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.