Friday, 13 May 2016

Two solitudes (with a possible third)

The expression "Two Solitudes" comes from the 1945 novel of the same name by Hugh MacLennan.* The "solitudes" of those of anglophone Canada and francophone Canada, and the topic has come up a lot over the past seventy years, along with words like "separate" and "distinct".

Hades has two solitudes as well: there's Winter Ottawa and Summer Ottawa.  They're separate, distinct, and living here in Hades is a bit like living in two different cities -- different planets, even.

Winter Ottawa is a real solitude.  People are bundled into parkas and even those who - like me - don't drive, are carefully insulated against the weather and against human contact.  Our winter coats are mostly in the same dark shades, making us indistinguishable from one another.  The hoods, hats, and scarfs, along with heads bent against the wind, block off eye contact.

When summer comes to Ottawa, as it has this week with temperatures rising above twenty degrees Celsius for the first time in months, winter seems like a colourless dream.  Strangers acknowledge each other on the streets.  Acquaintances exchange greetings as if there has been a long separation -- which isn't far from the truth.

When winter comes again, this too will seem like a dream.  I will pace the harsh and narrow sidewalks and try, in vain, to recall what the pavement felt like, just like I cannot quite remember snow right now.

I have my own third little solitude.  Each summer I return to Demeter in Victoria, where Hades slips mercifully out of my grasp for a few brief weeks.

*MacLennan got the phrase from Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his Letters to a Young Poet (in the second-to-last paragraph).

No comments: