Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lubbock, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago: Moving Quickly in Mid-February

Temporary hockey rink on the main quadrangle, McGill University, Montreal -- proof that hockey is serious business in Canada, eh!

I was up before six on Saturday morning the 11th, pounded out 12 miles in the dark and windy cold, then drove to DFW, met Linda, and flew west to Lubbock to visit Jack.  It was great to see him again.  We motored to lunch at a great little Mexican restaurant near his house, Picante, for a burrito lunch, then to his pad for an afternoon of chill.  Amazon had sent me a new Samsung Ultrabook PC (think MacBookAir, but a PC) the day before, and I was still loading and configuring stuff as we watched college basketball.

At five, we checked into our hotel, and at 6:45 headed west out of the city to Cagle’s Steaks.  I am not a huge carnivore, and it had been some time since I had a steak in a U.S. restaurant.  So a ribeye was in order, with a baked potato and fixins.  It was a great dinner.  We headed back to the hotel for a bit more yakking, then clocked out.

Snowplow at Lubbock Airport

Sunday dawned with light snow.  Rode an exercise bike in the hotel gym, then we head out for breakfast with Jack.  The snow had picked up, and I was stressing, because I needed to get back to DFW in time for a 3:35 flight to Montreal.  But the worry was for naught.  Jack dropped us at the airport.  Waiting to board, a nice Talking-to-Strangers encounter (note to newcomers: I talk to strangers a lot when I travel, and often abbreviate these moments as T-t-S). Waiting with us at the gate was a Franciscan in the traditional brown cassock and St. Francis haircut.  He was wearing sandals, so I asked him if St. Francis ordered sandals even in winter.  “Yes,” he replied.  “Even if you’re shoveling snow,” I asked.  “No, then you can wear boots so you wouldn’t get frostbite.”

Linda headed home and I flew on to Quebec for my tenth visit to McGill University (and second on three months).  Landed early, zipped through formalities and onto the Line 747 express bus into downtown.  As I have written before, Montreal’s public-transit system, the STM, is outstanding, and the airport buses now have free wi-fi.  How cool is that?  Hopped onto the Metro on the west edge of downtown, riding three stops to McGill.  At the Peel station I smiled and snapped a photo of a glazed-brick circle that was there when we first visited Montreal in 1967 at age 15.  New places are wonderful, but continuity in travel is to me a really great thing.

Winter-morning skyline

Was up early Monday morning, back to another Holiday Inn gym, onto the bike, then breakfast at Tim Horton’s and over to meet my host, Mary Dellar, a really nice young woman.  We yakked a bit about teaching and families and such, then it was time to stand and deliver, three back to back lectures from 11:30 to 4.  There was a little time between talks one and two to quickly eat a sandwich and visit briefly with Omar, a Lebanese MBA candidate from Cameroon (class two was MBA’s, about 20, only 3 of whom were Canadian – McGill’s MBA program is very global).

Said au revoir to Mary at 4:30, walked back to the hotel, and worked for an hour.  Took a short and needed nap (I have a lot of energy, but use a lot in talks).

At 6:30, I ambled across downtown to the Centre Bell, just to see the crowds streaming into the arena, where the legendary Canadiens (known locally as the Habs) were playing Carolina.  I checked the website the previous night, and single tickets were going for $126 to $207, so I opted not to attend. Then a friendly ticket scalper appeared on the street and a minute later I had a seat in the nosebleed section for $40. Once inside, I noticed that the ticket face value was $27, but, hey, I was at the very center of hockey in North America, The Mothership of the NHL game.

Bought a Molson Export and made my way to section 435, three rows from the rafters. I was there. Hockey night in Canada! Fans were focused. Go Habs Go! The organ fired up. It was madness. I paused to recall the memory of Bill Nyrop, with whom I played in the 1960s (or at least tried to slow down) at the hockey rink at the end of our street in Edina, Minnesota.  Bill went on to play defense for Notre Dame, then had a successful career with the Habs, including three Stanley Cup victories in 1976, ’77, and ‘78.  Sadly, Bill died of cancer in 1995, but memory of his finesse on ice and his goodness as a person made me smile.

Lots of fans wore Habs gear: a young woman in front of me wore Habs pajama bottoms, Habs stocking cap, a #14 Plekanec jersey-like t-shirt (Tomáš Plekanec, a Czech, is a star center).  Next to her, a young Francophone woman was texting live updates on her iPhone to “Ma Soeur” (my sister) and “Papa”. After the two national anthems (fans singing for both), I introduced myself to the guy next to me, a French Canadian, nice young guy wearing, of course, a Habs jersey.  We high fived after every Habs goal. He conversed in French with his buddy, but every so often an English phrase squirted out, like “Shoot the puck, brother”!  After a slow start, the Habs scored two power-play goals and led 3-2 at the end of two periods.  They went flat in period three, but the game had everything, including a Carolina shorthanded goal toward the end.

It was a colossal experience and I was so pumped up that I had trouble going to sleep!

Up early again, to the gym, a bit of work, then out the door.  Enjoyed yet another breakfast at Tim Horton’s.  Why do I like Tim’s so much? It’s not just the wonderful bran muffins and great coffee, at fair prices. It’s more than that: Tim Horton’s is Canada, always with a mix of social classes: a lawyer-looking guy next to me, a plumber in hard hat behind me. Recent immigrants speaking foreign tongues and longtime Anglo-Canadians. It is a more equal and more just society right before your eyes.  And they are always busy, often with a long line.

"O Canada" frieze, Gare Centrale, Montreal

I crossed the street and entered Place Ville-Marie, an office complex with shops below ground, continuing south to Gare Central, Central Station.  Snapped a picture of an outstanding frieze depicting scenes of Canada, below which were the lyrics of “O Canada,” the national anthem (in English at the west end of the main hall, and French at the east).  Hopped on VIA Rail Canada train 55, bound for Ottawa, 100 miles west, a pleasant ride.  The coaches made me smile: they were the classic ribbed stainless-steel design, manufactured by the Budd Company in the 1940s and ‘50s.  I remembered them vividly from childhood, when we rode the Burlington Zephyr from Minneapolis to Chicago to visit grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  Nice that sixty years later this durable stock is still rolling, albeit with a nice interior renovation – including free and fast wi-fi.  A very comfy, if somewhat poky, ride across farmland punctuated by occasional small woods of birch and pine, traversing swift creeks.  Toward the end of the ride, I tapped my foot to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” which totally fit.

We arrived Ottawa, the national capital, 20 minutes late.  The last visit was almost 15 years earlier, when I spoke briefly at a ceremony helping to inaugurate the U.S. customs and immigration preclearance facility at the airport.  Back then, I stayed overnight with Roland Dorsay, at the time Canadian Airlines’ VP, Government Affairs, so it was fitting (and so kind) that he was the welcoming committee at the train station.  And his wife, Joan, who I had met once.

We motored across town to an agreeable small new-wave pizzeria in a gentrifying neighborhood.  We had a great pizza and an even-better catch up on topics across the board.  Like most informed Canadians, they wanted my take on U.S. politics, a truly dreary topic.  I would have preferred to learn more about Joan’s considerable quilting skills (saw some pictures, truly outstanding work).  They dropped me at my downtown digs, the former (1859) Carleton County Jail, recycled a few decades ago as a youth hostel.  In between teaching assignments, the travel was now on my dime, and I opted to reconnect with hostels.  The idea of sleeping in a cell was somehow appealing, especially for $52!  The place was, candidly, more spartan than the European hostels I have used in the past couple of decades, but it was for just one night, and the location was superb – just a couple of blocks from the Rideau Canal, in winter a frozen artery billed as “world’s largest skating rink.”

The former Carleton County Jail, now a youth hostel

Home, sweet home: Cell 6-5

 

When I checked in, I noticed a big box of ice skates in the corner of the reception room, and asked.  Yours to borrow, said the clerk, so after dropping my stuff in cell 6-5, I trotted downstairs and rummaged through the box for something close to my size.  Toward the bottom was a pair of size 10½ CCM Tacks, top of the line.  I had never donned such sweet blades. Wowie, I thought.  Put on another pair of socks (my shoes are 9½), ambled down to the canal, found a bench, and laced up.  The first few steps, hardly glides, were pretty rough, but within a minute I was striding west, wearing a big smile – it had been 18 years since the last skate.  My arthritic knees complained a little, but all in all it felt like something I could still do.  Spotted a distance marker that read 0.6 km., and I set a target of the 5.0 km. sign, for a round trip of just over 6 miles.  On top of the 13 I did that morning on the bike, a good workout.  Whipped out my iPhone and took a video to send to granddaughter Dylan.

I paused to admire reproductions of eight or ten paintings from the National Gallery of Canada that were attached to the concrete piers of a bridge, all themed to this the bicentenary of the War of 1812 (Canada and the U.S. were enemies).  I paused to comment, to a fellow about my age, on how cool it was to see art at the skating rink.  A nice T-t-S moment, amplified by my quickly revealing that “we were on different sides.”  He then launched into a wonderful history lesson based on the portrait of a French officer of the British army, Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, who in 1813 repelled a U.S. advance of 4,000 troops with a force of 300 French Canadians and Mohawks (Canadians love those sorts of tales, and I thought it was pretty cool, too).   Standing and listening to the lesson, just standing there, I lost balance and fell hard on my right hip.  Ouch.  I finished the chat, then headed back.  I could skate, good, but it was sore.  And it got way sorer.  I didn’t think there was a fracture, but the pain over the next three days suggested that the next skating should include some hip pads!

Lieutenant Colonel Salaberry

At 6:00 I hobbled (yep, that’s the word) eight blocks to Murray Street, a small restaurant on that road.  At 6:30 I met Edmond Chiasson, a longtime Ottawa friend, and his wife Heather, for an outstanding dinner (Murray Street was a locavore’s heaven, inspired cooking) and even better chatter.  In fact, when we adjourned after ten I remarked that it was the longest dinner of my life.  The Chiassons are interesting people, long active in the Liberal Party of Canada, so naturally we yakked a lot about politics, me trying to keep things focused on things north of the border.  Hobbled home, found my cell, and clocked out.

Winter arrived overnight, a light dusting of snow, further testing my tentative footing, but I made it without incident to breakfast at Tim Horton’s and up to Parliament Hill for a quick tour (a spectacular building, especially the recently and splendidly restored Library of Parliament (Joan Dorsay was one of the project managers before retiring).  Back to the hostel, grabbed my stuff, and Roland picked me up and drove me to the airport.  Such great friends.

Eight AM on a snowy day is not the best time for a beauty shot of Canada's Parliament, but it is a magnificent building inside and out

Detail, front entrance

Senate Chambers

Ceiling, Senate

Flew to Chicago, arriving mid-afternoon, bus and suburban train to Arlington Heights, where Cousin Jim was waiting across from the train station.  Was great to see him, wife Michaela, and their three kids.  Had dinner and a good yak, and was asleep by 9:30.  By Thursday morning my hip was feeling a bit better, and I joined Jim and their two youngest for a brisk walk to school.  Worked the rest of the morning, and at one Jim and I headed to Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese supermarket with small cafes.  The area around O’Hare Airport has lots of warehouses and U.S. offices of Japanese firms, and this was where the expats shopped.  An interesting slice of cultural geography, and a good tempura lunch, too.

Japan in suburban Chicago

 

Jim dropped me at the Arlington Heights station, hopped on the 2:30 train into the Loop and a bus across downtown to the in-town campus of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management for my 15th or 16th (we’ve lost track) lecture in Anne Coughlan’s channels and distribution class.  First, though a dinner and good catch-up.  I delivered from 7:30 to 9:00.  Anne took pity on my gimp leg and drove me a mile to my hotel.

I was up early Friday morning and down to the hotel gym to make sure that however much it hurt to walk I could still pedal a bike.  Woo hoo!  Rode 12 miles without pain, which really made me feel good, and loosened my hip a bit, too.  Took the CTA Blue Line to the airport and flew home. A good week.

 

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New Orleans: What a Place for Two Birthday Parties!

In the French Quarter

On Friday afternoon, January 27, Linda and I drove to DFW to start what we decided was the very best way to celebrate our 60th birthdays (which happened two months and one month earlier): a weekend in New Orleans.  Linda had not ever been, and my three recent visits were quick speaking gigs.  Woo hoo!  Landed in The Big Easy on a sunny, fresh afternoon, hopped in a taxi, and checked into the way posh Roosevelt Hotel (a favorite of Huey Long, among others).  The place had undergone a $160 million renovation and expansion.  Wowie.  Naturally, I would have opted for more modest digs, but Linda prevailed, and I did admit it was a way special place.

Ceiling, Roosevelt Hotel lobby

At six we ambled up Bourbon Street (excess to some exponent), and across to Antoine’s, the oldest restaurant in the city, established 1840.  I was skeptical, but Linda did a ton of research, and claimed it was not a tourist trap.  Indeed not.  Food was great, service from Charley superb and friendly (he comped us three cups of soup for imagined lapses).  We started with oysters Rockefeller, which were invented there.  Soft-shell crabs for the main course.  And a nice bottle of Beaujolais.  Two-hour dinners are good.  Charley proposed a tour of the vast eatery, but we had reserved seats (called “Big Shot passes”) at Preservation Hall, and off we went to St. Peter Street.

Preservation Hall is the seat of traditional jazz in the city where the genre was invented.  It is the center, the core, for serious musicians.  America is a wonderful mix of cultures and stuff from all over, but jazz is ours, and we felt so fortunate to be there.  The place is, well, it’s a dump, but no one comes there for the décor.  We collected our Big Shot passes and waited for the 9:15 set.  The leader was no less than Leroy Jones (born 1958), an outstanding trumpeter, one of the best in a city of great horn players.  We were seated less than three feet from the sax man.  Music without amplification, what a concept!  I was wearing a broad smile, maybe so big it was goofy, but I didn’t care.  We were there.  Modern digital recordings are great, but there’s nothing like live music.

A young woman introduced the band, comprising Mr. Jones on horn, plus a sax, clarinet, trombone, piano, bass, and drums.  And off they went.  It ended too quickly, but not before “Muskrat Ramble,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” tunes by Ira and George Gershwin and the great Duke Ellington, and some others.  After the set, we dropped some offerings in the tip bucket, and I thanked Mr. Jones, adding, “I travel a lot, and I want you to know how much joy you bring when I am far from home and listen to music from your ‘Mo’ Cream from the Crop’ album.  It makes me feel closer to the U.S.”  We spoke briefly with the other musicians, thanking them.  They were kind and modest.  It was a totally, totally wonderful experience.

Downtown NOLA is filled with early 20th century commercial buildings, nicely ornamental

 

I was up early Saturday, onto a bike in the fitness center.  Relaxed in the room, and at 10:30 we walked over to Canal Street, lined up, and stepped back in time on the St. Charles streetcar.  The line is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world; our car was built in the 1920sIt’s a slow ride (runners use the right of way, and their pace is about on par with the tram!), but relaxing.  Windows open, breeze coming through, west into the Garden District.  We hopped off at Washington Avenue and walked two blocks toward the river to Commander’s Palace, established 1880.  I had last eaten there in 1978.

We were there for the jazz brunch, and during the meal a trio moved through our part of the big restaurant; on the second swing, they honored my request for “Darktown Strutters Ball,” a tune I remember was a favorite of the Armidale (New South Wales) Jazz Band, a fivesome that belted out traditional jazz in the New England pub during my year there in 1981.  Five minutes later, the guitarist asked where we were from, and we replied, adding that we were there celebrating our 60th birthdays.  That prompted the trio to serenade us with “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”  It was so sweet.

After shrimp and grits, and a soufflé for dessert, we ambled across the street to the Lafayette Cemetery, fascinating.  Because the water table is so close to the surface, graves are above ground, and the Lafayette was almost entirely family crypts (this is also Spanish custom).  Pausing to read the dates of birth and death, you were reminded of how short life could be in the 19th Century.  Back to St. Charles, ambling west.  We hopped back on the streetcar and rode to the end of the line, then back to the center.  Nice!  Back at the hotel, we read and I brought this journal up to date.

Fire Department crypt, Lafayette Cemetery

Sensible design in a flood-prone city: a 19th century house in the Garden District, with an elevated first floor

 

A month ahead, the city was decorated for Mardi Gras

At six, we headed downstairs to the Sazerac Bar for a drink, then down the street to Mila, a new restaurant that Linda found in her NOLA research.  We had sampled tradition, so it was time for a change.  Mila served Southern food, but with some updates.  I had an excellent starter, a salad topped with smoked redfish.  Main course was grilled red snapper with a lobster-crawfish sauce.  Dessert was traditional rice pudding sweetened with dates.  Oh my, another fabulous meal.

Sunday morning was lazy, but we headed out about 10:15, for a thorough ramble through the French Quarter.  Stopped in some great antique shops on Royal Street, then on to Café du Monde, the place famous for chicory coffee and beignets, a donut-like pastry topped with a load of (messy) powdered sugar.

Fortified, we sauntered down Chartres Street, stopping a bit.  Grabbed lunch, picked up our luggage, headed to the airport, and flew home.  It was a colossal way to celebrate the start of our seventh decade!

The French Quarter is in a way the attic of the Deep South, filled with antique stores with all manner of stuff

Chartres Street

 

 

 

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