Monday, July 24, 2017

Montrealer For A Weekend; Birthday Weekend

I'm exhausted and the fat, obnoxious Augustus Gloop on my left in this puddle jumper must be American because it is my understanding those are tell take signs of my people.

I'm sad and feel empty.

I'm on my period, I'm turning 36 and I am alone. A weekend that should be celebratory. A weekend that should be a new adventure with old friends doesn't feel fun or exciting. It feels like escaping.

Maybe travel is my drug. Maybe instead of expanding my mind with drugs or distracting myself in a bar on Friday nights drinking cocktails and listening to brown eyed girl on repeat, I like to see new places, meet new people and try new things.

And you know what - that's ok. We all develop ways in which we cope to get through this thing called life and if mine is visiting far off lands to witness foreign culture and sample foreign fare - I accept that.

I accept me.

Strangely enough I was one of those kids who knew who I was from an early age.

My father loved to tell me how mere minutes after entering the world, that July day exactly 36 years ago I struck up a conversation immediately. Yammered on about what is seen and what I'd thought while gestating that near year.

I guess that never stopped.

He spent the last 32 years of his life listening to me yammer on about what I'd seen and what I thought.

I still wish he were here to listen to me. To be here with me because without him life has only become more lonely; more challenging and far far messier.

But enough of that. I'm on a plane. I have my passport and this weekend I will be experiencing a new place and, hopefully, having a chance encounter with Celine Dion.

My friend Francois had offered to pick me up, and that's what he did, but not before I navigated my way through the automatic customs machines at YUK which involved a lot of swearing, but absolutely no stamping.

With a 2 hour delay I landed just moments after my birthday began and I gotta say I was jonesing for the commemoration in my little blue book. But alas...

The Montreal night is cool and clean and my chariot awaits - by way of a station wagon. Francois is leaving for a kayaking trip in the morning and his boat is already shoved diagonally in the vehicle so I hop in the back and catch up with this stranger I feel fortunate enough to call a friend. That's how it happens though, right?

At one point Simone was just the girl who was assigned to room 220 in Mary Park Hall and, 17 years later she is my sister. Angie was just the hostess at the job I worked to get me through college and now she is family. Holly a fellow cougar and Sean a fellow Mustang and now their children are my nieces.

Hopefully 15 years from now I can reminisce on the way this stranger also became part of the inner circle I rely on to get the rough the day. To get through this life.

Francois is kind and very Canadian and before you know it we are back at his one bedroom abode in Villaney dropping my bags and, despite the hour, heading to a local bar.

At the time he does not know it but he buys me a local blonde micro-brew that is bitter, but as my first drink at 36, takes the edge off.

Despite my nerves to reconnect the conversation is easy and he is a bird of the same feather - though his level free spirit almost makes me look uptight. So just imagine.

It's late and we walk home with a chill in the air.

He makes up the futon for me and I put on my Aerosmith tshirt and before long we are both fast asleep and I am officially a year older.

I put an international plan on my phone but it doesn't seem willing to work with me so when I eventually connect to wifi in the morning there is a moment of relief.

Francois makes me two eggs and a pineapple smoothie and we chat at his kitchen table in our pajamas about the woman he is dating and the men I am not.

He offered to let me stay while he was out of town but I'd made other arrangements so I leave my bag to store while he packs up and I hit the rues of Montreal.

This is my third Canadian city and I find they all have a quiet peacefulness. Now this just may be me being out of the city or out of my life a bit - but I welcome the quiet solitude of the leafy pathways and breezy avenues.

Slowly making my way to Marche Jean Talon I decide to stop into Tea Shop and get a citrus blend ice tea that is cold and refreshing and allows me to sit in a wing backed chair and be alone. But not lonely.

Fortuitously enough whilst on wifi I got a FaceTime from my gorgeous friend and her gorgeous daughter and was delighted to see family today.

With nearly an hour spent in the cafe I knew I needed to get a move on if I wanted to see Jean Talon Marche and Parc Jarry before my ride arrived so I made moves.

But the making moves did not deter me from perusing dollar store blow outs and Indian jewelry stores tucked neatly below street level. Soon I realized there was no feasible way to make it to my destination on time and made an about face back toward the smell of curry, Christina Aguilera warbling words on empowerment in my ear.

Despite running short on time I did make a quick stop at the Tim Hortons on the corner of Jean-Talon and Hutchinson to partake in some local cuisine, make Robin Sherbatsky proud, and have a birthday donut.

My ride was for sure en route by now and I headed back to Francois', not to see him but to meet my housemate for the following two nights by way of another friend I met abroad with whom I have checked in with on occasion but whom I did not know terribly well.

Needless to say there were some nerves as I had committed to spending the weekend with two friends who were by and large strangers, but that nervousness dissipated when I saw Rubins huge smile as he watched me descend from the stairs to my previous night's abode. He was happy to see me. And that felt nice.

I dropped the keys in the mailbox, threw my camo over-sized tote in Rubins' trunk and a beautiful day in Montreal awaited me.

Seeing as I had evidently been walking in the exact opposite direction of Jean Talon, that was our first stop. We meandered the aisle ways offering locally sourced, organic and artisnal goods. With a brief respite for a cheers with Chinese egg rolls, as I revealed that today was, in fact, my birthday, we enjoyed our greasy treats and headed to the next point of interest.

With no particular destination in mind (I am not the type to do much research before a trip), I figured my guide for the day could show me the way. There were some twists and turns but we eventually made our way over the mountain and through the immaculately manicured lawns of Mont Parc Royal to Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal, Canada's largest church and a behemoth upon the hill. 

The church had an entire room to light candles, with stairways leading up to rows upon rows of red and green candles and I made sure to light my candles in silence and solitude. I truly love Cathedrals and no matter where in the world I am a quiet moment in one is always appreciated.

There is a vista upon your descent from the mountain where you get a decent view of the city - but more importantly a great view of the typically nocturnal raccoons who are all to happy to get all up in your grill for the opportunity to get a snack.

After spending several hours with this stranger friend, the stranger part seemed to fade away and our lengthy walk from downtown to the Old Port was comfortable, if not for my feet.

Old Port seems to be Fisherman's Wharf adjacent, but offers a plethora of galleries, amazing street art and souvenir shops with cobble stoned streets and a beautiful waterway. You can zip line or listen to live music. 

When it came to my attention that on summer evenings in Montreal there is a live fireworks show I felt like I had had a lovely, mellow birthday ignoring my degeneration with the distraction of exploring and the beauty of a new place.

Sidled up on cement steps for the show my Canadian compatriot insisted he had commissioned the fireworks show for my birthday, but I suspect he was pulling my leg...

The walk back to the car felt even longer than that down to the seaport, but it was still early.

It was still my birthday.

After what were many twists and turns and promises that the bar was on the next block, we finally reached La Distillerie. A cute little corner pub with delicious fancy cocktails and jovial waitresses that ushered out July 22nd and ushered in the undeniable fact that I was now 36. There was no turning back.

After a drive out of the city center I was greeted with my basement accommodation in the home Rubins shares with his family that was homey and had the comforting smell of grandparents.

After a restful evening it was up and at 'em - but not too early - to spend yet another day in this Parisian-inspired paradise.

My Converse had not properly supported my feet during my kilometers long walk the day previous, as a slab of rubber and tied on canvas tend to do, so I switched it up with some sandals - but little did I know of the walk that lay ahead of me and the regret I was certain to face.

With Montreal known for it's cuisine and my palette known for it's limitations we decided to feast at St. Viateru Bagel for breakfast - apparently a delicacy for which Montreal is proud. It is literally a hole in the wall with an exposed bakery and no option for egg and cheese on a roll, but the everything bagel was just delicious enough to enjoy naked and when paired with green tea from around the corner and the sunny breeze of a Sunday morning this foodie capitol suited me just fine.

Mile End, the neighborhood in which this eatery was located, reminded me of SOMA in San Francisco with it's mellow nouveau riche vibe. I meandered the streets looking for fun finds and quickly locating a used book store - one of my favorite places to visit when out of town. At this particular shop I picked up a book of antiquated euphemisms almost as old as me and far more offensive while listening to David Bowie - so I would consider it a success!

Deciding to leave the car where it was I literally walked the length of the city - in heels no less. Or at least it felt like it.

Wandering can be such a pleasant experience and with the perfect Bay Area weather and plenty at which to gaze this day proved that theory true. I managed to pick up a brightly colored African shirt, which of course sparked a cultural appropriation discussion, to pair with my Indian earrings as my regalos from Canada and, feeling so relaxed, opted for midday drinks along St. Laurent.

3 sips of a beer, a shot on the house and a pickle back were lazily consumed at Diablos as I chatted with a hippie couple and their well behaved dog from rural Massachusetts about being an artist and life. I may not be a journalist by trade, per se, but I do love talking to strangers and hearing their stories. 

With a relaxed buzz the wandering continued as we happened upon a haberdashery where I was tempted but could not bring myself to purchase a pricey head piece, yet my friend felt compelled to look at himself in the mirror wearing a variety of options for quite some time. Which was fine, it allowed me time to sit down and rest my barking dogs. 

Luckily this store was close to Schwartz's, which had been recommended to be my several people, as THE place to eat in Montreal, was close by. Hats in hand we went to this wait in line sort of place where I didn't realize smoked 'meat' was all they served. 

When option for the only poultry option, for which they are not known and for good reason, where I was promptly meat shamed and now vow never to visit again!

Then it was back to hoofing it again to the promenade of bugs, as the water and heat brought them out in droves.

Not yet having hung out down by the water properly it was time to sit in Old Town and consume one more drink - or at least attempt to. One more drink was partially had while seated next to a silent yet deadly couple comprised of a middle aged middle eastern man sporting a silver band and silly grin and a throw mamma from the train star look alike seated across from him, both silent as they drank their tea and are their crepes.I, of course was fascinated and dying to ask what this relationship was all about. 

This is sight seeing at it's best.

It was getting late, and cold and the hike back to the car was imminent.
Just as I suspected, the walk back was The Never-ending Story of walks and I was in need of my very own quicksand to envelop me. 

Rubins was like a personal trainer from hell always exclaiming just 2 more blocks when he and I both knew good and well the car was not 2 blocks away!

Eventually he went to fetch the car and I was left, cold, barefoot and alone on the corner of Fairmont and St. Laurent. I quickly realize that I could absolutely be left here naked and afraid in the great white north.

And for those of you who don't know me - most things white are terrifying or plain old repugnant.

I start work in 8 hours yet here I am dirty alone and in a foreign country - I certainly like to keep life interesting.

Luckily it wasn't too long before I was picked up and quickly showered, changed and repacked my bag with my new Canadian swag, as I had a crack of dawn flight to catch that would drop me in New York just in time to make it to work on time.

Merci beaucoup, Montreal. You were a great host for a birthday weekend.