Politely Declined #1: Charles Darwin


36 Great Marlborough Street [1837]

My dear Mr. Babbage,

I am very much obliged to you for sending me cards for your parties, but I am afraid of accepting them, for I should meet some people there, to whom I have sworn by all the saints in Heaven, I never go out.

Charles Darwin

“Look up for once. See just how the sun sets in the sky”


The other week I was talking with a student about how forms of transport shape our thinking when I said that I was coming to the conclusion that the only way off the island of Montreal was by plane. My student’s surprise at this statement was understandable as we were on the eleventh floor of the Université de Sherbrooke’s building in Longueuil on the South Shore of the St Lawrence where I work twice a week.

My apparent blindness and my student’s immediate awareness are both explained by the fact that the university’s building is linked into the metro system, meaning that I have no sense of its or my surroundings, the attractions of the South Shore being considerable while the immediate attractions of transport interchanges and the windswept canyon that is Place Charles Le Moyne at -20 being more limited. My student, on the other hand, lives and works on the South Shore which has only that single metro station and so more often than not he drives onto the island fully aware of its limits as he sits nose to tail on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, perhaps counting the planes coming into Dorval and thinking that plane might be an easier way onto the island after all.

My blindness though is even more bizarre as whenever I have a spare moment at the university I will go to one of the upper floors and through floor to ceiling windows gaze upon the St Lawrence, the Jacques Cartier the amusement park at La Ronde and, inevitably, the island of Montreal, which last I, mentally at least, have not left.

Double-think aside, the unavoidable fact is that since October 2012, when I took the train to Toronto, I have left the limits of the metro system twice, both by plane, and I begin to suspect that spending so long in one place has addled my brain.

To remedy this, and the headache that comes from 10 hours in an air conditioned building, on Wednesday I decided to make the threshold real and walk back to Montreal. 

This is hardly a hike – the Cartier’s on-ramp is across the road from the university – but at 5 kilometers it takes about an hour.

It is also pretty spectacular, especially at sunset. Not only is there the amusement park at La Ronde east of the bridge on the Ile Sainte Hélène, but also the Expo site from 1967, with the Quebec Pavillion, now the Casino de Montreal, and the geodesic of the American Pavillion and, of course, the Seaway and the river itself. Because river is so vast, even here at its narrowest other than at Quebec, the sunset itself is baffling, downstream an orange inferno, upstream a sunny afternoon. 

So spectacular is the walk that I had exhausted by phone’s battery before I had crossed the Ile Sainte Hélène, which means that there are no photos of the Eaton Centre lit up for that night’s game against the Rangers. I will however be getting the rest of the walk for another post.

A final point: the belief that I have not left the island when I am on the South Shore is not my only delusion, and the fact that in the photos that follow the sun appears to be setting in the north east is perfectly normal and as it should be.

How To Make a Mountain Disappear, or Montreal Spring Watch Continued

In my last post I said I was keeping a deliberate eye on spring, it being so crazy here that it can induce that feeling that one may have blacked-out for the duration. Then the view was rather grim: no snow and no leaves. At the time, I suspected that the tree outside my window was dead. A month later, I am proved wrong. It’s just a late starter, and soon I shall lose my view of the mountain. Spring has definitely arrived. I’ve also included the some earlier pictures so you can see just how fast it got here.

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Dear Internet: a note inspired by the present deluge

Dear Internet:

Not every one of my waking thoughts is interesting, but I worry about hiding whatever glimmer I possess under a proverbial bushel.

Should I (a) have more interesting thoughts – please tell me how I can have these? (b) share them anyway despite their individual tedium, or (c) rejoice in my obscurity even if it risks self-loathing and reveling my inadequacy?

“A Hobbling Wight” and Details from the Rijksmuseum

Following a frisbee related injury, I have received intimations of my own fragility and, at least for today, am unable to walk. Appropriate then that I am reading Moby Dick, and while my condition renders the mad, one-legged captain Ahab unusually sympathetic, the narrator, Ishmael reminds me that this fragility is a more usual condition than I normally admit.Continue reading ““A Hobbling Wight” and Details from the Rijksmuseum”