An Al­ley­way

Hello Mr. Magazine - - AN ALLEYWAY WITH A VIEW -

By Scott Durno We of­ten talk about the trans­for­ma­tion of cities in broad strokes – of con­dos and branded cof­fee shops form­ing a palimpsest of de­cay and re­newal – but for most of us, it is the small changes that re­ally dis­rupt. A set of win­dows that ap­pear for no ap­par­ent rea­son, and a small but sig­nif­i­cant shift in our re­ac­tion to the familiar – that’s what makes living in some places so com­pelling.

I used to live in the build­ing be­side the Rialto Theatre in Mon­tréal’s Mile End. My apart­ment shared a back al­ley­way with the build­ing, and I was a regular ob­server of both the mun­dane day-to-day and the mem­o­rable mo­ments of that busi­ness: de­liv­er­ies, garbage col­lec­tion, em­ploy­ees tak­ing their breaks, all min­gling with the pedes­tri­ans who used the al­ley­way as a short­cut. It made for a unique van­tage point. I was, for the most part, a pas­sive by­stander to this mi­cro­cosm, glean­ing, imag­in­ing, and watch­ing.

As with most per­for­mance spa­ces, the Rialto’s bow­els were be­yond any line of sight, un­til they in­stalled win­dows on the lower floors. Chang­ing rooms, re­hearsal ar­eas, spa­ces typ­i­cally closed off by de­sign, and the bod­ies that in­habit them, be­came public – or as public as any al­ley­way can be. To a ca­sual passer-by, this change might war­rant a glance and mild in­ter­est. To a se­lect male au­di­ence, it might mean some­thing else al­to­gether.

I reg­u­larly wit­nessed the win­dows of the Rialto be­come the cat­a­lyst for a dis­tinct am­bu­la­tory short cir­cuit. The most in­ter­est­ing of th­ese en­coun­ters were the ones that in­volved all-male dance troupes, with their lithe bod­ies and com­mand of space. There is a cer­tain know­ing­ness about prac­ticed, de­lib­er­ate move­ment that catches one off guard, that forces one into (or out of) a mo­ment. I’m safe in my ad­mi­ra­tions be­cause they feel fleet­ing; they com­pen­sate and com­ple­ment the other win­dows in my life, real or imag­ined. I would flit by, try­ing not give it a sec­ond thought.

The neigh­bor­hood around the Rialto sus­tains a sig­nif­i­cant Ha­sidic Jewish pop­u­la­tion where, need­less to say, an ex­posed body (much less an un­know­ing male one) is not part of public dis­course. Some Ha­sidic men, de­spite them­selves, fo­cused on their path, se­cure in the pri­vacy and ease that the semi-pri­vate al­ley­way al­lows, seem in­ca­pable of cross­ing the thresh­old im­posed by this new vis­ual op­por­tu­nity. While most might throw a quick glance, they in­stead loop, and gawk, and pause, and get closer, en­gag­ing in imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tions on their cell­phones to sup­press their most voyeuris­tic im­pulses – so near a bla­tant eroti­cism that isn’t theirs to shake or re­press, per­haps a joy that they can’t cope with. I felt privy to a kind of awak­en­ing, watch­ing a world­view un­ravel. As much as I would stare, it seemed im­pos­si­ble for me to re­late, to square my ex­pe­ri­ence with theirs. A kalei­do­scope of van­tage points, of view­ers view­ing, men be­ing looked at while look­ing at other men, felt so for­eign, even though it’s so com­mon­place in the way I ex­pe­ri­ence my life.

I live in a new apart­ment now, high on the third floor, with a bal­cony and a bet­ter view of

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