Me, Mom and Montreal: La Finale (The Finale)

Montreal & hiking 045
The best part of this picture is the guy in the background stuffing his face.

IMG_9476On the way to Cora for round two on a delectable dejeuner — I could already smell my little cup of strong espresso, taste the sweet smooth medley of strawberries and cream surfing on the crispy shell of my chocolate brioche French toast — we ran into a large rally. The ranks were mostly women with children (and the odd single dad) and everybody was pretty fired up about their private health care services. Or the funding for the aforementioned services. Hard to tell exactly with my French rustier than an 18th century mine car rail…

We made it to our table — outside, bien sur — where our waiter, Stephen (with a torso like Adonis, perfect hair, the kind of charm that could melt an icecap and a job in the gay village… unfortunately for us, he probably liked boys) hurried over to get our order before the now marching rally eclipsed the whole street. By the time they reached us, their ranks had swollen considerably. The tide continued for some time, as we caffeinated ourselves to a soundtrack of chanting, pot and pan banging and the occasional noisemaker.

Before we left Cora’s patio to ravage the rest of the city, we asked Stephen if he could recommend a solid dinner locale. He pondered this request then said, “Well, if you’re feeling adventurous…” If so, there is a particularly interesting (and tasty) restaurant downtown where the wait staff is blind and the patrons all dine in complete darkness. How intriguing… we stopped by the hotel briefly to make a reservation.

And then it was a day as wide open as surprised green eyes. We hopped on the metro again at Berri-UQAM and rode up the green line, one stop past the Biodome/giant Roman smokestack. Today, the jardins botanique (botanic gardens) beckoned us inside its extensive grounds — at 75 hectares (Oh, Canadians) it kept us entertained for almost three hours.

IMG_9554 Promptly at 630, we ducked into the dim innards of O Noir. In the foyer — a black topped bar surrounded by charcoal walls, soft light and a blackboard that served as a menu — we placed our orders and ditched our belongings in a locker. Our server, Sophie, soon came out to meet us and guide us to our seats. She asked me to place one hand on her left shoulder and for my mom to place her hand on mine.

“Are you ready?” She said. “It’s very dark inside.” And it was — there wasn’t even an ink spot of light. Suddenly, we became completely dependent on our guide for passage into an unknown world. Sophie pointed out that there would be a curtain — soft, thick, velvety, it smelled of dust — and we would make a slight turn and, with our right hands, we would feel our seats — cold, plastic padded and heavy.

“Most people put their glasses against the wall so they can find them again,” said Sophie from somewhere to our left. “And if you want me, call my name.”

And with that, she left us to our own devices. Soft music played in a room that could have been deeply intimate or spacious and vast. People talked — in French and English — on either side of us.

Bread arrived, warm and fragrant. Buttering it was a unique challenge, as the pads of butter that slipped from my knife at least twice would remain in their invisible resting places forever. Our appetizers followed soon after; I had chosen a surprise appetizer — a soft, buttery, tender flesh atop a bed of… what? Eventually I discovered the rabbit food was  arugula, but the meat — which had me stumped like a professionally felled pine tree — was beef tartar. So much for my wizard-like skills under the cover of darkness.

Dinner for me was a crepe stuffed with duck confit and organic vegetables (half the fun was attempting to name which ones). After we had finished, at some length Sophie came over (she’d gotten busy) to lead the blind back into the world of sight and light. We spurted forth onto the streets, blinking like newborn kittens, shaking our stiff limbs over gray rain-wet streets.

There wasn’t much else to do except pack and ready our non-morning-person faculties for a (very) long day of travel… and continue — as we had done all day — to not drink the water. Mexico? No, Montreal. Since around noon (about half an hour after I chugged an enormous amount of tap water at the hotel), there had been a boil water watch for the greater Montreal area. In total, it affected 1.3 million Montrealians (one of the largest boil water watches in history) and was due to a 30 foot drop in the water at one of the treatment facilities. The drop introduced sediment into the water supply (“likely nontoxic but present,” said the city). So we ran our water through the coffee maker at least twice, brushed our teeth with bottled water and called it a day.

Le Programme Encore (The Encore, reluctantly played)

I’m sure many of us remember that ceaseless iterative song that starts with, “This is the song that never ends…” Our travel day quite literally was that grating ditty come surreptitiously to life. We:

1. Arrived at the airport and successfully checked in (because — probably because of my name snafu — we couldn’t do so the night before).

2. Waited until Jesus came back twice in security lines as announcements in French and English circled our eardrums, apologizing for the lack of security staff due to budget cuts (as a suspiciously security-looking type sipped coffee on the sidelines). The lines remained motionless; queued up for 30 minute stretches, I could have had a nap and missed nothing at all (except Jesus).

3. Made it through security (literally just on the other side of a thin wall) and then were able kick it in another line for 20 minutes to pass through US customs (wait, I thought we were still in Canada, aye?).

4. Hopped on our flight to Dulles International in DC — delayed around 20 minutes due to weather.

5. Arrived in Dulles to find the plane paused at the gate, awaiting a set of stairs. While the magical stairs were arriving, our 12:21 flight to Indianapolis took to the friendly skies sans two members of the Florence family.

7. Were re-booked by United on a 7 p.m. direct flight to Denver, which was brilliant until we found out it had been canceled.

8. Waited in the customer service line for 2 hours and 45 minutes to be re-booked on another flight to Denver that departed at 5:10, during which time I finished my book (while sitting on the ground), ate almost an entire bag of pretzel M&Ms, did some light Yoga stretches and listened to 18 other people complain loudly about their missed flights.

9. Found out our flight to Denver was delayed almost an hour, and would now leave at 6:05. I binged on espresso and considered melting down. Mom proceeded to be on the phone and computer for the next hour finding a place to stay (her brother’s) and re-arranging her shuttle and flight back to St. George.

10. Boarded the — no wait, my ticket would not allow me to board the plane. I stood aside while an entire school bus full of howling, gum-chewing, overly sugared middle-schoolers clogged up the hallway. United was having computer problems from here to Mongolia and the poor gate staff looked ready to pull their own hair out.

11. Really got on the plane around 6:10… which turned into 6:30… and then the pilot came on to say just as we were ready to blow this popcorn stand, a large, severe thunderstorm decided to park itself in our trajectory. They kindly turned on “Oz” and flight attendants came around with water.

12. Watched the clock tick towards 7:15…7:30… the pilot assured us we were first in line to depart. Happily, the girls next to me (friendly and from Fort Collins, Co) were drinking Bloody Marys (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). We were cleared to depart; “Oz” powered down, tray tables and seat backs were upright.

13. Heard around 8 p.m. that the Gods of Dulles had not indeed seen fit to let take flight after all. “Oz,” seat backs and tray tables were re-deployed. Outside both windows, I could see a dozen planes in haphazard row, like a bunch of bored seagulls.

14. Finally left around 8:30 — which put us into Denver around 11:15, which meant with public transportation we’d end up at Benjamin’s house (and mon voiture — my car) close to 1 a.m. Praise Allah, Mom found us a sweet nonstop shuttle that would get us to Benjamin’s front door by midnight.

15. Picked up the trusty ol’ Volvo at Benjamin’s, hopped across a few streets to Uncle Kevin’s where I dropped mom off and said a sleepy goodbye. Then, I drove 45 minutes or so up to Loveland and crashed face down, fully dressed, makeup still on (did I take off my shoes?) on the bed.

In the morning, I swore I would never get on another plane again… which all of you know to be a complete lie.

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Home sweet home!!

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