Some say that no one ever leaves Montreal, for that city, like Canada itself, is designed to preserve the past, a past that happened somewhere else.
— The Favourite Game, Leonard Cohen
I can’t leave Montreal behind without writing a word about Leonard Cohen. Because, even though the man spent much of his life living elsewhere, Leonard Cohen is Montreal.
You can’t avoid him when you are there. Stand on any street corner in the city centre and his face stares down at you. When the news broke of Leonard Cohen’s death in November 2016, an impromptu memorial sprang up on the doorstep of his Montreal home. Vigils took place in the square just opposite. Like a pilgrim, I visited both.
I also read The Favourite Game, his first novel, to prepare for my visit to Montreal last spring. The members of my book club were not happy — none of them enjoyed the thinly disguised autobiography. I thought it was laugh-out-loud hilarious.
I’m still making it up to them.
This was a rough year, on so many levels. Almost everyone I know is counting the hours until 2019 is over. All are hopeful that 2020 will be better. I myself had a pretty good year, more or less. But I find it tough to feel joy and gratitude when everyone around me is hurting and weary and sick. Some people call that empathy.
I call it exhausting.
And that’s before we even bring up the news cycle.
In times like these, some of us turn to prayer, some of us turn to poetry, and some of us turn to music. Leonard Cohen — poet, novelist, songwriter, chanteur — gives us all three.
To close out 2019 as well as my series of posts on Montreal, I’m going to finish with these words:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
May we all see more of the light in 2020.
Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969, AD. We came in peace for all mankind. — Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.
I took this photo of our moon two years ago, during my summer in Amsterdam. At the time I set it aside, not thinking it would ever be an appropriate photo for a travel blog.
But with all the build-up this week to the anniversary of Apollo 11, it seems like an appropriate photo for today, the 50th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. After all, isn’t space the ultimate travel destination?
I was too young in 1969 to remember much of Apollo 11. I have a vague memory of looking up at the night sky and asking my mom if the astronauts were on the moon at that very moment. “Maybe,” she said, but as I think about this memory, I know it was highly unlikely at that age that I was taking a walk outdoors after dark in the middle of July. And so, as we say in my family, I probably dreamed it.
As I watch all the documentaries on TV this week about Apollo 11, there are two thoughts that keep coming back to me. The first is that walking on the moon seems so very concrete compared to what we’ve seen of space travel in the past few decades. A man or woman taking a spacewalk from the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station leaves no trace. But a walk on the moon … there are footprints.
And the second thought is that, for a while at least, all of humanity was united in aiming for and achieving a common goal.
Would that all of humanity could be that unified again.
If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your minds, get up off the couch, move. — Anthony Bourdain
San Francisco …
Bridges, fog, food …
It’s crunchy granola, but it’s also double martinis and thick slabs of beef.
A city of towns, neighbourhoods …
A tough town for a stick shift. — Anthony Bourdain
So. What to do when you don’t know what to say about a new-to-you city?
Me? I turn to Anthony Bourdain. And as I did so, I had to laugh.
I laughed because he seemed particularly fixated on martinis while he was filming his San Francisco episode.
And I laughed because as my friend and I spent our week climbing the hills of San Francisco (hence, “a tough town for a stick shift”), we finished each day with an adult beverage. Or two.
Double martinis indeed.
This was my first one, which I sipped as we listened to jazz in a bar that time forgot at Haight and Ashbury.
Haight and Ashbury, of course, was the epicentre for the Summer of Love. With a little imagination, it seems like the entire strip is one that time forgot.
See what I mean?
We spent a morning strolling through Chinatown — one of the largest in North America, and certainly the oldest.
Then we hit the Castro, San Francisco’s gay village.
We finished our day in the Mission, enjoying cold beers in another bar that time forgot.
The Mission got its name from Mission San Francisco de Asis, one of the 21 Catholic missions established in California to convert Indigenous peoples. From Dolores Park, in the heart of the Mission, you have a great view of the entire city.
We also spent time in the Embarcadero, which is where my home exchange condo was located.
We bought fresh produce at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. (Being a ferry building, this is also where you catch any one of several ferries to get across the bay.)
And we ate sushi overlooking Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
We finished up our last day in North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco and home to the Beat Movement. We rested our aching feet at Francis Ford Coppola’s bar in the Sentinel Building (the green building) …
… and imbibed in yet another late afternoon cocktail.
San Francisco is known to be a foodie town (be sure to try the tacos), but during our short week, it was definitely the adult beverages that sustained us.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. — Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Today is about some significant anniversaries.
For one, 70 years ago today the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. One of the authors of that declaration was a Canadian lawyer and diplomat named John Humphries, who was Director of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1946 until 1966.
For another, 61 years ago today Lester B. Pearson accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. It was awarded to him in recognition of his work at the UN, including his 1956 resolution that an international United Nations force be sent to the Suez Canal to deal with the crisis there. At the time, Pearson was the UN General Assembly President and Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs. He later served as Canada’s fourteenth Prime Minister.
The international force Pearson envisioned is today known as the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. Seventy peacekeeping operations have been deployed since 1957, and 14 are currently still underway.
The phrase “United Nations” was first used by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 as a term for the 26 nations who came together to fight Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II. These Allied Powers, along with 24 additional countries, met in San Francisco in June 1945 at what was called the United Nations Conference on International Organization. They drafted the United Nations Charter, which was signed by 51 countries and ratified in October of that year.
Today, the UN has 193 members.
Given that I’ve been to New York City four times before my most recent visit, I’d already ticked off most of the “Top Ten Things to Do in NYC” a long time ago. Except for one.
I had never been to the United Nations Headquarters.
Here’s a pro-tip from me: Don’t wait until your fifth visit to New York to go to the UN. It’s far too important an institution for any citizen of this planet to ignore.
The UN has offices in Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi, but its headquarters are in New York. The UN General Assembly meets here once a year. The UN Security Council also meets here, as often as necessary. Its five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) were all members of the Allied Powers during World War II. The Security Council also has ten non-permanent members, who are elected for two-year terms. Canada has served on the Security Council six times since 1945, the last term being from 1999 to 2000.
I learned all this from our Austrian guide. She also told us how the UN Headquarters is designated as international territory. You can feel that, actually, the minute you walk into the building.
The chairperson of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. I’m going to finish this post by quoting what she said on the tenth anniversary of the declaration. Her words are ever so powerful and, given the current inclination towards ultranationalism that seems to be blanketing the globe, they are words we should all strive to live by.
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world…. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. — Eleanor Roosevelt
We ARE rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds. — Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Everything I know about Prince Edward Island I learned from Anne of Green Gables, so it’s only natural that I start this post off with a quote from the book.
My time on Prince Edward Island (while on leg two of my cross-Canada trip) was short (way too short), but I remember that the Island was beautiful and green and red and … so very, very small. (It is the smallest Canadian province in both population and area — five PEIs would fit inside Vancouver Island. So yeah … small.)
I really hope I get back there some day.
Another claim to fame (besides Anne) for Prince Edward Island: it hosted the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. Delegates from Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia came together to discuss forming a union of their three colonies. But the Canadians crashed the party and got them to consider making it a foursome (the colony of Canada being the fourth). The 1864 conference was followed by more meetings and, eventually, Confederation in 1867, although PEI ended up backing out and waited until 1873 to become a province of Canada. Even so, Charlottetown is called the Birthplace of Confederation.
This photo was taken (I think) somewhere on the Island’s north shore, which faces the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Prince Edward Island is famous for its red soil, which is caused by a high concentration of iron oxide.
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. — Maya Angelou
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
― John Lennon
It is equally true, I should add, that as some countries have too much history, we have too much geography. ― W. L. Mackenzie King
When Prime Minister Mackenzie King was giving his geography lecture in the House of Commons way back in 1936, it was generally believed that he was referring to Canada’s youth (a mere 69 years at the time) in comparison to our vast size (second in the world only to Russia). In my opinion, based on my travels, his assessment was bang on. Just take a look around.
Which is what Canada’s landscape artists have a propensity for doing.
Which is why I had Mackenzie King’s statement running through my mind like an earworm when I went to see the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Embracing Canada: Landscapes from Krieghoff to the Group of Seven. The exhibition’s position is that Canada’s natural world and our relationship to it has often been a major subject for Canadian artists, particularly during the hundred years that bracketed Confederation.
I finally got around to seeing this exhibition during the Christmas holidays. It’s a good exhibition; I was impressed with its depth and scale, and am intrigued by who could own such a collection. (Most of the pieces were loaned to the gallery specifically for the show and the lender wished to remain anonymous.)
I’ve written before that, even though Canada has a great tradition of landscape painting, most of us don’t get much beyond the Group of Seven when asked to name a Canadian landscape artist. So here’s a tip for my Vancouver readers: if your New Year’s resolution is to increase the amount of CanCon in your cultural life, get yourself down to the Vancouver Art Gallery before January 24 (the last day of the exhibition). You will learn something about the many (other) landscape artists who have lived and worked in this country of ours that has too much geography.
If only for that reason alone, the exhibition is worth the price of admission.
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
― Hans Christian Andersen