July 4th in Montreal
Friday, July 4 2003
setting: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Gretchen had trouble sleeping through the night. At some point an air conditioner upstairs started dripping on our air conditioner with a loud metallic "tink!....tink!....tink!" Gretchen couldn't figure where it was coming from, so she woke me up I and took care of the problem by laying a towel across the top of our air conditioner.
This was the first July 4th I'd ever spent outside of the United States. I'm comforted by the diffuse sort of nationalism one sees on exhibit in Montreal. Every now and then you'll see a red maple leaf flag, but many of the buildings fly the Quebec flag all by itself. There also seems to be a flag for just the Ville de Montreal, and some buildings only fly that. There are no flags of any sort flying from car antennas or magnetically applied to doors. Perhaps if a terrorist manages to blow up a Canadian building this will change, but Canada doesn't do a very good job of cultivating enemies throughout the world.
Before I'd even had any coffee we went for a brief tour of the Musée d'art Contemporain. This museum is located within a complex that appeared to be the center of Montreal's International Jazzfest, and by noon it was crazy with activity, though most of it was centered around concessions selling food, wine, and beer. Only one band was playing. It was Dixieland Jazz.
We walked down to the bank of the St. Lawrence River and did the typical things one does in such places. We bought some trinkets at a science gift store (including a stuffed red Cardinal that made an authentic-sounding electronic Cardinal call when squeezed - later we named him Tyrone). Then we saw an Imax movie. I have a running series of jokes about Imax movies, and the premise of them is that there were only three or four of them ever made, and that they just keep being shown and reshown. "They never have names," I explain, "they're just called, 'the one about the ocean,' or 'the one about gorillas.'"
Since the only other Imax film I'd ever seen had been in 3D, I'd expected this one to be too, but it wasn't. The Montreal Imax was such a popular destination that Gretchen and I were barely able to find a place to sit in the crowded theatre. The usher had to juggle a couple of hapless ten-year olds so we could have adjacent seats.
The movie was "the one about reefs." It was entirely in dubbed-French (without subtitles) and, given my faint knowledge of this language, I only learned two things: that the really ugly-but-friendly fish was a "Potato Fish," and that it's possible for a human to have his teeth cleaned by the special tooth-cleaning shrimp, just like a fish. But I felt that the sexual tension between oceanologists Howard and Michele was left completely unexplored.
We sat for a time in the shade at the edge of a nasty little pond on the St. Lawrence River shoreline. In an effort to maintain our energy levels, we both took mildly-recreational doses of pseudoephedrine. This was the first time Gretchen had ever joined me in the abuse of legal cold medicines. She'd been complaining all day about a sort of hangover from the bad Indian food we'd eaten last night.
While we sat there we saw our second adult Thalidomide baby for the day. The warm weather had everyone wearing revealing clothing, and it was difficult to comfortably conceal shrunken, deformed limbs. forty years ago, while Thalidomide languished in the United States awaiting FDA approval, the first grossly-deformed Thalidomide babies were born in Europe and Canada. All these years later, the adults they became are not an uncommon sight.
I have tendency to exaggerate or overgeneralize in conversation, a source of occasional bemused irritation for Gretchen. Sometimes she accuses me of this even when it's a sin I haven't committed. When talking about Thalidomide babies, I was unusually careful not to overgeneralize, a rarity Gretchen decided to note. My response was to jokingly spew a series of overgeneralizations about Thalidomide in Canada, saying all the people here had been deformed by it one way or another - though some were only missing a single toe.
Later we walked back up to the center of Jazzfest craziness and lingered for a long time with dozens and dozens of others, dangling our feet into the rectangular pool of a large fountain. Amazingly, the young woman seated right next to me had two mildly deformed feet. The second-smallest toe on her left foot started about a half-inch too far into the foot and was completely surrounded by its neighbo[u]rs. Her right foot only had four toes. She was, of course, far too young to have been a Thalidomide baby.
It's easy to relax and do absolutely nothing when you've taken a strong stimulant like pseudoephedrine. Things happening in the world are more entertaining and meaningful, and the voice within you that scolds you for wasting time falls refreshingly silent. The worry is replaced by confidence that anything needing doing could be accomplished in real time.
Eventually we heard a sort of classical music coming from the main stage (the Place de General Motors). So we wandered down there to have a listen. It was the violinist Helmut Lipsky and his small chamber orchestra (consisting of a contracello, a piano, and an accordion). Superficially, the music sounded classical. But it actually owed more to jazz and world music. Melody seemed to be of secondary importance to rhythm, and what melody there was seemed to be tangled together in complicated fuguelike arrangements. It was beautiful, or at least it seemed beautiful at the time.
Eventually we wandered back to hip and happening Rue St. Denis to try a different restaurant, this time an Italian one. The parmesan cheese in the shaker was old and stale, and the flakes of red pepper had been bleached by the sun, but the pasta was excellent.
Odd penis sculptures in Montreal's Old Town.
A seated rooster sculpture.
The lavish interior of Montreal's Notre Dame. The outside is relatively plain, with no gargoyles or spires.
People cooling their feet at Jazzfest.
A rooster mural on a Montreal building.
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