A Half-Hearted Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Orangeville, Ontario

(Thursday, June 20th, 2013)


I’m sitting in front of a café in the small town of Orangeville, Ontario, and I’ve decided to document everything I see. A young woman walks back and forth, in riding pants. A shy teenager enters the coffee shop, and leaves again. I need to make it clear, right now, once and for all: I am not Georges Perec, and I don’t know how committed I am to this form.

Georges Perec, after a few days of sitting in front of a café in Paris, cataloguing what normally wouldn’t make it into literature, “lost all interest in buses.” Other things too, I assume. I was reminded of Georges Perec’s enterprise while reading an article by Mark Kingwell. Once, I hated Mark Kingwell. Hated him more than any man on earth. Hate is an audacious enterprise. Now I feel indifferent to Mark Kingwell—at best, mildly curious.

Another teen sits on the terrace of the next-door cafe, “Pia’s”, and reads. Or, at least, I think she’s a teenager. Indeterminate. Silver hair, a dress shirt, nice pants, fine shoes: at the table next to her, a businessman, a country businessman, is having his lunch. The teenager is reading from an electronic device, an e-reader, or just looking at her phone. The businessman is eating his lunch: casually, he does nothing of interest. Beside me, a middle-aged woman has finished eating, and now she’s sitting perfectly still, with her arms crossed in front of her stomach. The café we’re sitting in front of is called “Mochaberry’s”. Now the woman has unwrapped part of a cookie: she broke off a tiny morsel, which she has been chewing thoughtfully. Thoughtfully, or artfully? One gets the impression that she’s merely chewing slowly, so as to artificially prolong her lunch and fill in her time.

A chalkboard for an art gallery two shops down advertises the names of two local artists: “Sapria Karmaker”, “Tarya Zarski”. Cars are parked on both sides of the street. Where the median would normally be, in the middle of the road, there’s a garden, with flowers and running water, as well as trees and benches. It is, I think, dedicated to Orange Lawrence, the founder of the town. I’m on the north side of the street, Broadway. On the south side of Broadway they’re building something. I can’t remember what used to be there. A gravestone supplier? [Note: no, that business is further west, up the road.] Impulse from working, only a month so far, at the museum and local archives for this region: whatever was there should be preserved, in formaldehyde, for easy reference. Tyranny of the past or tyranny of thinking about the past. The weight of the past would kill us, if we let it.*  

Two steel columns rise up from the building site. Initial frame. Perec didn’t have an Android-capable phone. I am waiting for a website to load so that I can comment there. Last night I recieved a flurry of messages: promises, apologies. Words have no meaning except in their correspondence to real objects. Or so says Jack Spicer via Ezra Pound. That’s not entirely true, abstract concepts with no correspondence to real objects definitely exist, in some sense. Rather, it is a theory of poetry. I’d like to think Jack Spicer wanted to emphasize the relationships of words to concrete objects because he didn’t want to deal with false promises, I don’t know why it seems to me like that was something he had a lot of experience with. His poetry, maybe, and his author’s portrait—he looks disappointed. In any case, Spicer says that writing poetry was easier when he was in love. He wasn’t a better poet then, he says, but he was less frustrated because he always had someone to share his poetry with.

It seems that I’ve entirely abandoned the conceit of objectively recording the street life here (if I ever fully embraced it). If I had a steady job, with breaks in the summer, I’d own a second home in the downtown of a small town, or in the city, or in the south of France. Anywhere, really. A separate place of residence, a commitment to the defamiliarization that comes from shifting perspective. Though I live far from Orangeville’s limits, it is almost as if I’m living here now, because I have spent so much time sitting here, in this café generally, and right now, on the patio. Inhabitance is a practice. Or maybe nothing can really be inhabited, maybe habitation is too transient a concept to be considered “real”. It would not meet Spicer’s theory of concrete words, would it? (If I have at all remembered Spicer’s words correctly, Spicer’s words and his theory, which may have changed over the course of his life because he was a dynamic poet.)

The largest proof of my existence here is my presence. When I am gone, I will leave no trace. And in a few months, the baristas will have changed, and no one will remember I was ever here, if they remember even now. A man with one-and-a-half arms expertly delivers two dishes outside at “Pia’s”, balancing one of the dishes on his stub. I think I may have attended his high school, or elementary school. My dog—I haven’t mentioned her—are you surprised?—barks at him. I don’t know why, it’s the first time she has barked. He’s inside again before she even makes the sound.

[*Interestingly, the gravestone supplier is the site of the longest continuously-operating business in Orangeville. It produced monuments under the same name for well over 100 years, until 1996, when it was dissolved, only to be replaced by a similar business. “I’m pretty sure.”]

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