We were met at the Montreal airport on August 4th by Jacques' father. After a year of trying to learn Bahasa Indonesia I've been faced with the challenge of remembering French, Quebec French that is. Luckily Canada is a bilingual country so on my lazy days, I can just ask any waiter, store clerk, or metro attendant my questions in English and they don't even assume I'm American. But listening to Jacques and his family speak, I'm struck with how little I can comprehend when the Montreal accent comes into play
I had been home for two weeks and just sinking into being in my own space and my own world but in Montreal, I still feel like I'm in a foreign world that has many similarities and differences from the U.S. But here I have the comfort of family which is feeling more and more like my own family with their familiar dynamics: His mother's care in buying a basic and useful article of clothing for Jacques' while out shopping, his father's questions on if and how smart we are saving money.
This is my 4th time visiting Montreal and second time in the summer. The last time I was here the chairs we dined on last evening on the patio out doors were covered in snow. This time, after what we've been told has been an unusual summer of we've encountered hot, humid and sunny days that remind me of many days spent perspiring in Indonesia.
After our first couple of days here, we traveled to Quebec City which celebrated its 400th year in existence only 2 years ago placing it among the oldest cities in North America.
The old 'centre ville,' where we spent most of our time, was teeming with people who were there to experience up to 4 concurrent festive events: Nouvelle France where costumed individuals reenacted stories of the checkered past of the early colonialist days; the strings of white tents sheltering the amazing local artisans boasting jewelry, clothing and sculptures for Plein Arts; Cirque du Soleil's newest show, Ovo, which played under their traditional spiral blue and yellow striped big top that stood out like soft served ice cream treat in its industrial surroundings at one end of the port. But perhaps one of the best events we saw was the Moulin a Images, a commissioned art installation for the 400th Anniversary series of events that will continue to be shown until 2013 with the artist Robert Lepage adapting the show bit by bit each year.
This type of installation, an "architectural projection," used a large expanse of grain silos as its play space for creative and historical images and animations depicting the triumphs and challenges of Quebec over the past 400 years. What made his art installation so amazing was its pure showmanship of talent that captivated everyone who lined up on the pier to see. Each evening after the sun set and the light faded from the sky, images were accurately focused along the industrial park while accompanied by sound and music.
We stayed in Quebec for four days returning to Montreal via a small town called Sherbrook to meet with some friends for lunch followed by a 30 minute drive across the border into my country where the language immediately shifts from French to English. This was the first time I've ever left or entered the U.S. by car. The whole experience was induced by my whim: that we could accomplish something so simple yet novel of my entering Vermont via Canada. Jacques is always reminding me to keep my smart comments to myself when it comes to customs agents, knowing that I have an inexplicable (but always contained) urge to be a smart ass at border control. So I refrained from responding to the agent's query about why we had our luggage if we were just coming for the afternoon, my answers revealing nothing but the facts, sir, just the facts.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE AND SO ARE BLACK RAVENS
The road from the boarder to Stowe Vermont is flanked in the summer with rolling hills, big red barns on cute patches of farm that would induce the frenziest of Norman Rockwell painting frenzies. Also along the drive all day I would see huge black ravens cawing from the roads edge and at times eerily gazing at us. My daydreams brought me to memories of my father, how after watching Newhart each week he dreamed of moving to Vermont and opening up a B &B, and how in the months before he passed away in and out of the hospital with his treatments for cancer, the highway to my home town was flanked with black ravens cawing at me from the roadside: a symbol that I had read about somewhere in some Native American lore that death lingers on the horizon. I glared at these birds in Vermont for being too frivolous with their perceived duty of message bearing and brushed them off, letting them resume their contribution to the beautiful landscape.
In Stowe, a cute little town that hosts sleepy vacationers in the summer and skiers in the winter, we set out to find a place for dinner. The light was changing moods to a mystical peach pre-sunset haze with long shadows reclining along the hillsides. It was suggested to eat at the Trapp Family Lodge, the property being the inspiration for the film The Sound of Music. The food was absolutely delicious, finishing off with a maple cream pie, after all this is the maple region. We had eaten so leisurely that it was already dark when we left the restaurant. I looked up in the sky and gasped "Wow, they have stars here in Vermont."
It took us just over two hours to get back to Jacques' brother's home in Montreal which meant it was past midnight when we arrived and everyone was asleep.
A CANADIAN HOSPITAL
The next day we woke late to an empty house. There was a note from Jacques' brother that their mother had called, his father was in the hospital and had collapsed the evening before during dinner. Whatever plans we had for the day were altered; our priority was to go to the hospital to see how he was.
It seemed that nobody knew for certain what was up, was it his heart or something else? After a menagerie of metro and bus lines we arrived in the hospital then meandered through the labyrinth of hallways from the wrong wing to the correct wing where his father was still waiting to hear the final results from the doctor. There's a hollow coldness in hospitals, concern carved in people's faces in the waiting room, people disconnected and silent while hoping not to hear the worst. In the waiting area I noted a list that stated service charges for non residents of Canada, such as overnight hospital stays, examination fees or x-rays. In a column adjacent it noted which were free for Canadian residents, pretty much all of them. Jacques' father would be covered completely and has supplemental insurance to cover extras that he may want such as a private room versus a shared room in the hospital.
Within an hour the doctor had arrived to give his final assessment and sign for Jacques Sr.'s release. It was only heat stroke induced by a full afternoon of playing golf and his not drinking enough fluids: a potentially serious situation but a relief to all of us as it didn't indicate a chronic nor deteriorating medical condition. His birthday is this week as well. Incidentally we all celebrated on the same day as my dad's. I watched him open up his gifts exhibiting an excited sense of glee when he realized it was exactly what he wanted, an almost childlike charming expression lit up on the face of a man that is now 71 years old.
As I finish this post, we are leaving Montreal, flying home via Toronto where we will again go through customs. I will keep my comments only to the facts, Jacques will negotiate his yearlong visa with business like precision, and we will soon be home again to the cat, my creature comforts of home and soon a full school year with a new crop of amazing brilliant students to teach.