Diary (archives) - Claude Lavoie Photo

Photographic chit-chat

Photographic chit-chat (image unavailable)

Friday 2009-06-26 :

I usually sleep well. Although I occasionally have, like everybody else, concerns of my own, my life is virtually worry-free. Still, I often stay awake for long periods of time at night; I mull over this and that, sometimes for hours, before falling back into sleep.

Around 4 AM, for no obvious reason, I find myself lying on the back, eyes wide open, staring at the shadows on the ceiling of tree branches swaying before the streetlight planted near the window. Or I listen to the regular and deep breathing of my beloved. When her breathing is shorter, I call her name in a very low voice; she almost invariably answers, for she has been awake too. At times like these, we might discuss the dreams we just had, make each other laugh by imagining comical situations, or exchange sweet words, until sleep catches up with us.

Although we have come to appreciate these spells of sleeplessness as opportunities for reflection and conversation, we cannot help but find staying awake for part of the night a little odd. Between the two of us, we call this time "the hour of doubt".

Saturday 2009-05-30 :

Most people will say their life is good, yet admit it wants in some aspect or other : health problems, misbehaving children, faltering love, financial woes or, more and more frequently, overwork and the ensuing stress, the by-products of the ever accelerating pace of modern life . . . The list goes on and on.

Annoyances have pestered mankind all through history. With good comes not so good that has to be taken in stride. In order to keep a positive outlook, we have devised schemes to make these worries bearable. Everybody does, with unequal success, in their own personal way : some happy few just shrug them off completely; at the opposite end of the spectrum, others get overwhelmed and sink into despair. In-between these extremes is a full gamut of surprisingly diverse strategies : some, tackling the problem head-on, resort to yoga in a methodic attempt to restore balance; others seek mere compensation through compulsive shopping.

When she needs to regain her foothold in life, my beloved cooks.

The healing session usually takes place on the Saturday following several days of choppy seas. On such a day, she leaves early for the market and comes back with armloads of provisions. She then prepares the set for a performance in which the kitchen range occupies the centre of the stage. She takes out all the pots and pans she will need and places them on the burners, lays on the counter to the left the printouts of the recipes containing the score of the day, and scatters the vegetables, fruits, meats, bread loaves and spices she just bought to the right, on the counter that is wedged between the range and the kitchen sink.

She ties on her favourite apron, the one she bought in Italy, that is decorated with colourful drawings of steaming pasta; then, shod in her everyday slippers, frowning in full concentration, she sets out to work on her rendition of the programme : she turns on the burners, cuts and slices the meats and vegetables, throws the pieces in the pans, mixes vigorously, add spices, moves pots around, and mixes some more . . .

Soon, faint bubbling and sizzling sounds become audible and a flimsy steam rises up. Those first heralds of success whip up her enthusiasm even more : she moves closer to the range and gestures in all directions, with economy and precision, helping each vessel getting ready to play its part into the ensemble. With each second, the sounds grow louder and the steam thicker, filling the air like the crescendo of a melody. When she senses that they are ready to join in unison, she mixes all the contents and stir vigorously. At this stage, she is quite a sight to see : she stands before the range, entranced, head thrown back, sweat on her temples, eyes half-closed, locks of hair coming undone, her extended arms raised, looking just as impressive as the conductor of an orchestra leading, spatula in hand, the grand finale of a symphony.

After the denouement she turns off all the fires; the sounds and steam fade away. Serene anew, she turns around and smiles to her two sons who, drawn to the kitchen by the scents and the prospect of a delicious meal, have assembled behind her in a silent and appreciative audience.

Thursday 2009-04-23 :

I conceive of bookstores as from two categories.

Stores selling new books are of the first one. Spanking clean and spacious, they look as new as the recently published works they offer for sale. Stylish and efficient, but predictable, they are of lesser interest to me.

Stores selling used books make up the second category. These vary widely in every aspect : some are tidy and well-organised, with books methodically catalogued and lined on shelves; others are cluttered and smell of damp paper, with books thrown randomly atop the existing piles as they pour in. Whatever their differences, they all share one essential characteristic : their inventory is unique and unpredictable. Although it might come to reflect over time the preferences of the owner, chance or fate (depending on what your outlook on life is) play a determining role in its composition; nobody can tell the title of the next book to arrive nor predict when a specific volume will become available (if it ever does). These stores have about them an intriguing aura of mystery and suspense that attracts customers seeking strong sensations, lured by the possibility, however slight, that any day one might stumble upon a treasure they did not even dream of ever finding. But these, when they materialise, are quick to go; anyone who wishes to seize such an opportunity has to call regularly.

Time reigns ruthlessly over printed material. Except for a few exceptions, books past their prime remain on the shelves for a long time; their turnover rate is low. Run-of-the-mill books make up the bulk of the inventory : the images of star photographers (only a handful of them, always the same), various essays on the history of the medium (including countless American books on American photography), and technical guides. From time to time, an interesting item : a compendium on an obscure theme or ancient technique, or the monograph of a lesser known foreign photographer; publications never released on our continent, brought back from trips abroad I suppose. And exceptionally, pearls; my purest to this day being the Contrejour edition of Jeanloup Sieff's Portraits de Dames Assises . . . and Howard Schatz's Water Dance and Passion and Line. Miracles like these are far apart, but fuel the faith for a long time afterwards.

Since I have been visiting regularly for years, I have come to know by heart, for each store, the floor plan as well as every item from the photo department. My visits are therefore tactical operations of great precision conducted along the lines of a time-tested routine : upon entering, my heart pounding from high expectation, I dash for the photography department; standing back a few steps from the books (I cannot read from up close without glasses any more), I scan their side, reading the titles in search of a gem that might have cropped up in the intervening time since my last visit. This way, I notice right away any new item, pull it off the shelf or pile, and leaf through its pages; depending on its topic, condition and the interest its contents inspires, I might buy it. The whole routine barely lasts for one minute; when done, I move on to the next store. As they complement one another rather than compete, they are grouped along the same street of the Latin Quarter, just a few doors apart.

So today, as a timid April sun made the cold of an unending winter almost bearable, I enthusiastically set out on my weekly tour of the used book stores. Like I just explained, I never know what to expect next time around, so I keep coming back . . . just in case.

Tuesday 2009-03-31 :

Complaining is a bad habit; complaining with elegance is an art.

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To resist the temptation of cynicism, just to keep from sinking. But still listen to Jacques Brel, from time to time.

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Wounds heal, scars never completely disappear.

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She wrote much, he read a lot. They are even.

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In a lifetime, one gets loved more often than paid heed. Is love therefore more selfish than attention?

Tuesday 2009-02-10 :

At the break of dawn, I boarded the bus that would roll across the three hundred miles of snow separating Montréal from my home town, to pay a last visit to a dying uncle. He had been battling with disease for several years; it was now clear that he had lost.

My mother's younger brother, he had stayed in our family while attending school. After he had graduated and married, he used to take me along with him for fishing and hunting (my childhood has been a long and happy succession of fishing and hunting outings with my uncles and my father). After thirty years of living in the city the sights, sounds and smells of the woods are still within me and frequently surface up to populate my dreams.

Today, he lays motionless in a narrow bed, the pale ghost of the colossus he used to be. When I walked in, he opened his eyes with difficulty and had to stare for a few seconds before recognising me. We talked of the places we used to go to : the brooks and lakes we fished in, the valleys we crossed, and the trout and grouse we brought back from these. We reminisced at length about the time we climbed the highest mountain in the region and clambered up the old forest fire watchtower still standing on its top, from which the view extended, unobstructed, for dozens of miles in all directions. I suppose that just like me, vivid images of all these places came up to his mind as we mentioned them.

As he tired quickly, he soon needed to rest. I thanked him for all those precious times, bade him a last farewell, and left. We had talked for less than fifteen minutes.

I did not return for the burial ceremony. I am still sad that he had to go, but glad I made the trip to see him alive for the last time.

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She was huddled up on the far end of the bench, her body pressed against the window of the late night bus returning to Montréal. I sat on the free half of the seat bordering the aisle. She did not stir.

I observed her while she slept. She had wavy black hair and long eyelashes; the pale skin of her face was perfectly smooth, and down covered her upper lip. Her nostrils expanded and contracted as she breathed in and out. Her face had the peaceful and confident expression of the twenty year old who nurtures a rosy outlook on life. Beauty that only youth makes possible.

A strong contrast in a single day : life about to vanish, too weak to continue; life that just begins, so vigorous it knows not fear.

Wednesday 2009-01-07 :

It has snowed heavily all day : more than sixteen inches of fresh powder have painted everything an immaculate white. Rush hour traffic is beyond chaotic, the word schedule no longer means anything. The kind of weather our city is famed for.

I feel as excited as the children who spent the day playing outdoors, after being sent back home from school in mid-morning. I have left the sheltered subway long before it reached my station, for the sheer pleasure of plodding knee-deep in the snow covering the unplowed sidewalks on which passers-by, each following in the steps of their predecessors, have traced a sinuous and narrow path. The thick blanket muffles the noises; the rumour of the city is unusually discreet.

In the eyes of the people I meet, slowly making headway through the fluff, instead of the usual blank stare, I catch a twinkle of amusement. The snow storm is a welcome diversion from routine for them too.

Tomorrow, I will take a few pictures and send them to French friends who are in love with our winter.

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