Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What else is new?

From my front steps I can see someone dangling from a crane way high up, above St. Michael's highest cupola, easily eight stories high. They must be working on the very tip-top.

There was scaffolding up all summer as they restored the ribbon of copper edging on the west side of the church. A few years ago workers replaced the copper on the biggest dome, turning it into a giant peach that filled our front rooms with a rosy glow.

Already the big dome has dulled to the brown of a middle-aged penny. Before long, it will return to the pale lichen green of oxidized copper.

The other evening, the setting sun hit the church just so, lighting it up against a charcoal sky.

Every single person on St. Viateur seemed to pull out a phone or a camera to take picture. One man stopped, camera in hand, at our front steps and said, "Look at that. It's enough to make you religious."

I could have countered that a friend of mine once referred to the protruding shapes of St. Michael's as "the tit and the prick," an association I've never been able to quite forget, no matter what the light is like.

This week on every block the roofers' tarry vats boil away, filling the air with thick smoke like something out of Dickens. All the leaky roofs are being re-done before winter really hits.

At last, the sounds of construction pour out of the scuzzy bar at the corner of St. Viateur and St. Laurent.  Sometimes, when you wonder how long something can stay scuzzy, the answer is: longer than you might expect.

Walking down Casgrain from Bernard, I discover a giant new building adjoining a factory warehouse. I open the door. Inside it's thronging with Hasidic boys. Although I hadn't ever noticed it before, I asked and found out that the Académie Yeshiva Toras Moshe has been open a year already (and has lately been in the news).

I try to notice everything and remember it all. But I drift into my routine and daydream as I walk the same route everyday. Then, when I go out of my way by even one block I notice whole buildings have been razed to the ground since the last time I looked.

I happened to see the wrecking  in action at the old chicken parts processing centre on Maguire St. A bulldozer pulled metal window frames from the rubble and placed them in a pile. Good bye chicken parts. Hello condos.

Salaison Moe is also gone, the storefront kitty-corner from Wilensky's Light Lunch now for rent. What exactly did they did season behind the wicket in that mysterious place full of plastic barrels? Once I got a couple of used buckets for my compost there. They smelled of pickles.

Garage Bill on Clark Street is nothing but a hole in the ground. I'm sure it's better, fume-wise, not to have an auto body place on a residential street, but I had a soft spot for Bill, who once told me that wasn't actually his name, it belonged to the previous owner, he just used it for business purposes. But his wife had adopted it, and yelled out "Bill!" to get his attention and sometimes even called their son "Little Bill!"

At Riddell's on Bernard, renovations are underway. The hand painted sign, with the totemlike lure, the watery blue and the floating red maple leaves, is gone. Whoever moves in next it'll still be Riddell's to me.

Years ago, I went to Managua where directions were often given in relation to landmarks that had disappeared decades earlier. It was disorienting trying to find someplace that was supposed to be near the Cine Dorado which didn't even exist anymore.

I guess that's one way of preserving the past. These directions were like postcards from another time.

So, some things aren't the way they used to be. But certain spots are more vital now than within recent memory (see the tiny little falafel place or the itty bitty new fish and chip counter on St. Viateur). Some places seem like they're about to change, like Cabaret  Bar EXXX otica, on Park Avenue. Then it turns out they're just changing the lightbulb. And then, some things, like the giant shapes of St. Michael's, remain as vivid as ever.