I’m standing in a now deserted Montreal metro station, captivated. It is a woman’s voice I hear, echoing confidently through the labyrinth. The words are meaningless for she sings in Québécois, the unique French spoken in the Canadian province Quebec. Somehow the voice’s tone imparts its own message, of life, of love, of the endurance of the human spirit. I follow the voice. In my mind I have conjured up an image of the owner of the voice. I do not know what French Canadian people look like, as I have just arrived here. Yet, I am certain that, just as her voice is high, strong and empowering, so must she be tall, confident and beautiful. I am certain of that. I walk with curiosity; to see if my assumption is correct. I turn the corner of the metro, and there she stands. Yes she is as empowering as her song. Tall and elegant like a princess. But something is not quite right. I watch for a while and listen. It is not her voice that is the problem. As my mind takes a while to register what it is seeing, with that it is hearing, it suddenly computes: our singer is completely blind.
Standing next to her is a man. Well, now he is crouching. No, he is crawling. His hands are outstretched in front of him, waving the empty air. I know what he is looking for. It is his jacket that lays outstretched before him. It all makes sense now. She is a busker, and he is her attendant. He is looking for the jacket to see if they have collected cash to eat. Finally he reaches the jacket and, instead of money, he finds an open hand.
“Hi…”, I say, rather unsure of how he will take my intrusion.
“Hello” he responds, turning his head to look in the direction of my voice. He looks to where the metro departs. He is looking in the wrong direction. I am right above him. Then, it hits me and I can’t believe it: he is also blind.
“Mae nem ez Denis Harting”, he speaks, with his exquisite Québécois accent. “…end thiz”, he gestures towards the singing siren, ” iz mae daughtur Lauviah”. I can’t believe it. Denis is not the attendant, he is the father! Lauviah stops singing, aware that there is somebody interrupting the show. She comes over and we meet. Then, for the next five minutes these two blind, wandering minstrels share with me the exceptional story of their lives. Born 2 months premature, Denis had been placed into an incubator. Somehow, the oxygen level was too high in that incubator and it burst both his optic nerves. Lauviah’s story was just as tragic, born with a rare eye disorder, completely unrelated to Denis’ condition. Together they try to make a living by singing in Montreal’s metro stations. Denis could sing too, as he later demonstrated after we stopped chatting. It was clear to me where Lauviah got her majestic voice from.
Then it was time depart. I thanked them for making my day. And up I went up the escalator, with the distinctive sound of Lauviah’s voice wooing me back to learn more.
As I exited the metro I saw in my peripheral’s a woman walking rather strangely, with a large white stick pointed out. Tap. Tap. Tap. She attempted to enter the metro entrance, once, twice. Finally she made it on the fifth. It was all too coincidental for me… I couldn’t resist…
“Excuse me…”. The tapping was momentarily paused.
“Do you…do you know those two wonderful singers down there…?”
Before I could finish, she let out a laugh, smiled and then turned her weary head to where she thought I was standing:
“Mae Lauvy and Dennie are gud, no?”
Lauviah Harting, Peggy Roux and Denis Harting (daughter, mum and dad).
This excellent photo-video about this exceptional Montreal family was made by SesamePreet’s channel, if you have time, check it out!