On being reasonable

In Artists, Drafts, Film, Hautvoir, Local projects on April 13, 2016 at 8:49 am

I know – and Léa Pool’s film La Passion d’Augustine can’t fail to drive home the point: in that time and place i.e. Québec society in the sixties, a woman’s choices were limited to reproduction or celibacy. If she chose celibacy, she could belong to a religious order or do service as a teacher, a nurse, someone’s secretary or as housekeeper for her aged parents. Of course, a few women of the fallen variety provided occasion for gossip and morality tales.

In those times, the ruling caste decreed: if, in childbirth (be it the twelfth or the fifteenth of the brood) both the mother and the child’s life were at stake, the attendants should sacrifice the mother (she was baptized) and save the baby (at least, until the Sacrament had redeemed his/her soul).

The action in the film takes place on the cusp of what were my teenaged years and what Québec historians call La Révolution Tranquille – the Quiet Revolution. When I left school, the nuns hadn’t switched over to their ugly civvies yet. They still wore the full get-up: cloth cap over cropped hair, plus veil, black or grey clothing that covered the entire body down to the feet and religious symbols appropriate to their order. Léa insists on the finer specimens of womanhood trapped under the garb with only two displaying some of the darker  aspects of enforced anything.

Watching the film in a French cinema, years after leaving Québec, I was more attuned to those details that rang true, and those that didn’t. Never in a thousand years of Sundays, for instance, would boarders in such a convent walk around in naked feet or appear in the refectory in their…their night gown. Never would the nuns chose a good-looking boy to shovel snow off the stoop and never would a boarder frolic with this boy in full view of Mother Superior.

I let all that pass in favor of the bottles of Colle Lepage on the classroom desks, a nun’s admonishment to the students against sitting on heated radiators (an inducement to lustful excesses through the heating of bottoms and privates, yes?), and the scenes filmed close to the village by riverside I once called home. I haven’t found the right word yet to describe the sensation at the sight of a familiar scene of windswept icy fields or of ice floes drifting down the Richelieu river.

As for a view of the tree-lined drive up to a convent once called Villa-Maria: I used to walk to my parents’ home down that drive, after crossing over from another convent called Collège Marguerite-Bourgeoys.  From which I was expelled. For smoking cigs? Chasing after boys? No, for drumming with my fingers on the desk to annoy the teacher, and for refusing to turn in an essay I felt was too good to submit to her. Unreasonable. So were my imaginary conversations on the bus ride to the convent that accepted a delinquent of my stature. I was reading Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine at the time. Unbeknownst to all, Honoré’s ghost sat next to me, somewhat befuddled by the changes time had wrought on the world. I served as his Virgil to Dante. I was fifteen and not on my way to becoming reasonable.



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