Tuesday, April 18, 2006

6 AM

I can't sleep. This has been going on for two weeks now. It sucks. I don't have any dreams, which is weird, and I keep waking up for no reason at all.

I walked 6 hours non-stop yesterday. Left the Omni and walked down a few blocks on Metcalfe to Dunn's for a lunch of smoked meat sandwich. My waiter was cute and reminded me a lot of a Quebecois boy who broke my heart 6 years ago. In fact, there are a whole lot of guys here who look just like him. Maybe he wasn't that special after all.

I wanted to go to Schwartz's for their world-famous smoked meat sandwich but was told that St. Laurent was quite a trek away and I needed to eat NOW. It all worked out in the end, as I had a nice conversation with Kyle and the smoked meat was pretty damn good at Dunn's. I ordered it small and lean, as I can't handle fatty meat (nor fatty me). It arrived piled high - the thin slices of tender pink-brown beef suffocating the suffering rye underneath. I felt like a dork but decided that bare hands would not be sufficient to attack this behemoth and broke out the cutlery.

The smoked meat itself, as its name suggests, is like a juicy warm version of beef jerky. Can't comment much on the bread because the meat overpowers it; it's only there to keep your hands dry when you dig in. I didn't order anything on the side, which was good judgment. I couldn't even finish the 'small' sandwich (nothing on the side besides a diet Coke).

Seeing me sitting there with my tourist map blanketing my booth, battling the beef, the waiter asked me where I was from. I'll call him Kyle because that's what it said on my receipt. I asked him for recommendations of things to see in the area. He suggested (among other things) the Musee des Beaux-Arts and a trek up the Mont Royal.

The Musee was featuring an exhibition of Catherine the Great and other treasures from the Hermitage Museum. I'm so glad I went; it was incredible. The first thing you see as you ascend the stairs into the exhibition area is Catherine I's opulent and gigantic coronation carriage. The wheels stood taller than me. The carriage must have had 8 foot ceilings. There were countless works of art, including a fair few Classical artifacts and portraits of Voltaire. On my way out, I browsed the contemporary art collections and had the pleasure of seeing Stephan Balkenhol's enormous wooden heads again.

From there, I headed up toward the mountain. It's really more like a big hill... until you try to climb it and realize your smoking, insomniac, Ugg-wearing ass just might not reach the apex. There were people, old men, running up it in their Spandex. Mont Royal put me in my place. I did make it to the top, but not without catching my breath a few times. The view was incredible and I love the fact that Montrealais are so outdoorsy.

Heading down Mont Royal, I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. I was having a pleasant flashback of hanging out in the woods behind campus with Jonathan - because we went to school just a few hours south of Montreal, there are some big similarities. (Strangely, I've been feeling like he's with me.) Next thing I know, I'm in town - I just don't know what part. A beautiful black man on a bike informed me that I was entering the Plateau area, which was exactly where I wanted to go.

I strolled up and down the streets of the Plateau (read: I got hopelessly lost). I do think having a good leisurely meander around, without an eye on a particular destination, is a great way to get acquainted with a city. But after a couple of hours my legs were starting to hurt. On Saint-Laurent, I again spread my map to see if I was close to a Metro. A kindly old gentleman approached me and asked what I was looking for.

Turns out this guy was in Tokyo for a while back in '67. He walked with me to Sherbrooke Metro, which was only a few blocks away (but I never would have found it without his help). I was feeling like giving gramps a big hug until he turned to me outside the Metro and said, "Why don't we go for un cafe? I pay you."

The Metro was pretty straightforward. Buy a ticket, throw it in the turnstile upon entering, get on your train of choice. It was the bumpiest metro ride I've ever experienced but I really liked it. Despite the bumpiness, the overall experience feels smoother than riding the metro in New York, London, or San Francisco. And much more pleasant from a sensory standpoint than the superfast superclean superpacked supergross metro of Tokyo.

It cracked me up how "McGill" was pronouced, in French, on the Metro PA. Montreal is one incredible mishmash of Francophone and Anglophone (and a handful of other) cultures. It really made me want to study French properly. I jumped off at Peel and surfaced onto Medcalfe. I saw the drugstore that Kyle had told me about earlier, which I must have walked right past after lunch. As I stalked toward the Jean Couteau, eyes on the prize, I heard a familiar voice: "How was the museum?" Kyle had just gotten off work and was heading home.

I really liked bumping into someone I know on this lonely trip. It made me feel like I was from here, which I already know I prefer to Tokyo.


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