N exercise 2.4 – three places
The streets are narrow and don’t wind according to a regular grid – rather, they wind according to ancient feet, feet long gone, of men and women and work animals, their belongings trailing behind. Now the streets are gritty with dust and cracked pavement, broken ditches where sidewalks might be in another town, on the other side of the world. Squat buildings stretch to reach the sky, while plots of land are filled only with rubble, broken concrete, rebar. A policeman in a reflective vest stands on a raised concrete slab in the centre of a whirling intersection, directing traffic with flailing arms and a whistle. His white helmet glares in the bright sunlight, his whistling barely audible above the roar of the autos rushing past. Trees heavy with foliage dot the streetscape, thick green leaves with a waxy coating dropping from dusty branches. Bats live in these trees, hanging throughout the day, descending in swarms as twilight fades.
Many people have set up market stalls along the streetside, weighing with rickety iron scales bags of peanuts and oranges. The occasional butcher’s stall, replete with bloody limbs dotted with flies, sends up a viscous scent of decay that clashes in combat with the compounded stink of a thousand combustion engines. Some people wear improvised masks of coloured fabric, but most just breathe the air as-is, acclimated to the smells such that they’re no longer apparent even in the early morning light.
A beggar sits at the midpoint of an arcing concrete bridge, his left leg missing above the knee, a festering wound peeking from below his ripped-up pant leg. Deep red muscle fibres, limp and lifeless. He’s wrapped a soiled bandage, a length of off-white cloth, around the wound, stained with all hues of rust-brown splotches. His bent and knuckly hand is held feebly aloft, and he searches passers-by with his foggy gaze. Few stop to offer him a coin or two – no one offers any help.
The Hogtown Vegan on Bloor has a picture of a pig on its front glass window, a fat round pig that looks like it came from a wood etching somewhere in the late middle ages – the joke being that no pig is actually served in this restaurant. The walls inside are a bright turquoise and at eye-level is a series of old records, from Paul Simon’s solo work to Warren Zevon. Just the covers, not the records themselves, though it’s possible their actually in the sleeves up there too. Along the western wall is a short banquette, which could seat a half-dozen people or so. The floor is linoleum, and each table has a stainless-steel serviette dispenser stocked with one-ply. Each table has a place setting of a one-ply serviette along with fork and butter knife. No butter served here either.
There’s a sign saying to wait for someone to seat you, as a guest – the sign is in permanent marker on white cardstock, stuck into a metal frame. Beyond the sign the records on the wall continue, and there are several four-top tables, each with the same sort of serviette dispenser and basic place settings. At the bar on the western side beyond the banquette is a water station, with pre-filled reusable water bottles and stacks of tiny plastic cups. Each item is from Ikea. The bar itself has a few bottles behind it on a glass shelf, basic rail-type stuff, as well as a small walk-in closet, and a computer for ringing up tabs. Through the hallway past the four-tops is an alcove of guest restrooms, as well as a regular suburb-type white refrigerator, and a stereo blasting out a hit from Led Zeppelin. The music filters through the restaurant but seems to be mostly for the benefit of the kitchen staff than the guests, given the band’s hard rock, and Robert Plant’s treblic moans, can scarcely be heard at the front.
The many twisting roads you must take to get there are rutted, roughened, cut anew each season by 4x4s with heavy, grooved tires. You’re bounced and jostled in the 4×4 like a rider seeking thrills at an amusement park, except there is no safety cage to protect your vulnerable insides. You must brace yourself, for the trails and roads are inanimate, inert, care not for man’s machines.
The space the roads arrive at is gargantuan, a valley swallowing all vanishing points – the very horizon itself. One waist-high fence of dried lumber is all that bars you from a terrible fall, an endless fall into the dim depths of the jungle below, but beyond the fence, beyond the chasm, is a waterfall, or rather, a place where a waterfall often is. In the dry season it’s just a great void, a cascading streak of darkness off a cliff of inestimable height, plunging into a soft, flowing river below. The river is low in the dry season, barely more than a trickle heading east, but you can imagine it at its grandest, flush with eager water, nourishing the thirsty greenery this valley sustains. In the height of summer, though, the green takes on a golden tone, a the hue of the sun caught within the leaves. Green clings to each sheer cliff face, climbing up and down, the whole valley a field of vibrant green, except for the scar where the waterfall used to be – will be again. Its power mollified in summer, but indisputable.