Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Red Square Vignette, Montreal, Night 54

Walking thru Montreal looking for red squares is like playing “Where’s Waldo,” only Waldo is everywhere. And for those of you who have visited or hung out me here in Montreal, and have meandered around with me for a bit, you know that I’m obsessed with taking pictures of the red square–so that means stopping, often a lot, to snap a shot of one. Someday soon, I’ll load my many red squares on to a Flickr album, so you can look at them (and no doubt, I can keep adding to them). But hopefully someday soon, I’ll write about this humble little red patch, hanging on so precariously with a safety pin to many a shirt, hat, pant leg, scarf, sling (for a broken arm–a red square I didn’t capture on film), dog collar, purse, backpack, underwear (at the naked march), and the list goes on. It functions here as part symbol, part subversion, part provocation, part history, part future, part pride, part conversation-starter, part solidarity, part flagging, and this list goes on too.

For now, a vignette. Or rather, a snapshot of what happens when I snap a shot.

The photo above is rather dark, because it was taken at night, tonight, or night 54 of the illegal evening marches. It’s a front door into someone’s apartment, with three panes of colored glass: two blue and one red. I’ve walked by this door once or twice before, also at night as I zigzag home from one of these manifestations (“demonstrations” in English), and meant to take a photo, but I had probably stopped once too frequently that previous evening, and whoever I was walking with that night probably was tired of stopping. This evening, I was tired. I am tired. So I wasn’t stopping as much. But when I got to this door, I decided to grab a photo because it’s an example of one thing I want to say in this increasingly epic “Seeing Red” essay that I plan to write soon(ish).

It is an example of how one really does see red squares everywhere, and yet many of them were likely just “normal” red squares before this maple spring catapulted them to fame (not yet to fortune, but if capitalism has anything to say about it, fortune is probably in their future as well). This door’s colored-glass square window panes are likely just a decorative feature, not meant to reference the student strike at all. The red square in the door unintentionally takes on new meaning in the current rebellious context, and the people inside could very well not even think twice about their stained glass–similar to so many things we get accustomed to, that we barely take notice of them, and certainly don’t impute new meaning to them with changing political conditions. What interests me in this and other examples is in fact whether people are aware of such “accidental” red squares on, say, their homes, and if so, what do they do if they don’t support the students and the widening social uprising? What if they actually oppose it? Should they paint over the offending little red square? Or maybe they aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on at all with this popular movement and, again, hardly see that red-glass pane, unlike me, who can basically only see red squares no matter what direction I look in here.

Nearby to this door, in what I thought was the adjacent apartment, three women were sitting on an open window ledge, drinking, talking, laughing. It’s Montreal in the summer, and it seems like nobody ever goes inside to do anything. I tried to be surreptitious, grab a photo, and leave without them noticing me. Of course, the minute I push the button on my red-square-filled smartphone camera, one of the women leans out the window and yells out to me, “Hey, what are you doing? Are you taking a picture of us?”

I’m not good at being surreptitious apparently. I already know I’m not good at lying. So I answered honestly. “I’m taking photos of red squares because I’m going to write a story about them.” The minute I said it, I thought: “That sounds like a lie. What a weird thing to tell someone at 11 p.m. on a dark night, on a dark street.” She and her friends all broke into peels of laughter, and she yelled again, this time with pleasure, “My mom painted that red! My mom also put a red square on our dog’s neck. She says, ‘The dog is a political thinker too.’ My mom’s for the students and the strike!”

If every other red square could speak in Montreal, increasingly, it would probably say the same thing.

[Updated on Night 55: Here’s the start of my “Seeing Red” Tumblr, a growing snapshot of Montreal’s red squares, at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/]

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If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2012 by in Dispatches from Quebec Spring.
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