March 1, 2001

Downtown (Part III)

Most of the below was originally scribbled out Tuesday afternoon in my gynecologist's waiting room, in pencil, in a beat-up old exercise book that I cram into my purse. There's more to come but after two days of trying unsuccessfully to find time to complete the narration, I decided to at least post what I already have.

In case anyone is wondering, Downtown Part I and Part II are from last summer.

I shouldn't need an excuse to go downtown but it's been years since I did for no reason. This time a doctor's appointment - just a routine check - was the force that overcame my inertia. (Sorry. Not.)

As it happened, Dad and Stepmom had to see their family doctor too, so I got to languish in two overcrowded waiting rooms; that must have given my immune system a thorough work-out.

After the parents got through I dropped them off at their apartment and drove to find a parking spot near a subway stop. Bringing the car downtown is not something I do if I can help it; besides, our Metro is passably clean, efficient, and an experience.

The surreal aspect of my journey began at the first subway turnstile. I needed to buy tickets and was clutching a crumpled $10 bill in my fist. There was no-one in the ticket booth; it was dark and there was a FERME sign on the window. While pondering what to do next, I noticed a short, stocky older woman with grocery bags in both hands trying to go through the automatic turnstile. She turned back and said to me, "Go there, it's open", pointing to the path beside the ticket booth. I stood there, confused, and she said again, "Go! Go fast!"

I went. It turned and I was in.. for free. I don't know what became of the woman, as I heard my train approaching and scurried off.

After five stops I had to transfer lines at the Lionel Groulx station. Between the tracks there's a wide platform where people wait and musicians play for change.

This time there was a young man with a keyboard, a pair of speakers, and a large case with (presumably) his CD's for sale and room for donations. He was playing "Feur Elise", tolerably well. Whenever there's classical music in a public place I find it soothes and relaxes the crowd. I know I was sorry to see my train arrive.

I finally ascended to street level at the Peel Station in the heart of downtown. It's one stop short of my destination but I had music and book stores to browse on the way and over two hours to kill.

First stop was a jaunt through the HMV Music "Megastore". That was fairly uneventful and I soon proceeded east along Ste. Catherine Street, one of Montreal's main east-west corridors.

This used to be my territory during university and working years; it's now a strange blend of comfortingly familiar and jarringly new. Ste. Catherine Street doesn't have many skyscrapers but mostly modest older buildings, usually with narrow storefronts. Some of these are shiny and modern; some are under construction, hidden by giant posters with ads and company url's on them; a few remain as I remember them. So do the smells, a mixture of charcoal-broiling meat and automobile exhaust - the oxygen of the city.

On one corner stands the quintessential metaphor for 2001: a gorgeous old stone building with brown and red stone accents, small windows and a green metal (copper?) roof. Above the doorway rests a large modern sign: CLEARNET - one of the local cell phone companies.

Two of the three main old-style department stores are gone now, with only the Bay remaining. The shells of the others (Eaton's and Simpson's) have been partitioned into theaters and downtown malls.

(By the way, the "Bay" is the modern descendant of the Hudson's Bay Company which began as a fur trading enterprise over 300 years ago. Their website has an extensive section about its history, including a detailed page about the legendary striped wool Hudson's Bay blankets.)

My next stop was the Indigo bookstore in Place Montreal Trust. Indigo is one of the two Canadian book giants (Chapters being the other one, which Indigo is presently trying to buy out). These are large, friendly stores with plush chairs scattered around and of course coffee shops - in the style of the Borders and Barnes & Noble chains in the US.

I did some serious browsing there. I do have stacks of books to read at home but it's difficult to resist the lure of something new. (The prices, however, made it a little easier.) Still, I was hoping to find something to snap me out of my reading lethargy, but after looking through a number of likely candidates, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the books, it was me - I just don't have the attention span at the moment.

That brings me to the end of part 1 but the day was not nearly over. More to follow ASAP; meanwhile, this might be a good time to refer you to the forum, particularly the discussion about reading and books. I think I have the world's most literate and articulate readers, if the ones that have joined in so far are a fair sample. Don't let Stephanie have the last word - tell us what you read!

Linque Du Jour:   Evidence of Life on Mars!

For those into cool stuff out of space:

This was in the news last week - it seems scientists have been studying a chunk of meteorite found in Antarctica; have determined somehow that it came from Mars; and now have discovered evidence of bacterial life within from zillions of years ago (give or take...)

Really cool photographs of earth bacterial evidence (magnetic stuff) versus what they found in the rock are here at a NASA site.

All penguin jokes will be begrudgingly received in the abovementioned forum.

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