My last day in Montreal I decided to take a late flight so that I could spend the day tromping through more eats. When given the choice of a morning or evening flight- always choose the evening. This way, your belly can be filled one last time.
This morning I decide to start with Beauty’s, a Montreal staple known for the bagel with lox and cream cheese. They import the bagel from St. Viateur, my favorite, slather it with cream cheese topped with smoked salmon, red onion, and tomato. It’s quite good, but as I sat at the counter I saw these wondrous “smoothies’ being made. Part soft serve, part fresh fruit, I had to have one. The choices are difficult- among them was creamsicle. I choose the blue then sit and slurped down that smoothie (read: morning desert) faster that I drink my coffee. I chat with my next seat neighbors who live in NYC and have a place in Montreal. This is another one of those moments when traveling that I reconsider my career choice in the high money making art of teaching.
An instagrammer, @kerrie_ahearn, has told me about two bakeries in the Plateau and Mont Royale areas. I venture to the first and pass it two to three times before I land on it. My motto when traveling anywhere by any means of transportation is that you can always turn around. I land on Hof Kelsten and am stuffed from Beauty’s, but I need to buy something. I choose a baguette that will travel home with me and possibly be quickly consumed by my friend whom I’ve talked into picking me up from the airport.
Meandering and shopping is the best part of traveling and this afternoon allows for me to wander for a few miles as I make my way to lunch. I stop and shop at some of the best boutiques I’ve been to in quite a while. I buy this amazing crinoline slip/skirt thing that is meant to go under my skirts or dresses and to give a bit of body and add length as you allow a few inches to show. It’s from a quite expensive shop that sells Parisian wares. My slip thing is from Paris, but I got it for 60% off and I hope it will extend my wardrobe. I find shops where I want to live, or at least take one of everything home. I keep walking.
I lunch at a very local haunt recommended by a very young bartender at my hostel. He lives in the area and describes the grilled cheeses from Le Dapanneur as if they are his sisters. And then he says they have live music. I wrongly assume that the live music would be for nights and weekends, but in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, as I leave my patio lunch behind me, I come upon this lovely singer. Oh Montreal. Middle of the day on a Wednesday, you are all the folk things you should be.
@kerrie_ahearn has also told me about the book store across the street, Drawn and Quarterly. I am drawn to the name immediately so I wander in. It’s heaven in a bookstore. Just like the languages in this city, it’s one half English, one half French. It’s the kind of lovely place where you want to read every book, but before that you want to peruse the shelves and ruminate on which one comes first. Though I have a kindle and an iPad, I would live in this actual book store.
My last stop in Montreal is another bakery. I am not expecting the amazing moment before me and I’m in a little bit of a hurry so I take only a few pictures. They do not do it justice. Cheskie is a world unto itself (you guys- they are so awesome that they don’t have a website cause they don’t need it- word!). Finding this, on the recommendation of @kerrie_ahearn, is a revelation. Hasidic men and women are in an out of the store as I stand and marvel at the goodness before me. What to order? What to order? So little time. So much goodness. The struggle is real, but somehow, through the grace of pastries, I grab an eclair, a mini cheesecake (it is the best cheesecake of my life), some rugelach, and chocolate babka. Stop judging. I mean it.
I leave Cheskie and sneak a few of the smaller treats on the bus as I frantically try to get back to my bags at the hostel before hopping an airport bus ride. I make my timeframe, but as the airport bus is taking me in afternoon heavy traffic, I panic that my timeframe will be off and I’ll be in Montreal another night. The funny thing is, given what transpires, that is exactly what I should have done- stayed in Montreal and gotten a different airline, but then I wouldn’t have met Lillian and been shown that life throws people in your path sometimes to reaffirm our connections, our similarities in the midst of world of difference, kindness, and somehow in there- hope for the future.
I do make it to my flight on time and am even able to waste my last $14 Canandain dollars on some maple syrup. I’m a foodie to the end! My flight to New York is grand. I have a great hour long conversation with my seat neighbor who lives and works in North Carolina as a Engineer in the cell phone business. He hails from China and I love him. I have no idea was his name is. He tells me about flight cancellations. I don’t register that information until later. You’ll see why he was warning me though even he didn’t know it at the time either. The flight itself is great from the get go. Canada knows how to get you on a plane seconds before takeoff. There is no tarmac sitting. Love.
The U.S., however, along with American Airlines* (now known to me as AmeriCAN’T Airlines (the can’t is in terms of flying of which they do very little, apparently) knows how to be rude and unfeeling. We land in NYC at Laguardia and I need to find my gate. As I approach a kiosk, the man in front of me is yelling at the attendants and then he throws his bag on the floor. I have no idea what is going on with him, but I decide to do the opposite if posed with whatever problem he is having. But, I’m just looking for my gate number so there is no way I will have a chance to get upset, right? Wrong. This is AmeriCAN’T Airlines.
I quickly learn that my flight has been canceled and that I’ve been rescheduled to an 8am flight. “Have a nice night.” It’s 8pm. I’m stunned, but thankfully watched angry man get nowhere so I decide to be calm. This is when I meet Lillian. She is on her cell phone telling someone in Enlgish of the canceled flight in a thick accent. It’s not quite French, but it’s not plain English. I ask her if she is going to Richmond as well. When she says yes, I’m shocked. She too has come from Montreal and with a worldly accent like that, what is she doing going to little old Richmond? It turns out everyone has family everywhere and affirms my long determined theory that all roads lead to Virginia.
Lillian and I decide to team up and go through whatever we need to go through together. Two is always better than one. We’re told we can call customer service so we both do. But, remember, I’ve seen angry man so I decide it’s time to pull out my Southern heritage. I am nothing but kind and perplexed to everyone I encounter in person, on the phone, in person, in person, and in person. I score us two hotel rooms and meal vouchers. It may be AmeriCAN’T Airlines, but I’m a Southern AmeriCAN!**
Lillian and I begin our adventure in airport mischief. We think at first that we are going to dine like the Goddesses that we are. We begin pursuing our options in the Delta terminal which is extremely hip and cool. I mean, I would not mind spending hours here. Other terminals- take note. Lillian and I plan our cocktails, our appetizers, our entres, our deserts. I imagine us sitting before a feast and bonding over our shared experience with laughter and camaraderie as waiters and waitresses befriend us and bring more drinks. Then we see that our vouchers are for a maximum of $12. Then a waitress tells us that we have to order from a counter and our seating is actually over there -> in the not maintained section where two pilots sit amongst gray tables staring at their phones. Uh?
So, we walk around to the counter to order and discover a salad bar. We are actually in heaven as this delights us far more than a greasy hamburger. We are even more pumped when the attendant tells us we can weigh our salads and THEN add the dressing. AmeriCAN!
Once seated we begin to chat and Lillian becomes this wondrous woman before me. She is Syrian born, married to a Canadian, speaks 3 languages, has two daughters, her immediate and extended family live in Jersey and Virginia, and she loves to cook. She begins showing me her graciousness by supplying me with a cucumber and labneh sandwich with homemade dried mint (did you read that?). She then produces endive and cherries. While we sit in our outsider section we are just thankful. Thankful that we are together, that we have shared experiences, that we are being fed and given a bed and that life is full of surprises. These are the moments in traveling when you realize that life is a wondrous thing and happenstance is a powerful force.***
Our night stay is uneventful, but Lillian- ever the mother- wakes me with a 5am call to get downstairs earlier than planned. The ever dutiful daughter (did you read that, Mom?) I obliged though I am the last to hop in the van and it’s Lillian who made sure I wasn’t left behind. Wondrous. We check back in to our Delta terminal and breakfast together. This is when Lillian produces these amazing date cookies from her Mary Poppins bag of treats. She’s here in the background of these pictures. She has a special place in my heart and when I meet her family after we land in Richmond, they hug me. They thank me for taking care of Lillian and I correct them and say that is was she who took care of me.****
The day I return home and after my morning nap, I discover this by Naomi Shihab-Nye (whom I ADORE) and am floored. We are all connected. We are all lost travelers in the world. Let’s just sit with each other and share the sweets of life. K? K!
*All links to AmeriCAN’T Airlines are to their customer service. Because life.
**Do you even know how hard it was to be dropped in NYC for 12 hours and NOT go into the city to get food at any number of amazing places? HARD, people, HARD!
***Here’s the inside scoop: AmeriCAN’T Airlines began the story with “air traffic control” issues stating that there were too many planes in the air. Huh? What? That makes no sense. When dealing with person(s) on the phone I state that this makes no sense to which I am quoted laws and that when the federal government tells them they CAN’T fly then they are under no obligation to assist their passengers whom they have stranded. Awesome. I relate to the CAN’T people that I have employed them to get me somewhere and that they are the ones who scheduled this flight and that they are the ones who work with air traffic control and scheduling and the government and I wouldn’t have taken this flight if they hadn’t scheduled it. Yada, yada, yada. CAN’T Airlines further tells me I must resolve this in person (if that’s even possible- which they say it may not be) because they CAN’T do anything over the phone. I remind them that we live in the digital age where anything is possible anywhere. This is when I’m speaking to the manager as I so sweetly fane confusion and said I wasn’t getting off the phone without a solution to my stranded status. CAN’T Airlines makes a note in my file. I have to give up the phone fight and make my way to another employee in another terminal. Again, I employ my Southern gentility and after a few explanations we happen upon Fahad. Fahad is the best thing to happen to the CAN’T establishment. He is a CAN man. He reads through my note (let’s hope they note that I never sounded like angry man) and Fahad is the one to grant us all our wishes. He discovers through research that the real reason the flight was canceled was because CAN’T Airlines COULDN’T get a crew for our flight. Hmmmmm. That doesn’t sound like “air traffic control” and “laws state we are under no obligation.” But, I’m Southern so I say, “Oh gosh, that’s terrible. Bless their hearts.” Fahad is kind, understanding, quiet, and diligent. Lillian finds a kindredness with him and tells him that his mother raised him well. I tell him his wife will be a lucky woman. We decide that I am not that woman.
****Lillian left me a message on my phone four days later on her way home to Montreal. Her flights had been canceled 3 different times. CAN’T airlines leaves my dear friend bouncing around DC and stuck in an airport for HOURS, but I know through experience that she makes the best of it and I love that she has called me. Her voice is welcome on my phone anytime and I plan on saving her message ’til next we meet because we CAN meet again. Yes, we CAN.