Québéc, New Brunswick, Maine - Montréal
Now sufficiently housed, it took no time to render asunder my beleagered and battered boxes, one with the bike poking through in at least 3 places. All was good, though - I perceived no glaring damage, and apparently nothing was missing via the one gaping hole. The bike put together, I realized that it was running a bit rough - no great surprise all things considered. Hmmm. With the long road ahead, I decided it would be perhaps a good idea to have it professionally looked at. Off I went to a bike shop a few blocks away.
Right away I noticed one thing about bicycles in Montréal: there were a lot of them about. And while the bikes themselves were mostly steel clunkers with baskets from about 1960, the people on them were generally slender and fit. I contrasted this with Seattle, where so many owned ridiculously expensive bikes for no logical reason. Riders there were often either extremely athletic - or in need of a drastic diet. Here, it was transportation. Made perfect sense to me.
The bike shop was bustling, but they were friendly while still being all business. I managed to describe in halting French how I wanted the stem repacked, brakes swapped out, and some bolts properly lubed and bolted. No problem - you want it in a couple of hours? Hell yes I did - and for all that I would only be charged $16! Wow! In Seattle I would have waited a week and paid $50.
The feel of this bike shop in 2008 made me think of a "local" auto garage in 1950, where some grease monkey named "Jimmy" hopped right to it in a jiffy. There was even a free air hose outside for anyone biking by - I challenge you to find THAT in the U.S. these days! Yes, I was down by law on this no-nonsense approach to cycling.
Back in the saddle soon enough, I spent the rest of the afternoon tooling around my new neighborhood, Mont Royal. One of the older neighborhoods, it was right next to Centre-ville (downtown), the older quarters, and the universities. The architecture of this 'hood simultaneously reminded me both of New York's brownstones and the rooftops of Paris - not bad places to be compared with. A distinct difference with New York, however, was that the steps leading to the front doors were often long and (sometimes) winding stoops of metal.
Even on first glance, Montréal's bustling sidewalk activity seemingly possessed a casual air of contentedness. I got the feeling of a city at peace with itself, long in existence and blasé to tourism. Cafés and bars littered the avenues, quite reminiscent of France. Next I quickly found that well-attended parks immediately proved a good place to toot some tunes on my horn. This felt good - no, GREAT - to do for hours, quite invigorating after a final week or so in Seattle with presque (nearly) nary a blast.
As my first afternoon wore on, I consulted a map and decided to check out the big park near my hostel. There I found a gently-graded gravel path of some kilometres to its summit, and it seemed that half of the city was on their way to its top with its proferred views. Why not TripTrumpet, too? I soon had a sweeping look at downtown, the Seaway, and the flat expanse in the distance that I would soon be traversing. This indeed was what was meant by a sw-eeeeeping view. I quickly espied one lone mountain that rose above the flatted plain, a place I summarily figured to best avoid when I had all my gear on the bike.
The rest of evening #1 was spent back at the hostel, then later out at a few bars with Sebastien, a Belgian who sold and marketed...Belgian waffles. Go figure. Fortunately, although his English was excellent, he was willing to suffer in French as we debated the finer points of Belgian and Canadian beers. This soon moved on to hockey as the Red Wings won their Stanley Cup and we emptied our glasses of beer. Not a bad first day!
This much I had by now quickly learned: Montréal was truly a gorgeous town. The people were casual in manner, but stylish in dress. And on a Wednesday night, it seemed like half of the population was out and aboot walking the streets to the numerous restaurants, cafés, and bars. This worked! Now where'd I put my trumpet?
Several days in Montréal showed me that I wasn't to be worse for the wear in Québéc, that was for certain. Meanwhile there'd been a steady influx of people into the hostel, and the weather had only gotten warmer. As in really freaking warm... as in humid, sweaty, look-for-shade now-now-now warm. But I liked warm! Oh yeah!
There had been warnings in the forecast every day about thundershowers, but to date I only had seen a little water on the ground one morning. What I noticed instead raining down were little white seed puffballs. They were everywhere, floating in from a specific species of tree that was evidemment partout (apparently every-freaking-where). At times it even looked like snow, gathering in drifts as piles gathered near curbs. That was the pleasant side of the matter. The not-so-pleasant ramification was that they always seemed to find my nostrils while riding... and what I had to do to get them out of there wasn't pretty, either.
This would not deter me from taking advantage of having a bike in the city (duh - I had just spent $100 one-way to lug it along). I soon pretty much rode all of the bike-laned roads I found on the free tourist map. They seemed to give a good sampling of architecture and neighborhoods in the more core Montréal area, too - perfect! Others seemed to use these bikepaths as working transportation routes, too, or for play. Most did not bother with helmets or voice signals - it didn't seem necessary to me, either.
Fair enough: hooray for the silence! That was the beauty of a dedicated lane, I reasoned. Certainly I agreed with the non-signalling part of the equation, having gotten so tired of anal Seattlites passive-agressively whining to those who safely passed by unobtrusively without a word or bell.
Warnings had their place if someone was in the way or would be startled, yes, but it was a bit redundant and cacophonous in many other situations. You'd think that one couldn't safely pass in that city without reviewing and checking a "uses voice signal" box printed on a checklist before each ride (which would be hung in a ziploc back on their neck, tucked in their shirt, so robbers would be unaware they had it on them when travelling more than a mile from their home.) I blamed the Mountaineers organization there, with their "Ten Essentials" (for alpine hiking) list that carried over too far into normal situations. ANYWHO!
Next I made a point of trying to mosey by most of the Montréal's inner parks, if only to see if something cool sculpture- or view-wise was at hand. Parks are great places to people watch, anyway. And eat. And play a horn. And get out of the sun. Fortunately there were loads of them in Montréal, with many of the downtown ones quite impressive and flanked by ancient massive buildings to gawk at if only momentarily.
The downtown area was generally pretty alive pedestrianwise, too, with most of the buildings lining the roads in great shape and current use. While there were a handful of particularly stately churches and edifices inexpliquably boarded up, I nevertheless got the impression that they were merely awaiting an inevitable restoration someday. Certainly nothing as vile as destruction would be their destiny, THAT seemed obvious.
Outside of some grand cycle-circles of the city, I once also rambled up the Lachine system of locks. There were found to one side of downtown, on the main canal leading down to the Seaway. Hordes of bikers and 'bladers were doing their thing; there was a feeling of a small carnaval atmosphere on a blazing Saturday. The locks, meanwhile, weren't as picturesque - or even close - to Seattle's Chittenden Locks, but certainly the massive urban decay that lined them was something to behold.
Some of these massive brick structures seemed to be purposely left as monuments to the past, yet others left one wondering in their decrepitude. The land must have been worth quite a bit still given the location, but there must also have been a "rest of the story" to account for their delinquent state. Something regarding money, no doubt!
Near the end of this grand day of biking, I also went up and over the massive Jacques Cartier Bridge. This would be the same one that would soon take me out of town - or so I was thinking at the time. However, on this day's ride, I would merely explore it and cut short of crossing it completely by stopping at the island in the middle. A Formula One racing series was being held there over the weekend, and the small Six Flags amusement park adjacent to the track was in full swing. The island was double-stare-worthy of a detour, no doubt.
I had been seeing Formula One events all over town by then, of course. They were impossible to miss, not with the accompanying ostentatious displays of wealth and privilege that literally begged issue with taste - to say nothing of modesty. There were special tented areas in historic spots downtown, with guys zipping by in Ferraris and in shirts opened a little too wide at the collar to show gold chains. There was no shortage of women with enough makeup, blingbling and high heels to endanger themselves on any number of levels, either. From the downtown waterfront, one could hear the slightly murmurred rumble of cars lapping the track across the channel on the island. None of this was exactly the stuff of an environmentalist's wet dreams, but curiosity couldn't be helped.
So there I was on the Island Helena, which also housed a bit of a park area between the two attractions of the day. After all my biking up and down the locks I was ready to relax, so I would take advantage of this discovery. As a consequence, however - I became almost certain - I almost got taken advantage of myself.
I was playing my horn in a shelter, enjoying the accoustics and all of the people-scenery moving about the race area. Running through a slew of slow, held-tone-heavy charts, a number of people gave appreciating nods. Some even sat or slowed down as they passed to check me out a little better. All well and good, I thought - this was how I often spent time on vacation, playing to whomever, wherever.
Eventually, however, three young guys - probably in their early 20s - caught my eyes a number of times. They just didn't strike me as lovers of my mighty fine tune-age. Indeed, rolling on cycles around the shelter once one looooong while as I was playing, I eyeballed them by following their movement with the horn of my bell. They just seemed a little old to be playing "bikes", too, and their eyes were just a little too alert for my comfort. However, with all the people in the area, I wasn't too concerned at first.
That would soon change: on their third pass, the most muscular of the three stopped inside the shelter and put his bike down. A sudden convert to my jazz stylings? - I thought not. Sensing something was up, I immediately stood up as casually as I could, making as if I had just finished playing (I was only doodling by that time, fortunately making it not obvious). I sauntered back toward my bike not far away.
The other two, in the meantime, had gone around to opposite corners nearer and behind me by the time I reached my bike. I made my move just in time, I felt. With all three looking at me and smiling too casually for any reason I could logically perceive, I quick-jammed my trumpet into its case and slung it over my shoulder. Maintaining eye contact, I next smiled ever-so-pleasantly back at them as while I walked my bike back out into the open and out of their closing triangle. Something had smelled like a just-opened can of tuna - fishy, one could even say. I t'ink I saw a puddy-tat. That's all I'm saying.
In retrospect, my guess was that one guy was supposed to knock me down while the others quickly took either the trumpet or the bike. The trumpet seemed the likelier candidate, being far smaller and more valuable, yet it was what was in my hand which might have made for more of a struggle, too. Obviously my insanely muscular and awe-inspiring phsyique had failed to deter them, no? Plus, people were about, fer chrissakes! Would they take that chance? Or were they preparing to sacrifice one of their bikes for mine? I'd never know - gladly.
The rest of my Montréal trumpet playing was far less eventful. In fact, I think I probably serenaded too many dozens of people near bike trails with sappy Latin tunes or diddies. Still - no complaints. I didn't receive any dirty looks, nor rotten tomatoes - sometimes the opposite, even. Huh.
Walking the city horn in hand, I rapped out a quick "Here comes the bride" one time while tooting at McGill University. I had been watching a wedding party approach to take pictures. That went over quite well.
On the same occasion, I determined that I would soon apparently be a vedette (star) in an amateur student film shot there as well. Right after the wedding party departed, I was approached by three students and asked to play nonchalantly from a park bench while a camera was walked around to pan me. Are you kidding? THAT was a stirring rendition of Lagrimas Negras, lemme tell you. I'm sure they had Black Tears, too, if they had any idea what a masterpiece I was laying down on them. And then... and then... the Canadian version of the Blue Angels flew overhead just as I finished up. A coincidence, or WAS it?
The hostel suffered my sound, too, as did various stoops. At the hostel's nearby park, I was once turned into a dance prop as well. A troupe of dancers was doing mime-like routines as people jogged by or strolled, quite amusing stuff I assure you. When they caught a glance at me down the lane a time into it already, I apparently became fair game, too.
They approached me in stops and starts - I didn't know yet that I was to be their victim. All the while they tripped over themselves doing some random modern dance wackiness, one where they fell and caught each other repeatedly. Or acted like a wind was blowing them. This advance toward me continued deadly and sure, of course, but wasn't I already a star with one cameo to my credit?
And did I care? No, I did not. It's not every day that four cute girls come up to use - and abuse - you so creatively! Spankings could get old, you know - at least from the receiving end. So I'm told. Anyway, they eventually encircled me, eliminating any last doubts I had, each taking a bench to a side of me. They then proceeded to mock me with their arms holding air trumpets and pressing valves with airy fingers, a finale of sorts. I courageously continued playing to their antics for some ten minutes, and then they were off. Random, cool.
So I did what any guy would do in the circumstances - I stalked them. Well, not right away. First I had to buy camoflauge gear and invest in video surveillance. Okay, maybe it was alternatively that I came to realize a little late after the fact that I wanted to take a picture of them mocking someone... else. By the time I had finished with my playing, however, they had practically walked out of the park. Crap!
I thus packed up and headed after them. By the time I reached them, though, it was a good while later. By then I wasn't really sure anymore why I was following them - they had stopped the dance routine completely. Shucks. So I wasn't a good stalker... but at least they were headed toward where I was ultimately going anyway. Soon they disappeared into a large dance performing arts center, and that was that. There'd be no picture: my addled brain cells and this journal would be all I'd have to bear witness. Yet perhaps that was for the best... court desist orders could be such a pain to adhere to. So I HEAR.
That series of events took place on "walking day", where I managed to traipse up and down about every allee/rue (street) in the downtown area. Some cafés and bars were really happening even at that afternoon hour - which worked well indeed. Random plazas provided good places to stop and stare, and I really enjoyed admiring all the architecture. I judged that there were approximately more church steeples of impressive stature here than one could shake a stick at. Further specifying my earlier comparison, I now termed this as Paris meeting Greenwich Village meeting Brooklyn, with a toe in lower Manhattan.
In concert with all of this handsome styling were random homeless encampments in the older port area, too. Much as with the rest of Montréal's easygoing population, though, the SDF/sans domicile fixé (homeless) were mostly content to hang out with each other sprawled on their sleeping bags. One or two might have been holding a cup for spare change, but I didn't hear a peep otherwise.
Nevertheless, I unwittingly found myself befriending one in an alleyway where I had gone in to play a few tunes. He came by some time after I had started my noisemaking. Soon though, in between his stepping out to piss, buy more beer, and drink more beer, he repeatedly complimented me on my playing. Yes, I rocked the SDF world, baby: Obviously I was headed for the big time. He told me he played the flute, or a recorder as I believe it was. I had no idea how long ago that had been, but his mentioning it several times seemed a sad testimony to the direction his life had taken. After a number of pleasantries, I decided to get a git on.
Unquestionably, the huge Seaway waterfront deserved to be a victim of my playing as well. Although accoustics are horrific playing over open water, one could always at least count on a waterfront as a safe place to blast away. This is a necessary thing sometimes with a trumpet, being able to play without worrying about who you will be upsetting. It was thus after this requisite sounding of the waterway that I could safely cross "blasting" off of my daily "to do" list.
Satiated as only a trumpet player could be in such an exercise, I walked over to an isolated clock tower - the Horloge - and climbed to its top. This was something like two hundred steps, and the smell of the oil and the tick of the clock both grew greatly as I ascended. The staircases echoed vacant; I made my way without bumping into anyone.
By the time I got there, natch, I realized I really had to pee: trumpet platers tend to drink a lot of water (gotta hydrate). You really want to know this, I assure you. Scanning the entire area below, I didn't see one structure that gave a hint to its being a restroom. Not a good sign, but an honest effort could be said to have been made... and I was really in an impressive place with a view. Making matters more determinist, it should be noted that I habitually spit from tall bridges to watch my saliva splotches hit water. Ker-plunk!, I would glory. Et alors (Anyway) - there was no one below. I really, really had to go. But, you know what? TripTrumpet's an honorable and upstanding citizen. That's all I'm really trying to say.
All the while in Montréal, hostel life was good. I fortunately had paid before the owner realized that the Formula One event was in town - he soon raised his price per bed from $20 to $28 for the weekend nights. Bullet dodged!
Per the usual hostel amenities, there meanwhile was no shortage of people to drink beer with, in this case mostly Belgians, French, and Canadians. I got to speak French a lot, both to the delight and chagrin of perhaps all concerned. Sometimes people understood me, enjoying my accent. Sometimes I only asked for something to be repeated ten times. But we try, and I certainly did.
Outside of Sebastien Waffleman, my cohorts included Tanner from the BFE of British Columbia, he with good stories of life in the sticks of the Great White North (Dawson Creek). He was hurriedly motorcycling to the strains of heavy metal from coast to coast and back. Bernard, from Barcelona, was on his way to live with the Amish for a few days if he could. Then he'd be off across the U.S. for the Great American Road Trip. He'd go for a Spanish-styled sampling of Americana - I suggested the famous Green Tortoise for this hippie-styled guy.
There was an amiable guy from Paris, Thierry... and a just-as-amiable Belgian a day in advance of his field-tripping engineer group. There was a woman from Holland, too. And then, of course, came the woman with her three kids. They took no time in using the hostel as a personal training ground for practicing running, with an extracurricular event of yelling.
Most of this regimen consisted of how to run up and down stairs with maximum volume to test echo chamber effects. One, naturally the youngest at perhaps three years of age, was a complete ferking brat. She turned the power off at least one time as I was writing this scintillating and engrossing journal. She immediately took to mockingly and mischieviously smiling at me, fully knowing that I wanted to skin and cook her for dinner. Epic tales were lost, somewhat, but I fortunately soon came to thank the almighty god of auto-save that the computer had engaged.
Montréal was soon to be a memory, in any case. I would soon miss all of the lively streets, not to mention the hordes of beautiful women walking them. And not as prostitutes, either! That's worth clarifying, don't you think? Although... I did overhear regularly that the French (i.e. Québéc) women weren't cheap to financially maintain, for all their glamour. Take that where one would, but those chic cocktail dresses and contents therein could be supposed to have a way of draining bank accounts - so I was told, 'sall I'm saying. Looking and admiring, meanwhile, was free.
My final day of Montréal saw me buying something to slap over my handlebars. Time to think biking, finally. The bag would take up my excess food, while simultaneously giving me some breathing room in my packing. Next I pumped the bejeezus out of my tires, followed by a map consultation to leave town in one piece. Soon it would be up and over the Jacques Cartier Bridge with a gentle roll: I was ready to be headed NE along the southside of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Tail. wind. TAIL Wind. TAILWIND!!! Time to roll.
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