Monday, August 13, 2012

explorers of mont royal

I woke up to the loud sounds of shouting in the dead of the night.  It was the patrons at the African bar below the apartment where I was staying in Verdun. I'm not sure whether they were cheering or arguing - with French being spoken this fast with this strong a Congolese accent, there was no way I'd be able to follow along the conversation. Especially since a lot of the conversation involved yelling "heyyyyyyyyyyyy" in the streets.

In the morning, I felt a little groggy but ready to spend the morning exploring Montreal. I asked M, my host generously putting me up for the weekend, if he wanted to go for breakfast. He suggested instead that I join him on a hike up Mont Royal, where he was meeting a friend.

As it turned out, the "friend" that M was meeting was a woman that he'd been chatting with on an online dating website, and the mountain hike that he was inviting me to join was their first date.  As everyone know, I love adventures but this was an unusual one.

It was a hot morning. The night had been hot too; M had been kind enough to lend me his fan for the evening, but I hadn't used it.  That conversation more or less went like this:

Host: "Here, you can use my fan! You can leave it on if you get too hot while you sleep."
Gloria: "Thanks!" (Pause) "Did you know that Koreans believe that you'll die if you leave the fan on while you sleep? Not me though, ha ha! That's silly!"
Host: "Ha ha!" 
(Host leaves)
(Gloria turns off the fan)

Turning off the fan was probably a stupid idea. It would also turn out to be a stupid idea to drink a big carton of warm chocolate milk while climbing up a mountain, but the thing about adventure-seeking is that sometimes it's very fun, like crashing your friend's first date with a woman he met online, and sometimes it results in a weird form of heatstroke where you spend a lot of time wondering who came up with the idea of Fan Death in the first place. 

We met up with M's date or non-date J, who, to her absolute credit, did not raise an eyebrow at all at my presence and instead decided to just roll with it.  We headed for the mountain.

Mont Royal is located right in the middle of the city of Montreal, sort of the green-nature-in-the-urban-setting theme that Central Park is to New York, except, you know, with a mountain.  A good leisurely hike through the carefully marked gravel trails will take you about half an hour to forty-five minutes to get to the top of the mountain.  But both M and I are not really the type of people to follow something so mundane as "marked trails", so soon enough we wandered off the path and began cutting through the trees to make our own way up the steep cliff.

To be fair, we clearly weren't the only ones who had ever had the idea, as indicated by the litter along the riverbed.  Every once in a while, sure that we were deep in the woods and far from the path, we would come across the remains of a campfire and broken beer bottles, where other less environmentally-minded adventures had trailblazed and hung out some time before.  J did her best to keep up with us scrambling up the side of the mountain, although I am pretty sure every few dozen steps she was wondering how exactly she had gotten here, with us. Specifically, with me.

Eventually we made it to a clearing with a wonderful view.  It reminded me of the hills in Barcelona.

Turning away from the lookout point, I found myself face to face for the first time with that blue neon cross I've always seen lit at night on the hill. I had never seen it up close before.  It wasn't lit, possibly because it was daytime, or possibly because the Quebecois no longer feel a religious compulsion to light up this neon cross like a store sign, what with the rest of the city preoccupied with students that have been protesting for over a hundred days now. For us, it was time to hike back down the mountain, this time following the proper path.

Later on, once I recovered from the effects that inevitably come from chugging warm chocolate milk on a hot summer hike, I went for brunch in the trendy Mile End neighbourhood with my friends Stephanie and Eunice. Eunice was visiting from Waterloo. By day, Steph conducts research on fertility by working on white mice, a task that is only slightly hampered by her phobia of mice.  By night, Steph plays violin for a Haitian hiphop band. Doesn't everybody in Mile End?

The restaurant Steph took us to was called Lawrence, one of those hip brunch places where the barristas are white girls with random braids and visible bra straps who draw intricate flowers in your coffee, but that's only if you make it past the handsome man in a v-cut shirt looking an awful lot like Ryan Gosling who takes your name at the front door and tells you that there are ten pages of tables ahead of you. But it's okay, because this is Montreal, where you have to wait for everything that is good, and usually the food is worth the ten-page wait.

you can order a mimosa to make the waiting not so bad

or you can have bagels as an aperatif over at the Fairmount Bagels around the corner. except that place also has a line up out the door, down the stairs, and wrapped around the building.

my meal: pancakes, goat cheese, blueberries, syrup, and bacon as thick as a longshoreman's arm, but more delicious than a longshoreman's arm. Notice the mimosa is now empty

By the time I finished my pancakes, which were so thick they were more like scones, I had sweated through my whole shirt.  It was as hot here as anywhere else in the city.  I'd seen a Bikram Yoga studio down the street, and I had no idea who would do hot yoga here. The entire city was like a hot yoga session.  But I was feeling good, mainly because my stomach was full, full of bacon and not warm milk.