John et al. who care to read my Canadian tale

Here we go again, as I told you I would. Welcome to Montreal. It was a long time coming, but I seriously considered not coming a week ago. I was dreading I would be sick this entire trip. Finally the five weeks of dizziness have come and gone. When your docs put you on three pills that may cause dizziness, odds are that one of them is going to cause it sooner or later. If you medical guys and gals are so smart, why would you keep prescribing pills where to chief side effect is dizziness. I guess the positives outweighed the negatives.... hmmm... nope...

I want to clear something up. Several people have responded to my Toronto thoughts privately not on my public Facebook wall. I am sorry if it seems I am generalizing Canadians. There are many flavors of Canadians just as there are all people. I get afraid when tourists visit Philadelphia because I cannot imagine it being too hard to have a bad experience. There are more days that someone tries to harass me or try to steal my joy on the streets, than not. In my experience, I think the culture of south in the US is a lot warmer and hospitable in general than the north. Canadians are cool and I know some lovely former Canadians state-side. However, I brought a personal alarm. I attach it daily to shorts belt hook by a Carribeaner. If something too crazy happens, one pull and a 130db alarm will start hurting their ears and attracting attention. End of my short editorial. 🙂

It took me a long time to get to Montreal. I booked this months ago so I would not have to sit home alone while Megan was off leading a group of 14 students in Puerto Rico. There was no room for me and the other co-leader agreed to leave her partner behind too. My bus ride to Montreal was mostly sleepless. I sat next to a cool French girl from the Brittany region in west France. She was going to see Nigara Falls for the day and coming right back to Philadelphia. Apparently she has a sister that works for a pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia. Her sister could not find a job in France, but she got a permanent job here in Philadelphia. I’m glad some immigration is still happening for the talented. Finally we arrived around 7:40am. What I did not remember was I had about 8 hours in Toronto to kill. I went back to the University of Toronto and cleaned myself up and stored my luggage there for the day. They never knew I wasn’t checking in and never challenged me. That’s the friendly Canadian spirit and code of travelers. At least I like to think there’s an unofficial traveler code. Thou will not steal each other’s stuff, especially when sharing a space. Thou will sympathize for other travelers as if you were commencing the same travel yourself. Thou will treat others the way you want to be treated.

I spent the day in Toronto experiencing some of my favorite hits with the limited energy one can have after sitting on a bus all night with mild pelvic floor pain. I went back to the Vietnamese place I got my chicken pho. They remembered me! I was so happy. I told them I was from Philadelphia in the USA and I come here every time I visit. They even remembered I had some dietary problems. No veggies please. They still got it wrong. Broccoli and cabbage: double killers for me. I politely put them into my napkin so they never knew I didn’t eat them when I returned my big soup bowl.

I wanted to go the wildlife sanctuary, but I did not trust my energy level to use the scooter, though I had full access to it. Not being dependent on the scooter is a great sign! I walked everywhere - last time I was here in May I struggled so much to walk. I couldn’t walk my former normal self speed, but at least it did not hurt me to walk. It was now truly summer in Toronto, so I got to see the fountains all turned on. They weren’t all that elaborate, but I guess not when you can only turn them on three months of the year. I made my way down to the waterfront near the CN tower. I wanted to check out lake Ontario’s level and watch some planes take off. Its water was even higher than it was in May! Their artificial beach was totally closed and one of the boardwalks was completely underwater. Here’s your future, Florida. Some of my friends have kids that will probably live to see it. I loved all the programming for the kids on the waterfront though: sailing, kayaking, water board balancing. It seemed like local kids too, not just tourist children. I noticed some of the good graffiti was tagged since my visit and some of the horrible graffiti I posted to Facebook was painted over. I went back to the supermarket and noticed the spirits ice cream was on sale, just like it is at Target in the US at the moment. I wanted to buy stuff for Montreal, but I thought that would be cheating. I want to learn to survive and adventure in every new place. Unfortunately, that would be a mistake I would learn later...

So I got to the Megabus to Montreal and it was supposed to be a 5 hour journey. However, it took about 8 hours. Apparently a bridge was out, traffic was bad, so we went the long way with no stops. I had no food! Oh well, I survived, but I arrived in downtown Montreal at 10:45pm at night. Luckily checkin at Concordia University Grey Nun’s Residence was until 11:30pm. Google maps led me to wrong entrance, but I figured it out in time. I was practicing French on the bus, but when I got here I said: je suis desole, parle vu angle? She said of course. I said Mon bus etait tres heures de retard. My room is on the third floor of an old building that is now a dorm, but was a convent. My room seems big with high ceilings. It is hard to believe that only one nun would have lived in this room. So much for living in austerity if that was the case. I really love it. I have a big window with a decent view of the city. I have a sink, a medium size fridge, hardwood floors, a desk, two decent chairs.... it cost me about $22USD a night for my own room. Who could ask for more? Some Americans would cry there’s no air conditioning, but I grew up without it and pretty much never use it at home. It’s much more comfortable here than Philadelphia I’m certain. I’m glad I’m here in July.

I was starving when I got here. I found a vending machine and ate an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Oops... not good, but being in an exciting new city helps you forget about the fat you cannot digest in that cookie. I slept in till 1pm.

So welcome to Montreal! Last time I was here with you. There’s no great love story memories I have in Montreal. You are the only person that every took me to Quebec. We drove around the whole province together. I was jealous you took Sandor to Disney World, but in hindsight I got the better end of the deal. I remember loving this city. We saw the International Fireworks Festival where China seems like they were going to win, then the USA blew them away. It was BS to me, we never put on a show like that at home. Do you remember Canada Day? I loved seeing so many Canadians outside picnicking. I always wanted to come back here for Canada Day (July 1st). Oh well, I got time and this curse of the stomach and pelvic floor. It is not going to stop me. I never liked fish and you wanted to go to French restaurants. You told me you might never come back. I realized I liked fish on our trip around Quebec. I learned it is how is prepared an the freshness of the fish that affects the taste. Granted I rarely eat fish in life, but it was good pwasaun (I know the spelling is wrong but that’s how I say it in French). I think we adventured here in 1998, the year I graduated undergrad. I drove your white Geo Metro LSI all the way around the peninsula back down through Maine. Now I’m back 21 years later. I’m less than a decade younger than you were at the time now. I’m still frugal as ever. I will stay at dorms and hostels if possible till I die. In the long term you don’t remember where you stayed or the unbearable quest to get there. You remember how you felt, sometimes who made you feel that way, and sometimes what made you feel that way.

I completed my opening day in Montreal. I kept saying I had enough, but I could not resist more adventure. Today I started by going to the supermarket. I walked 1.6 miles to the place a blog said was the cheapest and best supermarket in town. I couldn’t find it. Google kept turning off saying I arrived. I asked some locals and they laughed because it’s so hard to see. There was no big sign outside. In fact, there was no pomp and circumstance. This supermarket reminded me of Jamaican supermarkets. Simple, no fancy floors, not well lit, small aisles. However, in Jamaica at least they are noticeable. Nevertheless, I had a feeling they had all the best stuff. I got some great ramen, yogurt, tea, and Turkish(?) pizza from the store among everything. The only thing I do not like is the turkey cold cuts. Of course, I walked the whole store about three times reading ingredients judging carefully what would be safe for me to eat. The security guy eventually crashed into me. I do not think it was an accident. I was taking pictures of things I thought were interesting and/or funny to share with you. You’ll see some pictures soon. When I checked out there was this lovely young women cashiering wearing a black dress with white floral highlights. She was so nice and reminded me of my Megan. She spoke perfect English (in fact everybody working in the store was speaking English and the radio was playing English music with French DJ’s talking in between songs. She made me feel welcome and asked me a bunch of questions. I felt good to be welcomed. That’s the Canadian friendliness that you stereotypically hear about. I’m glad that was my first potent experience.

After I left the supermarket I was starving. I had some Ensure drink in the morning after an oatmeal cookie for dinner, but that was nothing. I sat down in a pretty, what would you call it? A cut out huge storage container with planters? There was a busker across the street jamming on his guitar and I was happy to try a new food that I believed would not make me sick (Turkish pizza - 95% dough 5% sauce). I was sitting there minding my business finally eating a few bites when I man came in the cool storage container, starting looking through the trash cans. He seemed middle-eastern in origin. I had no cash and I doubt I could successfully tell him in French, so I left abruptly. He took no notice of me and did not make me feel bad. However, a minute or two later I was across the street gathering up my backpack. I noticed my IPhone was missing. What do you know? The possibly homeless guy shouted something in French to get my attention. I said merci boucoup thank you as he handed me my phone. He did not give me a second glance. He saved my butt. Google Maps helps me get the lay of the land. It’s hard to remember a time I traveled around without it. I started looking around at people living in poverty. Sadly, I think it’s the refugees just like in London. It’s probably 60/40 refugees to locals. I was happy to see no people of African decent living in poverty. Although the population of African descent seems smaller here, I would say 1 in 200 people here are of African decent. I get annoyed at myself when I’m surprised to see someone dark skin here. It drives me crazy at home when the reverse happens to me when I visit ethic supermarkets. Such is life, we are tribal in nature, but that doesn’t mean we should follow the seeming new American way: pull out a gun and kill.

Later I headed to Dollarama to continue my cheap man record. I found a bowl, spoon, cups to brew my decaf teas and some souvenirs. Ha! Souvenirs is a French word. I enjoyed trying to read the French and listening to the French on the radio. The singer was French but she sounded exactly like someone at home. I keep wanting to listen to French radio to pick up some words. Sadly, IPhones do not support FM although they’re completely capable of it. I know there’s even a petition on the Internet for Apple to turn it on. Apple wants you to buy their music service, not listen to FM. I am enjoying reading all the signs. Some of them show the English right underneath the French. I do not remember how much English is derived from French but much of it is not too hard to figure out. While I was waiting to check out at the dollar store, a young boy spoke perfect English. He he a toy sword and armor kit. He kept saying “I need my armor!” I was cracking up.

It seems like everyone can here speak at least some English. I was walking around the city and I would say I heard about 65% English/35% French. One middle aged white guy cat called me. At first I was like nah, that didn’t just happen. Then he did it again and turned around. I did not and kept on walking. Today I’m wearing a royal blue color that I don’t often wear. Sadly, it is not first or last time a guy has hit on me. It must be so hard to find a decent partner. Sorry, don’t judge a guy by the color of his shirt... and look to see if he’s wearing a wedding ring...

I seem to blend in better here than the States in terms of my size. Canadians in general seem to be fit despite the colder temperatures. Like I do when I visit Europe and Australia, I think my body size is closer to average or normal.

Tonight I was going to give my body a break, but I only have three days left here. I could not help myself and I went on a scooter ride to Mont Royal. Many people were curious and watching my aided but not necessary effort ascending along the trails. I bet you I sold a couple electric scooters. The trails to the top were loose gravel like Forbidden Drive for those who know it in Philadelphia. It just kept going up and up and up to the top of the city. I have some pictures you’ll see on Facebook. I’m so glad I went. I am taking Megan here when we come together in August. Early in the day I saw a cross atop the mountain. Despite all my misgivings at God at the moment for this unfair affliction cast upon me possibly for the rest of my life, it still gives me some comfort. I am sure you may have heard of one the best games of all time: Civilization. Quebec is surrounded by English culture. In the game you have to create culture with museums, libraries, and churches so your city will not flip. One of the wonders of the world that guarantees your city won’t flip is the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janero. Here they have a giant cross. I do not know why, but it provides me a sense of peace. Maybe I just seen it so many times in my life. A symbol of hope over the city. Similar to Belfast, this city is rocking with culture to make the citizens feel a sense of belonging and pride. I like the architecture here. It really feels like I’m out of the US, tenfold more so than Toronto.

I hope you enjoyed my opening thoughts on my new experiences in a city we shared together. You opened up Canada to me in my early twenties. Although it’s so close I’ve barely come up here since our adventure. I love it. Especially because it is warm. I’m sure my experience would be much different if it was February.... Till next time, Allen