Extra pats for the dogs, pick the beans and drop produce with friends—a few will even pick while I am out of town—and away!
Which direction to drive, well, it doesn’t really matter does it, as long as I go north toward my Montreal hotel room. How about this road? Driving through Hazen Notch is beautiful, as expected of those roads that are closed during winter months, but honestly—I cannot believe that Vermont has state highways that remain unpaved!
Cross the border, lunch in Sutton. I am flattered that the tourism booth staffer speaks to me in French for several minutes, before I reply, cowardly, in English, although I have understood every word. She apologizes, I explain, and we giggle as if we have shared guilty secrets. She suggests a lunch spot, and I make it there just before an ear-splitting thunderclap makes me jump and giggle again. I sit outside under cover and a canopy of hops, eating cream of tomato soup and an open-faced sandwich of smoked salmon and artichokes. I was a little wary of the raisin bread, but the lemon balm leaf on top was the perfect unexpected touch. I wonder how you say lemon balm in French?
I know I am still too tightly wrapped, because it takes too long for the coffee and check to come. So what if lunch takes two and a half hours—if I were really in vacation mode, it should not matter.
On my checklist for this brief Montreal outing is a stop at Ikea. I drive straight through gruesome traffic, but find the store and score two new $79 (Canadian!) comforters. Synthetic fiber, because we may be getting a puppy, and washable is washable is washable is virtue. There is not much else that appeals. Having successfully decluttered my life, I am not about to go back.
Time to find the hotel. Chosen for its low price with a guess as to convenience, it turns out (oh the joy!) to be on the edge of Chinatown in walking distance to Old Montreal. The room is clean, quiet and boasts a kitchenette. And this morning I find a breakfast that surpasses all my expectations, including yogurt, boiled eggs, whole grain bread for toasting, fruit and good coffee. All this and internet connections. All the comforts of home, except for my dogs, who I miss.
Last night’s dinner was at a multi-Asian restaurant ($16—Canadian!—for four courses) where I threw myself on the mercy of the waitress to tell me whether to have Thai seafood or Vietnamese seafood. She was flattered to be asked and took personal delight in my enjoyment of my meal. Or perhaps she is just a good waitress, but I took it for sincerity and will continue to do so. This charming urban exchange was followed by another in a small shop where I spent $20 (Canadian!) on preserved black beans, oyster flavor and hoisin sauce, jasmine tea and other delights.
“What you gonna do with that?” queried the grimy twenty-something Chinese man with a broad grin.
“Gonna cook,” I gave it right back. The older Chinese woman behind the cash register started to explain to him how various ingredients were used.
“You cook like that, eh?” he continued.
“Oh, yes,” I explained, deadpan. “I have to. In Vermont, we don’t have good ethnic food like you have.”
After a brief argument in which he assured me that I was wrong, that there is in Vermont at least one restaurant that sources its ingredients from that very store, and I assured him that Vermont may be a small state but it is plenty big, he relented with a grin, “Eh, at least you have some good food today!”
I knodded solemnly, asked for a lunch recommendation for the next day, and with a quick “Merci!” was on my way. A few minutes later, picking up milk in another local store, realized that I was chatting about the change in French, having dropped into it unconsciously, apparently without a trace of the morning’s shyness.
There is something about a city. The interactions are brief, pointed as to purpose, but those very limitations can bound an intensely personal exchange. It is not the layered pentimento of small town life, which has its own pleasures, but the stark, staccato abstract of barely contained chaos—different modes and places for human connection.
It was a very good day, a very good birthday.