Week 1 Prompt: The furthest away from home you have ever been.
That final night of our honeymoon, my husband decided we needed one more photo of the Basilica before we left. Armed with two Polaroids and one digital camera, he busied himself like a parent fussing over a child starting school. I smirked as he lunged clumsily over some grand steps leading to an imposing building, I presumed a bank. Such a tourist, I thought.
I wandered towards the fountain, arms folded across my lower abdomen; my dress felt tight following the amount of food we had consumed.
Place d’Armes was almost empty – the soft pat of footsteps fell into rhythm with the cascading flurry of water jets spouting from an army general’s trunk. In the dark, the inscription was hard to make out. The statue had a good view though: the Basilica didn’t seem to tower above us like its skyscraper neighbours, but it protectively looked over the square, as if it was an oversized child sitting crossed-legged, gazing at the world below. Beams of light bounced across the spires and created black-hole shadows within the archways. Framing the picture, trees rustled nervously, autumn crawling in their roots already. My gaze fixed, I gently sat on the fountain ledge.
Until an other-worldly twang hooked my attention, and I turned to see a busker tuning his guitar. The busker in the baggy shirt had an impressive set-up: an electric guitar, an electric drum kit and a foot pedal I had seen musicians in the past use to loop their music. He briefly tuned his guitar and then produced a chord, then a riff, almost ethereal in its sound.
The melody was familiar, but what impressed me was the build – for every melodic tune he produced, he pushed his pedal and then added a new layer, a harmony or a drum beat. Nothing seemed to crescendo, but instead repeatedly enveloped me in an increasingly cosier blanket of music. The noise filled the air guarded by the church above.
Everything paused, except his music. I noticed the square was now more crowded; tourists drew in closer like moths, filling up benches, the fountain ledge and the circle of pavement around the busker himself. We were now a congregation. An elderly couple shuffled together in a dance, whilst a group of teenagers nodded in rhythm hypnotically. Two girls sprinkled dollars into his guitar case. Transfixed, he didn’t even acknowledge them. He began to sing, which sent another shockwave of awe across the square. His voice was husky and cracked, pained yet deeply haunting. He sang a Lou Reed cover, which was doubly impressive as I presumed everyone there was also playing the ‘guess the song’ game I had started in my head once recognising the melody.
Above me, I noticed for the first time a crucifix in the middle of the Basilica, one of the few silhouettes that could be made out clearly against the amber sunset. It seemed fitting that this moment had happened here, the crucifix seemed to prove that to me.
I felt a warmth radiate from next to me; my husband, cameras now put away, craned into my neck and sighed, nestling deeper into my shoulder. I slipped my hand into his, as if I was passing a secret note between us, so neither of us felt the need to speak. A car revved loudly past the crowd, but no-one looked away from the electric strings.
We stayed there for an hour, listening. We gave the busker the remainder of our Canadian coins and told him he was excellent. Tomorrow we will be back home, I remembered, allowing the dread that had been creeping up on me all day to climb on to my shoulders and press down onto me. Then my husband showed me the photos he had taken; I saw the busker, the fountain and the crucifix. I smiled. That moment could come home with us, and I loved him even more for making sure that it did.
I’ve started this 30 Week Challenge with creative non-fiction, a type of writing I am increasingly experimenting with. This story happened on my recent honeymoon to Montreal with my husband in August, and we couldn’t believe just how magical and fairy tale-like our final night away was, thanks to the busker under the Basilica. Canada also happens to be the furthest away I have ever travelled, and my first time outside of Europe. It’s definitely not as action-packed as some of the other challenges I will likely be doing, but I do think it is poignant (at least I hope it comes across that way!)
I also wanted to experiment with ways of describing music – normally sensory description is predominantly focused on what can be seen, so writing at length about what can be heard was challenging. I ended up combining this with the sense of touch a lot, probably because of the physical power music tends to have over us as human beings.
Let me know what you think in the comments, or if you were to do this challenge, what would you write about? Also what are people’s thoughts on creative non-fiction, and how have you explored it in your writing?