"Happiness is only real when shared". Jon Krakauer
One of the signs that the Spring Break trip is coming is my annual car washing. My car is getting professionally cleaned once a year, despite my husband’s pleas and demonstrating the dust accumulation with his index finger every time he drives it, which is not often. I am not proud of it, but not ready to put it on my priority list either. The car cleaner performed some old Dutch folk song along the antique vinyl record player displayed outside next to the conveyor. The amateur singer had a great voice, taking all the high and low notes equally well. Different singers, 10 yellow and green canaries, entertained the customers at the cash register. $13.95 and my car looked brand new. May be I should start washing my car after all?
We chose Montreal for this year’s Spring Break. I did not do any research; only took the Fodor’s Guide from the library the night before the trip. I expected the city to look French, have great food and lots of museums-everything I needed to be happy.
Montreal is the city of contrasts: modern skyscrapers and asphalt roads on one street turn into the paved streets and the stone building facades on the next. The street signs change the color from white to red indicating the entrance to the Old City.
Narrow alleys lead to the huge square with the monument in front of Notre Dame Basilica. The church, originated in 1600’s and finally finished in 1829, is absolutely magnificent. The craftsmanship is impeccable. “Not made in China” as my son noticed with admiration.
The gothic architecture is how majority of city’s churches are built. My biggest disappointment was that all of them were closed. They only open for public in some unknown visitor hours or never. One of the churches was even converted to a residential building. It contradicts my understanding of how religious institutions should operate or how they do in other countries, but that’s what it is here.
The biking tour took us across the canal, passing Old Port into the market. If you truly want to experience the French gastronomy, this is the place to go. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, chocolates, pastries and cheeses look very welcoming and ready to melt in your mouth. We bought a bucket of fresh strawberries, and ate it right there, dirty, on the bench next to the market. Montreal is the best place for biking with kilometers of pathways and bike stands available in every part of the city.
The downtown is yet another shade of Montreal with the “5th Avenue” look, Tiffany, upscale boutiques, art galleries, and Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal located on the both sides of the street. You go from one part to another underground.
Looking for parking made us feel at home. After circling Rue Sherbrook and all nearby streets for a while, we found a space on a meter parking. Tightly fitting into the spot, we celebrated our virtuoso “New York” parking skills; only to find out later that we were the second car parked in the space intended for one. At least, that explained why the meter would not take the money.
Montreal offers a unique combination of a big city with a large industrial and business areas and a modern infrastructure with the slower pace of living and the comfort and intimacy of the smaller town. It offers the blend of North American and French cultures with everybody speaking both languages and respecting each other’s traditions.
The food is always freshly cooked and delicious, whether it is an elaborate meal, or a quick soup and sandwich in the café. We did not miss fast food. We saw only one McDonald and one Subway in the heavy tourist area; maybe that was why there were no obese people anywhere to be seen. Mineral water with a slice of lemon was our preferred beverage.
During our last dinner in the Brassiere in the Old City I got seduced by the huge colorful menu of the self-brewed beers, and ordered a huge, 0.5 liter cup. Not a beer drinker, under the strict watchful eyes of my kids (they felt responsible for my sobriety, and were ready to stop me at the first signs of being drunk), I sipped the bubbly amber liquid while watching the Montreal Canadians Hokey game on a big screen TV. It was a new experience for me, but I liked it.
The weather did not cooperate, dumping snow and rain on us, trying to freeze us with sub-zero temperatures, while blowing us away with the gusty winds. But we were on a Break, so who cared about the weather? We explored the city, the museums, learned a little French, and, most importantly, joked and laughed. We shared food, and argued who was sleeping with whom in what bed. We debated history and took turns screaming at GPS for giving us the wrong directions. We had fun and made memories. Isn’t it what family trips are all about?
I offered my son money to stop talking. I was running out of options. He said: ”$1.00 is not a fair price. If you give me $20 I will think about it.” $20 was unreasonable, and he knew it. To be fair, I was sure that torturing his parents was not part of his plan; he was just enjoying himself too much. He could easily become a winner of the Entertainer of Yourself Award; in fact, his room would be filled with these trophies in no time.
It was a winter break, and we were driving to a two-day getaway in the Catskills. Tiny, annoying drizzles started falling as our overprotective dog cautiously sniffed every single inch of the car, possibly looking for drugs, guns, poison or anything else that could harm her family. Finally, she settled in the back, squeezing her cute, black head between the passenger and the driver in the front seat, so that she could have an unobstructed view of the road. The two and a half hour drive started smoothly, with the older son listening to music on his iPhone, the younger son watching something on his tablet, and the lucky parents discussing the evolving political situation in Ukraine. As soon as we crossed into New Jersey my younger son began talking, then singing, then making random noises, then back to talking.
There were a lot of things he needed to discuss, or bring to our attention; a lot of jokes he wanted to share. His music repertoire kept expanding, ranging from classic rock to blues to opera to pop. He improvised with various sound effects, changed volume, experimented with backup singing, accents, instruments and lyrics. In the sudden attacks of love caused by his own extraordinary performance, he impulsively hugged the dog so tight that she decided to move back to the front to avoid an accidental man (dog) slaughter.
We’ve always traveled with kids. Even 12 hours across the Atlantic was easier. An airplane noise, lots of people around, meals, movies, and anticipation of the unknown slowed him down a bit. We drove 10 hours to Canada, and 8 hours to Virginia, but then he was younger and calmer; or maybe I was younger and my nervous system was in a better shape.
I’ve heard stories about kids playing X-boxes or watching DVDs in the car. I’ve judged their parents. Overload of electronics at home was bad enough; on vacation kids were supposed to free their minds and enjoy the family time. I did not judge these poor people anymore. Now, I understood like never before that it was a survival strategy.
I asked my son if he could go on his tablet for a little while. He said:”The Wi-Fi is not working.” That explained everything. He asked if he could go on his dad’s iPhone instead. The answer was “NO”. For me it meant a complete and irreversible surrender of my electronics policy, as well as demonstrating my weakness as a parent. So, I’ve chosen to suffer.
He did not drink or eat anything before we left. He went to bed late and woke up early. He was not on steroids or any other medication. Why he was not tired? Where all this energy was coming from? Can I have some of it? I tried to meditate looking at the naked trees and blinding white snow rapidly passing in the window. I wished I had earplugs.
My husband regretted not taking any calming pills with us, though they would not, most likely, help much. I came up with the idea of installing sound proof glass between the front and back seats, with the small window to be opened only in the rare cases of giving commands or passing water and snacks. If it was done in taxi cabs, it could be done in regular cars. I am sure this new option would become quite popular with parents; they would be willing to pay a lot of money for it. But for now we were stuck. The concert continued, a new play was being rehearsed, a stand-up comedy routine carried out. The one-man show performed by our tireless maestro went on. His success was unappreciated, but, nonetheless brought him incredible pleasure and satisfaction.
We had a great time at the Ranch. It was drizzling the first day, but we still went hiking, snow tubing, played pool, scrabble, and saw an awesome comedy show. The next day brought delicious breakfast, pool, a hay ride, archery and riding horses. The mountain air was intoxicating; the forest was covered with pure white snow, in some places damaged by animal footprints. Horses slowly went up and down the mountain dragging their heavy feet through the thin trails, stepping in the dirty watery mess, made by melting snow. It was warm and sunny. I could barely see anything, since sun reflected in the snow completely blinded me. I did not want to go back to the stables.
On the ride back my son significantly improved the length and substance of his performance. It took us an hour longer to get home due to a huge traffic on Washington Bridge. He asked me at dinner why I was cranky. I had no answer.
Yes, I am a feminist, but that’s not what you think. I respect men. They are handsome, smart, brave, and helpful. They would tell you how to park your car, when to stop by the gasoline station, or what to buy in the grocery store. They would advise the kids what would happen if they don’t do their homework, and, most importantly, who will execute the punishment and when (mom). They would take their children to the action movies, concerts, and fun zones, simultaneously loading them up on fries, pop corn, and sugar (quality time is more important). They will buy the newest I-Boxes, tablets, laptops, I-phones, Androids and other life’s necessities for their off springs; and, of course, the best photo and video equipment on the market for themselves to capture these important “new technology” milestones. At the dinner table they would take their time teaching the kids important life lessons while “someone” is cleaning up the table and doing the dishes. In case they can’t answer the tricky question, they will always point the child in the right direction – the mom. There is not enough space in this story to list all the small and big things we need our men for. I have three of them in my house, and would not trade it for the world. But that is not what the story is about.
For a few days before we loaded our flight to Israel my husband kept assuring me that everything was under control. He prepared the boarding passes, addresses, directions, copies of passports, cash, etc. I “trusted” him as he asked, and put my energy into packing, and running last minute errands. The flight took 11 hours. We arrived in Jerusalem at 11 pm New York time or 6am Israel. We were exhausted and could not wait to get to our apartment, jump in the bed and close our eyes. My younger son was already way passed his bedtime, but he did not complain yet. We found our way through the airport to the taxi stand, and waited our turn. The Arab-looking cab driver put our luggage in the trunk, got back to his seat, cleared up his GPS and asked for the address. My husband had it ready. The cab driver looked at it for what seemed like a long time, and then informed us that his GPS was in Hebrew. Luckily, he spoke a little English and was able to make out how the street name sounded.
Eventually, we stopped at some roundabout. There were few entrances into several 3 story buildings’ courtyards. A lot of Jerusalem streets are narrow, so the car could not come directly to the house. The cab driver assured us that our building was somewhere around here. To prove his point, he showed us something in foreign language on the GPS. We got out of the cab. Asking somebody for directions was out of the question, since the good people of Jerusalem were still sleeping. Our fearless leader took another look at his papers, and established that our building was next to the Wine store. Progress. Except we had no idea where the Wine Store was. Finally, we saw a lone pedestrian walking the deserted street. Were we lucky or what? He showed us the store (why would people ask for a Wine Store at 6:30 in the morning was another question). There were few entrances next to it with the street names – all in Hebrew. May be not so lucky…
My son and I were learning to read Hebrew to get ready for his Bar Mitzvah, and even though we were far from being fluent, we knew how the letters sounded. My husband did not really believe in our language abilities, but had nothing else to offer. It took us a few minutes, but we did it – we figured out our street; and soon after found our building. Just as we were ready to jump into bed, we were struck with yet another dilemma.
The front door had a big metal lock with a code and two handles. My husband took out his I-phone and found an e-mail from the management with all the info we needed to enter the building. He put the code in and twisted the handle, the door did not barge. He did it again; and again; and again. The door was locked. Yet, I was still optimistic. For some reason, part of me kept thinking that if the criminals could escape from the high security prison, there should be the way to open the freaking door. Another part expected God to help us out in the Holy Land, and perform a miracle for once (he did make Red Sea part, and one day oil last for eight). But, I guess, Jews in the 21 century, unlike the ones living thousands of years ago, should rely solely on themselves. My 7-year-old son was sitting on the top of the suitcase on the cobble stone courtyard in the fairylike city he saw in Aladdin, silently watching his dad doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that the magic door would finally open. The sun was fully up by now, but August air was still cool and refreshing.
The situation was not looking good. The management office was closed to at least 9 am, could be longer, considering that timeliness was not big in the Middle Eastern culture. May be someone would come out of the building and open the door; but what was the possibility of this happening any time soon? I was going over all the different scenarios in my head desperately trying to find a solution; none of them seemed encouraging. That was when I decided to take a look at the e-mail myself. We were clearly missing something. I looked at the code that my husband was putting in – the numbers matched. I scrolled the text down to read the rest of the e-mail. Sure enough, there was a note to twist both of the handles at the same time after the code was entered. I asked my husband to try one more time with the handles trick. The moment of happiness when the door finally opened was priceless. There was another safe with the code inside the building, next to the management office- the safe that held the keys to our “promised land”. This one was more cooperative, thanks God (or ourselves). We went up three flights of stairs, dropped the luggage, took off our shoes, and slipped under the blankets. Putting your head on a soft, fluffy pillow never felt better. Few hours later well rested and rejuvenated we went out to have lunch and tour the Old City.
P.S. After reading this post, my husband demanded to include that today he also resized the pictures, so that I could put them on my blog, and tried to download the photos from my phone on the computer (unsuccessfully, even after implementation of his plan B, but that was not the point). So here you go, honey; now I need you more than ever.