The Bubble Man of Montreal

He was a dream-maker, a writer of love letters and a magician in a black frock coat; he played out his act in the square in front of the Basilique of Notre-Dame in Montreal.  He was like a pilgrim doing his penance, with the Basilique keeping watch on his movements.

The man appeared, without seeming to come from any place in particular.  The space by the frozen fountain in the Place d’Armes was empty.  I turned my head to look at something and then turned back only to find him preparing his magic show.  He had a plastic basin that was half-filled with water.  There was a dark blue bottle of a soap making liquid.  In his hands, he held a long cord that had several loops along its length.

He seemed impervious to the gusts of cold wind in the square.  These gusts caused most of the people to turn up their collars and the children to reach to their parents for the warmer gloves.

As I stood on the curb of the Rue Notre-Dame, he began his act.  He mixed the liquid and the water, dipped his rope into the basin and, pulling it out, a hundred soap bubbles appeared and were promptly blown away by the wind.

Soap bubbles have always held a fascination for me.  They are indeed very strange objects.  Thin and magically iridescent they became symbolic of three things for me.  They are like dreams, appearing out of no place in particular and making their way through our sleep.  But dreams, like the bubbles can start out perfectly round and then degenerate into amoeba-like motions and become disturbing in their irregularity.  And then they burst, causing us to sit up in bed, shaken and worried about what went wrong with the dream.

They are like love letters.  Created by a motion of the hand and sent on their way.  Most burst like bubbles, but unlike bubbles, real love letters can be bundled in ribbons, boxed and put aside.  Someone, decades from now, will find them and discover secret loves and evidence of connections hitherto unknown.

Finally, they are also like a life.  They are born with a motion, then sent outward to drift, with or without direction and following the whim of the wind, they too, burst.


The man had attracted a fair number of people of all ages, but most were children.  It was then that I noticed a pattern.

The young ones had an irresistible urge to pop the bubbles.  They were too young to see the symbolic nature of these amazing creations. They failed to see the future in the wobbly spheres.  They giggled as they ran among the shapes and popping them.

One thing I did not see was any older person chasing and bursting the floating symbols.  They were watching the shapes drift away.

They were watching their old love letters, dreams and magic drift away…only to burst somewhere, around the corner and down some side street.


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