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Leonard Cohen's Montreal

A Mapping Exercise

Charlotte Fillmore-Handlon

on 15 December 2012

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Transcript of Leonard Cohen's Montreal

Leonard Cohen's Montreal WESTMOUNT “Westmount is a collection of large stone houses and lush trees arranged on the top of the mountain especially to humiliate the underprivileged.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “I want to see the big, red-brick house Cohen grew up in at 599 Belmont Ave. in Westmount, and visit Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where he celebrated his bar mitzvah” (Morphet). “Five ninety-nine Belmont Avenue was a busy house, a house of routine, well ordered, and the centre of the young Leonard’s universe. Anything the boy might need or want to do orbited closely around it” (Simmons 9). “If they walked into the park and climbed up to the tennis courts, I told them that they’d notice some houses backing on to the west side of the park. The first in the row … is the house in which Leonard Cohen grew up and in which his sister lived until recently. It’s also the house occupied by Lawrence Breavman, the protagonist of The Favourite Game” (Rigelhof). “The Montréal he returns to is not that of the family home on Belmont Avenue Road in Upper Westmount” (Colombo). Roslyn Elementary School “Murray Hill Park, where Leonard played in the summer and made snow angels in the winter, was immediately below his bedroom window” (Simmons 10). “At night the park was his domain.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “The park nourished all the sleepers in the surrounding houses. It was the green heart. It gave the children dangerous bushes and heroic landscapes so they could imagine bravery. It gave the nurses and maids winding walks so they could imagine beauty. It gave the young merchant-princes leaf-hid necking benches, views of factories so they could imagine power. It gave the retired brokers vignettes of Scottish lanes where loving couples walked, so they could lean on their canes and imagine poetry.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game "Five minutes further along, they’d come to the rolling slopes of King George VI Park, which most locals still call ‘Murray Hill’. It’s fourteen acres and somewhere buried beneath it are fresh water wells sacred to the original inhabitants of the island and some of their graves, untouched by archeologists. The only excavations that take place in this park are in the sandboxes of the children’s playground” (Rigelhof). “But it was his friends who were humiliated when he had to stand on a stool to see over the pulpit when he sang his bar mitzvah. It didn’t matter to him how he faced the congregation: his great-grandfather had built the synagogue." Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “In 1922, having grown too big for its old premises, the synagogue relocated to a new building in Westmount, almost a block in length, just minutes down the hill from the house on Belmont Avenue” (Simmons 7). Following it, they’d soon come to Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in which Leonard Cohen had his bar mitzvah (Rigelhof). “Westmount High, a large grey stone building, with lush lawns and a crest with a latin motto (Dux Vitae Ratio: ‘Reason is Life’s Guide’), looked like it had snuck out of Cambridge and onto a plane to Canada in the dead of the night, having grown tired of spending centuries shaping the minds of well-bred British boys. In fact it was relatively young, a Protestant school founded in a far more modest building in 1873, although still among the oldest English-speaking schools in Quebec. At the time of Leonard’s attendance, Jewish pupils made up between a quarter and a third of the school population” (Simmons 20). “Since the age of thirteen Leonard had taken to going out late at night, two or three nights a week, wandering alone through the seedier streets of Montreal” (Simmons 22). DOWNTOWN (WEST) “I want to stroll through the campus of McGill University where Cohen studied, dazzling his professors in the English Department” (Morphet). “In September 1951, when Leonard started at McGill on his seventeenth birthday, it was the most perfect nineteenth-century city-within-a-city in North America” (Simmons 32). “But they did not go right back to Stanley. They walked slowly up the streets towards home: University, Metcalfe, Peel, MacTavish. Named for the distinguished from the British Isles. They passed by the stone houses and the black iron fences. Many of the houses had been taken over by the university or turned into boarding houses, but here and there a colonel or a lady still lived, manicured the lawns and bushes, still climbed the stone steps as if all the neighbours were peers. They wandered through the campus of the university. Night, like time, gave all the buildings a deep dignity. There was the library with its crushing cargo of words, dark and stone.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game "He sat on the steps of the museum and watched the chic women float into dress shops or walk their rich dogs in front of the Ritz." Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “The Bistro’s like an irresponsible sanctuary. You aren’t sure if the hounds are waiting outside, or if you just left them.” Leonard Cohen, Ladies and Gentlemen … Mr. Leonard Cohen “If you were looking for Leonard … Le Bistro was the first place you would go” (Simmons 114). “Leonard Cohen also drank at the Bistro in those days, and a few years earlier, Pierre Trudeau had been a regular” (Diamond). “Le Bistro looked like someone had smuggled it in from Paris, with its zinc-topped horseshoe bar, blackboard menu and long mirror along one wall” (Simmons 114). “Suspended from the centre of the ceiling a revolving mirrored sphere cast a rage of pockmarks from wall to wall of the huge Palais D’Or on lower Stanley Street … By ten o’clock the floor was jammed with sharply dressed couples, and, seen from the upstairs balcony, their swaying and jolting seemed to be nourished directly by the pulsing music, and they muffled it like shock absorbers.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “In the third year of college Breavman left his house. He and Krantz took a couple of rooms downtown on Stanley Street.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game

“While Leonard was at college in New York and Mort at art school in London, they sublet their room in the boardinghouse on Stanley Street to friends. When Mort returned to Montreal, he converted the double parlour into a sculpture studio for himself, and he and Leonard talked about turning it into an art gallery ... The Four Penny Art Gallery, as they named it, was open every night until nine or ten, later on weekends” (Simmons 68). “This restaurant (now known as Bens) has been a Montreal institution since 1908 when it was founded by the late Benjamin Kravitz. It is now operated by his sons and grandsons at the intersection of Metcalfe and De Maisonneuve. Its smoked-meat sandwiches are popular with the late-night, early morning crowd (being open twenty-three hours a day) as well as with McGill students and writers including Leonard Cohen and Hugh MacLennan. There is even a ‘Poets’ Courner / Le Cour des Poètes’ with framed and signed photos of A. M. Klein, Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, F. R. Scott, Ralph Gustafson, Phyllis Webb, and other bards” (Colombo 65). OLD MONTREAL “As we drive east to Old Montreal, Rosengarten speaks of his and Cohen’s young-artist days spent exploring the historic port, and of their eagerness to leave Westmount behind. He parks, and we walk along cobblestones to Rue St-Paul, near the waterfront. With the low-slung stone buildings and boutique hotels, the area is now a well-preserved tourist destination. But on this wet mid-week afternoon, few tourists are around. Rosengarten describes the scene as it would have been in the early ’50s, when he was a young man. The bars were raucous end-of- the-line watering holes for longshore-men and sailors from around the world, and for young artists escaping the confines of prim upbringings. Closing time was officially 3 a.m., but, he remembers, the last shows in bars and cabarets began at four” (Langlois 64-65). “I want to have ‘tea and oranges that come all the way from China’ in old Montréal by the St. Lawrence River” (Morphet). “La Chapelle de Bonsecours, the sailor’s church just a little east of the Bonsecours market, where they’d see the source for Cohen’s images of Jesus as a sailor” (Rigelhof). “I want to visit the 17th century church- the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bon Secours, the oldest in Montréal- where ‘the sun pours down like honey, on our lady of the harbor,’ and where carved replicas of sailing ships inspired Cohen to see Jesus as a Sailor” (Morphet). “We arrive at the last stop of the day, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (Our Lady of Good Hope), near which Suzanne Verdal, who inspired the song “Suzanne,” once had an apartment. The venerable chapel, built in 1675, features a well-preserved wooden tower topped with the Virgin Mary, her arms outstretched, but still has a view of the wide St. Lawrence. Peeking inside to see gleaming brass and stained glass windows depicting dying saints, snippets of Cohen’s song play in my head …” (Langlois 65). DOWNTOWN (EAST) “He took me to all the haunts where he took most of his paramours, on Saint-Laurent Boulevard on the corner of Saint-Catherine, like the Hotel de France, which was this seedy hotel which he loved, and we went for walks in the mountains” (Pomerance qtd. in Simmons 116). “Another regular haunt was the 5th Dimension, a coffee bar and folk club on Bleury Street” (Simmons 115). Hit play to hear the Leonard Cohen inspired song, "St. Laurent." The Plateau “My neighbourhood, it hasn’t been quite wrecked yet. It’s getting prettied up, but it’s still pretty good. I’m in what they call the Plateau” (Cohen qtd. in Boettcher). “I get my smoked meat sandwiches at the Main. They’ll make it whatever way you want it. Some people like the fat” (Cohen qtd. in Boettcher). “It felt good to be back in Montreal, trudging through the December snow with Mort to the deli on the Main for bagels and beef tongue” (Simmons 501). “Walking through pouring rain, Rosengarten and I stop for lunch at The Main, his and Cohen’s favourite deli. (Mostly vegetarian, Cohen indulges on occasion.) Located on Boulevard St. Laurent—the street known as the Main—the place has purple fake-leather booths and a friendly waitress who greets customers with equal ease in English and French. She’s well acquainted with Rosengarten’s usual order: ‘a cold, medium-fat sandwich’” (Langlois 63) PARC DU PORTUGAL “And I want to find his home near Parc du Portugal, where Cohen still lives part of the year, and where – it’s hard to believe, but I heard him say it on CBC radio just the other day his neighbours still come to do their laundry” (Morphet). “I rap on Rosengarten’s row-house door. Like Cohen, he owns a tiny place near picturesque Parc du Portugal, built in the 1850s in what was originally the village of St-Jean Baptiste. The narrow, historic street is a jumble of old and new, gentrified homes pressed up against originals like Rosengarten’s” (Langlois 63). “My house is on a tiny street and taxicabs can’t even find it, although it’s right in the middle of the Plateau. It faces onto a tiny park that’s really just half a block wide and a small block long. It’s a green space with a gazebo, some elm trees and some nice stonework” Cohen qtd. in Boettcher). “Cohen has returned regularly to the city of his birth, to a small three-story row house he bought for $7,000 in the 1970s. Cohen’s house is sparely decorated with antiques from his childhood home. White curtains hang across the doorways … Even the bathroom off the kitchen still holds the place’s original claw-foot tub” (Langlois 61). “He lived a few blocks away, opposite a little park on rue Vallières. I put on sneakers and ran the five blocks to his door, which he opened by pulling on a cord from his second-floor apartment. He was conservatively dressed in dark velour trousers and a sweater. Every room of his place was decorated with the same ugly red Persian carpet, reminiscent of an old brothel or gambling den” (Diamond). “Leonard bought a cheap little cottage near the Parc du Portugal, off the Main, a neighbourhood mostly populated by Portuguese and Greek immigrant families but that still retained the old Jewish delis with oilcloth-covered tables” (Simmons 226). “Bagel Etc. is a frequent stop for Cohen during his homecoming visits, located across the street from his Montreal home. The restaurant is the host of the tribute show that will broadcast live on Shtetl on the Shortwave, Montreal’s alternative Jewish arts and culture radio show” (Pucci). To download the radio show, go to: http://shtetlmontreal.com/2012/11/08/cohen-tribute-live-at-bagel-etc/ “Blindly he climbed the wooden steps that led up the side of the mountain. He was stopped by the high walls of the hospital. Its Italian towers looked sinister. His mother was sleeping in one of them. He turned and looked at the city below him. The heart of the city wasn’t down there among the new buildings and widened streets. It was right over there at the Allan, which, with drugs and electricity, was keeping the businessmen sane and their wives from suicide and their children free from hatred. The hospital was the true heart, pumping stability and creations and orgasms and sleep into all the withering commercial limbs. His mother was sleeping in one of the towers. With windows that didn’t quite open.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “Some say that no one ever leaves Montreal, for that city, like Canada itself, is designed to preserve the past, a past that happened somewhere else. This past is not preserved in the buildings or monuments, which fall easily to profit, but in the minds of her citizens … So the streets change swiftly, the skyscrapers climb into silhouettes against the St. Lawrence, but it is somehow unreal and no one believes it, because in Montreal there is no present tense, there is only the past claiming victories.” Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game “He began his tour through the heart streets of Montreal. The streets were changing, The Victorian gingerbread was going down everywhere, and on every second corner was the half-covered skeleton of a new, flat office building. The city seemed fierce to go modern, as though it had suddenly been converted to some new theory of hygiene and had learned with horror that it was impossible to scrape the direct out of gargoyle crevices and carved grape vines, and therefore was determined to cauterize the whole landscape." Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game
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