Today is a beautiful summer day in Montreal. The sky is cloudless, the humidity level is moderate, even tolerable. After many dull cool days, this is a beaut. I left my apartment building for a stroll through the park and was reveling in the wonderful conditions when it hit me like a slap to the back of the head.
They say olfactory stimuli are some of the most powerful when it comes to arousing nostalgic experiences. Well, this morning’s first whiff of the fetid, putrid, reek that had engulfed the park brought me back 35-years or so in an instant. While others were looking at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces, I smiled or so slightly, for I knew it was pond cleaning time in the park.
When the park underwent a major overhaul in the early sixties the existing pond was extended and resurfaced. The method used was tar paper. Yes indeed, just as if the pond was a roof, rolls and rolls of tar paper were placed and tarred into position. Thereby creating a watertight seal, just like a good roof. The only problem was that a pond’s floor is constantly underwater while a roof only has to deal with rain, even heavy rain subsides.
With the perfection of hindsight, it is clear the pond should have been made of concrete that would not have come loose over the years and have to be replaced as is the case with the tar paper. I suppose concrete was deemed too expensive, but as is often the case these things cost more when done later. I imagine the city has paid many times over in repairs what a concrete floor would have cost originally.
About twice a summer the pond is drained for cleaning. Hence the stench. The hot sun beating on the oily filthy surface, replete with duck droppings, the occasional dead pigeon or squirrel and sadly more than a little trash creates a malodorous assault on the nose.
Having been involved in this process as a student employee I can assure you it is less than pleasant; sweeping the feculent slop into piles with the aid of a fire-hose, then shovelling it into a cart for disposal was not anyone’s idea of a nice day in the park. Tea anyone?
Yet there I was all those years later actually smiling at the horrible stink, The concept of nostalgia is a funny thing; a formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”.