I listen to “Histoires Sans Paroles” (Stories Without Words) by the Quebecois group Harmonium and I am instantly a young woman in my twenties, back in the 1980s in Montreal.
I am walking in the freezing cold. I don’t know why I remember the winters more vividly than the summers. Maybe they were harder to endure and I have more memories about them. Montreal had incredibly cold and snowy winters with wind funneling around the tall buildings ready to pounce on you when you least expected it.
As I listen to the music, time melts away and I can see myself trudging uphill to my Stanley Street basement apartment just above Sherbrooke Street. My apartment is in a glorious old brownstone house and used to be the servants’ quarters long ago in the days when the horse drawn carriages passed by. It’s dark and dingy and smells mildewy, but it’s home. Ornate wrought iron bars cover the tiny window, the only source of light, except for a small basement window in the kitchen.
Upstairs lives Madame Bouvier, a funny toothless lady from France who can’t speak any English. It’s great for me to have someone to speak French with as it’s my goal to become bilingual. So often people instantly change to English when they hear my accent. I can’t help but take it personally as if my French isn’t good enough, but they are just trying to make it easier for me.
My bratty Abyssinian black and white cat Sabre ricochets off the walls when I come in. He doesn’t care for small apartment living and is extremely rambunctious, keeping me up at night and being a total pain in the butt. Out of sheer frustration, I finally let him outside and he climbs the tree, jumps on the roof and wanders down Stanley Street. It’s amazing he doesn’t get flattened by the steady stream of traffic.
Madame Bouvier’s cry of “Catee, le chat! Catee, le chat!” (Cathy, the cat!) is a common sound that blends in with the city sounds of honking horns, squealing sirens and the constant din of cars going by.
I love the way this piece of music starts with the gentle sound of the waves and then the flute solo comes in. I used to like playing flute along with the recording.
There is something very dreamy and repetitive about this music which reminds me of time passing and seasons changing. It makes me think of transitions and that feeling of timelessness when time slows down and doesn’t seem to be moving forward, even when it is.
Maybe the music reflects how I felt at the time with my transition from student to working person with its constant stops and starts as I struggled to find my way in the world.