well, today represented my best attempt at sponging up Montreal, in one day, on a budget. how did I do? I got up early, amazed that no one was snoring in the big hostel room, until I realized that I was probably filling that role--oops. norman mailer talks about the palpability of people sleeping in densely packed arrangements, and it is somethin special. reading his "the naked and the dead" was a through line of my day, as you will see.
it was pretty cool out, but I started sweating as soon as I got on my bike. maybe it was the millions of people commuting to work, I was a little skeert with how fast those ladies (seriously, mostly women) were charging the bike highway that I found. Montreal has a pretty active bike sharing thing going, and generally being on my was when I felt most comfortable.
which was something i thought about all day--the totally contradictory demands of being a stranger in a strange land. on the one hand, all i wanted was to blend in at the market i found myself at around 9a. the merchants were setting up their stalls, all business but handling the most beautiful and strange produce this side of Berkeley bowl, and I kept accidentally catching their eye and then hoping no one would speak to me. when i finally couldn't resist the "ontario sun" plums i approached the vendor, and she turned out to be one of only two people I've spoken to who didn't speak English. Needless to say, we didn't chat much.
I wound around the stands of eggplants the size of my butt, cabbages the size of my rib cage (seriously), organic tomatoes that you had to buy 5 kilos at a time (wtf?), hundreds of bunches of dried garlic, and a whole corner spot housing floor to ceiling chilis--on the vine, by the box, and dried. I picked up a bomb latte on one end of the market (and started the book), and an apricot beignet on the other. I wandered into two cheese shops, finally trying and buying some comte and summer sausage the second time, and a spice shop that had more things I didn't recognize than things that I did. I made circle after circle taking pictures and seeing things I wished later I had bought, or at least examined more closely. (Mostly, I just wish I had made friends with the mushroom man. There was a mushroom man!)
My next ride took me all the way across west Montreal, through residential blocks with identical brick houses and the "kitchen/bath warehouse" area of town (scintillating). It was about here that I realized that Montreal is just like someone took a european town and smashed into the mid-west. In so doing, it sprawled out into the flatness of middle-(North)america, became affordable, and changed KFC to PFK.
After some aimless, inadvertent canoodling through construction sites and blocks of paved-over public school playgrounds, made loud by uniformed pre-teens, I finally got back to my car. I wanted to check on Cass the Car, and took advantage of the neighborhoods quiet and the presence of Clark the KB to get some swings in.
I had thought at one point that I would ride to some of the islands east of the city, but bailed at this point in favor of eating my lunch in Westmount park. Some awesome old dudes decided that a little park should surround a big public library and a totally free greenhouse. I ate, and then took close-ups of flowers, and then fell asleep reading in the room next to a man reading arabic and another who kept chucklin at his new york examiner newspaper.
I kept riding up sherbrook, doing some of the most gritty city riding i have had to do yet in montreal. I got passed by this helmet-less guy who was barely pedaling but was able to melt his way through tiny cracks between bus and volkswagen, barely touching his brakes or turning his big north road handlebars. Amazing.
I had wanted to get some practicing in, and mcgill seemed to be the obvious choice, and I thought I'd try my luck. I breezed in, following students past the id checkpoints and keeping my head down. After my market travails, a hallway of practice rooms with a bunch of american accents around made me feel right at home. It was nice, and a little nostalgic of times at the conservatory.
I wandered through the place des artes in search of the contemporary art museum (free on Wed. nights), but when I couldn't find it I just sat out on the plaza and ate a little piece of snobby mexican chocolate from the market. other than gesticulating as startlingly as i could at the gulls and pigeons when they got too close, it was incredibly pleasant. dancing water fountains, sunset on modernist architecture, more of my book. I imagined the glass of wine my mom and I might share if she were here.
When it got a little chilly, I walked down to a pho place I had spied in the morning, and the soup was huge and great (a strange brain buzz a little late made me wonder about msg, though). Chinatown is great, and like most parts of Montreal, clean and pleasant and not too crowded. Everywhere feels so safe, but I have seen exactly three police cars. Midwest politeness raised to the power of Canada, with a healthy dollop of old-world decorum = no crime? maybe.
the sun set over the quays while I read some more before I spun back to my hostel. locking the door on my shower stall and the accompanying quietude was delicious.
a circle of hostelians are calling for me to join their drinking game. duty calls.