Sunday, June 28, 2009

La Belle Province (II)

Where did I leave off? Well, it was Tuesday night in Montréal and we'd just finished our bagels, so next on the docket was Sarah's favorite ice cream place, the name of which eludes me. (Since Sarah's in Brazil now, I can't crib from her notes any more about things were exactly called.) Suffice it to say it was excellent, like everything else in Montréal. I don't know if I've said this in as many words yet: I have half a mind to learn French and move to Montréal, because it seems like a perfectly scaled cosmopolitan city. Everything about Montréal gave me this feeling. Part of this reaction is that it's summer; in winter, rather like in Scandinavia, it gets dark and brutally cold and the suicide rate goes sky high. But in spring, it's an immediately amazing city, and after a couple of days there I only feel like my appetite is whetted.

That Tuesday night was a kind of island-evening of Montréalness, actually: we were just in for the evening, returning to North Hatley after a CD-launch concert given by one of Sarah's father's friends, a Celtic flutist by the name of Dave Gossage. (Sarah's dad passed away three years ago; I wish I'd gotten to meet him, since he was by all accounts a unique guy. His varied friends, many of whom we intersected with in Montréal, attest to that.) The music, through a five-man band (flute, drums, bass, fiddle, guitar, if I'm remembering that right) was high-energy with jazz traces, actually, and none of the new-age associations I was expecting from Celtic flutery. I'm really a fan of any music with a down-home earnest folkishness to it, and that itch was most definitely scratched, most directly by way of the endearing audience hoedown the last number inspired.

Wednesday was a quieter day; Sarah had scheduled a morning checkup appointment with her hometown dentist, who found a cavity in one of her wisdom tooth and yanked the damn thing out right then. So we took it a little easy after that, which was just as well since it was a muted rainy day. In the afternoon we drove 20 minutes through the hilly country roads (and their overexuberant 80 kmph speed limits, which I was never uncautious enough to approach) to a nearby quarry town, where Sarah had the errand of looking into a headstone for her dad's grave plot; in the evening we had family dinner with Sarah's store-owning aunt, then later on watched a DVD of the ludicrous 2008 Liam Neeson action vehicle Taken, which Pierre had pirated off the Internet into a distended not-fit-to-the-TV-screen version. Although if you made a list of all the unrealistic things about Taken, visual distendedness wouldn't crack the top 15. We caught the third period of one of the Penguins/Hurricanes game after the movie; I didn't feel like a very good Pittsburgher, needing to be displaced into Canada before I actually watched a Penguins game this season.

Thursday it was back to Montréal (about 2 hours from North Hatley, so the yoyoing isn't so bad) and to the bed and breakfast there, owned by another friend of Sarah's father, a Belgian woman who also makes chocolates, two of which, cocoa-powdered and elegant, were sitting in the fridge for us alongside the breakfast items. We shopped along the neighborhood's long promenade, the name of which eludes me, fortuitously closed off for a street fair. I took Sarah to her favorite jewelry shop, for a funky lilypad-looking silver ring that's been drawing comments since; she took me into department stores, where she tells me how good I look in shirts that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to me. We had dinner at a Middle Eastern place with three or four more friends-via-father; were handed off, in fact, her dad's urn from one of them (according to plan, again; travel and school had put shifted much of Sarah's logistic legwork to this year). Sarah's dad, by all accounts, would have found it amusing and appropriate to travel urnwise to dinner at a place named after Rumi and then go on to the symphony, where no one batted an eyelash about our lugging in a large green-velvet-enclosed object, despite there having been a major bomb scare in the Metro system that afternoon. (Well, major in inconvenience; minor in substance.) The symphony concert was a fine one, featuring Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe in full, which is just about what you want Kent Nagano and the OSM to put on. Somewhere around the Danse Generale it must have started pouring buckets, because we got absolutely soaked with that afterwards trying to get picked up by one of Sarah's high-school friends. We proceeded to a bar that was hip enough that I felt a little awkward trying to dry off my shirt at the bathroom blow-dryer. But an Irish coffee and a beer soothe most ills.

Friday we had sandwiches for lunch with more friends-via-father at a longtime Jewish corned-beef institution on that same shopping avenue; actually, some of that shopping must have fallen on Friday, although I don't remember how much of it. I think Friday was when we fell into conversation in one store with the elderly Jewish-Hungarian salesman named Harry, who was immediately gregarious and related the geographical shape of his life story and rolled up his sleeve to show us the number tattooed there from whichever one of the camps. In any case I think we were in at least one department store. It was still raining a little.

Gray skies over Montréal, as seen from the large city park whose name eludes me

Montréal has a fine contemporary art museum, near the symphony hall at the Place des Arts (I remember this much: "plass day-ZAHR," not "plass day ARTS"); I believe that was more or less our last marquee stop in the city, before a somewhat hairy drive to the airport (city detour: sign, sign, sign . . . sign . . . uh, no more signs) to pick up Sarah's brother Alexander, who lives in Vancouver but flew into town from Baku, Azerbaijan, where he'd been for work (the running of remotely operated deep-water submarines). On the drive back to North Hatley we stopped for dinner at La Belle Province, a fast-food chain specializing in poutine, a characteristic Québecois dish consisting of cheese curds and thin gravy over french fries. Poutine is salty and delicious, although a particular prerequisite is that you like cheese curds. I'm still torn about whether to pronounce it "poo-TEEN," which is phoenetic, or "poo-TSIN," which is with the Québec accent in effect. (I mean, it's not like I say "Ahrn City" when I'm ordering a beer. For a couple of different reasons.)

"La Belle Province" used to be Québec's motto; it's stamped on old license plates, which you can generally find in the antiques shop that your girlfriend's mother operates out of her home. The motto is now "Je me souviens," or "I remember," which also sounds like a nicety but has some degree of French-nationalist signification or connotation.

Much of Saturday was spent looking forward to a massive dinner gathering of family and friends; that night I got to more or less run the table in terms of meeting Sarah's North Hatleyan relations. The weather finally permitting again, we found time for a Lac Massawippi swim in the afternoon (by "we" I mean me and Alexander and one of Sarah's younger cousins; Sarah just laughed at us from the dock); the water was approximately as cold as it appears in the picture below, if less steel-gray, but surprisingly refreshing once you got your head underwater. (I guess that's usually the moral of the story that a lake will communicate to you.) My feeling is that if you're right there on a lake, you've got to swim in it. Although, come to think of it, I don't recall exactly instigating that excursion.

It's not a vacation until you have shirtless photos of yourself you can put on the Internet.

And that was pretty much that! We got an early start on the drive home Sunday, since we weren't going home directly, but rather to Morristown, NJ, where my college friend Andrea was getting married. Over to Montréal again, basically, then south through the Adirondacks and southern upstate New York. Back someday soon, I hope!


Anonymous Dad said...

2010 calendar picture!

6/29/2009 9:48 AM  
Blogger nate said...

Yeah, shirtless photos do typically find their way into the family picture calendars.

You make the case for the learn French / move to Quebec thing pretty convincingly. Sounds like a fantastic trip all around.

6/30/2009 9:12 PM  

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