Urbane Martini

Light scatters through frail leaves in bay
windows. A band of smog-softened sun

edges along the chaise longue. A jewel
ignites when beams reach the bottle

and I raise my eyes to hear you say:
The past is a feeble attempt at the present.

This former Weltstadt is on the ebb.
We must soon pack our books and move on.

But not yet.  We both need another.
With any luck we’ll be in bed before

this digests, fake moonlight from the neons
falling across our shoulders and chests.


I met Douwe Ernsting at the bar on a crossing of the Alexandr Pushkin from Montreal to Le Havre in Autumn, 1972. Those were the days!

A refugee of sorts from puritanical post-war Amsterdam, Don, the name he preferred, was manager of the old Mansfield Book Mart, famous for its special collections, and went on to serve as Art Librarian at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

After the nine day crossing we both settled in Paris and for the next year regularly rendezvous’d in one or another watering hole on the Left Bank, at La Flore when there were seats free. We would drink until they gave us last call and started cleaning up. After that the métro was always closed. Since Don lived in a hotel in the Sixth, this posed less of a problem for him than me, tucked away in a garret in the far Fourteenth. Suffice it to say, I always managed to get home, though near each month’s end when cash for a cab ran out I had to weave a wobbly way down the rue de Rennes to Montparnasse and on to the rue de Pernety. Many things I saw, those early mornings, tasting le vin des rues.

Back in Montreal, Don and I kept up our routine of cocktails and bookish talk. His friendship held down one corner of the contradictory life I pursued in those years, torn between French and English and among left-wing politics, my lagging PhD on African literature and the finer things of life, books, music, art and the culinary self-indulgence he encouraged and himself enjoyed.

If I could, I would hop abroad the Pushkin at the drop of a hat and head straight to the bar to have a drink with him. R.I.P.

The old Soviet ocean liner, Alexandr Pushkin
The old Soviet ocean liner, Alexandr Pushkin