I just woke up from what feels like the most necessary Sunday siestas that just happened to happen on a Monday, having never fully lost consciousness during our redeye to #Montreal: I just sort of bounced between silent meditation and mindless scrolling on the airplane Wi-Fi.
This gave me a lot of time to reflect on air travel, curled up in the blue glow of the pressurized cabin, but I don’t know if I’m awake enough right now to express it properly. All I know is that I was feeling rusty; our suitcase still had the tag on it from our last flight – July 1, 2018, from BEY via DBX — that made the United States my home.
At several points along the way, my anxiety would melt into blissful gratitude for the opportunity to travel — contra all the clickbait telling us to feel otherwise. And several times along the way, I’d be yanked back to reality by the cold chains of otherness and circumstance. I think there’s a lesson in that tidal thrashing, back and forth. I still see the waves rolling over here.
My first impressions of Montreal were a lot like this art center in Griffintown, the old Irish working class neighborhood now gentrified and still gentrifying. The place is quirky and endearing, with things sort of randomly thrown together at first glance, but always with some underlying story that makes it make sense. I’m talking about the center but I think I’m also talking about Montreal.
We found this place because we needed to kill a couple of hours between the airport and our airbnb check-in, so bleary-eyed and overcaffeinated, we had a great time exploring this labyrinthine building established by steel magnates from Edinburgh, of all places. There’s an audio tour you’re supposed to take, but we were lucky enough to stumble on the founder of the center when we got there, who shared stories about the space and his life with disarming charm and humor.
At one point, Christine and I got separated and spent a good fifteen minutes popping in and out of rooms with people saying things like “she’s in the Italian room” or “he went downstairs.” It was all surprisingly delightful.
It’s very hot in Montreal right now; stepping out of the airport, I was punched in the gut with the kind of oppressive heat you read about in history books in chapters about summer riots.
My first couple of hours here were weird; things are a little more chaotic than I expected, and I found myself reaching for Mediterranean mental models to make sense of things in ways I didn’t anticipate – “it’s like Beirut” was a line that got repeated several times.
I’m still gathering impressions, but so far, I think this city seems a lot like our first night here: the Airbnb’s A/C doesn’t work but there’s an icepack in the fridge.
Montreal is also a lot like this famous diner: it’s been here since forever (the diner was established in 1947), people generally ignore your existence (there seems to be a silent agreement here that you will be ignored until a table is free), there’s a generally polite but far from friendly vibe (I think it’s because everyone’s overworked), and people are nice when it matters (they let me have our bill’s thermal facsimile when I asked to keep the actual bill and teased me about “autographing it” too).
Oh, and the food here is delicious. I’m even in love with Tim Horton’s americano.