Charles Daly

Writer

Tag: travel writing

Artists Celebrate Leonard Cohen in Montréal

“There is a crack in everything, 
      that’s how the light gets in.”

             –Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen : Une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything (at Montréal’s Museum of Contemporary art) features art and multimedia installations celebrating the life and work of Montréal’s late troubadour.

leonard cohen a crack in everything

 

The exhibit opens with “the Depression Chamber” an installation, by Israeli artist, Ari Folman, where you lay on a bed in a small “sarcophagus like” room listening to “Famous Blue Raincoat” while drawings are projected on the walls and ceiling. Since the Chamber had to be experienced alone and the song is five minutes long, the queue to enter–separate from the entrance to the rest of the exhibit–was over an hour long. The people in line talked the things you’d expect a bunch of Cohen fans to talk about:

 

A teenage girl tells her parents about her newfound meditation practice.

 

A tourist visiting from Australia says she’s never heard Cohen’s music, and when someone else in line hums “Hallelujah” she realizes she has.

 

The woman behind me remembers seeing Cohen around Montréal and serving him while he wrote in the coffee shop where she worked in high school. I asked her, “Have you always been a fan?”

 

“Oh yeah,” she says, “My boyfriend and I used to put him on in the morning when I slept over–back in the 60s.” She recommends that I check out the illustrated guide  to Cohen’s Montréal accompanied by a narration by Martha Wainwright.

depression chamber leonard cohen Ari Folmanleonard cohen a crack in everything

 

Visitors weave through a maze of Cohen-themed installations. There’s an esoteric 16mm film remixing his poetry readings on the CBC into a sort of spoken word Canadian hip hop thing, a 3 minute video of a bird on a wire (not the song but a bird perched on a wire,) and, for those who don’t know Cohen’s story, there’s a 35 minute supercut of a lifetime of interviews and documentary footage.

 

If the Depression Chamber is the weirdest first date imaginable, the interviews and concert footage have a different effect. The videos play on wall-sized screens and the viewers sit on low stools, not unlike the audience of a folk concert. The visitors were mostly women, bookish-looking with nice scarves. More than a few of them carry cameras  of the artsy sort. The guys seemed to all be with dates. Silhouettes get close to one another in front of the screen while “Suzanne” plays.

 

Like Cohen’s opus, the archival footage always returned to the subject of love and women. Cohen quotes his Zen teacher to one interviewer,

 

“The older you get, the lonelier you become and the deeper love you need.”

 

Of love he says,

 

“It’s the only game in town.. that’s what we’re here for.”

 

The confluence of love, sex, death, and longing in his lyrics is depicted in an interpretive dance by  Montréal artist Clara Furey. She performs on the floor–topless in blue jeans–for 90 minutes.

 

leonard cohen typewriter olivetti 22leonard cohen hotel chelsea matchbook

 

My fanboy moment came when I found his Olivetti 22 on display with a letter to Cohen and a book of his matches from the Hotel Chelsea. This is a big deal for a typewriter nerd.

 

Down  the  hall, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller‘s  Poetry Machine uses an electric organ to play an unabridged reading of The Book of LongingEach key plays a page. The words come out of old tweed speakers around the visitor/organist’s chair.

 

 

In a separate wing of the exhibit, dedicated just to his music, there is a huge, unfinished-looking wooden box with a doorway. It’s an echo chamber that plays a recording of a hundred Montréal-based singers humming his best known song: “Hallelujah.”

 

Microphones, hanging from the ceiling inside the box, invite visitors to hum along, which makes the floor vibrate as their voices are added to the chorus. Meanwhile, an LED counter on the ceiling displays how many people are currently streaming the song on Spotify.

 

I heard there was a secret chord wooden box leonard cohen exhibit

 

This piece manages to cut right through the over-played-ness of the song by making that its subject. To be alone with this particular song is to feel your own part in something greater. If you’re anything like me, this isn’t your favorite Leonard Cohen song, but it’s hard to imagine “Last Year’s Man” or “Chelsea Hotel no. 2” having the same effect.

 

You enter the box and it’s like an emotional sauna. You feel acutely whatever heartbreak or longing you might be carrying. The others in the box seem distant, and looking at their faces feels invasive. If you do look, their expressions will challenge your cynicism. Like a sauna, it all feels good at first and becomes overwhelming.

 

leonard cohen on a train

Leonard Cohen | © Old Ideas, LLC

November 7th, 2017 was the one year anniversary of Cohen’s death. His hometown marked the occasion with a bunch of events, culminating in the MAC exhibit that will be open through April.

 

Biere Vagabond released Leonard, a Kölsch style beer, in his honor. My friends drank it while trying to explain Celine Dion to me.

vagabond beer leonardvagabond beer leonard

 

The city unveiled an 11,000 square foot mural, by artists El Mac, Gene Pendon and the MU collective, on a building downtown.

 

On November 6th, there was a tribute concert featuring Cohen’s music performed by Sting, Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Feist, Adam Cohen (his son,) and others. Comedian Seth Rogan read a poem on stage. He said, “As a Canadian Jewish person, there is no greater honour than reading a Leonard Cohen poem in the middle of a hockey arena.” Prime Minister Trudeau was there and shared his memories of the singer.

 

 

Montreal’s Potluck Startup–Roam Magazine

All the Marrow

It’s Saturday night in late August, typically Montréal’s last month of t-shirt weather. I’m sitting at a picnic bench with group of young Montréalers eating Haitian food off paper plates. My portion is the envy of the table because I got a large bone in it, full of marrow, which my dinner companions are teaching me how to extract. This is my first time having goat. I probe the hollow end timidly with my plastic fork. Finally I’m told have to suck out the marrow—and don’t be shy about making noises.

Tonight is Haiti Night at the Village au Pied-du-Currant, a public space on the banks of the St. Laurence River that has been transformed over the past four summers into an ongoing multicultural festival.

 

village au pied du currant haiti

The Village

Built on the gritty sand of an urban beach, the Village is a cluster of land/sea containers converted into galleries, kitchens and bars, purpose built sheds and cabanas, a scaffolding rooftop bar with a view down the river, and open spaces for eating, dancing and playing.

So far this summer the Village has hosted food festivals showcasing West African, East Asian, Mexican, and Brazilian cuisine, South American folklore for kids, movie nights, a night market, community yoga—in collaboration with Lululemon, and a “1990s Brooklyn” themed night that one local described as “the best thing I did all summer.” They finished off the season with a “punky reggae party.”

The Village is built–and rebuilt every summer–on a previously vacant and overgrown lot, separated from the banks of the river by railroad tracks that serve the port and carry functioning land/sea containers to and from cargo ships.

This is “the river” from Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”

The bridge, slightly upstream is named for Jacques Cartier, the founder of Montréal, and is lit up every night this summer in celebration the 375th anniversary of his accomplishment.

Across the water, at La Ronde, an amusement hosts a summer-long international fireworks competition. The Village started as a place to catch the show for free.

Continue reading at Roam Magazine

 

Boston Globe: Monomoy, Cape Cod’s desert island

Monomoy Island has been many things over the years: An island, a peninsula, an island again (as storms build and then destroy sand bridges with the mainland), a remote fishing village, a crime scene, a navigation hazard, and a wildlife sanctuary.

Just south of Chatham, at the elbow of Cape Cod, Monomoy is an 8-mile sandbar that separates the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound.

For now — that is until the shifting sands connect it to Chatham again — the only way to get there is by boat or kayak. To protect the island’s bird habitat, there are just three designated landing points where you can anchor. They’re not marked, you have to find them by GPS coordinates and try not to run aground on the way over.

Depending on where you land, it’s a 2- to 7-mile hike to the lighthouse at the end. The island narrows to just a few hundred feet across as you head south. Near the lighthouse, the land fans out again into a tear-drop shape of about 2 square miles. There are marshes, ponds, and tall grass. From up on a dune, you can see Nantucket on a clear day. Other than that, this is the middle of nowhere.

There’s a year-round chill in the air — from the meeting of warm and cold water at the end of the island — and it’s as if the wind remembers things the sands and waves have long obscured. You get the feeling that yours are not the only footprints here. And that’s true. Walking around the point, you’ll find the slab foundations of some old buildings, abandoned wells, the boat ramp from a decommissioned Coast Guard Station, and a boarded-up lighthouse, which is the only structure still standing.

Continue reading at the Boston Globe

 

Boston Globe: Las Fallas — the fiesta that sounds like a war zone

VALENCIA, Spain — “You simply won’t walk three seconds without hearing an explosion.”

It’s half past midnight, I’m watching a man in a neckerchief up on a ladder wrapping a string of explosives around a flammable statue like Christmas lights. Another man  —  also wearing a neckerchief  —  at the base of the statue, is preparing a Molotov cocktail. As soon as the firemen arrive, they’re going to light the fuses and burn the statue to ash.

fallas-valencia-la-crema

It’s the last night of Las Fallas, and all over Valencia, sculptors set fire to their own creations to mark the end of an eight-day round-the-clock party.

Fallas is a mash-up of several celebrations, including St. Joseph’s day, pagan springtime rituals, and the traditions of local carpenters (for whom St. Joseph is the patron saint).

Fallas is not one big party with a hub, like Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street, but a mess of block parties on every block in the city.

Each neighborhood has its own sculptures and fireworks and dance tents. There’s no need to venture beyond your own corner to see most of what’s going on. There’s no hype, you don’t have to pay for anything, and there’s no need to make plans, because you can just step outside and follow the sounds of explosions.

Like a war zone

There aren’t many places that would compare themselves to a war zone as a selling point. But it says exactly that in the program of events on the Valencia City Guide.

Continue reading in the Boston Globe

The Spanish aren’t Known for their Stationary

She was always seeking new experiences. Homesickness was her latest new experience.

Recently, she realized she had never missed home in all her travels and life-embracing, not once.

Had she been too in the moment?

Was there nothing back home to miss?

Had she not been gone long enough?

Whatever the reason, homesickness would be something new. So she made up her mind to think about the people back home and to do the things homesick people do.

First, she would send home some packages.

The gifts she picked, like the homesickness itself, were deliberate and calculated.

Six German fountain pens in six different colors and a stainless steel pencil sharpener. The fountain pens were all for women, and the pencil sharpener was for a guy.

She would include a note explaining the things the people at home might not know: that fountain pens are an everyday item here, and these hadn’t cost her what you might think.

The pencil sharpener was the kind you hold in one hand — while you twist a pencil in it with the other — over a wastebasket. It was improbably heavy for its size, like how she imagined the weight of a bullet. The quality and craftsmanship was obvious from the weight and the brushed finish and the precise lettering that said MADE IN GERMANY in a modern typeface.

She would also have to explain why she was sending German pens and a German pencil sharpener from Spain. The Spanish are not known for their stationary, but the people back home don’t know that.

She tended to let her gut make the important decisions, and right now her gut was telling her to sleep on the gifts. She asked the shopkeeper to hold it all for her.

She continued on the evening walk that had been interrupted by the window display of plastic fountain pens from Germany.

Travel had fine-tuned her gut. She had a sense for which experiences were worthwhile and which ones weren’t. There was always the fear of the wrong country, the wrong meal, the wrong guy, or a dull day trip full of tourists. Sometimes the wrong one looked like the right one. They’re called “tourist traps” for a reason and to avoid them you need taste.

Would they even know how to hold a fountain pen back home?

Would the gifts communicate what she wanted them to, or would they only make people scratch their heads and wish she had sent whatever it is that people expect in the mail from Spain?

It was all too much. She resolved to have a different new experience. And she put the people back home out of her mind.

Valencia, 2017

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