The Beauty of Balconies

From Newfoundland writer Kathleen Winter’s  “Montreal Journal” at the St. John’s Telegram:

I once watched a bird making a nest, and understood how the circle (and by extension, the half circle, the spiral, the curlicue, and all the variations visible in wrought iron and other decoration) comes not from whimsy but from tender toil and a lust for survival. The bird stands in the chaotic mess of leaf and fibre, and it turns, standing in the same spot, its body a compass and its beak the point of that compass. The circle arrives though the bird does not think about making a circle. The circle is an unconscious result of standing in one place and turning around, just trying to make a sympathetic space to bring up your young.There is something tender about the delicateness with which Montreal staircases cling to the sides of the triplexes of St. Denis and Papineau and all the other streets of the city: if you look at them from even a short distance, the stairs and balconies appear very fragile and slender, which adds to the feeling that the whole story of the street is about ascension. The whole street points toward the sky; the city wants you to rise up off the pavement and float in the air.

And there’s another thing: a likeness, in the calligraphy of wrought iron, to the alphabet itself, as if the balconies and staircases were trying to write a letter to the person who is cycling or walking on the street below.”Dear one,” says the letter, “can you count the stairs, the balconies, of Montreal? There is no counting them, because they are part illusion. Do you really think a city needs this many balconies, this number of stairs? If you look away from the staircase above the patisserie on Rue Belanger, it disappears. Do you know who put it there, and why?”

The letter is torn here. A person can’t read the last part, because on this kind of calligraphy you have to walk to get the meaning. You have to walk on the lines and curl your fingers around the ribbons and tails of the lettering. You have to become part of the text; fragile, ascending. Like the bird who draws her circle, you help create the beauty.


Read the whole thing here

or at Kathleen’s blog, we drank cachaca and smoked the green cheroot

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