I just got myself a new pair of snow boots with metal spikes underneath – keeps me rock steady on the ice, it does. There’s nothing worse than going for spill on the snow. Or funnier – you look like those cartoon characters, their legs in a whirl, trying ta escape but remaining in the same place.
Le Vieux-Montréal (the old quarter) and its cobbled streets, the cobbles dating back to the early 18th century, the horse drawn carriages for the tourists, with Irish cobs or shires – horses with feathered feet and the old port, now completely clogged with ice, its marina nothing but one big sheet of ice, where Sunday skaters turn up ta hold hands and skate.
Vieux-Montréal is so lively in summer, teeming with sidewalk curio vendors, terraced bistros and cafés with folks waiting for a table in the sun – and now it is a desolate tundra. People are in a perpetual hurry ta get out of the cold, scurrying to and from their cars, faces buried within the fur of a parka.
Not all folks though – I walk around taking pictures for ya. A bunch of brazen pigeons here, a cathedral there, they all fall prey to my brilliance. The pigeons are completely in your face arrogant. They’ll saunter inches by, sometimes even wait for you ta step aside because they don’t have the patience ta skirt you -‘outa my way, chump’ and they’ll waddle through right between your legs. Try ta pet one and you’ll get a nasty peck on your hand.
The Notre Dame basilica, facing the Place d’Armes, is a must-see in the old quarter.
When Christians call a church a ‘basilica’, it is serious bizz. Your mandible is expected ta drop as you reach for a fiver gladly, for the entrance fee. But this basilica really is jaw droppingly gorgeous. It is a basilica on account of its medieval 16th century Italian style of construction, though it was built around the early 1800s.
The other thing about basilicas, no matter where on earth they are situated (even in Timbuktoo, if they have one there, I’m sure) – they are called Notre Dame Basilica, complete with eaves and gargoyles and all.
Montreal’s Notre Dame basilica has the usual features of a basilica – a ‘nave’, which is the longitudinal area in a church that you see as soon as you set foot inside and stand in the ‘narthex’, the slightly low-ceilinged passage between the main entrance and the nave that has on one side a bowl of water for you ta wash your hands before you go sit in the pews. Remember Al Pacino in ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ and how the water sizzles when he dips his fingers in the bowl? I tried, the water didn’t sizzle, so I guess I’m a good guy. Irreverent, incorrigible, sexy even, but good.
Besides the main central aisle in the nave, a basilica will have two aisles running on the left and the right of the pews, that end up on either side of the vaulted ‘apse’ (the main semi-circular dome). I learnt all those church terms just taday and now I am already feeling like I am Popesy-doo, I swear.
High up under the vaulted ceiling of the apse hangs Jesus H – crucified – with that same perplexed, confused, dismayed, hurt and finally, resigned look on his upturned face – as if ta say, ‘Why, holy father, oh why? What the f–k did I do that you didn’t always tell me ta? Do you have the faintest fookin idea how much a crucifixion hurts?’
Jesus’s dad must have been the most horrible dad in the universe, I tell you. In Montreal this summer, they locked up a dad who negligently left his baby strapped in the back seat of a sweltering car and the child died and the dad got 10 years for involuntary manslaughter. Jesus’s dad still has his job.
Montreal’s Notre Dame basilica is vast, executed in the Gothic Revival style, the craftsmanship of its fittings simply extraordinary. The many fine works of religious art that surround you as you walk around the aisles were inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, says the brochure.
I am not a student of religious art but I was amazed by the cavernous crypt, another regular feature of basilicas, I’m told. It is a dungeon-like underground chamber that was once used for burials and private conferences, with spooky stone-flagged passages, lit by natural gas-fired torches, the stones on the walls covered with intricate carvings, showing De Maissoneuve fighting the native Iroquois. I forgot my camera upstairs in my back pack and couldn’t take any pictures of it.
Oh yeah, that’s another thing about Christianity – even in a place of worship, there has to be slaughter and domination of ‘the heathen’ garishly displayed, right in the midst of all those phony halos.
What struck me about the basilica Notre Dame the most was this tiny inscription on one wall of the crypt that says “Car par la grâce vous avez été sauvés par la foi, et cela pas de vous-mêmes. C’est le don de Dieu, non de vos oeuvres, de peur que personne ne se glorifie.[Ephesians 2:8-9]”. In English, here’s what the line says –
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not by yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of your works, lest anyone should boast.”
I understand that the line essentially means that you might have led a virtuous life but that isn’t enough. You have ta have ‘God’s grace’ upon you. You might have gotten two million more of the popular vote but that isn’t going ta be enough. You have ta get the ‘grace’ of the electoral college, a college that is phonier than one of those private medical colleges we have in India. That is how Christianity has made a majority Christian country so unfathomable, I guess. God (**of the Electoral College**) bless America!!
But I digress. That Ephisians text reminds me of the story about the virtuous man who dies and arrives at the gates of heaven where he confronts St. Peter. I must make it clear up front that it is probably untrue. I don’t want ta be seen spreading fake noos….
At the Pearly Gates, St. Peter looks at him and says, “Here’s how it works, bud. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each accomplishment, depending upon how virtuous it was. If all your deeds add up to 100 points, you get in.”
The man is strutting and cocky. This is going ta be a cakewalk. He has always been so virtuous that angels blush with guilt when they see him.
“Okay, lets see now, ” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and I loved her deeply and never ever cheated on her. I have never masturbated or looked at another man with lust.”
“Multo buono! That’s wonderful,” says St.Peter, “That’s worth two points!”
“Only two points?” the man is incredulous but undaunted, “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and my service.” Gotcha, the man says ta himself.
“Stupendo!” says St.Peter, “That’s certainly worth a point.”
“One point!?!! You’re kidding me!!” This is St. Peter he’s talking to, so the man struggles ta calm down, “Okay, how’s this – I started a soup kitchen in my city and I fed millions and I also worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.”
“Bellissimo! That’s good for two more points,” St.Peter says.
“Two points!?!! Fanculo! Fottero!” Now clearly exasperated, the man is beside himself, “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into fookin heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Magnifico! Bingo! that’s 100 points ! Come on in!”