“I’m happy. I live on $15,000 a year and have a lover.”

We were saying goodbye to a friend who we met by accident at Le Cafetier, a funky cafe/restaurant in Sutton. We had just finished our weekly trip to the gym and weren’t quite ready to go home. Besides, Belinda was thirsty. Putting down our coats and grabbing a chair, we spied Bertrand sitting at a corner table reading a newspaper.

In a couple of seconds he was seated beside us. He didn’t seem upset with me that I had “unfriended” him on Facebook a couple of years back. I had found him too prolific, too political and, I feared, I thought that he might be harbouring anti-Semitic feelings. At the very least, he was a little too pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel for my tastes.

Bertrand is an “expounder” (as well as many of the other synonyms found for this word: backer, booster, champion, defender, demonstrator, expositor, interpreter, partisan, promoter, propagandist, proponent, protagonist, spokesperson, supporter & upholder). He doesn’t really listen to you when you speak but, unlike many people in love with their ideas and in listening to themselves talk, Bertrand can be quite interesting. At one point in the conversation I told him that he would make a great high school teacher.

In the few minutes we had together, us sipping coffee, him chowing down Eggs Benedict (along with the accompanying joke: What’s the similarity between Eggs Benedict and oral sex? They’re both two things you can’t get at home) we learned about various exciting vacation destinations: Anticosti Island, the west coast of Newfoundland, camping at the summit of Mt. Mégantic on New Year’s Day. Bertrand took out a paper napkin and drew a very rough map of Newfoundland and gave a detailed description of where to go and why. The general theme of the discussion was: Why travel in distant lands when there are so many fantastic places to visit close to Montreal?

It was only later that I discovered that he had visited Anticosti Island in 1985. His enthusiasm and sharp memory made it seem as if the visit had occurred only last summer.

For a 55th birthday present to himself he was thinking of cycling from one end of the country to the other. How long does he think it’ll take, he was asked? “Three months, four, six, it doesn’t matter,” he said in French. “I don’t work, I’m a free man. Time doesn’t matter.”

As he was leaving he continued to explain why he was so happy and then he dropped the “$15,000” remark.

I know that Jean retired ages ago from a job in the corporate world and had made some savvy investments. But living on only $15,000 a year? Somehow I just couldn’t believe it. That or his long-time common law wife and lover is pulling more than her weight in the lives they share.

Anyway, he was off to walk with others in a protest against the planned TransCanada pipeline that might soon be bringing dirty Alberta oil to Quebec. “Why don’t you walk with me, Tom?” he asked.

While I don’t agree with many of Bertrand’s politics (he was still wearing a red square on the lapel of his winter coat) all in all it was a stimulating conversation with someone who undeniably leaves a smaller ecological footprint than most people.


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