From September, 1998:
I was flying out of of Orlando International, always lovely. As I headed to my gate, I observed a young lady, a classical musician carrying a viola in a soft case who had found a quiet row of seats in a long bank of them away from the TV’s and blaring speakers. It was also an ideal place to watch the people passing by.
Once ensconced in my downtown hotel on Sherbrooke Street, I walked outside. The first thing I saw was a massive planter in the middle of the sidewalk. A water truck, bearing the proud emblem Ville de Montreal, sprouted a nozzle which hovered over the planter, spraying water on the big assortment of flowers growing in the planter.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to a loud, but muffled, sound. I thought that the pipes in the building were making noises when someone used the water. An insistent whumpa, whumpa, whumpa filled my ears. Then faintly, I heard a woman moan. Oh, oh, ohhhhh. Oh, oh, uh, ohhh. Whumpa, whumpa, whumpa, oh, whumpa, oh, oh. So, that’s what it is, I thought.
I saw a woman in the hotel elevator and a woman walking in a mall who wore sweatshirts that said in big letters, USA. Apparently, they wanted to send a message, and it was not one of blending in with the local culture.
5 September: At the International Festival de Film du Monde I went to a movie, “The Red Dwarf,” a French-Belgian production. It was in black and white. Before the movie there was a short-take film, “Telephone,” which was banal.
Before “The Red Dwarf” started, the director said a few words under the spotlight. He was soft spoken, so much so that few people in the theater could hear him. People shouted “fort,” and the lady announcer showed him how to hold the microphone. Then he said some words with modesty.
I was overwhelmed by the movie. Its brilliance was a work of genius; the photography first class; the acting and story very good. Walking down the street after the movie, I found myself fighting tears, not because I was sad, but because I had just experienced a work of art timeless in its craftsmanship. But it was beyond mere competence; the experience might be described as transcendental.
After a short break, I went to another movie. The experience was antithetical to the first movie–for me. Taste being the subjective variable it is, some people may have loved the second movie. No doubt, also, the projection room operator had something to do with making this second experience so different. The sound was such that a door shutting sounded like a bomb going off; the music was louder than a poorly-worked rock concert; and a bomb did go off in the film twice. Even though I wore earplugs throughout the movie of a type that are especially effective, when I left the movie I felt shell shocked as if I’d just come off a battlefield. How much of it was psychological and how much physiological I don’t know. But it was only hours later that I began to get over it. No doubt I am in the minority–maybe with the several out of three or four hundred who got up and left early–because many laughs were got out of the audience, and many people were happy after the film. The young lady, toute-en-noir, who sat next to me with her feet propped up high in the chair in front of her for most of the movie, seemed delighted afterward, as people were leaving. I sensed that she wanted to talk, but my state of mind was such that all I wanted to do was get out of there and recover.
The second movie had several famous French stars in it. In fact, it was about a couple of losers who eventually held the real stars hostage. There was acting talent, there was a budget, there was every ingredient, except the aesthetic sensibility of a master director coupled with a winning script. The mindless violence must appeal to a mindset I totally lack; they can go to these flick; I’ll take mine from a different cup, when I can know the difference.
A keyword I think of when trying to tell the story is refinement. The first movie was infinitely refined, the second without a hint of class.
In the hotel, the elevator smelled of 10,000 kinds of cologne, most of it stale.
6 September: Had a long (2 hour) talk today with a 82-year-old woman named Joanna Hilliard. I was heading towards the hotel, when I spotted a new bench by a grassy field with new grass growing. It was just the sort of bench I was looking for. Hurriedly I sat down, glad that no group had claimed it. Bench sitting is a major activity, especially when thousand of people are constantly streaming by.
The weather was perfect with a high of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the September Montreal evening, later a balmy breeze blew: shirt sleeve weather.
As elderly lady walking with a cane approached the bench and asked me if she could sit there. I welcomed her. She was dressed in old, stained or dirty clothes, but it was not until I had been talking to her for two hours that I even noticed. She was intelligent, with a lot of opinion and information to share. She told me of her life, the story of Montreal, recent and past histoires about the French, daily life in Montreal, the ice storm, her previous employers, politicians, and about people she knew. She answered all my questions patiently, and I shared some stories with her, too.
After six days in Montreal, I began to feel myself in the rhythm of the city. I found myself speaking more French than English. For about four dollars $US, I got an obscenely large meal, which I was surprised to have eaten all of. Before I ordered at the Fontaine Naturelle in le Fouberg on Saint Catherine Street, the woman sitting down preparing vegetables kept smiling at me, then hopped up when I got to the ordering counter. She gave me a free dish of fruit salad when I changed my mind from that to a lentil salad for one of my choices. I had Chicken au Gratin, potatoe salad (with large chunks of carrots) and the other items mentioned. Afterwards, I had my fourth cup of coffee of the day at A. L. Van Houtte, this time choosing a milder, rather than a stronger, coffee for a change.
I had earlier another long talk with Ms. Hilliard, whose bigoted prejudices were annoying; she was pleasant to talk to all the same. She told me that she never had children, when I asked, and said she did not regret it. She said she knew people who had trouble with their children, then trouble with their grandchildren, then even trouble with their great grandchildren. She complained that the problems with winters in Montreal was that it was slippery.
I had a plane leaving in the morning, and it had begun to rain in earnest. I decided to buy two croissants and maybe a pain au chocolat for breakfast, then go to my room, prepare to depart and turn in early.
I had done little shopping except for a few books and a necklace for my lady. I thought of buying gifts for others, but most of the stores I saw were not necessarily selling unique merchandise. The cheapest I saw Maple–the Beanie Baby–selling for was 320 $CD. The necklace I bought was a unique piece, however, at a very good price.
Live X-rate establishments were just about everywhere, usually with small storefronts, but occasionally a large storefront. I never visited, but wondered if I had seen any performers amongst the women walking the streets. No doubt I had.
Somehow the six-and-one-half day visit seemed about right. There was a yard in Orlando that needed mowing, and no doubt the neighbors would soon be edgy. I decided to return in the winter, when the snow was piled high, to see what it was like, and how I cold adapt (if I lived there). A trip to Jamaica was also expected in the winter, and well as occasional trips to Tennessee and Virginia, so vacation time was as especially valuable commodity not to be wasted, considering how little vacation a corporate employee gets in America. There were many people where I worked who disapproved of vacations, choosing to admire those souls who worked overtime all their lives and never took a vacation. The shallowness of their narrow viewpoint corresponded with the remarkable inefficiency of their long hours. There were those who did in five hours what others might not accomplish in sixty, but with no reward for performance, a certain ennui was omnipresent, causing, among other things, unhealthy stress levels. Still, the work was interesting and the pay excellent.
After having returned to Florida, having reflected on my last trip to Montreal for a few weeks, the most enduring memory of the city was not its endless charm of artistic endeavors everywhere, its crowds of people at all hours roaming Saint Catherine Street and its environs, or the cultural environment, bu the overwhelming warmth and friendliness of the people on average (there were, as always, exceptions). I felt strong desire to move to Quebec, but realize that speaking French well is a necessary requirement to be successful there. The French they speak in Quebec though, about which I’ve bought two books, ca, c’est une autre histoire.