Monday, June 22, 2009

From tranquility to travel horror . . .

Does that not look like a delicious breakfast I might have had in France? In fact, in the last five years of visiting Paris, we haven't come across cafe au lait served in bols, comme ça (if you know where we can find it, let me know). These bols and the wonderful, light, buttery brioche next to them, were enjoyed in Montreal where we overnighted on the way back (this is a much more civilized way of coming home, I have to say, splitting the jet lag and getting a glimpse of a favourite city as a bonus). Arriving late afternoon last Wednesday, we had a pleasant walk along Sherbrooke, Laurier, St. Catherine, to shake off the many hours in an airplane seat, and then enjoyed some great Indian food at Le Taj on Stanley. The next morning, waking very early and with hours to spare before our early afternoon flight, we decided to walk up to a little place at the foot of the Oratory, a place that has become iconic, for us, of Montreal. The walk's not a pretty one, heading from Sherbrooke up the flank of the mountain with the cars and the cement, but, as you know, we prefer the independence and the exercise of walking to fiddling with transit schedules and transfers. The weather was perfect -- 17 or 18 degrees, overcast but never doing more than spitting, and we resumed our Paris pace happily.As we approached the cafe, we passed this most amusing garden in a traffic island -- a laugh-out-loud bit of tromp l'oeil -- desert in the city! (that's a wooden bovine skull above, there's a real one 'round the other side) This is the kind of gardening my sister, Hilary, could get into -- right, Hil? (see Hilary's comment here, for an example of her gardening humour)

Luckily, before we too expired from heat, thirst, and exhaustion, we spied this oasis:

Yes, look closer, it's Le Duc de Lorraine, well worth the hike. Others might have spent the morning shopping on St. Catherine or wandering through Le Vieux Port, but from the moment Paul and I knew we'd have some morning hours in Montreal, we knew our destination. If you've ever had the coffee or the baking there, you'd understand.

Fortified, we decided to head 'round the corner to the Oratory and climb some stairs. I love this building -- the strong, modern, clean-lined interior echoes and interprets the sacred space of European cathedrals in a way that seems New World hopeful and convincing (and yes, I do think of the colonialist, problematic history that the site and the building comprise, but the architecture nonetheless uplifts me).

Already on a hilltop, these stairs, only the beginning of the ascent possible here, take one to a sweeping view of Montreal and the St. Laurence. We walked above them, around the Oratory through the gardens with their Stations of the Cross. Again, whatever one thinks of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, and its iconography, it's easy to admire the contemporary sculpture, particularly in this setting. The Stations are, in some way, it seems to me, an adaptation of the ancient spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth in their combination of physical movement and spiritual meditation, and this setting on the hilltop reminded me of recently walking the labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes.Here's Pater, enjoying the tranquility and the view.
Perhaps this quiet spiritual refreshment was what fortified me later in the day. For after all else had gone so well -- we got back to our hotel room in good time, packed up, grabbed a cab out to the airport arriving with ample time to check in and have a decent lunch before boarding -- can you believe that no sooner had I got inside the airport when I realized I didn't have my purse? Neither could I! I had my larger shoulder bag; I had my pull-along carry-on suitcase, but no matter where I looked, my cross-body bag containing wallet, passport, and any other possible identification was not with me. Paul sprinted as soon as I told him, but too late, the cab was gone. And we no idea which cab company, aucune!
I'm so pleased with myself in retrospect that I kept my head, even while panicking (I know, an oxymoron, but believe me, that's what it felt like). I went to the Information desk and told a very helpful man that I needed to get the number for our hotel -- he dialed it for me and I got the concierge, who told me the name and number of the cab company. Meanwhile, Pater had run down to Arrivals to see if the cab might have joined the line-up there, but no luck. The cab company dispatcher had me on hold forever and ever (and by my watch, over ten minutes, anxious minutes!), such that only the absence of a dial tone reassured me that anything was happening. So Pater got my cell phone, down to only two bars of battery power, and dialled them. Apparently, they'd figured out which driver, left him a message, but he wasn't calling in and hence the wait. Twenty minutes after I first called them, he'd called in and was on his way back to the airport (he had my purse, and also the black straw Trilby I'd picked up at Uniqlo in London and was apparently tired of ;-)). You can perhaps imagine the relief -- but I still couldn't relax and it was a very long thirty minutes 'til an awkward cabbie had to endure hugs from a madwoman in the middle of the Montreal Arrivals area!
So now I have to my travelling experience credits one missed TransAtlantic flight (I was 18, it's a long story) and one purse lost two hours before a flight. Both experiences ended happily, and this is what I will try to remind myself when they try to haunt me, as they surely will.
Comments? Any airport adventures? French breakfasts outside France? Whimsical gardens? Leave me a note -- hearing from readers is much more fun than writing in a vaccuum.


  1. Oh my what an adventure. I think I would be beside myself, although probably appearing fairly calm. I would have just collapsed into a heap once I was settled in the plane, completely spent. Thank goodness nothing like that has happened yet, although I've had a few adventures.

  2. Remember our brief stop in at Bonjour Brioche? Bols abound; I also use them at home.

    I once sat in the bar of O'Hare enjoying a drink and watching my San Francisco flight take off (without me) because I forgot to reset my watch to local time.

    Glad you got your bag back but at least if you have to lose it, you were in your own country!

  3. OK airport adventures, I could write a blog on these alone. How about changing planes on transit to Dubai and mistakenly leaving the terminal so I had to recheck in after the departure board had closed and plead with security to let me back in and the beg and plead to be allowed on the plane, somehow my ticket was now without my luggage barcode so i had no leverage. Some how I did it.
    Getting to the airport ready to fly to Stockholm, feeling smug, until I realised I had forgotten Leyla's push chair and Emin had forgotten his coat, Leyla was only 3 and it was Christmas in Stockholm.
    We then got so carried away shopping we were called for and had to run for what seemed like a mile to get to our gate.
    I have so nearly missed so many flights it's painful. I feel like I never learn.
    Best Parisian breakfast? London, we do way better croissants! and a descent sized latte their portions are sooo miserly.
    I am so glad you got your purse back
    My best most whimsical garden was on a very small island off the west coast of Scotland, you cross a bridge to it over on the west side of the island was the most adorable vegetable patch identical to Peter Rabbits, I wish I had my camera but it was school trip and some how did not have it.

  4. Wow, good for you for keeping your head - I would have been a wreck! I haven't had anything like that happen so far (touch all available wood). I giggled though at Duchesse's story of having a leisurely drink whilst her flight was taking off (I'm sure it wasn't at all funny at the time).

    My oldest went on an end-of-year field trip to Montreal in grade 6 and visited the Oratory - he was extremely impressed by it.

  5. I am glad that story had a happy ending!! My worst one - worse than missing a flight, which I've also done - was when we were flying out of SF back to Sydney, after three months of travelling, and I managed to drop my PASSPORT. Fortunately, we were in the airport, and I only had to endure the humiliation of hearing my name called out over the loudspeaker in order to retrieve it. But I did have a few moments of panic.

  6. Mardel: I was rather proud of myself for keeping my head -- I kept saying to myself that I mustn't panic, then interrupting to say that surely if ever there were a time for panic, this was it!
    Duchesse: Yes, I've enjoyed the bols in Canada before (especially at Ottawa's Byward Market) but haven't seen them in Paris. Have you?
    Love! your story about your plane leaving as you enjoyed a drink!
    Alison: I don't know if I could stand to travel with you -- my tolerance level for stress is way too low;-)
    I can almost picture that great little garden!
    Patricia: Isn't that a great story of Duchesse's? -- she actually makes me feel I'm more sophisticated for having my own travel disaster stories!
    As do you, Tiffany -- I've never managed yet to be one of those names called over the airport loudspeaker, but you've already crossed that one off your life list! ;-)

  7. That was a wonderful adventure. Love the views. Thanks for sharing. I'd love to see more from you. Have a great day.=D Would you be so kind to link me up, please? let me know if you're ok with link exchange.=D

    A Writers Den
    The Brown Mestizo

  8. Losing ones purse at any time is stressful, but just before a flight leaves, oh boy! I'm glad it all turned out well and quickly. You were probably still feeling zen from your lovely morning perhaps?

  9. I blogged my Italian airport adventure last year - but that didn't exorcise it - thinking about it still brings me out in a sweat!

  10. Solo: I'm sorry, but your blogs are all to commercial for me to consider linking to. All the best with your enterprise.
    Cybill: I'm not sure if zen would be the mood, but I was able to keep my cool -- Pater was puzzled when I started leaking a few tears in the boarding room half an hour letter when, to his mind, it was all history. . .
    Lesley: I'm heading over to hunt that post out now. Sounds as if a year isn't enough lapsed time to allow one's travel horrors to impart that air of sophisticated experience to the story . . . sweating and sophistication, hmmm?

  11. my travel horror story is recent and also from Montreal. The lost luggage with all my clothes including the ones appr.for the business meetings I was there for which started @ noon the next day & I arrived at the airport @ midnight! I remained calm only because I had too because I was being a grownup on a business trip but I really wanted to sit down and cry.
    Best whimsical garden anywhere recyled or reclaimed item used creatively outside. There's a house on 7th ave with an old stove planted up in the front yard, flowers cascading out the front from the top burners. makes me smile everytime I run by.

  12. Hilary: See, now you're validating my preference for carry-on (although, sadly, my little case would sadly mash your best business suit!). So I hope the grownup was rewarded by at least getting a decent new pair of Montreal-sharp shoes -- not so easy to shop creatively between 10 and 11, under the gun of a ticking clock, I'm sure! Was there a happy ending? Did the airline give you a trip to Hawaii to make up for the inconvenience? (Ha!!)
    I'm going to have to see if I can find that garden -- good way to recycle, but with the high price of metal these days and the subsequent thefts, that might be a risky creativity . . . Apparently thieves melted down a recently-stolen Rodin sculpture for the metal -- warn your gardeners! ;-)


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