Plus ça change, plus ça change

Trip Start Oct 05, 2005
1
24
25
Trip End Apr 06, 2006


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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Sunday, March 19, 2006

I wanted to visit Montreal to see Genevieve, my friend from Spanish school. Thought about the train (too expensive) and the Greyhound (too long and smelly) but plumped instead for a Russian called Stav. I had heard about him through a girl at the hostel. Apparently he makes a living driving between Toronto and Montreal, undercutting the big boys. I called him up and booked my lift. My instructions were to meet by the carwash at the Shell garage on the outskirts of the city. He would be in a grey van.

I turned up on time and duly waited at the designated spot. Nobody came. So I sat on my bags, watched the world go by and pondered. Until now, I had been so excited to have found out about Stav and been able to see Genevieve that I didn't for one second consider the safety aspects of what I was about to do until I watched a number of grey vans pull up with a single, dodgy-looking man inside, eyeing me up. Each time, I asked myself whether or not I would get in. And each time, I couldn't decide. It would be such a hassle going back to the hostel. Mind you, it would be an even bigger hassle being raped and murdered. Tough one.

Just as I got desperate and tapped on a Chinaman's window to ask if his name was Stav, the Russian appeared and said he'd been waiting for me round the corner. There was another guy getting a lift too, and they both passed the "look of normality" test. So I got in, dug out the old Sony Walkman and began to relax. Five seconds later, the other guy started talking to me. I didn't want to appear rude so I pulled out my headphones and made an effort. After all, we did have six hours to pass together. What my radar had failed to detect is that he was a sci-fi fanatic (a trait usually obvious from two miles away). He proceeded to read his Sci-Fi Readers' Monthly to me until, mercifully, we picked up another girl an hour later and I was able to palm off the Trekkie without feeling too bad.

The girl was really cool. She lives in Montreal and works as a drama therapist. I met up with her a few times during the week, for coffee or dinner or a concert. Montreal has to be the most cultured city I've ever been to. I don't think there are more cultural things to do per se, just more people that want to do them. Genevieve and I went to the film festival to watch a film about Piazzolla - the famous Argentine tango composer. Quite a niche topic, I thought. Not for the Montrealeans. They queued for miles. Same for the Vienna Mozart Orchestra, and the Catherine the Great exhibition, where the crowds were bigger than Glastonbury.

Montreal is also a city of gourmands - every street has wonderful cafes, restaurants, food markets and delis - and this perhaps went some way to making up for the rudeness (people swore at me a lot) and the weather. March isn't the best time to visit - it's still ridiculously cold, but the threat of spring is enough to melt some of the snow and reveal the dirt and litter that's been buried underneath all winter. It was very grey - all fog and foreboding skies, kind of like a Turner painting - and there were urban glaciers everywhere, which people parked their cars on. Being plunged into darkness after so many months of sunshine actually made me feel quite depressed. I'm assured it's much better in the summer.

Still, it was nice to have a break from America and eat some good food.
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