Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bonjour, Allo, Kalimera, Eh?

We’ve recently returned from a family vacation to Montreal, Quebec (Canada – that’s where the “Eh” part comes in). This past summer our children requested a trip to see their Grandmother and we were happy to oblige. It couldn’t have been more fabulous!

We landed in Montreal at 4:00 in the afternoon during a hellacious rainstorm. Normally I wouldn’t see rain as something to be grateful for, but to make a long story short, the weather was bad, traffic slow going, and the need for food was growing. When you combine this with the knowledge that it was dark and we were lost, the final result was Smoked Meat at Chenoy’s. MacGyver and I couldn’t wish for a better first meal in Montreal, but what made it spectacular was that our daughter ordered it as well and loved it. MacGyver Junior gave it a nibble and returned to his chicken assuring us that he’d try it again – sometime!

(For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating Smoked Meat, it is pastrami amped up a million times, served on really great rye bread, with just the tiniest amount of mustard. It is served with vinegary coleslaw and a peppery pickle. Reading the description might not lead you to ordering it, but trust me, given the opportunity, take it!)

Finally, three hours behind schedule, we arrived at MacGyver’s best friend’s house. Normand has been MacGyver’s partner in crime for thirty eight years. He had the key to the apartment we would be staying in for the first few days. We had told the kids to expect people to greet them by giving them a kiss on each cheek. It was incredibly sweet that Norm and Isabelle (his lovely partner) initiated them into this cultural experience. Again, somewhat dubious, little MacGyver accepted it, while our daughter giggled and participated with a little more gusto.

We haven’t been to Montreal with our children in six years and haven’t seen Norm’s children in nine. My tender hearted guy was moved to see the four kids together and took great delight at the immediate connection. They all went downstairs and watched Shrek in French for a few minutes. After a hasty conversation and the promises of a get together, with key and children in hand, we took off for places fondly known!

MacGyver grew up in the middle of Montreal in a house on a corner in a neighborhood that I have dreamed of living in since I was a little girl. We lived in Ahuntsic, his childhood neighborhood, briefly in 1998. Every day I took walks and marveled at the different architecture of the detached, semi-detached, apartment filled, shop ladened world. Most everything is built of brick or stone, many homes have stained glass windows, wrought iron railings and balconies; there are huge street trees and streets filled with playing children.

So, with the fortune of having the key to Andre’s apartment (Normand’s dad), we spent the first four days living in Ahuntsic and showing the kids what MacGyver’s normal day to day life as a child was like. We showed them the house he grew up in, the school two blocks away, the playground that gets turned into ice hockey rinks in the winter, subways, and parks. Many neighbors still live there and it was nice to know that familiar faces were all around us.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up moving every two years, so this constancy, this sense of home that Ahuntsic offers is like candy to me. There may be other neighborhoods with bigger houses or that are less urban, but in Ahuntsic MacGyver showed us where he played tennis every summer day, showed us where he spit on a street lamp one winter night and counted how long it would take to freeze solid (he of course did this over and over with Normand), where he raced his bicycle after his brothers, where he trained to run his first marathon. These aren’t just houses filled with transient people, these are homes filled with people who will raise their children and watch their grandchildren skate on ice rinks at the neighborhood park and remember when it was their children they watched.

The morning after we arrived in Montreal we took the children to see their Yaya (the Greek word for Grandmother) and one of MacGyver’s brothers and his family. It was my turn to watch my children grow up in front of their eyes, and experience my own disbelief when I got to hug and kiss our niece and nephew. I’ve known them since they were three and four and I just have to say, I was dazzled.

I hit the jackpot when I married MacGyver in many ways. One of the most important was in receiving a fabulous brother and sister in-law. They both make you laugh until you cry. They will both do anything they can to help you. My sister in law is Greek and is only happy when everyone is eating; my brother in law happily supports this endeavor. Tell me, what is better than sitting around a table loaded with incredible food while you laugh your head off with the people you love? Nothing! I’ve spent many nights of my life at their table talking, laughing, overeating, and wondering how in world we can be so comfortable with each other when the time between visits is far too long and life experiences are so different.

One night during this visit, our lovely niece and her lovely boyfriend spent a few hours playing with our kids and our special friend, Artemisia, in the living room while the rest of us chatted at the table, in the kitchen. From where I sat, I could see the whole group talking and laughing, getting along so well. Given that our niece is now a student at McGill University, I was deeply moved that she was interested in getting to know her young cousins and gave them her time. She may never know how deeply that night impacted our children; their laughter was filled with warmth and acceptance was tangible in the air. I can only think of the phrase, “the ties that bind us.”

Much of our family time was spent in one of three ways, eating, going on adventures, shopping. We got our kids to eat Shish Taouk (very garlicky Lebanese chicken), Souvlaki (very garlicky Greek chicken), and pretty much every doughnut Tim Horton’s makes. We saw Monet, Picasso, Cassatt, Seurat; we saw our daughter ride a unicycle across a wire suspended 15 feet above the floor at the Science Museum; we watched bugs crawl across our son at the Insectarium. The third best adventure for our kids was probably the dollar store! Tell a child everything costs a buck and everything becomes affordable. I think we spent $56.00 on the first trip; imagine all the “stuff” we brought back.

The best adventure was probably La Ronde; an amusement park that mostly features roller coasters. We spent that cold and sunny day with Normand and his son. There were bright blue skies and it was 41 degrees. We waited patiently for about 45 minutes to get on Goliath. For much of that time my husband’s back was to me while he chatted with Norm in French. While one could have complained at being ignored, the thought that went through my mind over and over was how lucky they were and did they know it? I know that they do! It was written all over their faces; they laugh so hard, they speak so intensely, they are so relaxed. There is an acceptance and understanding there that I long for.

A while later, finally sitting on Goliath between my daughter and Normand, the only thing I could do was laugh! I had willingly strapped myself (and my child) into a device that took me straight up so that all I could see was blue sky and then with clicking clacking in the background, we finally crept to the precipice and hurled our way straight down at an alarming rate which then lead us to twists, turns, loops, and a series of bumps that made you feel like a rock skipping on water. I heard Normand laughing the whole time. As a person who is generally earthbound, all I can say is, it was a beautiful ride.

A few short days later, we made our final visit to say good-bye to family. What was going to be an hour or two turned into four hours. We finally forced ourselves out the door and into the car. As always I found myself crying, but trying to do so quietly so that the kids wouldn’t be sad. As we pulled away from the curb we heard sniffing from the backseat of the car. Both children were crying. They didn’t want to go home, they wanted to stay. We had a long conversation about the word “bittersweet” and what it means to really love someone. Time and distance mean nothing to love.

As parents we learned what great travellers our children are. They embrace new opportunities, they like people, they are curious about the world they live in, and they love whole heartedly.

Mac and I are blessed, happy, and content. But we are also confused. Since 1999, when we moved from Montreal, we have talked about when we will move back to Montreal. We love the urban buzz and hustle; we love the food, the architecture, the opportunities; we love so many people. The fact that our children embraced all that Montreal offers is a great delight to us. We are torn.

We are torn because our life, here, is so rich. We have all that we want and need and then some. We have quiet, we have a home, we have opportunities, and we love so many people. The day after we got home I was cleaning up the front yard when a friend drove past, rolled down her window and yelled, “Welcome Home. We missed you.” What a great feeling to have so many friendly familiar faces all around us.

The ties that bind us and time and distance mean nothing to love. These two phrases I roll around in my heart and mind. Whether here or there we are thankful, you mean the world to us.

Merci beaucoup for reading!