We held hands and counted the seconds together to the time when the wheels of the jet would leave the ground: ”. . .four, five . . . ten, eleven, twelve . . . ” It was a game I invented when I recognized my nine year old granddaughter’s anxiety. This was her first flight, and the take-off speed was a bit scary–as evidenced by her face (perhaps the window seat wasn’t such a good idea after all). . .fourteen, fifteen . . . finally lift off at eighteen seconds! ”It’s my favorite part of flying Anna, like going over the top in a roller coaster!” She seemed relieved that someone found the take-off more fun than scary, but was still not totally convinced by my game. The lure of Montreal now overshadowed any fears, after all, there were“foreign squirrels” and other mysteries to discover.
Our flight to Montreal was a pleasant mixture of early November sun and first in-flight experiences of snacks and drinks. These were served to us in royal fashion by a very attractive flight attendant, who was expert at garnishing smiles from a little girl.
In no time at all we landed safely at YUL airport in Montreal and made our way through Canadian customs. Considering it was her first trip requiring a passport, Anna was surprisingly uninterested in the proceedings. Much more interesting to her was the sound of the beautiful French Canadian language that was beginning to infiltrate the air. And then there was the visual encyclopedia of never before observed things that a bright and gifted young girl would naturally be drawn to.
Cleared through customs, we went with our luggage to the taxi stand. I know too well the fragility of life and I wanted to make this a first-rate experience for Anna, so a taxi ride was in order. As hopeful as I might be I could never be sure a trip like this would be repeated. I do know that it is a great joy to travel with grandchildren. One is relieved of the majority of the duties of parenting and the worries of spoiling a child. Spoiling becomes a grandparent’s prerogative and I had a whole weekend ahead to perfect it.
After we checked into our suite at Le Square Phillips Hotel there were six hours remaining before the Vernissage (art opening in French). It was being held in the ballroom of Olgivy. Olgivy is one of the most exclusive stores I have visited in all my travels. In the evening Claude Texier from France and I would be given the honor of Maitre Pastelliste (Master Pastelist) by the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada at their 16th Exposition Internationale. The following day I would be demonstrating the art of the portrait sketch to an audience composed of members and friends of PSEC. Francois Godbout, a documentary film maker, and friend would be filming the demonstration with his son. The filming would ensure a full set of experiences to be witnessed by my special young guest.
Before I continue on I would like to mention that Puerto del Sol, an open air painting that I completed this past summer of Audrey Fierberg of Leeland, Michigan was on display at the Exposition and PSEC had chosen to use the image for the official Exposition Poster.
First things first. Both Anna and her grandfather were hungry and ready for a typical Quebecois lunch. Where better to receive such a culinary delight than Nichols Cafe? It would be Anna’s first opportunity to move away from her normal chicken based food groups into the realm of never before tested tastes. Poutine and Smoked Meat sandwiches are the order of the day at Nichols and it never hurts to have Molsen Golden Ale to accompany the meal. In Anna’s case a chocolate malt was the drink of choice. Poutine is french-fries with a white cheese sprinkled on top and then smothered in rich brown gravy. Smoked Meat is similar in texture and taste to corned beef only spicier. The result is a French Canadian heart attack on a plate, but as long as one gives a two or three year interval between orders, it really is something you wouldn’t want to miss. I was able to evoke a wide-eyed look from Anna when I ordered “beaver-tail” for desert, a trick that Suzanne Godbout the retiring PSEC president had pulled on me during my first visit to Montreal back in 2005. Beaver-tail is a waffle like cake in the shape of a tail topped with a variety of optional sweet delights.
Still four hours remaining to the Vernissage and time enough for shopping.
First briefly this business about “foreign squirrels”. Anna had made a declaration on the way to the airport in Detroit. Before she becomes a successful artist she wants to do a brief stint as a veterinary doctor. She thought it would be best if she could get a few photos of French Canadian squirrels for future reference. Luckily on Sunday, before we left, the new PSEC president Reine Goodrow would take us on a driving tour of Montreal and we were able to garnish a number of squirrel photos. Although I’ll be darned if they looked any different then state-side squirrels to me, I’ve been waiting the photo prints for Anna’s analysis.
The way to a young girls heart or probably just about any girl’s heart is to offer to take her shopping. Montreal is one of the best shopping destinations around. We looked at elegant handbags with matching shoes. We saw some of the latest fashions and we were in and out of more souvenir stores than I dare count. With bounty in hand, we headed back to Le Square Phillips Hotel to dress for the opening.
The Vernissage was packed with people and Anna was an immediate hit with my Montreal friends. She looked fabulous in her new dress and she was the perfect lady. When Claude Texier and I were being honored and it was my turn to speak I paid my gratitudes and then spoke two sentences in my best French. My French teacher Michelle Declare is fond of this saying and it goes like this; ” Les bons amis sont des fils d’Or qu’il ne faut jamais casser. Il faut toujuors les garder au plus profond de son couer.” It translates to: “Good friends are golden threads that should never be broken. We must always keep them in the deepest part of our heart.” When I finished a spontaneous applause and a cheer broke out. I only make mention because if you could have seen the look on Anna’s face you would have witnessed the proud love I was being given. With out intending I had scored a touchdown.
Soon I could see that Anna was getting tired and we left the Vernissage a little early. Walking back to our hotel the streets of Montreal were alive with people and lights. A bit of early Christmas was in the air. We passed a number of restaurants and Anna was having trouble making a choice. Suddenly a spark of genius struck; “Anna how about room service?” As you can well imagine grandfather was on a roll with this idea. We dined in luxury that night– two different generations of life looking out onto a city full of brilliant lights talking of dreams and art.
Saturday morning brought Anna her first croissant and first Nutella-filled crepe topped with whipping cream. Being a grandfather was getting easier by the hour. Naturally after breakfast we did a little more shopping and then took a quick cab ride with my pastel box back to Olgivy for my demonstration. Upon our arrival we were met by new PSEC president Reine Goodrow. Reine presented Anna with a wonderful gift bag full exciting things meant to warm a little girl’s heart. I now had an accomplice in my efforts to create a never to be forgotten trip for Anna.
The demonstration area and Francois were well prepared and cameras were in place. I sat Anna in the front row near where I would be working and Reine Goodrow had graciously offered to translate into French for me. My model, Suzanne Godbout is a beautiful women and I have had the honor of her and her husband Francois’s friendship for a number of years. The same thing holds true for Reine and many other French Canadians as well. All of my Quebecois friends being there made my nerves rest easier.
As I worked the portrait, I would pause every fifteen minutes for questions. It didn’t take Anna long to raise her hand and much to even my surprise she asked one of the most insightful questions of the afternoon; ” Grandpa Bill, why do you put so much red in the dark places? “ This is a principle that I have taught for years; “When a form turns away from the light, tucks in to a crease, it becomes very hot, darker too.” An interesting observation coming from a nine year old!
In a couple of hours the portrait sketch was complete and I had done my best. We cleaned up and I presented the portrait to Suzanne in gratitude for her years of hard work as president of PSEC. The men and women who take on the responsibility of a pastel society presidency are the unsung heroes of the pastel world.
Anna and I would enjoy another evening dining with Suzanne, Francois and Claude Texier. They all generously spoke in Anglais as I had used up a good deal of my repertoire en Francais at the Vernissage. I’m going to have to work harder.
Our last day, Sunday, was another bright day. We spent the better part of the morning with Reine and took a good number of pictures beyond the squirrel motif. We completed our visit to Montreal by having a lovely lunch with good friends Anne and Guy Rochefort in Centre Ville. The flight home was a casual conclusion to a weekend of unique revelations including grandfather becoming an even greater admirer of his granddaughter.
On the drive home I asked Anna what were some of the highlights she remembered. Anna’s response went as follows; “What a nice man Francois was, how cool Claude Texier dressed, how nice Reine was (gift bag and all) and how nice and beautiful Suzanne was.Oh yes, Poutine and the foreign squirrels were not forgotten.
I will always remember the special hug we shared and the look in my granddaughter’s eyes as we parted.