26 August 2009


You could say that I had been calling for trouble, whining as I was over the fact that for over three and a half months, I had not boarded an aircraft. Withdrawal symptoms such as random gazing at the skies, and the consumption of ever larger quantities of airplane porn, were clear signs that I needed to get up in the air again.

And so when I was dropped off at Montréal airport last Thursday night amidst a downpour, I was full of joy not just about seeing good friends for a weekend in Philadelphia, but also about the upcoming, seemingly easy two flights via Toronto down to Philly. Had I only known that the rain outside wasn't just any shower front, but the low pressure trough created by a major weather system - centered smack over Toronto airport. Its tornados wreaked havoc not just on several GTA neighborhoods, but on YYZ airport operations as well. When, after many delays, I got there by 10pm instead of 8pm, my connecting flight to Philadelphia would have long left - had it not been cancelled anyway. So, along with many other stranded passengers, I spent a night at an airport hotel.

Waking up the next day, to clear blue skies and benign temperatures, I was confident to reach my destination with the 1pm flight I was rebooked onto. But as departure time arrived and went, and I was waiting at the gate with fellow passengers, the gate agent suddenly walked away, and the display monitor changed to "cancelled". Which is never a good sign.

Turns out that the weather system had in the meantime neatly positioned itself between Toronto and the East Coast, and subsequently all remaining flights for the day to destinations between New York and D.C. had been cancelled. "Very sorry Sir", Air Canada said, "we'll put you on the earliest flight on Saturday." This meant another night at an airport hotel, this time a specimen which, like me, had clearly seen better days.

The Saturday flight, third time lucky, then took off on time and brought me safely to Philadelphia, but not before circumnavigating some rather scary-looking thunderstorms on its way. Fortunately, my friends in Philly were all seasoned travellers and were very understanding about my late entree to this supposedly unhurried weekend - which was nonetheless worth the effort!

When on the way back to Montreal, US Airways managed to loose my bag for a day, I couldn't even be bothered to get upset anymore. Yes, air travel had gotten back at me - with a vengeance!

Now, more humble again, I can only hope that my next trip at the end of this week will be smoother. And although I am not travelling on American Airlines, this clip expresses exactly how I feel about it.

17 August 2009

Tropical nights

No, this is not a complaint. Although I must admit that over the past week of sunshine and blue skies, the temperature in my flat (top floor, big skylights, no A/C) has not gone far below the 30C mark. Not at night either, that is - making sleeping a somewhat sweaty affair. Meterologists call any night with temperatures remaining above 20C tropical - we qualify rather easily.

In fact, a few weeks of such heat, along with the trademark humidity, are not unusual for Montréal, except that they normally happen in July. I am quite content that they were delayed this year, as it is certainly much more pleasant to spend them sitting out on the balcony listening to music, instead of assembling furniture and cleaning!

And it is not just me who was very happy. The audience and players at last week's tennis tournament, taking place in an open-air stadium, were equally pleased with the perfect conditions. When I bought us tickets for Saturday's semi-finals many weeks ago, it seemed like a gamble not just weatherwise, but also because I had never before seen a tennis game in its entirety, much less attended a match live. But thanks to a little brush-up from my three tennis afficionado friends, and two players battling for every point, this tropical night turned out extremely pleasant. In fact, it left me with just one gripe: I feel I have fallen victim to misleading advertising. They call this tournament "Rogers Cup", and yet they rather uncerimoniously expedited our Roger National home after the quarterfinals. Scandal!

11 August 2009

Living quarters

It's been a long road, getting from there to here.... When I started watching the TV series opening with these lines late last year, I didn't realize how much its theme would apply to my own trek. But as I worked myself through the episodes (at a very slow pace, might I add), things in real life started unfolding and I embarked on this Enterprise of moving overseas. It turned out to be quite an adventure indeed, spanning three seasons and with an unexpected cliffhanger month in London thrown in for good measure.

In a furnished apartment at Tower Hills, in hotelrooms from Dublin to Brisbane, on transatlantic and transpacific flights, and after exhausting days on this island in the St. Lawrence river, I kept tuning in to the pioneer protagonists of my show, boldy going where no man had gone before. Fiction it may be, but it still helped me looking at my challenges from a higher orbit: They were minuscule compared to those routinely overcome by your average explorer.

And indeed, I prevailed and am happy to report that my new living quarters, aka the CORD Estate Le Mont Royal, are now ready and welcoming visitors from near and far.

As for that TV show, even at my pace, it invariably nears its end. But if I could see into the future, I'd say that this end is only just the beginning. Engage!

08 August 2009

Charlie's Angels

Or so a clochard by the wayside apparently called my three visitors this week, as the girls roamed the streets of Montréal, positively bristling with girl power. Little wonder that their batteries were fully charged, given that they had just spent three weeks touring the Canadian West, from Vancouver through the Rockies all the way to Calgary. I got to see some of the pictures they took, and wow! The landscapes, the wildlife, the activities, it all looked stunning, and reconfirmed my notion of having to tour this unknown part of Canada soon.

But now they were in Montréal, and I was of course going to showcase the sophistication and joie de vivre of this city, contrasting those rednecks out in the West. ;-) First of all though, I had to shift into overdrive on Monday and Tuesday night, and finally assemble the very last piece of furniture that still sat in my livingroom in an all too familiar IKEA box. The instructions for the sofabed had this little symbol "heavy, work in pairs" on the first page, and I naturally ignored it - to the detriment of my back, as the thing turned out to be rather bulky in its assembled state. But once finished, laying back on it and contemplating the fact that my place was now finally done felt reinvigorating.

When my dear friend from university and her two travel companions stopped by for apéro the next day, "Charlie's Angels" became the first of a hopefully long list of guests. There are still many pages left in my guestbook, and the accommodations are ready. Good morning, Angels!

02 August 2009

Idée Suisse

They say it's abroad that you discover your patriotic side. And I now know that that's probably true. Following a mix of curiosity, desire to meet new people and obedience to the Swiss consulate's strong advice, I decided to attend the 1st of August festivities in Mt. Sutton. This quaint little town in Québec's eastern townships has a small ski station and from its setting reminded me very much of Atzmännig or similar places. It did indeed look very much like pre-alpine Switzerland, and the countless Swiss flags decorating the town certainly helped.

For 33 years now, the Swiss community in eastern Canada, some 12'000 people strong, has celebrated the Swiss National Holiday in Sutton, and the event has become the largest of its kind outside our borders. Arriving mid-afternoon, I found myself in almost surreally Swiss settings: A large wooden chalet decorated with flags and geranium, Schwyzerörgeli and Alphorn performances, food stalls selling Crèmeschnitte and sausages (the latter with an enormous, but very orderly line), and all of it populated with hundreds of people wearing Swiss-themed gear. Not too few even donned their traditional folk costumes. I felt woefully underdressed (all I could find was a red-white checkered shirt) and quickly bought a 1. August badge to keep up with Herr & Frau Schweizer.

The crowd was an interesting mix of young and old, farmers and city-dwellers, first and second generation Swiss. All Swiss national languages could be heard (I had a rather hefty attack of homesickness eavesdropping on two families chatting in Ticino dialect), along with plenty of Québecois and English. On the chairlift, I met a guy from Köniz who spends the summer working on a farm here, and we went for a little hike together and then, much like good citizens do, listened to the wise words broadcast from Berne by the President of the Federal Council. And as the clarinet and the Schwyzerörgeli performed the Swiss and Canadian national anthems, with the sun's last rays tinting this pittoresque setting red, everybody seemed truly merry - and strangely united.

It's been a long time since I attended a lampion procession and lighting of the bonfire, but seeing the kids easily transcend language barriers while comparing their little paper lights, and total strangers singing, dancing and toasting in the Festzelt until way after dark, it slowly dawned upon me what the "Idée Suisse" really means: It's the willingness to stick together by celebrating our differences.

P.S. Speaking of Idée Suisse: That other one, the SRG SSR etc., caught me on record.

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