Sunday, February 06, 2011

Canadian Adventure, Part 6: Mont Royal

After the Jardin Botanique and a lunch of poutine, I went to Mont Royal. The above picture of the city was taken from the top of the "mountain." Mont Royal is a very nice city park. It appeared to have many wilderness trails. Much of it, of course, was under snow at this time. I parked my car and wasn't really sure where to go; I just followed the crowds. I also remember that it took me awhile to park; I kept driving in circles.

You may notice a big bridge and a river in these pictures. Up until the moment I found myself on a large bridge over the Saint Lawrence river (and this was before I moved to Portland, so it was when I still had a slightly irrational fear of driving on large bridges), I didn't realize Montréal was an island. (I say "slightly irrational," because I heard an NPR special on people who are so afraid of bridges they won't leave the Island of Manhattan or similar islands, and that's when I realized the true definition of irrational fear of bridges. I just found it scary, for no good reason. I still drove over them. I'll admit I'm still not used to the very high-up I-5 bridge over the Willamette.)

I am proud of the following picture not only because it shows me at the top of a big hill, having climbed something, symbolic of my solo trip to Canada, but also because I successfully asked some Quebecois to take that photo in French. I even explained to them how to use an SLR! In French.

At the top of Mont Royal was this fancy building. Inside was a big empty room. I remember being a little confused about what its purpose was.

Between the building and the railing of the overlook was a terrace that was covered with snow and very thick, slippery ice. The terrace was a veritable skating rink. Strangers smiled and laughed together, holding onto each others arms, sliding and skating (with just regular shoes) to the railing.

The following are some nature photos I took as I hiked back to my car.

I stopped at a gift shop on Mont Royal to buy post cards, and found earrings made by local artists out of native plant materials. I bought a pair of huge dangle earrings made of the top of a fern frond in resin. Sadly, one of them broke last year; the dangle separated from the hoop and I didn't realize it until I looked in a mirror. The decorative part of that earring is lost forever. Maybe I can make a necklace out of the other one!

Back at my car, I realized that it was quarter to four. The cathedral I wanted to see was closed, or maybe it was closing at four. Either way, I wouldn't make it. It was not going to open tomorrow, in fact, many things would not be closed the following day, Sunday, for the recognition of St. Valentine. (Montréal is perhaps the most Catholic place I've ever visited.) It seemed like there was no point to staying in Montréal the next day. It seemed like there was no reason to spend money on a hotel in Montréal. If I left now and drove straight home, I would arrive around nine or ten, which was a perfectly acceptable time to get home. I decided to head south and see where the road took me. If I got tired, I would stop, but if not, I wouldn't stop until I got to New Jersey. I felt ready to go home, anyway.

It may seem strange that after all it took to get to Montréal, I was ready to go home after only seeing a few things. But sometimes, that's all a person needs. Sometimes, you're ready to go home and no exciting new thing will really register with you, because all you want is to be home. Or is it just me?

Autoroute 15 took me back to the border quickly. I stopped only to look for gifts at the duty free store. I was quite overwhelmed by all the jewelry, expensive booze, and fancy schmancy stuff they sell at those stores. I just wanted some wine and some kind of snack to bring to jury duty. I got a very pretty bottle of cidre de glace (the apple cider equivalent to ice wine) and a bag of maple sugar candies.

The border crossing into America was very different from what I'd encountered earlier that day on the Canadian side. Two booths were open and five cars waited, yet I sat for at least fifteen minutes.

I don't blame the American border guards. I don't think they are jerks on a power trip. I think they are stressed out and possibly overworked. They don't have a lot of power or resources, yet if something goes wrong, they get the blame for letting a creep into the country. So I don't blame the woman who interrogated me. My story was admittedly strange.

First, she asked for my passport. She asked the typical questions, such as what I'd purchased (I presented my duty free bag and, amused, she told me that she didn't need to see the ice cider or bag of candy), if I'd met anyone in Canada, how long I'd stayed and what I'd seen. These last two are where she stopped.

"You're telling me you drove all the way up here?" "Yes..." "From New Jersey!?" "Yes..." "To visit the botanical garden and insect museum!?!?!?!" "Yes......???" "By yourself!?"

The unspoken end of her question became clear to me, and I realized why she was so doubtful of my intentions and my story. You drove all the way up here from New Jersey to visit the botanical garden and insect museum by yourself...on Valentine's Day?

She began to ask more questions about me, some of which were repeats (which they do to make sure you don't change your answer, not because they are jerks on a power trip.) Who was I? Where did I work? (I always, when crossing borders back to the US, emphasized that I worked for the government. Like you! I would be hinting.) What was my occupation?

Here, it became clear to her, just as it had for the Canadian border guard.

"Horticultural that's why you went to the botanical garden by yourself [on Valentine's Day.] Ohhhhh."

She let me through.

Back in America, I stopped for gas in Plattsburgh and bought a Pepsi Max at a store that took Canadian money as well as American.

Here I will pause to offer some traveling advice. If you ever find yourself needing to do a long distance drive, especially at night, buy Pepsi Max and drink a regular glass/small bottle of it. Something about it, probably the ginseng, makes you able to really concentrate on what you're doing, which is driving. You get the awakeness of caffeine without the jitters. You will just stay awake as long as you need to, totally able to focus on the road. From that gas station in Plattsburgh, I did not stop driving until I needed to buy gas somewhere in Bergen County, in New Jersey. I believe I drove five hours nonstop. From there, it was not long before I had to decide whether to stay on I-287 to go to my apartment or to exit onto I-80 to go to my parents' house. It would be an extra twenty minutes of slow country road driving to my parents' house, but I didn't want to go to my empty, lonely apartment that I didn't even like. I went to my parents house where family, dogs, and cats were waiting for me.

A few days later, I shared my maple candies and my story with my fellow jurors, who'd also spent the weekend nervous, restless, with nightmares about the trial intruding their sleep. (It wasn't until deliberation that we could actually share the content of our dreams and worried thoughts.) You can read more about that trial if you're really curious. Less than two weeks after my Canadian adventure, the announcement was made at a staff meeting that made me feel I was at the point of no return, the point at which I could not progress much further at my current place of employment, that I'd be stunted or hindered from my full potential at every turn. That evening, I downloaded and filled out the application for a seasonal (yet valuable) position at the place that eventually hired me and brought me to Portland, Oregon.

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