06 June 2012

Montréal Week 1: I forgot a camera so it's time for the thousands of words approach

May 25

Smooth flights, other than a descent to Montreal that was unpleasant for my ears and stomach. Clouds that looked like cardboard cutouts on picturesque backgrounds. Sunrise off the mountain snow. Very unhappy kid on the bus to Berri-UQAM. Somehow got luna bar all over my wrists and shirt on the plane. Attractive. Surprise thunderstorm as I left the grocery store; rain is not something I prepared for, clothing-wise, and there was a lot of it.

May 26

Had an extended conversation with one of my roommates! She recommended going to Old Montrea, so I did. Found a very cool old, big, rusting building on the docks. Not sure what it was, but I feel in love with it. Also walked in a lovely park. (Trees!) I liked seeing green stuff a lot. Next, an art museum drew me in by being inside of a castle. It was mostly full of stores or galleries that cost money, but one store had a great dress out front, and one callery had nifty ceramic sculptures made to look like wood (I think) and then decorated with splatters of paint. And a sculpture that looked like a sea anemone. The cafe also had surprisingly cheap paintings; it's almost tempting to buy one when they aren't multiple hundreds of dollars.

Found a whole gallery (the "Michel Ange Gallery") full of the simple/splattery/modern stuff that I love. Another gallery had paintings that were detailed building/cityline sketches that then got a treatment of blurring and abstractness. Lots of vibrant oranges and reds. Love it.

Home. Nap. Left to find train station: success! Takes 25 minutes to walk there. Went into Zara, annoying music, non-good clothes, kinda neat sneakers and sandals. Not a fan of the number of people on that part of St Catherine's. Bought a maple syrup candy (tasty, made my teeth hurt), saw a ring that was nice, might go back and hunt for it. Ran into two buskers playing accordion and clarinet. (A duo after my own heart, surely.) Watched for a couple songs before they got interupted by a crappy electronic smooth jazz band playing out of a rooftop restaurant.

Felt happy that I'd only spent 2$ so far. Seeing that Gogol Bordello was playing at a theater made me think I should find a show-type thing to see. Wimped out of asking what was happening at the New Word Theater. (Everyone looked so busy!) Wandered into another mall-type art gallery. Saw that an opera's last date was May 26. Thirty seconds after asking whether the opera was in said building (it was), I had a ticket. Charles Gounod's Faust was lovely. Mephistopheles blew my mind. The director made the questionable decision of splitting Faust into two actors, one of whom got to stand around awkwardly while the other sang. (If there was symbolic meaning to things that only happened to one Faust but not the other, it eluded me.) The set was cool: about ten rectangular pillars/bookshelves that could be pushed around the stage and used to manipulate the lighting in lovely, geometric ways. The costumes also blended modern style - e.g. hoodies under coats - with more traditional peasant and military and aristocratic clothes without being at all campy, a cool accomplishment. Pretty sure I was the only person in a t-shirt and sandals. Woops.

Saw the first sign of student protests so far on the way home. They had a solid, marchy rhythm going.

May 27

Free museum day! First, Pointe-à-Callière for some Montréal history. Cool (very old) buildings, hand-made, wobbly nails and shoes. A nice lesson.

Next, Redpath Museum at McGill. Pretty campus. (Trees!) A half-hour wait in the sun. A museum full of cool rocks; I love quartz and copper and a few other minerals, real purty. Fossils (highlight: Japanese spider crab!) and other old things. Chinese dentistry banners with hundreds of teeth hanging from them! Ancient African xylophones! A coin with a great, scared-looking owl on it. My feet started to hurt and my stomach was empty. Search for somewhere to eat: ended up eating penne romanoff on the second floor balcony of an Italian restaurant. I'd never eaten outside, up in the air before. I liked it. Satisfying. Tasty.

Last, the Musée d'art Contemporain de Montreal. Unfortunately  my roommates weren't equally fond of abstract modern art. Lots of beautiful splatters! Optical illusionesque pieces that did mean things to my retinas. Fun with geometric shapes and paint textures! An exploding playdo zebra, complete w/ coconuts! Arachnid-looking crabs from my nightmares! Violent, mildly pornographic claymation! Dozens of strands of barbed wire hung on nearly invisible strings which played delightful tricks on the eye if you walked in circles around them and provoked "How are those hanging there?" reactions. Tetris-esque sculptures that took great efforts of the will to refrain from playing with them. I liked it quite a bit and wouldn't mind going back for seconds.

Home. Quality chatter with roomates, and an introduction to a new one. Nighttime perambulation around the neighbourhood. Eggs, mustard. Phone call home. Bedtime. More of Tommy Pynchon's V.
A frustration: I can get through the "Allo! Comment ca va?" basics in a conversation, but as soon as they throw anything more novel at me, it takes me a second to digest and interpret what was said. In that second, they've usually switched to English.

May 28

Introduction and evaluation day at Explore. Was fairly social with the other students. The evaluation test: it was cumulative and we were told not to guess. I had trouble distinguishing between uncertainty and guessing. Lots of "I remember learning about this, but not what the rule is. Well, this one sounds right!" moments. Oral exam was nice. It's interesting being in a conversation where my language, not the subject matter, is being evaluated. I took opportunities to go off on tangents that very few non-me people would find interesting. After ten or so minutes my mouth dried and my brain crashed. Luckily, it was only a couple more minutes before he (Gustaveau) let me go.

Home. Nap. Devouring of "Events in Montréal" brochurs. (Zaz on June 16!) and other Explore handouts.

School. Boring lecture about the rules of the program. ("Show up! Not drunk! Speak French!") and a rehash of stuff I'd already read in the calendar.

Bus station. Guy with rotting teeth and pregnancy-like tumour told me a heartbreaker about how he needed 30$ to stop his stomach from bleeding. Enough of me thought it was a ploy to steal celphones that I was unhelpful. (Am I a bad person?) He ditched at the first sign of me not having cash.

Lynne! Nice seeing her so far from home. Dinner with her lovely, interesting sister Joanne and Joanne's interesting husband Evan. More Québec history. Intelligent insights into the student proetsts, police brutality, and the NDPs surge. Pasta, ricotta cheese, asparagus. Tour of their vegetable garden: strawberries, kale and nettles, oh my!

Joining the student  protests. (My view: I tentatively support being against raised tuition; I whole-heartedly support protesting the "let's make protests hard!" law. When the Explore instructors described Bill 78, it made me think I should get marchin'.) Caught up with a couple dozen strong group roaming the neighbourhood. Banged a spoon against a bowl 'til it splinted. (Oops.) Headed home thru Parc Jarry (the one that hosts Roger's cup) because none of us had bus fare. The protests are satisfyingly communal; I glowed a little as, from a roadside patio, an aged man in a pinstripe blazer looked on us approvingly and clapped. But they're also eerie. Eerie because I'm throwing my support behind a group whose views are probably many, and of those there's probably some I don't agree with. I'm a big fan of fine distinctions, and protests don't seem to be in that game.

Cheese bread. Bus stop swing dancing. home. V. (Tom P. published this thing when he was 24! I need to get going.) And I need a pair of sneakers for a trip to a forest, apparently.

May 29

Got into Niveau 6 of Explore; I must be French smart! There's an intimidating girl who can talk without pausing for words or grammar. Lots of courseword. (3 presentations!) A challenging challenge, but it seems like the right level for me. Harder work means more learning? It'll build character?

(Forgot to mention: lightning storm at 3 am. Thunder woke me with dreams of crashing sheets of metal.)

Lunch. Couldn't find a computer. Frustration.

More classes. Stressed about coming up with two truths and a lie for a game. Less tiring than the first three hours overall, though. Learned the etiquette of "tu" vs "vous" and the history of Québecois French.

Finally found a computer. Meeting Jocelyn, Cathy and Ross at the Tam Tams on Sunday. Torrential rain started. I hoped that it would stop so that I could meet Lynne at Mont-Royal. Messaged her too late that I wasn't coming. Sat with Explore folks at a bar attached to the UQAM. The building flooded; power went out. I felt bad for the staff.

Home. Call from Lynne that she and Joanne missed me at the mountain. Guilt. I could've sent a "don't come unless rain stops" e-mail, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Too tired to formulate new plans clearly with Lynne. missed one of a half dozen days where I'll be able to see Lynne. Missed home, where spending time with her is so much easier.

Thrice was playing tonight but I didn't go. Not sure why. Maybe not used to bands that I want to see playing near me regularly. And tired.

Not feeling too great. Lil' bit of tears. Speaking of, residences has water in all sorts of places it shouldn't be: the lobby (rain), our living room (probably rain), and our bathroom (leaky sink). Sigh.

May 30

Class was much less intimidating today - Emile Nelligan, analyse de phrase, marqueurs de relations, relations logiques. I feel relief that I'm not in totally over my head.

Lunch. Bought The Count of Monte-Cristo (en Francais). Noticed later it was only part 1. Finding part 2 might be hard. Finishing part 1 might also be hard. (Page count: 796).

Another trip to Vieux Montréal. Brick skyscrapers. Banks engaging in neck-and-neck battles of architectural opulence. An impressive array of underground tunnels linking much of downtown; they helped me discover a quality-seeming bakery near my home.

Home, briefly. A successful bus trip to Lynne's home base. (Triumph!) Apologies for yseterday. Indian food and apathetic waiters. Rd 2 of the Musée d'art Contemporain. Only made it through the "Zoo" exposition before closing time. Beautiful, gold-lacquered carvings of the Chinese Zodiac. Did I mention the exploding playdo-yarn-coconut zebras? Seeing Lynne is really nice and super great. Joined a student protest. Clumps and lines of riot cops are intimidating things. Thousands of people on the street is inspiring.

My feet are starting to seriously hurt. As soon as my sandals are off, I limp about my residence like a crippled thing.

May 31

Realizing I need more downtime than I'm giving myself. Low energy levels have become a near-constant state of existence. It's hard with not TV or computer to unwind in front of. I should probably at least move a chair into my bedroom. I lay in bed for an hour tonight listening to music and it was blissful.

In class, while writing in French, I realized that writing in a second language can be artistically liberating. You have no stock vocabulary of phrases to draw upon: no "downtime" or "unwind in front of". You don't use clichés; not because they're bland, but because you don't know any of them. And if you don't care about using the right phrases, it creates room for cleve and fun constructions. Maybe that's what's behind Vlad Nabokov's exhilerating and creative English prose, although I suspect his knowledge of English vastly exceeds most natives.

 Anyway, in class we wrote comedy sketches. I was intimidated by the idea at first, but Québecois sayings are fun and once we got working and performing, the whole thing was relaxed and fun.

In the afternoon, we hiked Mont-Royal. I was hoping it'd be around 1.5 hrs, but it was more like 3. Poor, poor feet. McGill's campus is super pretty, lovely buildings, lots of trees. Being on a path w/ trees on both sides was wonderful, reminded me of home. Found a beautiful building at the Mont-Royal lookout with squirrel statues on the support beams and a massive ballroom. Walked back through the cemetary and a fancy neighbourhood with lots of beautiful brick houses.

Home. Fatigue. Dinner. messed up making rice. Ate away from the table to hide my shameful rice goop from roomates. Slept.

June 1

Explore today: a trip off the island to Mont Rigaud. Departure had a couple hitches: despite warnings that we'd leave at 8:30 sharp, the buses got stuck in rush hour traffic, so leaving was more like 9. Next, after some windey forest roads the buses could barely fit through, we came to the wrong place: the staff expected a bunch of fift graders but got a bunch of university students. After that, we found Mt. Rigaud.

First activity: strapping myself into a harness, then doing obstacle courses and riding ziplines up in the trees. I chose the beginner level to start off, and was glad I did. By the time I got on the first platform - ten to fifteen feet up - my hands were shaking something fierce. Trusting my caribiners, I persevered. Managed to finish courses 1 and 2 before getting tired/hungry enough that I wasn't having fun anymore. Missed out on the climax of the third stage; a triumphant zipline out of the forest, across a field, and onto the balcony of the main building. Unfortunate, but apparently the third stage was long.

Lunch. Activity no. 2: a combination of elastics and trampoline that kept you safe and let you jump super high. Fun, but fleeting fun, since consecutive backflips are the only real skill you can develop the contraption.

Activity no. 3: a climbing wall. I didn't know the "push with legs whenever possible" rule, so I barely made the top. My forearms were awful shakey at that point. But I might search out some walls in Victoria when I get back, because my hobbies lack upper body exercise.

Time for home, except there was an hour-plus long wait for all the obstacle coursers to get out of the forest. Wished I'd brought something other than food to the mountain (e.g. my iPod).

The bus rides there and back had beautiful eye candy. Trees. Brick lofts and appartments. Elegant tangles of highway overpass whose aged concrete, beautifully browned and cracked, does not inspire trust, support-wise.

Home (briefly). Bought a fancy pen - small, heavy, writes upside down. Went to meet Lynne. She wasn't there. Worried that the set-up of the Franco Folies festival had kicked her off of our meetning place. Worried that I'd missed her by being 5-10 minutes late. Worried that she'd gotten lost. Turns out it was the latter, but she turned up after fifteen minutes. We left to search for food. (I don't much like eating at restaurants; I'm awful at choosing restaurants.) We ended up at Bristro de Lyonnaise, jazz on the stereo and breakfast food at 8 pm. I had a crepe; she had a qiche. It was nice.

Home, before we mustered our energies to head to swing dancing. Cats Corner's floor has beautiful, worn-out wood, and despite fatigue, a crowded room (there's usually two, apparently), and the difficulty of asking for dances in a roomful of strangers, I managed to have a good time.

Lynne and I bussed to spend the night at her sister's. Sleeping in a less stuffy room and a more squishy bed was great. (The UQAM residence isn't bad, just more than a little unsatisfying, home-wise.)

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