed on the inside, I suggested politely that he try the next day, earlier when the sun might have melted the ice. I'd found a place to sit down in a corner that seemed to be above freezing. I had to leave on the down coat, but I could remove my gloves if I was suddenly moved to write. The huge picture window in the front had totally iced over. I found the patterns of ice on the window, well, fascinating. The light was good. I decided to use the digital camera to film some musicians playing guitar. I guess that every afternoon they have musicians that come in and play. My type of place. Decent music, and I have only to pay the price of a coffee. Now, I'm hoping to post a video of these guys playing in a style like Django Reinhardt with a country flair. I call the piece The Grilled Cheese Blues, since a freshly grilled sandwich appears halfway through the piece, along with the olives impaled on popsicle sticks. A nice touch, I thought.