I’ve never been big on the New Year’s resolutions. They always struck me as typically Protestant, strangely concerned with perfection and rigour, divorced from the sloth of life, the muck and dank of the body. My syncretic Catholicism, with spells and prayers and devotionals, insulated me from such simplistic faith in working towards shiny holiness, even as the Enlightenment rationality of my formal education shifted those beliefs towards a benign agnosticism with less time spent at the altar or astride a body of water, flower petals in my hand. But this year, I’ve been feeling the need for some sort of plan, some determined path through the strange times I have been living. Instead, however, of developing a plan, a guidebook for 2008, a goat path strewn with breadcrumbs, I went to Montréal, and all was lost in dissipation.
I have seemingly spent many desultory holiday seasons in Montréal. One, a dark and cold two weeks years ago, was spent with La Voice and her now ex-husband relentlessly playing Carmageddon and chain smoking. I don’t really remember leaving the house, although we did, at least once, to go to Ottawa for Christmas, a baroque familial adventure that only added to the surreal nature of that time. Another memorable Christmas was with La Donna in her rather broken-down apartment, both of us dead broke and celebrating Christmas dinner at a depressing caisse-croûte, eating hot dogs. I can’t remember what didn’t work in that hellish apartment, either the refrigerator or the stove, but needless to say, it was not a happy time.
The tension of long-distance friendships is that life continues in your absence, although in my experience and with synchronicity being what it is, one is never too far from their friends at particular moments of reunion, and this trip was no different. La Voice, La Donna, and I are all at an interstices, a crossroads, albeit of different sorts. Perhaps the general theme of dark Christmastimes in French Canada is more one of weather than anything else: the snow, the ice, and the darkness. Perhaps (and more instructively) it is an ambivalence towards the holiday season and all it implies, the family hearth, shiny presents, a fragrant bough. I have had these things, of course, but not recently, so they seem somewhat out of reach, and therefore, are resented. Christmastime is to be survived, and even in the face of the coming cold, January’s slowly lightening days are a joy, aside from the fact they happen to occur at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. My life, and the lives of many of those I know, are beginning to resemble more and more Almodóvar’s classic 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. We’re all on the edge of a breakdown, but have too much of our wits still about us to actually dive into that deep, dark pool. So we spin, we toil, we go to Le Stud to dance and drink Canadian beer and cruise, followed by 4:00 am cheeseburgers tout garni and an early morning ride home on the Métro (“Prochaine Station: Berry Ukam”) with workers and office drones, smelling of grease and cigarettes.
Unlike Almodóvar’s luminous celluloid creatures, all dressed in primary colours and crazed by feminist lawyers, Shiite terrorists, and drugged gazpacho, we are somber in our dark woolen gear, bundled against the North American winter, striking poses in hoodies and jeans and a beer bottle pitched just so, last minute rushes to Jean Coutu for Vichy and Eau Thermale Avène, woozy on liquor and polyglot chatting in French, English, and Spanish, no less. Our tuques hide our hairdos, and our kissable, luscious lips are chapped from the wind.
It has become popular among certain critical circles to hate Almodóvar’s project of representing women, with easy dismissals of his filmic characters as drag queens, gay men as women, akin to some (relatively accurate) critiques of Sex in the City. But what has always fascinated me about Almodóvar’s work, especially Women on the Verge, La flor de mi secreto, and Todo sobre mi madre, is the work of representation, communicating something about the emotional inner lives of women, and how that representation relates to masculinity and gayness, the cinematic and imaginary relationships between gay men and the women they know and love.
And it is the inner life that is always turmoil, resistant to analysis, crazy and uneven. What does it mean to be on the verge of something, but not committed to the plunge? Christmastime in Montréal always seems to strike at some dark heart of this question, some element of the query, to go to the edge and stay there, between pasts and futures. In any event, I can’t say for certain which character I am playing at the moment. Is it Pepa, the heartbroken actress hooked on tranquilisers and chasing her lover around town? Or Candela, in her outrageous outfits and fits of suicidal hysteria? Or am I Marissa, the snooty virgin? Or maybe Lucia, the craziest of them all, trapped in the past and a mean shot? And which is La Donna, The Voice, and Prancilla (who dropped in for a couple of days)? Wandering the city, searching for something, the quality of which remains intangible yet powerful, driving us forward into the night.
Now that I am back in Cold City, the more I think about it, the more the last two weeks resembles this manic Almodóvar production, which on a strange level is reassuring. It means that, like in cinema, there will be an appropriate revelation of narrative meaning in an hour or two. The only challenge, for the moment, is looking good for the camera.