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This is it, my summer vacation – three days in Montreal with almost no agenda, away from chaotic house, family, work. And what better place – how I adore this fabulous city. Chris and I landed here early, got the bus in from Dorval – speaking both French and English to the helpful bus driver – I was dropped where I’m staying, with my friend Glenn, and Chris went on to his Inn nearby. We’re in north-east Montreal, the Plateau, a wonderfully diverse area. I had barely greeted Glenn and unpacked when Chris appeared, anxious to begin our day.

Which consisted of walking, walking, walking. Boulevard St. Denis, St. Laurent, Mont Royale and all around. There was a street festival on St. Laurent, the street closed to traffic and packed with people, and – what joy – Schwartz’s, the famous smoked meat deli, had tables outside on the street. A long line of foolish people stood in the broiling sun waiting for a table inside, while Chris and I sat under a tent with the smart folk. Schwartz’s is a ritual in Montreal, particularly for anyone with Jewish blood, aka moi. Chris hardly eats meat so he just drank his habitual ghastly gallon of diet Coke while I ate a large smoked meat sandwich with a pickle, and we watched Montreal stroll by.

And then we strolled by too, walked all afternoon, up and down and around, I bought – of course – a purple disposable fountain pen and a Clairefontaine notebook. We stopped in Jean Coutu, a completely French store, and I asked the young woman with the piercings for “sun block.” “Quoi?” she asked, puzzled. I explained, la creme to keep from getting burned. “Oh!” she said, the light dawning. “Le sun screen,” and led me there.

We went home to rest – Glenn has a tiny pool and I had a swim while we chatted, and a snooze – and then I walked to meet Chris for dinner. He took me around Parc Lafontaine where he’d spent an hour, a big central urban park, what Toronto lacks, full of people sitting on the grass, picnicking with glasses of wine, making music, sleeping, partying. He said he’d sat next to a group playing guitars and lutes and then near two women singing French-Canadian folksongs in perfect harmony. A great place.

This is a city of bicycles – I am so envious, safe car-free bike lanes, rental bikes on every corner, everyone cycling.

We wandered, watched, admired. We stopped at the window of a hair salon to ogle the extraordinary spotted cat in the window – a Bengal cat, the owner said, part leopard cat and part domestic – looking like a very small cheetah. “Catvertising,” he said, handing out cards. Chris adores animals, so we stopped numerous times to pet and stroke and chat. It was, incidentally, broiling hot all day. Finally, we found the perfect restaurant for dinner on St. Denis – elegant but not expensive, inside and cool but with the whole front open to the street. I ordered wine, and the waiter explained that I had to bring my own, but that there was a SAQ to buy wine nearby. So after ordering, with Chris contentedly sipping his diet Coke, I went to the SAQ to buy a half-bottle of white. The store was full of people doing the same thing; every second person on the street was carrying a bottle of wine. So CIVILIZED. So much cheaper.

Our handsome young waiter told us in French, at the end of the meal, that he was from the small northern town of Val d’Or, and that he’d never expected to meet people from Toronto and Vancouver who spoke fluent French. We were honoured to be ambassadors for anglophone Canada.

We walked back. Everything – the relaxed pace of the city, the architecture – silver mansard roofs, winding black stairscases stuck to the front of houses – the looming presence of the Catholic church, the French language everywhere – made us feel, I hate to say it, that we were not in another province, but another country. People walking out of the corner store with a litre of milk and a six-pack of beer. A young man cycling along with his baguette – like France, except so much more casual. People so friendly, in both languages. Parc Lafontaine, at 9.30 at night, full of people, children playing, long picnic tables with friends and families celebrating, candles, barbecues, fancy fare – making their own restaurants in the park.

Now back at Glenn’s, my feet aching, beginning, at last, to relax. No walls coming down, no infestation. Though funnily, Richard the termite man was at the island airport on his way to Halifax, so we had a brief discussion about the situation at the house. I’ve checked in by email – all seems to be well.

I am happy to be here and not there, for a while. Je suis tres contente d’etre ici, dans la belle province.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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