On a surprisingly warm Thursday in Ithaca, K, L, and I set off for Montréal, land of bitingly cold wind, beautiful architecture, and delicious food. The drive was smooth and virtually traffic-free, involving a transnational feminist podcast and a road trip game played in both English and French.
Upon arriving in Montréal, we checked into our fancy yet affordable three-bed, equipped-with-a-kitchen private room at our hostel, where I finally got to use and listen to French again in daily life. We then embarked on the long and difficult journey of finding parking before giving up and parking kind of illegally on the street (hey, we paid and later moved to a parking garage), following our noses to a poutine restaurant.
Unfortunately, there was a line that stretched outside, and we were hungry and unwilling to wait in the cold, so we wandered inside an Afghani restaurant instead. There, after I accidentally said “bonjour” instead of “bonsoir” and wanted to crawl into a corner, we consumed the most incredible salad, lamb, chicken, pistachio-cardamom ice cream, and chai latte. (That Iraqi chai latte. It has officially ruined me. I will forever dream of it.)
We took advantage of the free pancakes and syrup at our hostel, and then wandered through Chinatown and Vieux-Montréal, falling prey to the tourist trap of a maple syrup store. We then decided to hop onto La Grande Roue de Montréal, where we got to spend a lovely 20 minutes on the Ferris wheel, gazing out at the Saint-Laurent River and the rooftops of Montréal.
A sunny but cold walk along Vieux-Port de Montréal convinced us to try to find the Underground City, but after unsuccessfully finding any shops in this mysterious subterranean network, we sauntered through Rue Saint-Catherine and back to Chinatown for lunch. In a restaurant that overlooked a scenic street and gave me intense nostalgia for Hong Kong and dim sum, I ingested the most delicious hot and sour soup of my life.
Our hunger satiated, we attempted to visit the Musée d’art contemporain, but it was tragically closed. Instead, we popped into a Tim Horton’s (I don’t drink coffee so sorry, I can’t tell you what it tasted like), and then found a used bookstore. But the true paradise was a feminist bookstore, L’Eugélionne. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than a store full of feminist books, French and English, and I had to resist the urge to buy everything I set my grabby little hands on. In the end, I managed to leave with just one book: La pensée straight by Monique Wittig. (The speaker I invited to come in the fall, Annabel Kim, wrote about Wittig in one of her books!)
Finally, we returned to Canada’s main gastronomic attraction: poutine. The line at La Banquise wasn’t very long this time, and the food was worth it. I also discovered this delicious nonalcoholic, noncarbonated Italian drink, Lemoncocco. Our eyes were a bit bigger than our stomachs, so we struggled to devour our plates of poutine, but we did our best.
Our next stop: a theater so that we could see Britannicus, a 16th century play by Racine. I only understood about half of it because the dialogue was almost entirely in alexandrins (rhyming couplets that consist of lines of 12 syllables each), but the actors’ and actresses’ body language was entrancing and simply listening to the musicality of the alexandrins was beautiful. (Also, I got distracted for a good ten minutes of the play because one of the actors dramatically rose from the depths of hell, his naked body glistening, and his penis was just…there. I’m not straight enough for that.) We then stayed up past my bedtime having a feminist conversation. Worth it.
After L professionally braided all of our hair, we set off for a vintage bazar in L’église Saint-Enfant-Jésus, where we sadly (or perhaps happily for our wallets) realized we couldn’t buy anything because we had no Canadian cash. We then contemplated climbing Mont Royal for the view, but the entire hill was still covered in snow and none of us were wearing snow boots. Instead, we backtracked to an American-style diner that we’d seen earlier with a line outside, and there we had scrumptious bagels and pancakes.
Per a friend’s recommendation, we headed over to L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph, using the métro for the first time. Montréal’s métro is…so clean. So shiny. So functional. So reliable. And so affordable. (Yes, DC Metro, I’m glaring at you. I will never forgive you.) L’Oratoire was an aesthetic and bizarre experience. Despite the gorgeous architecture that very much resembled Montmartre’s Sacré-Coeur, it also had escalators. As L termed it, it was a “capitalist church.”
K then insisted we go to a boulangerie, and well, who were we to turn her down? It was nice to experience the French life again, relaxing and enjoying pastries, even if the croissant aux amandes was a lie that resembled a cake more than a croissant. Since we had a long night ahead of us, we returned to our hostel to rest, and then went back into the city to eat dinner.
Then, the highlight of the night: a drag queen show at Cabaret Mado until 1:15am. I don’t think I’ve stayed up that late since I was 23. Aside from a drunk, straight white man who we probably should have punched in the face, it was a mesmerizing experience. I admire anyone who can dance or flip cartwheels while wearing high heels.
We dejectedly checked out of our hostel and left Montréal behind, failing in our quest for decent postcards. After a lunch stop at Cornwall, Canada, we crossed the border back into boring America and eventually into tiny Ithaca. I’m tempted to move to Montréal, except for the fact it’s only April and I screamed every time I saw a pile of snow taller than I am. I would freeze and become a cryogenic experiment. Maybe I’ll live out my bourgeois dream during the spring and summer, and abandon ship come winter.