Monday, January 5, 2015

On Montreal, Music, and Memory

It’s a new year, not only in the larger sense but, since Chris and I got married on December 29th, we’re also beginning a new year of marriage. We celebrated our anniversary in Montreal this year, taking in the Francophone culture, the art scene, and some excellent food, bien sûr.

Since the city is less than an hour from the Vermont border, we’ve been to Montreal many times, but never for our anniversary. So on this particular trip I was often reminded of moments from our first visit back 1988. In some ways, you could call it our first date. 

Let me back up. Chris and I met that year at the August wedding of my college roommate Sonja and his grad school roommate Craige. Since we were both in the wedding party, we spent a fair amount of time together that weekend. I discovered he was fun to dance with, we had similar taste in books, and he made me laugh. As the weekend came to a close, I wanted to get to know him better but, at the same time, we were both in the process of moving—I was relocating to the Boston area from Virginia and Chris was moving from Minneapolis to Burlington. We talked about getting together in our new locales and exchanged contact information, but I admit I was skeptical about whether I would hear from him again. 

A couple weeks later, as I was unpacking boxes in my new apartment, I received a delivery of flowers. They were gorgeous lavender roses—with no card. I assumed they were from someone I had been involved with in Virginia, but I knew that relationship was going nowhere. Then the mail arrived, and with it a small package containing a cassette tape (remember those?). There was a song on each side, and one of them was Frank Sinatra’s Moonlight in Vermont. This got my attention and made me rethink the roses. When we spoke on the phone, Chris invited me up to Vermont for Labor Day weekend, a couple days away. 

It’s important to note that driving three hours to spend a weekend with someone I barely knew was completely out of character for me. Plus I had been in a long distance relationship before and wasn’t looking to jump into one again. Not to mention, I was still unpacking and due to start my new job the Tuesday after Labor Day. But I went.

When I pulled up outside Chris’s building that Friday evening, I could hear Dire Straits’ Expresso Love drifting out of the second floor window. I remember that moment vividly, pausing to listen to a few bars of that song and feeling like my life was about to change. For me, like many people, music has a way of crystallizing a moment in time, fixing it in memory. Years later a song can play on the radio or in a shop and instantly transport me back to that moment. Food has a way of doing this also.

Not all of Chris’s furniture had arrived yet from Minnesota, but he did have some of the more crucial items, including his stereo. He also had a bottle of champagne at the ready. Eventually we went out for something to eat, pizza at Ken’s, which is still there. Sometimes when I walk past this pizzeria/pub now and smell the pizzas baking, I’m brought back to a moment when we sat at one of the outdoor tables and I thought, I could drive back tomorrow morning and start my life in Massachusetts. Or I could stay and there would be no turning back. For some reason it felt like there was nothing in between.

I stayed, of course, and on Sunday Chris suggested we drive up to Montreal for dinner. This sounded like a good idea, and mostly it was. A warm summer rain fell much of the afternoon, so after we tired of wandering around the city, exploring the Old Town and Latin Quarter, we found a restaurant. I don’t remember what I ate, in part because I wasn’t focusing on my meal, but I do remember sitting at that table across from Chris in the rustic coziness of the dining room. When the time came to pay the bill, though, he realized he’d been pickpocketed. Not a problem, I covered it. Fortunately this was prior to the strict border controls that would now prevent him from returning to the US without an official ID. On the way home we somehow breezed through the border, but ended up lost in upstate New York and got home around 1 am.

To the surprise of some, 14 months later we got engaged, and 14 months after that I had moved to Vermont and we were married. 

At our wedding, our first song was the one that was on the second side of the cassette, one we had danced to at Craige and Sonja’s wedding—Can’t Help Falling in Love. Now here we are, 24 years later, with two daughters who are not far from the age I was when Chris and I first met.

On this recent visit to Montreal, instead of warm summer rain, we walked around in the bracing cold. 

Despite the biting wind, though, the city’s old world architecture and cosmopolitan vibe still charm. 

The restaurant we went to that first weekend is still there, although we’ve never been back. We’ve discovered other favorites over the years with excellent food. For lunch—Restaurant l’Express, a Parisian-style bistro where they make a classic Salade de Chèvre Chaud, a salad of lightly dressed  mesclun with warmed goat cheese on toasts,

and Pot au Feu, a beef stew complete with marrowbone.

For dinner we went to Au Petit Extra, which has one of the best chalkboard menus I’ve ever seen.

My Rabbit Braised in Mustard Sauce was exquis,

and Chris relished his Steak Frites. 

We talked about that first weekend together and not surprisingly remembered some of the moments differently. Was Expresso Love still playing when Chris opened the door or had the song changed to Hand in Hand? Did we drink the champagne before or after we went out for pizza? We’ve now shared thousands of moments since those early ones—mostly happy, some mundane. Some where we were lost again on a dark road, and some we breezed through under questionable circumstances. Our taste in books has diverged a bit since the late ‘80s, but he’s still fun to dance with and he still makes me laugh. And even after all these years I want to know more about him.   

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