Saturday, January 9, 2010

montreal & quebec city

When I stepped out of this train station, I thought two things. One, I've landed in a fairy tale. And two, my hotel is just down the street, so I won't need a cab.

Just about ten years ago I decided to take a trip, all by myself. For a while I didn't tell anyone about my idea because I didn't want to hear the following:
  • You're doing what?
  • That's not safe.
  • You'll be lonely.
  • What are you going to do all day?
  • What if something happens to you?
  • Who will take your picture at the places you visit?
  • How will you eat - you'll have to sit by yourself?
Guess what? I was able to see into the future for a very brief time because lo and behold, I heard every one of those lines, most more than once. I specifically remember someone asking why I would want to do this alone because I won't have anyone to talk to about the trip after I come home. My response was - well, I could tell you about it. Which was met with a heavy sigh and a well, I guess. I really should have figured out then, and not after eight more years of heavy sighing, that this friendship would be best left in the past.  

With my passport, plane tickets, one small suitcase, one too large carry-on, and just a wee bit of apprehension about the next ten days in French Canada, I was off.

I arrived in Montreal three hours later, it being around 11 at night. I got a cab, and as I settled in the back seat, alone, a had this thought: I could be abducted in Montreal. The thought picked up the pace as I tried to explain in Franglish that I was staying at a residence hall at McGill University. I fussed with my map and confirmation email and shoved them up front to the cab driver. He finally figured it out. And I finally got to McGill. Why a residence hall? The school year was over and I read in my travel guide that this was a great budget option for people who wanted to be in the middle of the city, but pay about a 1/6 of the middle of the city lodging cost. And I didn't plan on spending much time in my room anyway. Just at night to sleep.

This hall was quite big, and looked to be built in the 1960s or 70s. I checked in and took the elevator up and up and up to my floor. Found my room (which was right across the hallway from the shared bathroom - much to my delight!), opened the door and turned on the light. And there it was: the sadest looking college room I've ever seen in my life. All white. A tiny little bed shoved up against the wall, so close to the door that the door hit the bed each time I walked in. And a window across from the bed, staring out at another residence hall, sort of like a mirror view. A wall of desks and a closet. Tile floor. And all fluorescent lighting. This was my home base for six or so nights.

I went back out into the hallway, and it was eerily quiet. I walked into the bathroom, which wasn't so quiet at the moment. I'm still not 100% certain what was happening in the bathroom, but it sounded a bit intimate. This was a pretty big bathroom. Lots of private shower stalls. Just lots of stalls, period. I quickly shut the door and made my way back to the on-call desk (which was staffed 24 hours a day, much to my mother's delight). I explained that I just didn't feel comfortable in my space and wondered if there were open rooms in the older part of this building. I'd read about that side in my travel guide and I think there were baths in each room. No dice for me. No rooms open on that side.

Back upstairs. In my room. Locked the door. Sat on the bed. And waited. A. Very. Long. Time. It's now well into the morning. I gathered my toiletries and stuck my head into the bathroom. No sounds. I wrapped everything up in there in about 4 minutes, fumbled at my door with my key. Opened. In. Locked. Jumped in bed. My mind was racing. In about 5 seconds I had convinced myself that someone would pick the lock to my room and do horrible things to me in the middle of the night. So, I pulled over a desk chair and propped it in front of the door. That apparently was the only safety measure I needed because I fell right asleep.

[I had planned to tell this whole story in one post, but it's going to be a series.]

Saturday, January 2, 2010

completing a puzzle

Working on puzzles isn't something I do often, and really wasn't while I was growing up either. My mom would occasionally work on one, and I'd help for a while, but usually wouldn't see it through to the finish.

Last New Year's Eve I started a new tradition for myself. I had changed my plans for the evening mid-week and knew I would be home alone on NYE. From junior high up until a few years ago I spent NYE with friends from high school. It was always a great night, and one we looked forward to spending together. We've gone our own ways now and NYE has sort of caught me off guard in recent years. It's the end of "my sometimes lonely time" of year, so last year I decided to do something new to me. . . eating appetizers and putting together a puzzle. I thought I'd give it a whirl last year, and if I felt too bored or alone, I'd be more planful for NYE in 2009. To my surprise, it was a good night last year. I put together a pretty small puzzle - of a parrot of all things - ate some good food and stayed up until midnight. Warm and cozy in my home. I was reminded of the puzzle when Jodi and I were on a beach in Cozumel a few months later. There were two parrots - just like the those on the puzzle - on a stand at the beach entrance.

This year I decided I'd plan the same evening for myself. I had things pretty well set to go early on in the week. I worked on NYE, and was so excited to come home and start my night. I dished up black-eyed pea (for good luck in the new year) salad and opened a beer while I heated up some cheese fondue and bread, and sauted a few shrimp. I chatted briefly with Tammy and my mom on the phone, then set out to completely enjoy my evening. I dumped the puzzle out on my dining room table and worked on it while watching a movie on my laptop. Just before midnight I posted my last blog for 2009 and rang in 2010 eating ice cream with homemade butterscotch sauce. It was a fantastic New Year's Eve.

I finished the puzzle the next morning. And again, it was a meant-for-me choice - a picture of Italy - since I plan to go there this year. I wanted a slightly bigger puzzle than last year's and this one was the only choice between 100 and 500 pieces at Target. Just meant to be.

Completing a puzzle on NYE has become a meditative and symbolic activity for me, and a new tradition. Looking at all the pieces, scattered on the table, is like looking at the new year. New ideas, new experiences, new feelings, new people, new challenges, new joys. . . all before me. I'm not quite sure how they all with fit together at first glance, but I know with patience, perseverance, hope, prayer, courage and love, that they will fit, piece by piece. I found myself saying "thank you" each time I found a piece that fit in its place. I had put all the pieces together. The picture was complete.

This night has changed so much for me in 34 years. Not in good nor bad ways. Just in new ways. Welcome 2010.