Montreal, Day Three
So one of the things I have to do, first thing in the morning, is help Hannah get her socks on. They’re special socks. You might even call them magical. They’re super tight, applying a lot of pressure to her lower legs, helping blood flow. And because the socks are super tight, it is a fucking nightmare to put them on.
It’s probably not as bad for other people, but I’m a little retarded when it comes to these things.
First her feet get put in a complicated foot envelope (not sure how else to describe it), then the sock gets eased onto the foot over the envelope very slowly up to the heel.
Then you have to put on rubber gloves and rub the socks up her leg the rest of the way, using the palms of your hands.
Like I said, it would be pretty straightforward for most people. But I have a thing in my brain which makes it next to impossible to follow physical directions, and co-ordinating the two halves of my body is challenging to say the least.
So I’m on my knees with gloves on, first thing in the morning, and the previous failures in my life flashed before my eyes. I saw all the things I was supposed to be able to do and couldn’t. All the things that should be easy.
This is heavy fucking shit, and it’s way too much for any man to face before noon.
We managed. Hannah repeated basic instructions until I got it, never losing her cool. She assured me that it wasn’t my fault, that her feet were swollen due to the heat, and that it was harder to get the socks on because the tilt feature on her chair was broken. I still felt pretty retarded.
We finally set out into the city.
It was hot, crowded and noisy. I quickly felt scattered and discombobulated. Hannah picked up on it and asked if there was anything she could do.
“I don’t even know if there’s anything I can do,” I said.
We went to old Montreal and oh! it is beautiful. Everything, every building, every surface looks ancient and stately and European.
Before we continue, I need to tell you about something that happened to Hannah and L’aime a few years ago. They were out walking in Toronto, in some seedy neighbourhood, when they happened upon a mysterious building. They looked at it and looked at it and couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to be. The signs were in Korean. It wasn’t a store, and it didn’t appear to be a church. Finally L’aime realized that it was a Korean gentleman’s club.
“This is not a place for us,” she said.
In old Montreal, Hannah and I quickly discovered that every building has a step or stairs leading to the door. Every building is inaccessible.
“This is not a place for us,” said Hannah.
Fortunately, there were a number of restaurants with patios, and we found a good one. Afterward we wandered down to the St. Lawrence. There were fewer people by the river, which was a relief. It was easier to handle, and I felt my brain relax like it was settling into a hammock.
We walked by the river for awhile and headed back to old Montreal, as pretty as it is dysfunctional.
It’s a pedestrian-only neighbourhood, and the streets are rough cobblestone, which is hell on Hannah’s chair. The sidewalks are fine, but intermittently come to an unexpected end, with no curb cut to ease back onto the road.
We came across a beautiful restaurant, multi-leveled, partially roofless, with someone playing a piano inside. There were steps leading to the front door.
“This is not a place for us,” I said.
We decided to go into every accessible store in the neighbourhood and buy something. We found an accessible ice cream store, which was great, and a fancy mall where we couldn’t afford anything (though I did buy a bottle of water).
And that was it.
“Do you want our caricatures done?” asked Hannah.
“Yeah, why not,” I said.
For some reason there was a large open area in the neighbourhood where about fifteen caricature artists were working, all right next to each other.
We picked a guy pretty much at random and sat in the shade of his canopy while he drew us. I watched people stroll by and felt myself relax again. A guy and his girlfriend sat on a patio. He was arguing with her, getting into her personal space.
“It’s physics!” he yelled. “It’s the truth!”
We paid for our caricature and left the neighbourhood. It was already four. Despite this, Hannah and I decided to climb up a goddamn mountain.
Because we are warriors.
After a brief pit stop at our dorm, we set off.
On the way to the mountain, we stopped in at McGill University.
“There’s an inaccessible museum here,” said Hannah. “I want to look at it.”
We found it easily enough- it’s right in the middle of the campus- and stood at the base of the stairs.
“Motherfuckers,” I said.
Hannah took a picture of me giving the finger to the museum and we left.
A few blocks later we reached The Steepest Street in the World, which led to the base of the mountain. It just about killed me, but we made it. A block after that, we found a path disappearing off the sidewalk into a dense thicket of trees.
“Is this it?” asked Hannah.
“Must be,” I said.
We set off.
A wooden staircase cut through the trees, leading straight up, while the pebble-lined pathway wound lazily up the mountain. Hannah looked at the control panel of her chair.
“Uh oh,” she said.
“This says my battery’s down to two bars. The chair’s almost dead. But it shouldn’t be, we haven’t walked all that far.”
“Do you want to turn around and go back?”
“After all this way? I’d rather not.” Hannah considered the situation.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked.
“Let’s keep going. I hope it isn’t far to the top,” she said.
We were completely swallowed by the trees. It was impossible to tell how far we had to go. We walked and came to a bend in the path which led us forward a little ways until we came to another bend in the path which led us forward a little ways. The incline was shallow but noticeable.
“I think we’ll be fine,” said Hannah. “Two bars is enough to get us up there and back. So long as it doesn’t go lower than that.”
Every now and then another person crossed our paths, jogging past us, or walking a dog, or pushing a stroller.
We reached a crossroads and ran into a man who assured us, in a heavy French accent, that the top was only ten minutes away.
The path went on and on.
Being in the middle of that reassuring verdancy felt like a dream.
I’ve had dreams like that before, where I’m wandering through some beautiful, alien section of an unfamiliar city. In these dreams, my destination is always right around the next bend. In the best of these dreams I’m with someone; a safe, stimulating companion. On the side of the mountain I was with Hannah. The early evening light shining through the canopy, as well as the mild fatigue I felt, made everything seem soft around the edges.
We reached a wide, grassy clearing overlooking a large pond. Further on I could see a restaurant, another field, and parking lots.
“Where’s the outlook?” I asked.
“Maybe it’s further up ahead,” said Hannah.
“How could this all this be on the top of a mountain?” I asked.
“I guess it’s a flat mountain.”
We stopped and looked out over the pond. The sun hung low and orange in the sky. Hannah took a picture. Then I saw her flicking the power switch on her chair.
“What’s the matter?” I said.
“The chair’s locked out. It’s not working.”
“It’s not working?”
She shook her head, and kept flicking the power switch. Off. On. Off. On.
“It has to work,” she said.
I stood next to her and looked out over the pond. It was a beautiful spot to be hopelessly stranded- Alanis Morissette would probably call this ironic.
I saw Hannah’s necklace shaking, and realized it was from her heart pounding hard against her chest. She’s not an expressive person, and I never would have guessed from her face and body language that she was freaking out.
She kept flicking the power switch off and on.
“Please work. Please work,” she said.
Hannah stopped and considered the situation. She had me reposition the chair manually, and when that didn’t work, she asked me to fiddle with switches on the back. That didn’t work either. She kept flicking the power switch. Off. On. Off. On.
“Okay, let’s go,” said Hannah. “We’re making it to the top of this fucking mountain no matter what.”
We walked past an enormous, crowded parking lot with a bus stop at the edge.
Past that was a broad leafy path and a few minutes after that was the outlook. Montreal stretched out below us. About two dozen other tourists were also at the outlook, snapping pictures and posing for selfies.
Hannah and I stopped for a long time to appreciate the view. The sky grew darker.
“We should head back so we’re not walking down the mountain in the pitch black,” said Hannah.
So we went. Because the canopy is so dense, the path was pitch black by that point anyway.
When we got back downtown we decided to eat dinner at St. Hubert’s because it’s apparently a Quebec institution. I was excited.
“It’s a chicken place,” Hannah said. “It’s probably just like Swiss Chalet.”
“But French!” I said.
Even though it was 11 PM, the restaurant was still open. I can’t account for what happened next. Maybe it was because I was tired and hungry, maybe it was the endorphins from the walk, maybe it was something else.
St. Hubert’s was one of the best dining experiences of my fucking life.
Yes, it is like a slightly more upscale Swiss Chalet. But it is comfortable and happy and dining there feels like getting hugged by a long-dead relative come back from the grave just to see you.
I had half a chicken, way too many fries, and a large slab of cheesecake. It was an almost spiritual experience.
Afterward, Hannah and I staggered back to our dorm room and fell into the deep sleep that only champions know.