Saturday, March 26, 2011

Le Vieux Montréal

I think we can all accept that in spite of our best efforts to the contrary we never really know from one minute to the next what is about to transpire, nor how our day will unfold when the ensuing twelve hours after breakfast have come and gone. In retrospect I can see that having an open agenda (and an open mind) contribute greatly to the unpredictability of one’s life.

Today for example was for all intents and purposes very much a normal Saturday morning, though I confess it was singular for its spectacularly sunny, cool and dry weather and the not insignificant added feature that we had nowhere in particular to go and nothing especially pressing to do. In fact the only item of any moment on the horizon, as we sipped our coffee and digested our breakfast, was the rather uninteresting possibility of investigating the purchase of a new mattress (something which, granted, we are all too quick to dismiss as trifling when watching the television advertisements but which oddly becomes gripping when one is faced with the actual need).

As we felt the necessity to buoy our sense of personal worth by doing more than looking for a mattress, we began our day by arranging to drop off some wine and Champagne to my sister in anticipation of an upcoming birthday party (her own) to which we offered to contribute (a gesture which I now see may have been more an act of expiation than anything else). Upon arrival at the home of my sister, she hastily explored and approved the contents of the recycled red cotton wine bag then invited us into the sunroom where we partook of a cup of strong coffee she had prepared using espresso coffee (a preparation which appealed to my notoriously immoderate preferences). In this casual environment we chatted about whatever recent events had arisen within our respective families and, as aging people are wont to do, we touched upon the subject of retirement and down-sizing, including the horrendous cost of buying even the smallest condominium. So anxious were we all to share our news (perhaps accelerated by the caffeine) that it was difficult for any one of us to complete a thought without the subsequent interference of another, the effect of which interruption was to change the course of the conversation rather abruptly. Nonetheless we thus managed to alight upon numerous subjects and, as the saying goes, got one another “up to speed” in fairly short order. That duty accomplished, I arose and announced that we had obligations to fulfill in re mattress purchase. Here my sister punctuated the undertaking by offering (as her motherly instinct usually compels her to do) unsolicited advice about where to buy a mattress. She referred us to a place in the east end of the city, coincidentally close to the store we initially ended to go in any event.

Allow me to spare you the colourless details of our subsequent visit to the furniture store and our inability to locate the mattress store to which my sister had referred us. What emerged during our aimless and protracted ramblings about the eastern end of the city was the more overriding need to locate a place to void one’s bladder. There wasn’t, however, a gas station or restaurant in sight. It was I thought fortunate that we were already situated on the periphery of the city as there was at least the prospect of communing with the environment. This, it developed, was less than a blessing because even the rural paved roads were well-travelled and led across acres of the flattest agricultural land one can imagine, providing the widest possible view of anything for miles around. Finally, after twisting and turning and doubling back, we discovered a somewhat hidden stretch of road where we submitted to the necessary call of Nature, but not without having to suffer the indignity of public avoidance when several automobiles flew by. One always tries to be cavalier at moments such as these, but in truth the conviction is lacking.

Following the indescribable relief of that moment, our spirits were instantly elevated and our minds returned once again to the more cerebral possibilities of life. Unwittingly our misadventures thus far had taken us already a considerable distance from the city. We knew we were on the threshold of a decision. Should we turn back or keep going?

Here we have clean living and a good conscience to thank for the result. Supported as we were by a proper night’s sleep and the knowledge that we hadn’t allowed ourselves to lower our collective standards of conduct on the preceding Friday night, we enthused about the possibility of a luncheon in Montréal, specifically Le Vieux Montréal (a venue which is not normally on our radar when visiting Montréal as we traditionally tend to gravitate to Rue St. Denis). Furthermore in spite of the fact that it was now after noon, neither of us had as yet any appetite on the heels of our ample breakfast only three hours earlier. We reasoned that we could easily withstand the time it would take to complete the journey to Montréal. The decision was made and we pressed onwards.

With the assistance of the on-board GPS we were able to find our way into the heart of Le Vieux Montréal with a minimum of concern, though admittedly there is always a heightened anxiety when dealing with the driver’s of that city. We parked the car off one of the several cobblestone streets, purchased our ticket for display on the dash and then headed into the narrow streets in search of a place to lunch. While we had a spot in mind, it turned out after we discovered its location that it didn’t open until later in the day. As a result we settled upon a charming looking restaurant which advertised Polish cuisine. We were taken to a table in a corner near the front of the restaurant, from which vantage we were afforded a panorama of both the surrounding streetscape and the other patrons of the restaurant.

Seated not far from us was a couple, a bearded man of about 30 wearing a black leather jacket and a woman slightly older with bleached blonde hair. He had his back to us, but we had a full view of her face. Her saddened eyes searched his face constantly as he spoke. Clearly there was something which had taken place between them which had rocked her. When the waiter delivered one dessert and two forks to their table I naturally expected them to share it. However, when they finally left the restaurant over an hour later, they hadn’t touched the dessert, though they may have drunk the accompanying coffees. I expect the reunion of these two had been planned as a forum for discussion of an important subject, and that the dessert and coffee were merely payment for occupancy of the common space. They hadn’t ordered or eaten anything else while we were there. The man did most of the speaking, always in a low voice, too low to be understood from where we sat, even assuming one understood French. The woman spent most of her time staring blankly out the window to her right, then turning back to look at him with cheerless eyes, at times shaking her head and even wincing. Only once or twice did I detect any hint of frustration and anger; it was more a matter of disappointment I thought.

Further distant from us were three elderly ladies who had come into the restaurant after we were seated so we witnessed the circumstances of their arrival. They obviously knew the waitress who escorted them to their table. Upon enquiry from the waitress as she seated them, one of the ladies (the middle, ebullient one who did almost all the talking throughout the moments that followed) explained they had been at a performance which they found to have been satisfactory. Though they spoke English I hadn’t discerned what kind of performance they had attended but my sense was that it was dramatic. The third lady was the most elderly. She never removed her coat. Her back was to us, and she was bent over the table. She hardly spoke, and the other two ladies appeared to be “taking her out” for the afternoon, often deferring to her obsequiously. They all ordered coffee and dessert. The first lady (I call her that because she was the tallest) reminded me of Henry Fonda in “On Golden Pond”. She was distinctly masculine in appearance, with a handsome and full head of grey hair, somewhat chiselled features and large undecorated hands. As I watched the first and middle ladies I began to develop a theory that they were a number. We further hypothesized that the first and middle ladies were educators or connected with a university, though that theory was debunked when we overheard the middle lady pronounce that she hadn’t much education. This confession (if it were true) appeared odd to me because I had earlier heard her say that she admired Ms. So-and-So because she was an accomplished meteorologist who was working on her Master’s degree. In my experience people who dwell upon the educational credentials of others are often closely aligned to similar undertakings.

When we weren’t formulating idle speculations about the other guests in the restaurant we were either tucking into our food (which was merely passable though palatable) or watching the passing horse-drawn carriages. The outer backdrop of historic stone buildings provided a stabilizing fulcrum to the proceedings and more than amply balanced the need for anything else. With a light heart and a full stomach we took our leave of the premises through the heavy oaken door, onto the cobblestone streets and back to our vehicle, then home.

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