Cubistic artwork, cut in a row (before)
In the Algonkin language, Kebec designates the place where the river becomes narrow. The Algonkin (also: Algonquin) are a tribe of northarmerican natives who belong to the First Nations of Canada and their language root is one of the widest-spread in North-America. Kebec ist not only a poetic depiction of a true place but also an appropriate description. Coming from Montreal and the Big Lakes, the Sankt-Laurence-River becomes quite narrow and measures at its most narrow spot 640 meters. And after that it does three really surprising things: first splitting and floating around an island – the Ile D’Orleans – and second, after its reunion, getting broader like a funnel, and third pouring along 660 kilometers into the atlantic ocean as a so called estuar – exactly on this spot is Quebec-City based. Between Montreal and Quebec-City the river looks lika a birth canal and the floating around the island has something of a vulva and by cutting both occurences in a row, as a cubistic artwork, it’s fair to assume a birthing hour happens. And it has been happening in an ongoing manner. But birth of what? We don’t know.
Defiant songs against death (1st Week)
The first week I’ve strolled a lot, made photographs, read the assorted inscriptions at memorials, sculptures, places, most of them bilingual in French and English. The more recent ones are only in French, because French has been the only official language in Quebec since 1977. The memorials deal with the history and culture of Quebec, the national identity has beome a dominating topic.
Above all, during my wanderings I’ve been running into several stories that made me ponder. On the gate of Saint Jean the first canadian highway has its own memorial. Well, it wasn’t a highway then, but the Chemin du Roi, the King’s Way, inaugurated at the 5th of August in 1734, has been the first connection from Quebec to Montreal. Since I can remember I was mesmerized by highways as places inbetween, ephemeral places, not here, not there. Already in the nineties, french sociologist Marc Augé dedicated a book to those non-places. They play a crucial role in our lives, we just don’t know about it. In my personal story, highways have been an important opportunity to flee the provincial backwater and everything that was linked to it.
Another story played out at Cape Diamond on the Plaines d’Abraham, a former battlefield of the seven year war, during which the Frenchmen lost Quebec to the British. In 17th century, the Cape Diamond became the scene of a ghastly action of vengeance by the Wyandat who had been war-mates of the Canadians. In this place, the warriors of an enemy iroquois tribe were burnt alive. But every burning iroquois sang his defiant death-song quite unflinchingly till his last dying breath, is written on the roll of honour. According to the roll, the vengeance, by the way, was justified – a remark that curdels the blood in my veins.
Neck breck stairs (2nd Week)
Stairs are major elements of the landscape of Quebec-City, because upper town and downtown display tremendous differences in height and there are excentric stairs to connect the levels. For example, the oldest staircase in town is L’Escalier Casse-Cou translated as: the neckbreck stairs. Or L’Escalier du Faubourg, which is even more precipitous than the neckbreck stairs and which links the quarter Saint-Jean-Baptiste to Saint-Roch. Pedestrians who don’t feel like taking the stairs can use the lift on the Rue Saint-Vallier for free; its entry is hidden in a kiosk – an occurence I really deem remarkable.
Virtually I didn’t want to write about stairs, but about identity. I have been dealing with it ever since arriving here, because at every corner you bumb into the national identity of Quebec. As always when I’m considering identity, it strikes me, that I don’t know what it really is. I’ve never known it. It’s like in school, when in geology I was requested to explain the several tiers of earth, but somehow I hadn’t even understood the priniciple of tiers of earth.
The part of myself that has never believed in the concept of identity is a ghost, watching these stairs and trying to not inhibit people who are seeking identity. And again I’ve been reading the book Entanglements of physician and philosopher Karen Barad. One could grasp the world as something that consists of entanglements, and that ourselves, too, are in an ongoing state of superposition. We are something that we are not, at the same time – this is not a contradiction, but a feature. In this saying, there is no contradiction at all – even if it sounds as if I were addicted to harmony – but it means, that the splitting of the world into black and white, men and women, you and we, good and bad is a big error and just owed to the fact that we are still far away of overcoming the concept of duality. Basically nobody has an identity, becauce identity is something stable and inhibits the time on its way to pass. If everyting is seen in a sheer quantum-physics way, writes Barad, everything that exists would be queer. Everything else is just a staircase.
Place, space and placelessness (3rd Week)
During my wild researches about place, space and identity I ran into the Canadian geographer Edward Relph. Already in the 1980s, he wrote the book Place and Placelessness, which deals with the topics of space and place and in this context he also was the first one to write about the phenomenon of placelessness. We maintain relationships to places as we do to people, but libraries are full of the latter and no one writes, let alone talks, about the former. Relph looks with growing concern at how non-places have taken over public space. Non-places are, for example, shopping malls, airports, highways, supermarkets, but also refugee camps and waiting halls in government offices – they are places whose aesthetics are defined by criteria of functionality and effectiveness. They look the same everywhere, they are immune to external influences and they do not change, in short: people who spend time there cannot identify with them.
On my flight from Frankfurt to Montreal, however there was a short moment where I felt linked to the plane, which acutally is a non-place. The woman who sat diagonally in front of me, used the holder for the coffeecup differently than it was intended, she put her bottle of water upsidedown in its ring, it looked like a waterinfusion at a hospital bedside. I liked this idea because I didn’t know where to put my waterbottle either. I copied her and then I slept for a while. When I woke up, everybody in my row had put their watterbottle upsidedown in the coffeeholder. Through this micro-interaction with other people, we had changed the space a tiny bit – and also the meaning of the space. Because now it was not only the space where we spent our time, but also the space where we had changed something, together.
On my walks through Quebec-City I got convinced that there must be a lot of micro-interactions to retransform non-places into places.