Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Fifth Window on Winter: Remembering

One of Anansi's 5 gorgeous covers: how to choose?

The final window opens with talk of ice wine, the paradox that “the hardest weather makes the nicest wine”.

And then I learn a botanical term, vernalization, which refers to “seeds that can only thrive in spring if they have been through the severity of winter”.

But how did this happen? I thought we were busy loving winter, not looking forward to spring and summer? This turns to talk of appreciating spring and summer more, because winter is winter.

Oh, wait. Nevermind. There is still a little more winter love to be had. But via talk of the underground city beneath Montreal.

(I know, I keep saying this, but the great thing about these lectures is the way that subjects slip together.)

“Forty years after my wanderings, Montreal now has a huge indoor network of tunnels, walkways, atriums, and above-ground extensions within sixty separate real estate complexes, some public and most private. It’s almost twenty miles long, and still growing.”

(What is it about underground citites? It was one of the first things I wanted to explore when I first began visiting Toronto many years ago.)

“Within the Big Burrow there are office, retail, institutional, cultural, hotel, residential, recreational, and transportation services, including ten Metro stations, two commuter rail stations, and two regional bus stations.”

(Then I get curious: how large is the PATH system that runs beneath Toronto? 17 miles, including 4 million square feet of retail space, which is said to rival the West Edmonton Mall. Five subway stations, two railway lines and a bus terminal and City Hall: but I can’t count and it seems like I need to go to Montreal to do this properly.)

“By now eighty percent of the entire downtown’s office space can be accessed without stepping into the cold air, and more than half a million people a day are citizens of the subterranean city.”

(Subterranean city: even Adam Gopnik is talking about H.G. Wells now. How can one not?)

“There are two thousand stores, almost two thousand housing units, two hundred restaurants, forty banks, forty movie theatres, a cathedral, an exhibition centre, and a convention centre.”

(I’m still trying to visualize this, so I’m back to comparisons. There are 50 buildings and office towers connected in the PATH system in Toronto, with 35 corporations involved, each responsible for their own segment of the system. Unlike Montreal, property owners here seem to “own down” too.)

“It’s a model of urbanism in a cold climate, the ultimate winter city.”

As if I needed more encouragement to visit Montreal, a city that I love in a loose kind of way that makes me think that if I spend much more time there I will want to call it home sometime.

(The one useful statistic that does touch me about Toronto’s PATH is that a pedestrian has to choose which way to turn down there at 60 junctures. I always turn the wrong way. Although now I know that each of the letters is coloured differently for a reason, red=South, orange=West, blue=North, yellow=East. Is this what I’ve been doing wrong? Probably not. I’ll probably still turn the wrong way all 60 times.)

But wait, again. This isn’t loving winter, but hiding from it.

And just as I’m wondering if Adam Gopnik has wandered off from the first window for good, he veers back to talking about the urgent sense of loss that we feel, knowing that winter may be lost to the effects of global warming.

And what else does he talk about? Joni Mitchell’s “River”. MGM’s “Gigi”. Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Imaginary Iceberg”. Jenny Diski’s Skating to Antarctica. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”. Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”.

It’s all very wintry. But I’m glad to get on with real winter and not just peer through the windows.

NOTE:

The Massey Lectures are still available as podcasts via CBC, and they are also available to purchase through iTunes. You can also buy the CD here. And, best of all, you can buy the Book via House of Anansi.

First Window on Winter: Romantic (my thoughts here)
Second Window on Winter: Radical (my thoughts here)
Third Window on Winter: Recuperative (my thoughts here)
Fourth Window on Winter: Recreational (my thoughts here)

What is winter like where you are right now? (I know, it could be summer: do tell!)

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