It wasn’t the right time to travel North, but then again, when is? I arrived home from work at 5 pm in the dark of the winter night, and called out to my partner, Carp.

“Ready to go?”

He wasn’t. He had just bought a jug of wine to take with us to Canada, which our friends had promptly texted us back not to bring. We had also found out that we would be missing a party in New York that we had promised others we would be at. And the minutes were ticking by, and it was getting late for a four and a half hour drive into the great white north.

“Are we crazy to do this?” Carp asked.

I assured him that we were, and we packed up our bags and got into the car.

The drive went relatively smoothly, and we had the foresight to download a few maps of Ontario and Quebec provinces. Having driven to Canada before, we knew that our phones lost connection, and navigating anywhere became a nightmare. The offline maps worked excellent though, and got us right to our friends’ apartment in Montreal. We unloaded our case of beer, still riding high from all the coffee we had drank on the way, and walked up the icy sidewalk to their dwelling.

They weren’t home. It was 11:30 at night, and they were not home. We stood in the doorway a few minutes, each looking at the other and too tired to consider our options yet. Just as I was about to head back to the car with the luggage, Carp realized that he could stream internet from our friends’ apartment, and call them via Whatapp.

No answer.

But then, a few minutes later, they do answer, and they are right around the corner from their home, coming back from another party. We all laugh, enter their steamy apartment, cuddle their cat and break open beverages to catch up with them.

Later that evening, we find ourselves at a local Montreal diner around the corner serving hot poutine- duck gravy, squeaky cheese curds and exquisite fries. We order by pointing at the menu, as the waitress does not speak English and we do not speak French. Luckily, the waitress understands when I point to my quickly polished off plate of poutine and smile, “Merci.”

We find a few more bars after that, and then head home to the apartment to sleep.

And most all of us do sleep, except for Carp. When he wakes me up at 10 am, he has already walked half the city and had coffee and breakfast. I nod my head in understanding, and fall back asleep until noon. At noon, our hosts are still not up, but I am. Carp and I put on our coats and our boots, and head out into the city.

We visit the local library and a few bookshops with books all in French, and then we post up at a cafe ordering two coffees in bumbling English/ French, handing over a few toonies. I can’t say that Quebecouis are necessarily known for their friendliness, but maybe it would be different if I actually spoke their language.

In the streets and sidewalks, people do not necessarily ever move out of your way, but expect you to move out of their way. Staring is also another cultural difference we encounter.

That evening we get get falafel at a Lebanese restaurant, and then I go home with a headache while the others continue to bar hop. There is something horrifying about being sick in a foreign place. Especially being sick in a foreign place when you have anxiety of OCD to sit atop of that. For some reason, I get it in my head that I should not drink the tap water here. Googling is the wrong decision to make, in that I learn that my fears are a little bit valid. It turns out most people in Montreal don’t trust their own tap water, as its source mingles very closely to sewage and pesticide spill off in the city.

Needless to say, I venture out into the cold streets alone by myself to find the grocery store, where I stock up on bottled water, coca cola and kit-kats for my headache. As I am paying, wordlessly because I can’t even remember how to say “I don’t speak French” in French, the cashier gets kind of irritated with me and begins to speak in broken English, explaining that a plastic bag is an extra twenty cents. I say I’ll take it, and he scowls at my lack of environmental respect, and packs my plastic water bottles into a plastic bag. I go home, stretch, hydrate, and my headache is lightening up by the time the others arrive home.

The next day Carp and I have an early morning out to ourselves, and stop into a bagel shop for a sit down brunch. Montreal is a heavily carnivorous cuisine, but I find a token vegetarian bagel sandwich to order with my coffee. Again, we order by pointing at the menu as our waiters speak limited English.

Carp goes back to the apartment after that to meet up with our friends, and I go to the grocery store to pick up some local beer to bring home. On my way back, feeling confident at my navigation of this new city, I am surprised to walk past a pool of blood in the snow, next to the ATM machine. It’s not just a little blood, it’s enough to give a small child a bath in. Back at the apartment, I tell our friends what I saw, and they laugh. They saw it last night, and say that someone just dropped a bottle of wine. I laugh too.

Later that day we join our friends in a hike up snowy Mont Royal within the city, to catch the great view.

We end the day at the diner around the corner again, enjoying the poutine and the Quebecois atmosphere. As we are walking back to our car, we again pass the ATM with the pool of what we thought was wine. Only this time, everyone looks at each other, and sadly agrees that it is definitely, definitely not wine.

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —