I always felt like I missed an opportunity to visit Montréal with my good friends Kim and Myra. They had made the trip to Montréal for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and I didn’t join them. When they returned to Pittsburgh, I enviously listened to their stories about meeting handsome Olympic athletes and descriptions of Olympic Park. Now, more than 30-years later, I could see Montréal’s Olympic Park. On the horizon jutted the impressive Olympic Stadium with its large inclined tower – the largest in the world. At last, I made it to Montréal!
Unlike me, Montréal stirred no special emotion or excitement in Ed. He had lived in the city from 1975 to 1978. He felt content to stay with the coach in Longueuil while the experts at Trans Arctik rebuilt the Espar Heaters. Not content to stay with the coach, I hired a cab. I pointed to a picture in Montréal’s Official Tourist Guide for my French speaking* driver to understand my destination. He navigated the morning rush hour traffic taking me to Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.
The Guide describes the Basilica as "a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture with a magnificent interior of sculpted wood, paint and gold leaf." When I entered the Basilica, I reverently walked its perimeter noticing these features but stopping to linger at each statue behind rows of votive candles in clear or red glass sleeves. I could feel the candles’ warmth on my face and I wondered about the prayerful petitions each flame carried to heaven. Could it be a wish for safe return of a soldier, a prayer for recovery from illness, maybe a petition for money, or a wish for a baby sister as I had often prayed for as a child in the Cathedral of my own Catholic parish?
I sat in the front pew of the Basilica for a long time admiring the sculptures of the altar. After taking a guided tour I learned significance of the four sculptures surrounding the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice. In one sculpture, Moses leaves a jar of manna in the Ark of the Covenant; a second, Melchisedech holds out bread and wine. In a third sculpture, Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. The last one shows Mary being crowned by her Son. Photos cannot do justice to this magnificent sculptured altar. You must visit and savor each part as I did.
I had planned to attend a Rotary Club meeting at noon, but then I decided to stay at the Basilica for the 12:15PM French Mass in the Chapel. As a child, I had attended weekly Latin Mass and then the English Mass after the Vatican II ruling permitted deviation from the Latin tradition. To hear the Mass in French was like attending a melodic symphony of words, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.
I further explored Old Montréal by walking past the courthouse known as Hôtel de Ville, along the sidewalk cafés and Jacques Cartier Pier. Later, I ventured to Chinatown.
In Chinatown, I wandered the narrow streets peeking into shops selling traditional paper lanterns and Buddha figurines. I dared to buy an ornate tin of Jasmine tea in the herds and natural medicine shop shunning the other strange roots and mushrooms overflowing in barrels. And, I marveled at the red and golden arches granting entrance to the district. When I aimed to photograph one, an ancient Chinese woman sternly tugged my elbow to the vantage point that according to her "all the tourists like." I didn’t resist. I moved to where she led me and changed the angle of my camera to take the shot.
So at last, I had become the tourist in Montréal. And, though it was just one day, I savored each moment and wondered why I waited so long to visit.
*Montréal is the second largest French speaking city in the world after Paris.