What a long, strange day. Nine meals, six coffees, four glasses of wine, three cities, one hour of sleep, one fake guesthouse, one giant suppurating tumour.
I woke up on Monday at 7:30 Montreal time in my friend Max’s living-room on L’Esplanade. I folded the hideaway, packed my gear quietly, and slipped outside. Power-walking down toward Parc Lafontaine, I ran into my friend Malcolm on Duluth. I wish we could have spoken longer. I roused my other friend Ryan on Roy, borrowed his car, and drove over to pick up Guylaine Gregoire on Marie-Anne. Guylaine is the co-founder of Les Porteurs de Musique, along with Matt Wadsworth. They spent five and a half years together.
Guylaine tossed her violin in the the back seat next to my camera bag. We drove to Sherbrooke, where she grew up. Her mother, now diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, lives there in a senior’s residence. We sang Christmas carols. People ate red Jell-o. We stomped our feet. I filmed Guylaine. We visited with her mom. We drove back. I booked a flight. We did an interview. I dropped off Ryan’s car. I called my friend Adrian on Jean-Talon to tell him the microphones I borrowed are on L’Esplanade.
On my way into the station on Berri, I was accosted by a desperate man. In a Québécois accent, he told me he’s from Nova Scotia, but a dual U.S. citizen. The only hospital that can operate on him, he told me, is in Boston. But the bus company had misdirected his luggage, and that of six other passengers. He had all these details scrawled across the harbour on a map of Halifax. “Please cut to the chase,” I said. “I’m in a huge rush. What do you need?” He told me the bus company had given them vouchers to the station cafeteria while they waited for their bags. “But I can’t eat that shit, man!” he cried as he lifted his puffy bomber jacket.
Under a Tupac-style stomach tattoo, the text of which I don’t remember, was a veiny bulge the size of a Canadian football. Lumpy, wax-coloured, projecting straight out from his skinny stomach, it looked like a Ridley Scott prosthetic about to burst open. “This is no fucking joke, man! I need them to operate on this thing! I’m bleeding inside!” He told me he needed $18.40 for medicine. I am not a doctor. I am not even a triage nurse. I’m a guy who, at that moment, needed to go to the bank machine inside the station to pay for a bus ticket to the airport. “Please,” he pleaded. “Okay,” I said. “You’re a nice person,” he said. “Just a minute, I need a smoke.” I raised my eyebrows. He followed me inside. I gave him a twenty.
Hopping off the metro at Georges-Vanier, I met my friend Lev as he was getting off work. We walked back to his place. He lent me some travelling money. His girlfriend came downstairs. I forget her name now. Vanessa? We shook hands. I felt like Dean Moriarty, hopping from foot to foot under the porch light. I hustled down to Lionel-Groulx and hopped on the airport shuttle.
The woman in front of me on the plane threw a tantrum when the flight steward warned her she might not get the whole row to herself. “But I asked for a seat with no one on either side!” “You get what you pay for, yeah? What if someone’s TV screen is broken? I’ll have to move them, innit?” I nodded off for an hour. I was woken by a tray of steaming chicken loaf and free British Airways alcohol.
I sipped red wine out of a plastic cup as I watched The Trip, in which Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden tour the north of England, reviewing swanky restaurants. I resolved to work on my Michael Cain impression, to smooth over any awkward pauses during my inaugural visit to the homeland.
The double-decker bus passed a cricket green with little boys playing footie in knit caps and salwar kameez. I saw Matt from the window of the bus, striding down the sidewalk in his blue Kanuk coat, holding out his cane. We had bifana sandwiches and cappuccinos and I learned that he and his publisher have reached a crossroads, and have terminated their business relationship.
Back at his place, I met his flatmate and drank a cup of milky tea. I poked around online, got out my credit card and booked a bed in a guesthouse not far down the road. We agreed to meet at half past six at the tube station to go visit Klaus. Meantime I was going to do something about my worsening case of trench foot, dump some footage, and hopefully take a nap. Ooh, yes, I thought, perusing the guesthouse website. I could definitely do with a nice nap.
I got lost on foot, which is doubly embarrassing after watching Matt navigate East London. It was getting dark as I found the guesthouse. I missed it on the first pass. I came back and pounded on the door. The doorbell had been painted over. There was no sign. Three rubbish bins sat stuffed with cardboard in the tiny front yard. There were sheets over the windows. I pounded on the door. I called the phone number. “This is the mobile voicemail inbox for zero, seven, zero, nine …” It began to rain.
My wool socks now beginning to off-gas ammonia, I squelched back to the high street to ask for help at a cafe. A kind woman in a headscarf let me use the computer. “Where did you come from?” “Canada.” “Why are you in Wolthamstow?” “I’m working on a documentary with someone who lives near here.” “Really?” “Yeah, a blind guy who jumps motorbikes.” “Is it on YouTube?” “Yes, have a look.” She watched the first ten seconds of Renaissance Man and said “oh yes, I know him. He pops in for coffee sometimes. He always seemed quite able, you know, despite the cane and everything. I’ll show it to my husband. He likes that sort of thing.”
The only room left within walking distance was at a bed and breakfast, where I told the woman the strange story of the missing guesthouse. “My goodness! How it is one human being can do such a thing to another human being,” she said, before charging me £40 for a room that, anywhere else, would hardly fetch 40 rupees. A cigarette-burned bedspread. A trick mattress, six inches too short. A strange-smelling shower. No internet.
But we met Klaus, and visited his lute workshop. Matt tested a brand-new yew theorbo. We ate amazing kebabs, straight from Istanbul. Today we’re headed to the Royal Academy of Music. Chris’s friend Adam just got in touch to say I can crash at his place. I have a good feeling about Round 2.