Wednesday, October 7, 2009

With the pictures...

That should be where I start as it is hard to move into writing position when time has snatched the beginning of this whole adventure away from you! As always, dreams of setting up elsewhere resulting in mounds of free time for rocking and knitting and writing are just plain foolish. The act of being new and in a different place itself requires time, and lots of it. As if there were enough before, we're running here, running! True there is less time spent in the car by many, many hours but it gets substituted for other, albeit more enjoyable, activities. For example, walking to school. Oh how lovely that is. But it does take about the same time as driving, round trip. Yet, there is no insecurity about traffic, not to mention the extreme risk every time one enters a car and the highway. Crossing the street may likewise be risky, but there is a sense here of unbelievable caring for children. Adults may wander across the street only barely cognizant of traffic, but children are watched by all.

This was one of my first impressions of the city and it is still an important one: children are beloved, they are precious. Reciprocally, families are assisted, understood as an entity, and a socially useful one at that. I feel valued for having children and watching them. I feel other children are cocooned when they are out and about and I believe my own are as well. It is an inchoate feeling on the streets and it is absolutely of priceless value. These feelings are beyond intangible, unquantifiable, unjustifiable, inexplicable. They are the stuff the composes Quality Of Life and I do not believe these feelings can be adequately described. OK, as a statistician I understand it is our job always to cut down the error term of the unknown iteratively more so. And when you start to claim a parameter can never be characterized, that verges on the realm of the spiritual, a place that anyone who knows me understands I abhor.

So, cynical though I may be about the potential succes of bringing that term to zero, my efforts here will be to hack away at an understanding of Quality Of Life as defined by the recogniztion of the place where we wind up in, which is so different from that where we recently left. That is, subtracting what you get here in Mtl from what is there in LA ends up being, essentially, a characterization of improved Quality Of Life.

Where was I? Let's start with this notion of Family. and Children. On our first visit here I saw a child sitting under a tree, reading. Unchaperoned. I took a picture of her, it was just plain shocking. Children walk around here, in packs, in singles, strapped to ... *dads*. Dads are in evidence everywhere walking their infants around. They sit in children's classes waiting for them to end. Where is the gaggle of gossiping, scratching moms? I have no doubt they are out there too, but they are not evident at any of the classes my kids attend. I think their presence is a cultural phenomenon which manifests itself differently depending on the city arrondisement (I love that word), or district, you are in. Hard to test that. Though I can say that the swim team we sampled in a French district felt markedly different from the one where we wound up, essentially the Westchester County, or Brentwood of the extreme southeast (We're *South* here in Canada, remember?). I am only guessing that the character of waiting-parent chatter is different as well, principally on the basis of the sense that classes in this English-speaking section are very alike those in LA.

And yet, predictably, they are not alike, these classes. For one thing, this city is a city filled with music. Probably more generally the arts as well. There are artists and galleries around showing their wares, so I presume this is so. Being a little visually less-well-versed, this is not an avenue we have yet explored. Though the local library has a "cultural center" attached in mirror image to the library across three floors, replete with stage and at least two galleries. Do you know how hard it is to find cheap, local gallery space in LA? I think it just doesn't really happen. Public space is *everywhere* here. From pocket parks at the edge of streets every couple of blocks to larger district parks and intermediate neighborhood parks, all of which have play structures and benches and other facilities, meeting spaces, etc, etc. Then there are several giant city-sized parks with huge recreational facilities -- it feels that one's personal housing-space is augmented by approximately 160% in terms of the actual space available to one to live and move and work in this city. That's not counting things like dedicated bike paths and the metro -- how can one discount that?! Buses; there are so many. People just ooze along everywhere through and across streets, underground, lazing, lounging, interacting. There is an ease of association that is positively palpable.

That ease of association: I think it is the most significant quality of this city. I interpret it in a way that may, off-hand, sound questionable, but with time I hope to explain. Maybe not fully today. But I attribute this ease of, this flow of life that one feels, to the insurance situation here. Really, I do. I know this is an agenda-driven or at least prejudiced statement but I believe it to be true. I think when one's life is not girded by the fear associated with culpability a freedom flows that is saturative. Leave aside for the moment the health care insurance system. There are other ramifications, at least as widespread. Vehicular ones, for example. No one is worried about blame here. When you purchase a license plate for your car you buy into a state system, as I understand it, of automobile insurance as well. Medical costs are covered in any vehicular accident by that other, unmentionable system, so that concern is simply set to the wayside. And in the event of a collision, fault is adjudicated by a central, singular agency; I don't think anyone is personally liable. I could be wrong about this, but it is how I read things.

So listen to this very carefully, it is profound: Fault is not an issue. It doesn't matter who caused the accident, damages are covered by the cost of your license plate.

That sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? I must have that wrong ... I will look into this.

But certainly the health aspect is right. It's all covered by the "Régie" and it is not an issue, underlying so much of life. Kids' playground are far more risk-laden and probably necessarily, therefore, fun. There are giant climbing webs and structures, so many cool designs, climbing walls, so many ways to easily break one's limbs and heads. And indeed one sees more people in crutches, walking injured. And at the same time thousands, millions more, and more fun, play hours are being had by kids. Because blame and fear is not an issue. They play harder. They whack themselves harder. They are left alone more. It's just different, really different. It feels so different; it is profound.

I think this unrestraint that falls out of centralized risk-sharing is monumentous. In a good, good way. In the States we really do, all of us, carry a burden of worry on our shoulders. It is spirit-crushing. And we don't know it. With the buoyancy one observes here, it is possible to search out and subtract out the source a little bit, I would claim. This is my interpretation of the undeniable lightness that is pervasive here. There is chattering and laughter and lightness. It matters.

I think I fell offtrack on the kids' extracurricular lessons. I want to note that following this public sense of space and sharing, is a fall-out of public expression, which is to say, essentially, art. And "cultural" pasttimes, whatever that means. Music is huge in this city, and it is what I call "real" music, as opposed to Hollywood schlock. There, I said it. Most broadway-type music is drek as is most, not all, movie music too. There is a ginormous literature of real music out there, and almost none of it gets played in Los Angeles. At least not in an affordable, accessible way to a mere lower-middle-class inhabitant of its westside. Here, there are choirs many times over. The public school system even has one, and its quality is simply breathtaking, goose-bump-wracking. The neighborhood has one. The music teacher requires recorder playing for everyone, insisting on makeup sessions for those behind (though actually, this individual is rather problematic, which I'll recount at a later date; it's the attitude I'm referring to here). The music classes offered by teacher-professors are not of that weasly LA-half-hour-how-much-money-can-we-lift-from-your-wallet-while-baby-sitting-your-kid-type thing. These are studied lessons by a teacher who imparts their philosophy and knowledge. There isn't a revolving door cramming in as many through-the-motions kids as possible. There is an effort here to learn an instrument and enter the parallel, valuable and culturally, society-wide valued world of music.

It's rather hard to explain, again, a feeling. And how general it is, I can't, at the end of the day, say. But it is universal among the classes my children are taking. There is a level of performance among the kids and expectations that surpasses that in LA -- or perhaps not "surpasses", that's too simplistic. But it's more *careful* of the child and the learning. It's more 'mindful', to use that hideously coopted term, of the child.

My time is up for the day. And there are yet no pictures. I may spend tomorrow adding some, but the laundry beckons and work, cleaning, etc.

And I haven't even mentioned the autumn. We're experiencing one and it is like falling into a highwire's safety net. It is beautiful, cooling, delicious, right. There is a season and rain and aerial beauty; renewal, pacing. I know where I am. Maybe I'll even remember how old I am now that the years have started up again? It is raining on the beautiful, sunshiny leaves. There is variation in light all over all the buildings and trees; shadows pass across building faces in response to a sky with substance in it. Substance. We have a citing of it here in Mon-réal.

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