December, 2009

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Experiencing the [Un]Familiar

Monday, December 14th, 2009

So how did this happen exactly? You entered a photo contest?

Yup. Exactly. My online ear is steadfastly flattened to the ground when it comes to anything remotely related to my favourite city, Montreal; so when Tourisme Montreal’s Montreal Insider and blogger extraordinaire hosted a contest asking for a picture showing a little Montreal love, consideration to the many possibilities did not take long.

‘Hmm… this might be an unintended use of that Montreal Metro map.’

From photo to win to the ceremonial passing of the white hat of western heritage and hospitability before brunch, every single moment of my free time consisted of wondering what Montreal would be like in the winter. Still contemporary, I’d guess, but also likely far colder.

We arrive, acclimatize for a night, and before we know it, it’s brunch, and we’re around a table with a small group sharing sweetbread, stories, and questions with each other. Deep snow and boutiques serve as a perfect background while laughter and affection-for-Montreal serve as the perfect foreground. This time sweetbread is a compound word: sweet bread; later on, we’d find, the word does not have such a natural etymology. There’s no better way to start any day than with a fun, warm, clever group of individuals that when you say a kiss, kiss good-bye you hope it won’t be for the last time.

Parting becomes only slightly easier when you know the next destination is a spa. I thought I’d experienced a spa and a massage and a pool before, but I was wrong. This spa is a metaspa. It takes stress drop kicks it, checks for a pulse, dims the lights, and then throws it under a bus for dramatic effect. It turns out Scandinavian spas have a ritual related to circulation—that while sounding like it may be cardiac emergency inducing instead has energizing results—involving complete rest and warmth (in a dry-sauna, steam room, or water fall pool) then rejuvenation in a splash pool (or shower of cold.

In between, is a lounge on a beanbag chair with a smoothie, magazine, and some water. Each person present is equipped with sandals, a robe, and tongue-drooping-out-of-mouth and half-dimmed eyes expression of semi-consciousness. Forget the massage, the space alone was incredible: with the exposed stones of Old Montreal and the muted lights of traffic behind waterfalls it was just as easy to get lost in the architecture of the surroundings as it was the ambient music and splashes. That said, the massage was unbeatable. Going in rested and melted it turns out is more conducive to a better massage than racing in nearly late from the latest blizzard into a waiting room somewhere.

The elephant in the room was that our experience would, at some point, end and as we got to the dinner portion of the evening that reality was gaining momentum. Just when you get to know a city expert, the good-byes draw near. You know when there are sorbet pallet cleansers, your meal is going to be good. You also know that when you’re joined by a SECOND Montreal Insider (turns out there are five) no stone will be left unturned. We wine and dine and laugh some more. It’s mentioned that when you are at a table with people from different walks and experiences you get to travel, right there at the table. It’s true. At brunch it’s mentioned that sweetbread is actually meat, and a specific meat at that, an animal’s glands. We laughed when that wasn’t the case. At dinner we order Sweetbread again and this time we prove to be too cocky: glands arrive. Actually, they tasted good; maybe, it’s one of those things where anything in Montreal seems fine, it’s a city where no harm can really be done. While a few recover, we make our way to the final destination of the day, well… night. In fact, a potential nuit blanche. We go to see a DJ and dance off some of our great eats. The backdrop our dear David Morales (who we also saw in NYC) is a fitting colourful puzzle of lights in perfect Montreal contemporary style. We see a few familiar faces, and then all give our hugs and good-byes.

My Montreal has always had two components I’ve loved equally. One, it’s a city where you’re never done exploring: there’s always more to see and do and learn and hear and experience. Two, it’s a city so conducive to getting to know people, in an atmosphere of calm and creativity and activity. This trip, yet again, I got to just enjoy the company of others and the quiet busyness of the city. I had never been inside the cathedral of old Montreal and had always meant to. I had never seen the festive side of the city. I’d also never seen the crazy intense snowblowers this place has. It was all new amidst the familiar. Yet again, though, I got to feel really connected with really great people. What better memories than those made with new friends, and familiar friends, and a exciting weekend adventure?

It makes me think about how I could create weekends like this more often? Who knew you could fit so much in to less than 48 hours. Luckily, I had total faith. If any city could step-up it’s this one; one I’m lucky to have discovered… and certainly lucky to have been invited, VIP style, to.

The smell of pizza, people, and rubber-tires…

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

As a crazy gift from the fates, I get to go to Montréal on Friday. For free!

Life in Calgary has been filled with so much new lately–new job, new graduate program, new nose–it’s crazy to think that it will take a trip to Montréal to feel life as familiar.

I was thinking to myself, probably as a means of paper-writing procrastination, when do I truly know I’ve arrived in Montréal? While there are a few great answers to that question, I’d have to say the real answer is in the depths of BERRI-UQAM Metro Station. It’s there with everyone waiting and reading, with the weather and news projected, and zooming off… I tend to feel like I’m somewhere pretty cool. Really it’s the smell, a sense super tied to memory, that probably does it for me, I think.

This is trip #9 as far as I can tell. A summer annual August Long (give or take a weekend or two on either side) will be the big #10. I like going somewhere that now feels familiar (although any snow will be a new twist). I also like going somewhere, where there’s a fairly good chance of seeing familiar faces for an evening out.

“On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp”… can’t wait to see what unfolds to bring back the rejuvenation to life here out west.

This is a city that had me at Bonjour, for sure!