Infinite Pleasantness

September 29, 2007

On Labour Day, September 3rd, Carol, Francine, my mother and I paid a visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens, Le Jardin Botanique de Montréal. After wandering through the rose garden, the native garden, the shade garden (remarkable for its range of begonias) and past the ponds, we came upon the Japanese and Chinese Gardens in the centre, which are gifts to the city from these countries.

In the Chinese Garden was a Pavilion of Infinite Pleasantness, this choice of name having a poignant explanation:

The name of this small building refers to a poem penned in the 9th century by Bai Juyi describing an emperor’s melancholy as he stood before the deserted pavilion where his love once lived. The woman was killed to save the kingdom from violent uprisings.

The Pavilion of Infinite Pleasantness

Practically every feature of the Chinese Garden is meant to be symbolic. The rocks and stones, some imported from China despite the fact that Quebec isn’t exactly short of rocks itself, represent the masculine element (Yang), the water features being the feminine (Yin) that flows around them. Elaborate lanterns were hanging over the pathways and pavilions and floating in the ponds: boats, dragons, birds and fish, their garish colours rather excessive, but they were beautifully made for the Lantern Festival. There’s a harmonious mixture of the artificial and the natural, with lotus buds, symbols of purity, opening in man-made ponds and decorative gaps in the walls revealing the trees and flowerbeds behind.

A girl in the Friendship Hall was playing the erhu, the traditional Chinese equivalent of a violin. Her name is Shen Qi, whose blog you can access here. Disconcertingly, her instrument was plugged into an electronic amplifier and the melodies she was playing, admittedly in the Chinese style, were western (Amazing Grace, etc.).

It was Shen Qi who played the theme music for the wonderfully original 2003 French-Canadian film La Face Cachée de la Lune by Robert Lepage, which has no connection to anything oriental as far as I remember, apart, perhaps, from the goldfish who plays a pivotal role in the plot. I bought the video of this film because I’d so much admired Lepage’s one-man stage version when I’d seen it at the NAC. When I asked Shen Qi about this though, she confessed that she’d performed the music without ever seeing the film.

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