Friday, August 15, 2008
Our Lady of the Cherries
Once I start looking I notice it everywhere. Urban fruit.
The postage stamps of green along the streets and alleys of Mile End are home to trees bursting with plums, pears, apples, crabapples, cherries, even surprising peaches -- and in one special spot, luminous and unlikely, lemons (more on the lemons soon).
It's almost magical for fruit trees to thrive in this dense patchwork of row housing, street and sidewalk where the tiny yards are only 25 feet wide and often just 10 feet deep.
Ivan Apotic has a white mustache and a watchful look and stands in his front yard like a security guard on duty. I've walked by him at the his end of the block many times. His manner is not inviting, but today I am on an urban fruit discovery mission.
I ask if those are cherries on his tree with the shiny dark bark. He makes a face and tilts his hand from side to side.
"Not sweet. Too much water. Rain." The next thing I know he's stepping over the feathery cosmos to pick some. He gives me a handful of soft fruit. They are not the dark colour of bing cherries but that special bright red that says poison. I'm hesitant. Maybe this is the security guard's way of discouraging intruders. Bravely, I taste one. Sour but juicy. I can imagine a tangy sour cherry jam.
It turns out Ivan is not unfriendly but his English isn't great. When I ask where he's from originally, he says, "Religion? Catholic." That's when the shrine behind his cherry tree comes into focus for me. I've half-noticed this virgin in the shade, framed by her slender string of lights, every time I walk up the street. Ivan must have been the one to put it up.
Ivan has lived on Waverly for 33 years. He planted his cherry tree 18 years ago. Originally from Slovenia (I asked again), he used to work at furniture and fur coat factories in Montreal.
As Waverly Street overflows with young professionals there are fewer and fewer residents like Ivan who've been here for decades. You're more likely to see a baby jogger or a Mclaren stroller or an organic vegetable basket next to the front steps than a shrine.
I used to hear a cricket under the apple tree across the street through my open window on summer nights. It's amazing to hear a cricket in the city. Somehow its resonant chirp created a vaulting cathedral of space.
They cut down the apple tree and bricked over the rug-sized lawn that used to surround it. I can't hear a cricket from here anymore. Maybe there's one under Ivan's cherry tree, in its tiny oasis, next to the virgin.