Born Under The Lily, I Grow Under The Rose

A nattily dressed Indian heart surgeon enters a dimly lit, run down East London flat, walks into the kitchen, opens the ancient-looking refrigerator (empty of all shelves and contents), steps in, and shuts the door behind him: “A funny thing has happened to me recently and it has to do with London, said Dr. Venkata Lakkaraju to the sold out audience in attendance for his keynote speech at the 32nd Annual Meeting of Indian Cardiothoracic Surgeons, held at the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel. If two weeks pass and I don’t visit London, that is, if I don’t physically put myself inside of the city, not just bide my time during a layover at Heathrow, I have these very vivid and quite uncomfortable dreams where the city itself – anthropomorphized into various denizens of all different races and sexes -harangues me, humiliates me, and then brutalizes me. I won’t bother you with any more details from these dreams, but I will tell you that when I wake up from these dreams I’m in a most foul mood, one that lingers with me throughout the day, whether I’m performing surgery or not. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of surgery and I’ll be thinking that I have to get back to London, right now, but I can’t, because, obviously I’m in the middle of surgery, and I’m not going to say I lose focus or become absent-minded, but I definitely become short with those around me, or uncommunicative and sullen, which are not the best frames of mind to be in when you’re performing a transmyocardial revascularization. London is home to my favorite French restaurant, my favorite Spanish restaurant, and my favorite German restaurant. London also happens to be the only city I can get away with not wearing my glasses. In London, for some reason, I can see. What I miss most about London when I’m not there, however, is the French-Canadian Quarter, also known as New Montreal, which is little known and almost impossible to find, as it is not on any map. Ask a cab driver to take you to the French-Canadian Quarter, if you dare. While I cannot divulge the exact location of New Montreal, I will say that it is located somewhere underneath Dalston. Access is invitation only. How do you procure an invitation? I can’t tell you that either, as one is simply sent to you. How do they decide who they want to invite? Again, I’ll have to plead ignorance. It is magnificent, though, this city under the city, which is really nothing more than an immense artificial biosphere, complete with historic landmarks and ports, all fashioned in a surreal tribute to the city’s unique heritage. I have been to Montreal and I prefer this simulacrum to the real thing. The moment I step out of the elevator I feel at home. I have, for lack of a better word, incredible chemistry with the French-Canadian immigrants of London, so much so that it makes me wonder if in my past life I was not a Quebecois myself. There are so many wonderful little touches that I won’t be able to catalog them all during the scant amount of time I’ve been given to speak. Let’s see, there’s the flying canoe that whisks across the skyline at noon and midnight at the sound of the Clock Tower’s chiming bells; the skating rink at the Old Port of Montreal where you can watch skates – sans skaters – doing half-axels and toeless lutzs; the Jean Béliveau impersonator whom you can visit at his home and watch as he answers his fan mail; and the reenactments of the Battle of the Thousand Islands, just to name a few. Why am I telling all of you this? Because, as I found out during my last visit to New Montreal, a disproportionate number of its citizens are suffering from a type of heart disease I do not recognize, and which is lethal if not treated immediately. Therefore, I am moving to New Montreal, in order to help in any way I can. Some of you, because of this epidemic, will be invited to join as well, although I cannot say who. To those who do make the journey New Montreal, however, I ask one thing and one thing only: if you see me, please do not address me by my given name. I will no longer answer to Venkata. As of Monday morning my new name is Guy. Guy Penfield. If you do not use this name I will not answer you. I will pretend as if the me you are addressing no longer exists. Je me souviens, que né sous le lys, Je croîs sous la rose. ”

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