Tag: Quebec

Hit first, talk after.

Gilles and the Anchor

The first thing I did when I arrived in Montreal was have a beer with Gilles. Gilles is a 71-year-old Quebecois legend, capable of the mightiest string of French and English curse words. We share a stick and poke tattoo. His knee has deteriorated over the years, but his stubbornness to go to the doctor for it has not, so he calls the depanneur to get beer delivered to the third floor apartment that he rarely leaves anymore. He has gained weight because of his reduced mobility and his steady beer-calorie intake, and he has also grown a goatee. Whether the goatee was inspired by the gained weight remains unknown.

The doorbell rings, Gilles sticks his head out the hallway and buzzes the delivery man up. He hauls two thin plastic bags up the interior flight of stairs—two Molson Dry 7.1% Quebecois beer in each bag, massive 40 ounce bottles that could kill a man with either the weight of the glass or the liquid they contain. Gilles tips the man, who also brought him lottery tickets, grabs me a glass from the freezer, and joins me seated at the table.

“Cheers, man.” I take a few glugs of the gold liquid, frosty and malty, leaving warm breath like a shot of whisky. He takes the massive bottle in two hands, lifts it as thought it was a baby bottle, and drinks half of it without tears forming in his eyes, without putting the bottle down, without looking anywhere but the ceiling as the bottle tips back almost upside-down. I leave his apartment at 1900h, drunk and giddy, chewing on the dozens of stories he offered up after almost two years of being apart. His first tricycle. The drug bust across the street. His broad array of jobs. Expo67. The making of war weapons at the RCA building across the way. His homemade 360 degree rotation security camera. Homemade photographic darkrooms. Stolen/borrowed bicycles from the bike shop. Many repeat stories I’ve heard several times, some new ones that further surprise me.

In many ways he is the opposite of myself and he may know this. Forward and talkative as opposed to passive and reserved. He tells stories that demonstrate this. Of recent fights in a bar, then the next day, seeing the men he fought walking down the street. Gilles grabbed a steel pipe from the ditch, ready to swing with force. “Not across the head, but the shoulder.” To break the clavicle, I deduced.

I don’t desire to be him but I can learn from him, as a young person should learn from anyone in their golden years. A friend described him as a know-it-all. There is maybe no better person to learn from, than one who knows everything. This last week he taught me that it is important to learn something new everyday. To try something you’ve never tried before. The internet assists him with this. He finds something he has never seen before and replicates it, improves it, has fun with it. Homemade tattoo gun. Musical laser visualizer. Video camera weight balance. He’s worried about getting Alzheimers, he said, so he keeps his brain busy. He was always good at building things, so he continues to do this. Then he taught me the following.

“You’ve gotta hit first and talk after, Nic. That’s what you gotta do.” The exact opposite of what I know, and advice I won’t soon put into direct practice. There are many people I would love to hit with a steel pipe across the collarbone and then never talk to again. Talking acheives nothing with most people, but an elbow to the nose would often start a riveting conversation. In regards to self, his adage may better fit. I overthink, and Gilles is just another person that, in his own way, is telling me to do the opposite. To follow instinct. To avoid the untameable gusts of thought that occur in an overstimulated, overexerted brain. To just fucking go for it. Consequences be damned. Regret nothing.

Gilles and I spent three or four hours in two Saint-Henri museums on a Sunday afternoon. In a pom-pom toque, brandishing a cane, he pointed out places he recognized, like the once great Église Saint-Henri, the All Girl Catholic school nearby, the 15-cent store. Several times he told me that he knew more than either of the available guides, and in this case, he may have been right. Gilles has had no time to think of the past negatively. He learned. He once quit his well-paying job to work for three months at Expo67. He got several dates with Miss World. In every story he tells me, as I nod and sip bière-forte, I can see that he didn’t overthink. He either put not enough, or just the right amount of thought in, and he regrets nothing.

Oh, to be seventy-one.


Giving a shit is not easy. This is made obvious when you begin to do so. It is exhausting and abrasive. It is uncomfortably hot and smells bad. It is judged unfairly and looked upon as naive or unnecessary.

But it is necessary.

Apathy sets in quite easily when you live in comfort. When your meals are covered and you have clothes and can afford salad spinners and a fridge full of beer. Apathy is easy when you are not directly affected.

The only thing close to rioting that I ever witnessed had to do with hockey. Giving a shit about hockey is easy. You sit on your couch or in the stands and stress about something completely out of your hands. When you realize that a sports loss isn’t everything that ever mattered and that you are still breathing and the earth is still in existence, you go home and eat a nice meal and go to bed. Easy.

The peoples’ right to protest is the peoples’ right to disagree. When this is taken, so is one of the main tenets of democracy. Canada’s West often does not understand the motivations of Quebecois protesters. They are seen as the troublemakers causing unnecessary violence. Socialists spoiled with low tuition, cheap booze and thirty flavours of real poutine. They should learn to live with it, like we do, especially when our oil and potash are paying for their province’s existence. These opinions make it seem as if we have been beaten down and embarrassed enough to accept our ‘fate’ of high tuition, cuts to the arts, a resource raped land and expensive liquor, as if it is something that we had no control over. Considering the fact that post secondary education can and should be free, we have been conditioned to accept the ‘inevitability’ of incredible debt. Like a well-trained child at the supper table, we eat what we are told and we don’t ask why. When the government won’t listen to the reason of the people, we should begin to question the purpose, worth and effectiveness of such a system of leaders with nothing more than financial agendas. The people shouldn’t simply learn to live with the decisions of the lawmakers that they elected. They shouldn’t have to put up with the decisions of the ruling elite. The people are why they exist. The lawmakers need to properly represent the people.

One hundred days and half a million people. A battle for accessible education turned into a battle for equality. Students joined by the general public in their dislike of how the government has been handling the tuition debate, highlighted by an agreement in the undemocratic quality of new anti-protest bills. Breaking laws which are made to stifle the population is not an irresponsible action. Challenging those in power through protest and defiance should not be looked upon as counterproductive or disruptive, but needs to be understood as a necessary sign of democracy, thought and human progression.

The more we care about the issues that affect others more than ourselves, the more we put thought, effort, time, and support into these issues, the better humans we will be, the better cities and towns we will live in, and the better, more equal, more human world we will have. Our future greatly depends on how much we give a shit.

“Acts of resistance are moral acts. They take place because people of conscience understand the moral, rather than the practical, imperative of rebellion. They should be carried out not because they are effective, but because they are right. Those who begin these acts are always few. They are dismissed by those in the liberal class, who hide their cowardice behind their cynicism. Resistance, however marginal, affirms the sanctity of individual life in a world awash in death. It is the supreme act of faith, the highest form of spirituality.”

-Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, Chapter 6, p205

Check CUTV for coverage on the protests in Montreal.

For English translations of French articles: translatingtheprintempserable.tumblr.com/