Parc Lhasa de Sela: Love came here
“I have this basic faith that my life is not a sad story.”
It’s hard to find the park. Tucked below the tracks, where two streets converge, a dusty dead end for bicycles and lost cars. Known only by locals, people stroll there with dogs and toddlers, carry books and frisbees, hang out for hours. You have to stumble upon it, an almost secret place, a fitting spot for a singer so many think they personally discovered. When she came to Montreal in the early 90s, Lhasa de Sela was barely twenty, a Mexican-American who spoke beautiful French. She melted into the city and began making music for small bars and living rooms. Her fridge was always empty, her father said after her death. But there were cafés everywhere and $4.99 breakfasts and harps and trumpets and an endless stream of voices to provide harmony. You didn’t need to be prosperous to prosper in Montreal. The music scene in Mile End was fertile and feverish, bands forming and reforming, people playing on each other’s records, breakout success stories coming back to reseed the ground, all of it made possible by the alchemy of cheap rents and abundant balconies. Lhasa released her first record, La Llorona, in 1997, a haunting album entirely in Spanish that even the most linguistically-challenged immediately understood. She herself apparently only spoke it haltingly. What does it matter, language? This insouciance was exhilarating. The Living Road came out in 2003, a trilingual triumph of poetry and passion. In 2009, with success and awards in her back pocket, she pared it all down to Lhasa, an album entirely in English. “I was rising up, hitting the ground“.
Then she was gone, cancer the assassin. It was a godawful joke, a cruel repossession. Had she not paid her dues? Had she not struck a deal with the gods? She had definitely not made enough music to shield us from the loss. They say that you should die doing what you love. A skier should fall off the mountain, or an astronaut float into space. Even better, may you expire in a city that loves you. A city that will trace your heart on its map. Residents of Mile End petitioned the Ville de Montréal to name the park after her, and by 2014 it was done. It takes a special city to do this, a city you can fall in love with and that will love you right back. As Lhasa de Sela herself sang,
“There is no end to this story, no final bow or glory, love came here and never left“. ~
Leila Marshy is a Palestinian Montrealer and has been a filmmaker, radio producer, mobile app designer, a marketer, and was editor of the online culture journal Rover Arts. She lived in Cairo and worked for the Palestine Red Crescent, then founded Friends of Hutchison Street, a groundbreaking community group bringing Hasidic and non-Hasidic neighbours together in dialogue. Her novel, The Philistine, was published in 2018. She is currently Associate Publisher at Linda Leith Publishing.