Mont Royal

Tuesday 4 August
So, today I walked up a mountain, technically. Which mountain? Why, the one in the middle of Montreal, of course. The eponymous Mont Royal, that gave its name to the city, Why? Because it’s there, you fool. Tcha, the questions you ask.

According to the Rough Guide, Mont Royal is only 233m high, which is why I say ‘technically’. It’s heavily wooded and lightly landscaped by the same guy who did Central park in New York. There he started with a blank slate – the park was literally blasted out of the ground. Here he had to work with the fact that there was a 233m bump in the way. The Parc du Mont-Royal still has a Central Park-ish effect, with artfully placed lumps of fractured rock and excitingly curvy paths that meander off into the undergrowth. If it’s fake nature, it’s very convincing (again, like Central Park). I took the Rough Guide’s recommended approach which is an hour-long stroll up a wide gravelled drive, made for horse-drawn carriages, that twists and turns and gets you to the top so gently you hardly notice the slope. There are several tops to choose from but only one for me, (a) because it’s the obvious destination of the route I took and (b) because Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry have a scene there in The Whole Nine Yards. It’s a semi-circular plaza with a fantastic view out over downtown.

On the way up I passed a group of about twenty youngish mums, all in sports wear, pushing their babies in buggies and exercising according to shouted commands from the buggycise mistress. A nice way of combining the demands of motherhood and the needs of the self, I thought, even the bits where they had to wave their hands over their heads and let the buggies continue to roll through momentum. Actually it was only one hand at a time but momentum still played slightly more of a part than I would have liked if I was one of the dads.

Then down to downtown, which seems generally like a North American city. I’ll look at Vieux Montreal tomorrow. Why do American cities all have such ugly pavements? They are just white-grey concrete slabs, not even with cracks to avoid walking on. Boring. But, as predicted, downtown Montreal has way more life and zing to it than Denver. Many restaurants have the nicely European habit of opening up the entire shop front to the pavement, so diners can enjoy the natural air conditioning (always nicer than artificial) as they eat.

I’ll spare you photos of the churches visited – the Basilique-Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde (a scaled down copy of St Peter’s) and the Anglican cathedral, the most boring cathedral in the world EVER. They didn’t even try. They asked themselves: what kind of cathedrals are there in the Old World? Um … oldish looking ones. Okay, we’ll fake an oldish-looking cathedral. Style? Perpendicular? Gothic? Italianate? Norman? No, just … oldish-looking.

However, had I been here in the mid eighties I wouldn’t fail to show you a photo of the cathedral on stilts. They decided they wanted to build an underground shopping mall beneath it. So, they cut away the ground and left the cathedral standing. On stilts. There are photos of it on display and it’s surreal. The mall is now there, of course, and very handily included somewhere I could buy a decent towel. I decided I couldn’t face another six mornings of drying myself with the handkerchief-sized scrap of cloth that passes muster for a towel at UQAM. It was obviously based on the same physical ideals that inform their notion of what makes a double bed. Everyone I’ve seen so far looks normal sized (or American) but there must be a colony of right titches somewhere.

As far as I’m aware the Canadians don’t kick up too much of a fuss about being subjects of Her Majesty the Queen. Maybe they leave the republican sentiments to the pigeons.

More on monasticism

Tuesday 4 August
That was a rather throwaway reference yesterday, so some clarification might be in order. I have a room and a bed and a table and chair; I have an en suite bathroom with shower, sink and toilet (no extractor fan or plug); I have a small cooking unit and fridge which would be handy if I had anything to cook or keep cool; and I have the possibility of Internet access. I do not have TV or air conditioning. I do, though, have a ceiling fan, which with the road noise means I need ear plugs to sleep. It’s a busy main road out there, the old boulevard René-Lévesque Est.

The room is officially “studio with double bed”. Right … Well, the bed is comfortable enough. The mattress is a foam block wrapped in plastic, reminding me of the jump mat from long ago school athletics. Two thirds of it are a solid block, and one third of it is a zipped-on slightly narrower block. Presumably that officially transforms it from single to double by some strange quirk of Franco-Canadian mathematics, which is so much superior to the Anglo type that I learnt at school.

If I lie on it, my ankles dangle over the end. Fair enough, I’m used to that. If I hold my arms out, and my left hand is just on the edge of the bed, my right elbow goes past the opposite edge. So, if that’s a double, Montrealeans are either very small or sleep in multi-story mode rather than the more traditional side by side.

And the sheets aren’t quite wide enough to tuck in by more than about a centimetre on all sides, and the friction of sheet-on-plastic-mattress is minimal. So, no matter how carefully you turn over, you will end up lying on a thin ribbon of rumpled sheet beneath you. Maybe that’s why it’s considered a double, because you actually need two of you to counter-rotate.

Anyway. I slept. And so to see what Montreal has to offer.

Bonjour hi

Editorial note, 11/8/09: the remark below about not seeing these posts for a week was prophetic. I carefully recorded my worldcon experiences in diary form against the day when the internet would once more be mine …

It’s Monday 3 August and I’m in Montreal. Résidences universitaires UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal), 303 boulevard René-Lévesque Est. If I can’t get an Internet connection then you might not read this until Tuesday 11 August and I’m getting my $15 for a week’s connectivity back. [I did.] We’ll see.

The approach to the airport gives a fantastic view of downtown Montreal on the left hand side, and a nice passport control guy told me he would look my panels up at the con. A nice undemanding 7 hour, 3 movie flight. I like to eschew the conventional Hollywood blockbusters for some of the more quirky offerings.

  • The Great Buck Howard. John Malkovitch as only John Malkovitch can be, playing a man who is simultaneously brilliant – a mentalist who wipes the floor with the likes of Paul McKenna – yet is doomed forever to be the kind of guy who only plays to half-packed theatres in small towns in Ohio. A brilliant study of pride and pathos.
  • Stone of Destiny. A more or less real story about a group of Scottish students who over Christmas 1950 stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey and brought it back to Scotland. My interest here is twofold: a further success on the CV of Charlie Cox (see here for my declaration of interest) and because several members of the Delightfully Dotty Car Club, whose club magazine I edit and which thus paid for this trip, contributed cars and sound effects. Also stars Begbie and one of the interchangeable hobbits.
  • Coraline. Pants-wetting animated fairy tale based on novel by Neil Gaiman, reminding everyone of exactly why he is this year’s Worldcon guest of honour. I was also grateful for Mr Bird’s Lower 6th English lessons, because despite all the obscure poetry that I never really understood, enough sunk in for me to realise who the baddie is.

It’s 01.50 by my body clock, I’m in university residences that are less monastic than the Boston YMCA (Worldcon 2004) but considerably more so than the Grand Hyatt, Denver (Worldcon 2008). And I’ve no Internet. Yet. But I’ve been out for a delicious gnocchi + Italian sausage meal and I’m already getting a better vibe from Montreal than from similar exposure to Denver a year ago. I look forward to seeing what else it has to offer.

Canadian money is very pretty and apparently works just like real dollars.