(September 11, 2012) ON A TRAIN FROM MONTREAL TO NYC — I spent my birthday in Montreal. The first birthday in 39 years that I spent without my close friends or family. But you know what? It turned out OK, thanks to a beautiful city and two very generous people.
I awoke fairly early and found a cash machine so I could figure out whether I had any money or not. I did have a bit, as it turned out, which was a nice surprise. I spent some time in a cafe to catch up on email messages and site updates. Then I went to the historic part of Montreal, which used to be the heart of the city and is now primarily a tourist destination.
I strolled around for a while admiring the buildings and the old cobbled streets. This was the first place I’d been in the city where as many people were speaking English as French. Judging by their accents, they were mostly American tourists from the Northeast and Midwest.
After a short downhill walk I spotted the river and made a beeline for it. Wherever I travel, if there’s water, I try to get near it. There was a marina with both small private boats and larger tour boats, and I walked down a ramp to get to the series of docks that ran between the boats. I walked out to the very end of the longest dock and enjoyed the play of sunlight on the water:
After a while of that I decided to head back and walk around town again. On the way I noticed people boarding a very long tour boat that looked like a spaceship or some sort of giant bug. It’s bow had a long, pointy snout with a glass canopy covering it. It was filled with dining tables with four chairs each. There was a bar on the bottom deck and another canopied dining area on the upper deck, plus an open-air terrace in the stern. I looked at the price, decided I couldn’t afford it, and continued walking.
I got as far as the ramp and turned around. “I’m in another country on my birthday by myself, so I’m going to take a ride on this boat, by gum!” I thought to myself. Or words to that effect. I paid the fare and boarded. The boat took a 90-minute trip along the river and past several of the small islands near the city (which is also an island). Our guide had an amazing vocal delivery — his native French was delivered in a melodious singsong, but his English was spoken with an exaggerated singsong that sounded like someone was artificially — and randomly — changing the pitch of his voice as he spoke. His voice and choice of phrases inspired a poem, too.
Here are some photos from the ride:
After the boat cruise I hung out in a Starbucks for a while then eventually made my way back to Sarah MK’s place. She was still teaching a lesson, so I went for another walk near the University of Montreal, which is in a very pretty neighborhood. When I got back, Michele, Sarah’s student, was still there. She asked whether I spoke French and I said no. It turned out, though, that she was only distracting me, because seconds later Sarah emerged from the kitchen with a piece of cake with three lit candles, and she and Michele sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It was the highlight of my day, and yet another example of the completely unexpected kindness I’ve encountered on my tour. Thank you, Sarah and Michele.
We ate cake and chatted for a while. Michele is a massage therapist in hospitals. She works exclusively with cancer patients. Her work sounds both difficult and rewarding. The three of us talked about being present in our lives and also about music.
After Michele left I interviewed Sarah for The Jazz Session. That interview will be posted in early October. Sarah will be performing in NYC on October 10 at Sugar Bar. If you’re in the area, go see her.
This morning I arose early and took the subway to Montreal Central Station to catch my train to NYC. I checked my bank balance again and discovered I had no money at all. So there remains the question of exactly how I’ll get from Manhattan to Brooklyn. But I think with the change in my bag and the few Canadian dollars I have left, I’ll make it. I’ll probably write a book at the end of all this, but it sure won’t be a how-to guide for travelers. Although maybe I’ll publish a pamphlet that says DON’T DO WHAT I DO.
The northernmost house in this part of New York State:
I’ll be in New York for a week or so, I think. I’m scheduling some interviews while I’m there. Then I think it’s on to Mississippi and Alabama.