20 Jun 2019

Coup de coeur

We sat down for lunch in a small café on Ste-Catherine, like we had so many times in the old days. My friend looked at me, tilted her head and asked: "So, how do you like being back home?"

I thought back to that most perfect day I just had. How could I even verbalize that wonderful, fuzzy, warm sensation? I gave it my best shot. And so I told her.

About starting a sunny and warm June day in Outremont, wandering the leafy boulevards and gazing at the stately mansions, wondering in which Armand Gamache might live. Much like him, enjoying a café au lait and a flaky croissant on Avenue Bernard, reading the morning paper.

About strolling east towards Avenue Parc, past Hassidic students standing outside their Yeshiva, Tora in hand. While they were concentrating on the spiritual teachings the Jews brought to Montréal, having my own mind firmly set on the more earthly pleasures: On Rue St-Viateur, an oven-warm bagel was simply too good to resist, despite firm intentions to save the appetite for another Jewish delicacy: Down along The Main,  just before noon, awaited Schwartz's Delicatessen and a medium smoked meat sandwich.

About the indulgence of sitting in a little park off St-Laurent, enjoying said sandwich while watching the world go by: Street artists, businessmen, mothers with kids in tow, lots of twenty-somethings in activewear and bearded hipsters on their fixed gear bikes.

About the ongoing gentrification - or is that hipsterization? - of the Plateau, as evidenced on continued ambles on Rue Rachel, up St-Denis and to Avenue Mont-Royal, the neighborhood's main artery. Chain outlets and somewhat dodgy boutiques have definitely given way to an ever-growing number of craft breweries, microtorréfacteurs and vegan bistros, catering to what seems to be insatiable demand fuelled by the city's new creative class.

About breaking for a little siesta in the shade of Parc Wilfrid-Laurier, to the calm and meditative views of the small pool slowly filling with water, so that the season can begin on la Saint-Jean.

About the reenergizing Bixi ride on the new bike path up to Little Italy, and the first Québec strawberry samples of the season being proffered by the merchants of Marché Jean-Talon there. Vitamin levels thus replenished, indulging in an equally appealing Cannelé and, yes, a locally roasted espresso shot, acknowledging that it is just the thing for whiling away the afternoon while watching the planes from Europe coming in overhead. (Naturally, the one with the white cross on the red tail was right on time.)

About zipping downtown on the métro, to emerge in the heart of the Quartier des Spéctacles, where the Francofollies filled the summer evenings with countless free shows. Sitting down on the lawn, feeling a light breeze on the skin while listening to a young Québec folk singer sharing her travelling songs from journeys across this epic land, and wishing for summer to never end (a hope shared, presumably, by the rest of the audience who had been through yet another brutal Montréal winter.

About finally heading out to the recently remodelled Parc Jean-Drapeau, where a generous open-air stage abuts a new, wide boulevard linking the métro station to the river, with a panoramic view of this unique city and its Mont Royal rising beyond.

And about the final Bixi ride, across Pont de la Concorde and into the Montréal sunset, elated and grateful for a perfect day in this oh-so-special place.

My friend smiled a warm and compassionate smile. "Well, I think I have my answer", she said. "But you know, when I asked 'How do you like being back home', I had thought of Switzerland...."

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