The Beauty of One Day at a Time

-10 Minute Read-

Day or night, Old Montreal will never cease to amaze.
Day or night, Old Montreal will never cease to amaze.

Joel’s Journal - Entry #89 - 1/28/2017

When you take a step back and look at it, that’s what makes vacations so amazing.

People always believe that it’s the place you’re in, or the freedom you have to do whatever you want whenever you want, or it’s the amazing food or the adventurous experiences in a foreign land.

Yes, while all of these play a part, I don’t think they’re enough to create that warm rush of feeling you get whenever you think back on a particularly memorable vacation.

Memory is a powerful thing, and the most powerful memories are propelled by emotions. The normal, everyday memories are like a paddler in a canoe, lazily pushing his way across a serene lake. The small ripples his paddle makes stir small pings of happiness or excitement in your mind, depending on the memory of course.

But those certain memories, the ones that are linked to a particularly memorable experience, are like taking a massive boat engine and strapping it to the back of that canoe. The second it triggers, the nose of the canoe flies into the air, and it rips around that lake of your subconscious stirring up memory, scents, sights, perhaps even the best of emotions like nostalgia or love.

And I think those memories from the best vacations are all like this because we are living completely unhindered, completely open to letting all those good emotions in. There are no stresses of everyday life or worries about the future to snag them up like barbed wire on their way to your memory bank.

In my mind, that’s what living one day at a time can do for you.

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It was our last full day in Montreal, and we kicked it off with a big pancake breakfast. The entire apartment building seemed to be enjoying the quiet Saturday morning. A light dusting of snow was falling outside as a few people walked their dogs. After a couple drives between our apartment and the core of Montreal, M and I had come to calling our island home, “Apartments Island”, obviously due to the sheer number of apartment buildings that stood on it. We agreed over pancakes that the name should perhaps officially be changed to “Pooch Island”, because, well, dogs.

After breakfast, I took an hour to do some work and post my journal from yesterday before I jumped in the shower and got myself ready to go.  As we approached the car, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for any misadventures that would come on the drive.

However, as we neared our first stop, the Musee de Beaux Arts, we turned onto a side street only a few blocks away and an entire row of available parking appeared. Perfect. No hitch, no hassle.

Now, I won’t regale you with descriptions of the paintings or the art that fills the museum, I don’t have the expertise nor the vocabulary to talk about the works successfully. What I can say is that the works are absolutely beautiful, and the feeling you get being in a building filled with so much passion, beauty and skill, is completely filling. It leaves you with these sense that the world really is a beautiful place, and there have been many people throughout history who have seen its beauty and tried to capture it for others to see.

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It's really something isn't it?
It’s really something isn’t it?

We had to move the car back to Old Montreal, but our parking experiences there were 50/50.

Day 1 had been a piece of cake, while Day 2 had been rotten.

However, the emotions lingering from the museums had me in a good mood, and after leaning over to give M a kiss, we headed off to the old part of the city and easily found the street we’d parked on the first day. It was wide open, and it was here that we left the car for the rest of the day.

The plan was simply to walk around Old Montreal, find a couple souvenirs, perhaps get a coffee or a drink before our reservations at Garde Manger later that night.

It was a pleasant surprise to first find a quick and delicious lunch at a local cafe, then to walk a few blocks to Notre Dame with its doors open.

Our first two days we’d missed the 2:30 p.m. close time. Neither of us had given a thought to the idea that on a Saturday it would be open later.

We stepped inside (after paying for our $6 tickets) and we’re simply amazed.

I had another of those moments I mentioned yesterday, where you plan something for so long and then realize that it’s become a reality. I bought M the Lonely Planet Montreal and Quebec City guide for Christmas. The cover is filled with a shot of the interior of Notre Dame. After looking at that cover a bunch over the last month, we were finally staring at the real thing, and the book didn’t even come close.

The gothic cathedral stretches high above us and is awash in purple, yellow and orange light. A series of archways are carved into the wall high above our heads, each of them holding a statued figurine of a saint (I assume), and with Jesus on the cross in the centre. Each of them are surrounded by ornate wood carvings. Panels of glass splashed with purple light run all across the top.

We take a couple pictures from the centre aisle and then sit down in one of the many pews to simply look.

It’s one of those sights that makes you forget about everything else. It’s so magnificent that your eyes and brain can’t take it all in at once, like a really hot, delicious drink, you need to enjoy it in small sips to really experience it. There’s the wide mahogany pulpit trimmed in gold. The many gold candlesticks that each appear to be carved with minute details. There’s the marble statues, each of them carved with care and looking as soft as sand. There’s so much more, but for now, I’ll say this is one of those things where if you’re ever in Montreal, do not miss it.

M and I got up from our seats and walked around a little more, passing the several confessional booths that sit on the outside walls of the church and the many, many tables filled with prayer candles. We put in a dollar and each lit one. Whether you’re religious or not, there’s nothing bad about lighting a candle and thinking good thoughts about the ones that you love as it flickers to life.

Before we stepped back outside, I turned around and took one final glance at the cathedral, trying to absorb all the details into my memory.

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Lighting a prayer candle.
Lighting a prayer candle.

The wind had picked up and the snow was starting to come in horizontally. We ducked into a couple souvenir shops (the area around Notre Dame is full of them) so that M could pick up a shot glass and postcard for her collections. They were both easy finds and with that done, we headed for further explorations of Old Montreal.

When we walked into Jacques-Cartier Place, a circle of what looked like cast iron fireplaces sat in the middle. People milled around them, warming their hands and sitting in the warmth of the circle on wooden Muskoka chairs. M and I made our way over and soaked up some of the warm, smoky air before noticing that across the square, there was a wide troff of snow where you could make maple taffy.

I hadn’t eaten, or made maple taffy since I was probably under 10 years old, and I did it with a wide smile on my face as M struggled and laughed to get hers to wrap around the wooden stick.

When we’d finished we made our way back over the fire and sat down to enjoy them.

The warmth was hard to leave and we stayed near the fireplaces for some time, allowing the smell of the smoke to permeate into our clothes and hair. When I kissed M later that night, I could still smell the wood smoke in her hair and it made me smile all over again.

There wasn’t much left for us to explore at this point, and time was getting close for our reservation at six. So, we walked a couple more blocks before circling back in the direction of the restaurant.

For those who don’t know, Garde Manger is the brainchild of chef Chuck Hughes, who became well known on the Food Network a few years ago. His show Chuck’s Day Off is a favorite of mine, and it was nothing short of a dream come true to eat at one of his restaurants. This particular one is very sea-food focused and the food was delicious. I had scallops while M (being a vegetarian) had a spaghetti squash dish.

As I looked around the room and sipped my wine, I kept finding it hard to believe that I was really there. It’s an item that’s been sitting on my mental bucket list for years.

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Silent night.
Silent night.

The air outside the restaurant was surprisingly warm and the snow had stopped, leaving the night rather still, and as we made it back to the car and eventually the apartment on Pooch Island, I kept thinking to myself that it was an absolutely perfect day.

Those can be hard to come by sometimes, but I think by taking life one day at a time, and not worrying so much about what’s happened or what’s going to occur, we can open ourselves up to having these kinds of days more often.

It also helps if we do what we love and do it well.

Thanks for reading,

J.J.W.

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