“The eyes are not the windows of the soul, they are the doors.”
~The Time of the Angels
I have often thought that old towns are a bit like onions, and the older they are, the more onion-y they get. If you think about cutting an onion in half, side to side, you get a very small center which everything else wraps around. If the center is weirdly shaped, the entire onion is probably going to be weirdly shaped. If the center is perfectly round, the onion will be perfectly round. Old cities start out as the tiny middle part of the onion, and then new, younger layers grow up around it. Every now and then two cities grow into each other and form two Ds in the center of the onion, after which it resumes its regular round growth pattern. No one from the outside would be the wiser, leaving it as a fun surprise for the intrepid explorer.
Honestly, I’ve no idea if the inside layer of an onion is the youngest or the outside layer, but apparently google doesn’t know, either, so I’mma gonna keep telling you the outer layers are younger, as it works with my illustration. For the purposes of telling the story, then, I humbly request that everyone forgo any scientific thought for the next five or ten minutes, or even better, until I actually do figure out how onions grow, at which point, I may properly inform you all of useless information that does not matter much to anyone at all.
Anyway, most cities have some element of an onion to them (unless, you know, Napoleon got a hold of them and bulldozed anything that might let people revolt) and Montréal is no different. It is a port city, so it is a misshapen onion, but the concept still applies. Wandering the streets on my way down to the old city gave me an opportunity to take this in, as well as note all the places that had been rebuilt, modified, or otherwise modernized. The mismatch of old and new has always been fascinating to me.
It is, actually, a rather arbitrary method. At what point is something old enough to be historic, and even then, how many people have to care about it’s historic-ness for it to be considered worth protecting? If something is worth protecting, can people continue to live in it and use it, or should it be conserved? The anthropologist in me wants to know. The anthropologist in me is also wondering about what sorts of people live in a town like Montréal. The problem with festivities is I’ve yet to find myself some real Montréalians (Montréal-ers?) to observe, as everywhere I have gone so far has been populated mainly be people who are visiting the city. That’s the problem with being near old Montréal and the old Port. It’s a tourist attraction, so the only non-tourists are the people who work there, who are probably worn out from dealing with tourists anyway.
As I wandered on, I found myself on a street that probably on any other day would have been quiet, but today was filled with people leaving events. As people in colorful garb (a few wearing the signature tourist hat and hawaiian shirt, which seemed to clash like some ironic hipster joke with the cloudy northern weather) passed, I wondered what the people who lived in these flats thought of the festivities. Surely their everyday lives were disrupted by the sudden influx of revelers down their street (and, as I later found, into their metro). I found the colorful doors and the sidewalk gardens enchanting, however, and thus loitered around until everyone else had passed, at which point I began to snap my pictures.
I find it interesting that, with such little space around them, each of these doors seemed to have so much personality in them. Even in cases where doors seemed like twins, the windows above and the side garden seem to wink at you and say “oh, yes, we’re exactly alike, but so different at once.” Some of the gardens were extremely utilitarian, and I saw more than one set of vegetables planted between doors or lining the walkway to the street, but others had a bit of fancy, giving the whole arrangement a sort of Alice in Wonderland-esque feel. A couple wandering by with some steampunk inspired garb helped strengthen the momentary illusion. Given the earlier performance of the giants, it all seemed a bit like a Renaissance Faire, where all the adults know it is play pretend, but it still feels as if you had walked through a doorway and accidentally crossed into another era where things were similar, yet quite different.
This last picture is one of my favorites because, ironically, it bothers me. First off, I had thought it would be a great picture, as a bike had been stored just to the left of the window…and then someone parked their truck directly in front of the bike. I decided to take the picture anyway, just to see how it turned out. I ended up spending quite a lot of time trying to crop it properly, because, well, the building isn’t straight. Eventually I had to give up trying to straighten everything out, which irks me. But then, it prompts the question–why? Why isn’t this building straight? Was it poorly constructed? Did something happen that made its foundation twist? But those are questions I won’t get an easy answer to. While each of the doors tells me something about the person inside, they hide even more–because that is what doors are meant to do.