Five authors and photographers each describe a detail that epitomizes their relationship with Montréal.

Illustrations: Mélanie Baillairgé
This fall, illustrator, designer, and author Mélanie Baillairgé will be releasing La ligne la plus sombre, her first graphic novel with author Alain Farah, published by Éditions de la Pastèque.

Promenade Ontario

Mani Soleymanlou
In 2011, Mani Soleymanlou founded Orange Noyée, a creative theatre company for which he wrote, staged, and acts in Un, Deux, and Trois, a trilogy about exile and identity that will be performed in 2017 at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris.

Punks walking their dog, “tabarnaks” and “câlices,” young families—Promenade Ontario teems with life.

He, on the other hand, walks with a slow, creaky gait. He’s almost in slow motion, out of place; people stare.

His step seems heavier than that of others, heavier than mine, more thoughtful. His sandals seem to stick to the pavement. He takes his time, his hands crossed behind his back, looking lost in thought. Maybe it’s age; he seems to be from another era. Around him reigns the chaos of the first day of the month in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. With squinting eyes and loose powder-blue clothing that ripples with every step, he might wonder how he got there. He seems at ease, anyway. Pensive. Almost lost. His outfit appears to breathe better than mine. He passes a store that sells funky/funny/kitschy T-shirts. One says, “Made icitte!!,” another features Marilyn Monroe blowing a kiss and rolling dice, and a third has a Québec flag with marijuana leaves in place of fleurs-de-lys. A fourth says, “Fuck ISIS” in an Arabic-style font. He continues on his way. As if it’s nothing. He walks the length of Promenade Ontario, finally arrives at his destination, opens the door to the mosque, slowly removes his shoes, and leaves his new life outside—this neighbourhood undergoing a seismic shift, that from now on sports the colours of the whole world.

This neighbourhood that, for an instant and increasingly often, is mine.

Hutchison Street

Guillaume Morissette
Guillaume Morissette is the author of New Tab (Véhicule Press, 2014), finalist for the 2015 Amazon First Novel Award. He lives in Montréal, where he’s the co-editor of Metatron, a small independent publishing house. He’s the subject of a profile “Délier la langue” [Loosening the Tongue] in NP07.

I live in Mile End, on Hutchison near Bernard.

Most of my neighbours are members of the Hasidic Jewish community, although “neighbour” seems like an odd word choice to describe our relationship. We’re more like oil and water—we can come into contact, but never mix. As the birth rate among the Hasidic community eclipses the Québec average, most of my neighbours have young children. I am an unmarried man in his early 30s with precarious financial health, no safety net, few real responsibilities, and absolutely no desire to procreate. Being constantly surrounded by families is a bit strange for me, as if my life was the photo negative of my neighbours’.

When I walk down the street, I often pass fathers who are around my age. They go about their day, holding the hands of little girls in long floral dresses or boys in suits more stylish than anything kicking around in my closet. My neighbours usually try to avoid making eye contact, which gives me the impression that I’m some kind of forbidden object—nevertheless, I feel a certain amount of mutual curiosity, a secret desire to look at each other square on and to accept the existence of the other. I sometimes imagine my neighbours’ children asking their parents questions about me and my life. Why does that man wear clothing different from ours, why isn’t he married, why does he always seem unsatisfied or sad or stressed, why does he eat several bowls of cereal at seven p.m. on a Tuesday? When I try to conceive of my existence in this way, from the point of view of a child trying to understand my lifestyle and priorities, I often think that my life makes no sense.

Although my neighbours and I generally do our utmost to ignore each other, we still have a relationship. I can see them and they can see me, which allows us to imagine the other’s life and to exist in a completely different way through those projections.

CP’s Railroad

Clayton Bailey
Clayton Bailey is a photographer based in Little Italy. His project, Traverse, begun in 2009 with Suzanne Paquet, deals with two features of Montréal: constant improvisation and the importance of industrial architecture. Along the railroad tracks that separate the Plateau Mont-Royal from La Petite-Patrie, a war of attrition reigns between the citizens and Canadian Pacific, which refuses to build pedestrian walkways despite repeated requests from the community and municipal governments.

Saint Louis Square

Élise Turcotte
Élise Turcotte lives in Montréal, where she’s been writing and publishing for 35 years. A hybrid animal, she likes moving around genres. Her last books were Autobiographie de l’esprit (La Mèche, 2013), Le parfum de la tubéreuse (Alto, 2015), and La forme du jour (Le Noroît, 2016).

I left the north of the city to return to its heart in the middle of cold, snowy January. The frosty, tightly shut windows of my third-floor nest made me imagine for a while that I lived in a kind of monastery. An unfamiliar silence isolated me from the sounds of the city, but I figured that I’d eventually have to get used to it in order to keep writing in my tiny office where I’d set up. Then, little by little, the snow began to melt and warmer weather slowly moved in. The tinkling of utensils could be heard in every backyard and, every morning, I discovered dozens of syringes in the alley next to the stone church that had initially drawn me here, a giant silhouette almost leaning against my patio, making me dream that I was elsewhere. What’s the good of living in a city if not to make you feel like a stranger? My minuscule workspace now drove me out—as soon as I opened the two doors that let onto a little green balcony, traffic noises and black dust chased away my ideas, whereas if I closed them the heat oppressed me. But I liked that small room. I liked that balcony where, perched high in the trees under a gable ornamented with scale-shaped roofing tiles, I held court not like a Juliet from a love story but like a low-grade Giulietta degli spiriti, smiling at the downfall of her persona. It’s because of the balcony that I chose to make this the home of my writing, this Victorian cabinet open to the hurly-burly of the city and the world. Here I would give shape to my days. Here characters would speak another language. Here I already measured the precise distance I needed to fulfill my task. The moment where we balance ourselves on a steel wire, perhaps above the street, head held aloft between life and death still, but sustained by the rhythm, the drama of passers-by, cars, bikes, snippets of conversation, children’s cries, the solitude of the past, unbridled television, the clicking of high heels, ghosts, bands of wild horses coming down the mountain.

But then the scent awoke. At the end of May, the buds of the tree that I thought was sick all winter and which gave it a sad look, these buds which I later learned were the surviving fruit made way, after just a few hours of sunshine, for clusters of undreamt-of white flowers. I smelled them first, perhaps because I’m short-sighted, perhaps also because I didn’t much look at this tree that resisted in its own way, without fanfare. The city’s old elm was much more impressive, which now brushed the bars of my suspended cage. But the scent of the white flowers intensified and reminded me of the lindens in Berlin, yet even more insistent, with a healthy dose of honey. Memories came in the door, as did, in a sense, the future. The scent so invaded my workspace that I had to learn the name of this tree, and it was delightful: the Robinia. I found it had an air that was both exotic and territorial, a tree of the Americas, a citizen of ephemeral, explosive spring. This Robinia kept me from leaving and, over time, became the hidden perspective of my writing landscape.

I'll be back soon

Mélanie Baillairgé
This fall, illustrator, designer, and author Mélanie Baillairgé will be releasing La ligne la plus sombre, her first graphic novel with author Alain Farah, published by Éditions de la Pastèque.