Montreal, Day Two
Yesterday morning we set out into Montreal in search of brunch.
We thought we would immediately stumble upon ten or twelve options. How hard could it possibly be, in the heart of downtown?
Well, Montreal is a fucking nightmare in terms of accessibility. The only restaurants we could get into had formica counters and gumball machines in the vestibule. We wandered all over downtown, and it wasn’t all that bad, really, because it was a beautiful day.
Eventually we gave up searching for some place to sit down and eat and walked to the festival grounds to find a food truck.
Let me explain- or try to explain- something that happens to me sometimes. Like so much of what goes on with my disability, I don’t know why it happens. Just that it does. Sometimes I find the concept of food repulsive. It can hit quite suddenly, but then it’s all-consuming. The idea of eating makes me almost physically ill. I don’t want anything to eat when I’m this state, and I don’t feel hungry- even if I haven’t eaten in ages.
Usually when I feel this way, I don’t force myself to eat. What’s the point? I just hold off, and wait until I get dizzy with hunger, and then usually my disgust toward food fades away.
It was a quarter to one at this point, and Hannah had gotten a sandwich from a food truck. I’d said repeatedly that I wasn’t interested in eating.
“I’m not really comfortable with that,” she said. “Aren’t you going to pass out or something?”
I shrugged. “I’ll be fine.”
“Except you won’t be. We’re going to go to the art museum, and halfway through you’ll get dizzy, and then what? Your food issues aren’t practical. You have to be flexible.”
“I am flexible,” I said. This is something that happens a lot to me. People don’t see the effort I’m making, and the compromises I make. I’m conscious of my disability and the impact it has on people, and I try to lessen the impact as much as possible. I give up a lot of little things, often without really noticing. I’m constantly exposed to an excess of heat (or cold), noise, crowds, and I have to constantly monitor my body and feelings to see if my anxiety is getting out of hand. The little things accumulate and eventually I can’t take anymore. And then people remind me that I need to be flexible.
I bought a grilled cheese sandwich and choked it down. It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten.
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” said Hannah. “This is all in your head.”
Which is true, but everything’s in our heads.
We went to the modern art museum, and oh God, I love museums. Unless they’re crowded, and this one wasn’t, because it was a weekday and most people don’t give a shit about modern art even when they don’t have to miss work to see it.
Museums are utterly sensorily blank. The only sensory stimulation comes from the exhibits, which are carefully and deliberately designed. Even in the messiest, most abstract work, there is the knowledge of underlying order. The paintings are curated in a particular way, by people who know what they’re doing. All is as it should be.
Jesus, maybe I don’t even like art for its own sake. Maybe I just like the feeling I have when it washes over me and everything is still and soft and safe.
When we were finished with the museum, Hannah asked me what my favourite piece was that we’d seen. There wasn’t a particular work of art I could name. All of it had blurred together into a comforting mass.
From the art gallery we walked down to the train station in order to pick up some hostess gifts for L’aime, since we were going to her place for dinner. We followed a map on Hannah’s phone, which neither of us completely understood, because she’s directionally challenged and I don’t get technology.
But not only did we make it there, we also made it back. There was only one occasion in which we walked completely in the wrong direction, and thankfully we recovered quickly.
I want to reiterate how strange it is to be in a city where I can’t read anything. I’ve been reading since I was two-and-a-half, and for that to be suddenly gone is deeply disorienting. If I lived here, I don’t think I’d ever get used to it, though it might stop bothering me after awhile.
We took a wheelchair accessible cab to get to L’aime’s apartment. I was looking forward to seeing more of Montreal during the drive, but I nodded off.
We were greeted at the front door by L’aime and her cat, which was staggering around like the village drunkard in an early Irish novel.
Is that cat having a medical crisis? I thought.
No, it’s just severely disabled. Her name is Ataxia, (Taxi for short) which is also the name of her medical condition. Basically, she has no sense of balance.
We settled in on L’aime’s back porch, and she and Hannah gossiped for awhile. I sat and listened, and my mind wandered.
It occurred to me that this was the first time I’d ever been to someone’s private home while traveling. It was a nice break from a succession of public and semi-private spaces. Even a dorm room or hotel room is not really yours. Its aggressive sterility constantly reminds you of this fact. But L’aime’s apartment was comfortable, and the back porch smelled like flowers. It was lovely.
After awhile we went to what was supposed to be “the greatest poutine in Montreal”. Like almost every inch of this fucking city, it was inaccessible.
“We’ll have to borrow your legs,” said L’aime.
Ordering food in a French restaurant is harrowing. I had no idea whether I’d be able to communicate with anyone.
When the food’s ready, they’ll probably call out the items in French, I thought. I won’t know what they’re saying.
Of course, the restaurant was so loud that I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying- or even what language they were speaking. Mercifully, the person who took my order pointed me out to the person who gave me my order, and I was able to get the hell out of there.
I’d only had poutine once before, and wasn’t overly impressed. It’s just fries with cheese and gravy on top, for god’s sake. It’s not a religious experience.
This particular poutine made me a believer. It was like a casserole, heavy and rich, with all the ingredients mixed in together. It should’ve been a sensory nightmare, but I would have eaten all of the ingredients separately. The poutine made me deeply happy, and even though it weighed approximately five pounds, I ate almost the whole thing.
I will never again eat a poutine outside of Quebec. I realize now that non-French poutine is dog shit.
The evening wafted past like smoke. You know the way it goes on summer evenings when you’re outside and have good company and good food.
We stayed late, and got back to the dorm at close to midnight. I had to help Hannah into the shower, which I’d never done before.
It was then we discovered that the ramp leading into the roll-in shower didn’t quite go up all the way. There was a tiny, not easily seen, but impassible bump. I had Hannah secured in the Hoyer lift when we realized this. I pushed her forward and the lift jammed. I pushed harder. She winced, because her feet are sensitive and any sudden movement hurt.
“Sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“I’m just going to push it really hard and really fast.”
I rammed the lift forward, and it jammed on that tiny bump.
Hannah winced. I cursed.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay.”
I knelt down to inspect the situation.
“Maybe if I physically lift each of the wheels over the rim?” I said.
“Won’t that be too heavy?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
I tried to lift it up, making a truly alarming sound in the process, and it worked.
“Are you okay?” asked Hannah. “That was a bad sound.”
I lifted up the other wheel, and it worked.
“Fucking assholes,” I said, and left Hannah to her business.
After her shower it was my turn. I hate strange showers, since I have sensitivites to both touch and temperature. Not to mention the bizarre, counter-intuitive design of most showers.
I finally managed to turn it on, and the water burst forward like a million tiny boiling hot needles.
“GODDAMMIT!” I yelled.
“Are you okay?” asked Hannah from outside.
I stood halfway across the shower from the nozzle, basically washing myself in a skin-meltingly hot mist.
Then I managed to get shampoo in my eyes.
“GODDAMMIT!” I yelled.
“Are you okay?” asked Hannah from outside.
Personally, I prefer my showers to be a little more uneventful.