It was the big day — why we’d flown to Montréal. We arose at 9:00 — all of us a little anxious for the evening to arrive, and the 48-hour vacation honeymoon was wearing off. We’d started to get client emails and texts, vaguely apologizing for intruding but could we just get back to them ASAP? If it wasn’t too much trouble?
We walked a few blocks to the venerable brunch spot L’Avenue to find a block-long line out the door — so we headed to the next spot on the list, Beautys. Our waitress was a Québécois version of every diner waitress I’d ever met — horn-rimmed glasses, coffee-stained apron, just enough patience but not too much. She switched between French and English inside of sentences, and our replies would buffer for a moment while we translated in our heads.
Country scramble with potatoes, bacon, parsley and cheddar, bagel and cream cheese.
Paying was an adventure — our debit cards wouldn’t work all of a sudden and the waitress cackled while we tried card after card. “The damn machine! It’s the machine! Merde!” Once successfully settled up, we headed out and walked along Mont Royal Park into the city. It was vividly green — almost artificially so. People were cycling, playing with their dogs, having picnics… “It’s almost like a simulation,” I thought to myself. “It’s too perfect.”
We wandered in to a small shopping center off of Avenue du Parc — I was dehydrated. We found a supermarket and bought a few bottles of water. I’m always a little reticent to lug a giant bottle around, but between the humidity and the walking, I was spent. Cards malfunctioned again — a slight edge of panic began to set in on top of the general anxiety I’d noticed since I had awoken. I checked my emails anxiously and found a new pile of client requests and questions. “When we sit down next…” I promised.
We decided to explore Griffintown and Little Burgundy, so into the Metro we went. We stopped at the Peel station along the way, so I could take photos. I’d seen the circular tile in a glimpse through a window and had pleaded to return to see it in person ever since. Esley and Mark are the absolute best for indulging me in my sometimes laborious needs.
Our first stop was Marché Atwater — a perfect facsimile of a French village market hall. We wandered about, admiring the butcher’s counter and the chocolaterie while mentally converting the prices to what we’d spend at home. We ended up in the pâtisserie with a pile of baked goods in front of us after using our French-English patois and a lot of pointing. Chocolatine in hand, I feverishly checked my email. I sent off a few responses, checked a file or two and inhaled the butter-laden treat without coming up for air. We all sat there, brows furrowed and covered in flakes of pastry, staring at our phones. After mitigating for what felt like an hour, we decided to get back out and about.
We strolled down Notre-Dame Ouest, taking in the city. This was perhaps my favorite part of the city — I love a rejuvenated warehouse district. We headed across the canal at the Saint-Gabriel locks, past a new condo development.
“Starting at $250,000 — taxes included!”
Mark got on his phone and groaned. Our real estate envy is always on high alert, but this was crushing. Two-bedroom, concrete floors, walls of glass — $375,000. That’ll buy you a 50s ranch home an hour from downtown Denver that needs new everything, right now. We sighed, as we had many times before. We walked past gorgeous old brick factories, now luxe condos — black steel windows sharply contrasting against the weathered brick façades. I kept stopping to just take it all in. “I want to live here.” We saw a group of friends hanging out on their rooftop deck — laughing, beers in hand, and gazing out over the city.
Our next stop was the Cacao 70 factory — a modern chocolate factory within a recently renovated warehouse complex. We wandered in and ordered espressos — we were the only people in the whole place. It was a lovely respite — we sipped coffee and took photos, taking in the silence. I loved the interior — lots of millennial pink, leather, wood grain.
And then we headed to our final destination — one-and-a-half miles down Notre-Dame Ouest to the Palais des Congrès.
We were there to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton speak.
We arrived at the Palais des Congrès at 15:30. We stood in line, waiting with many others — mostly Canadians, but some Americans were sprinkled throughout. Many had campaign t-shirts or buttons on — we were in black, as always, but it felt like we were in mourning. The doors opened at 16:00, and we rushed into the gigantic ballroom to claim our seats. The energy in the air was palpable. We sat in our chairs for nearly three hours and the buzz never dulled.
The speaking engagement was organized as a fundraiser for a Canadian organization that aims to get more women into politics, and the director was on the PowerPoint slides lazily dissolving into each other on the massive screens. Next was Louise Penny, a famous Canadian author and then… Andre Phillippe Gagnon? We didn’t think to google him — maybe he was on the panel? And wifi was outrageously expensive — $22 for three hours at 700KBps, or a totally nonsensical $195 for a day’s pass at 3MBps. We soon found out, though.
Andre Phillipe Gagnon is a Québécois comedian, famous for his impressions. He wandered onto the stage in a navy blue leather suit, his face already dripping with sweat. He proceeded with a “trip through the history of rock” that gave me such second-hand embarrassment I cradled my head in my hands nearly the entire time. Every joke was the easy one, the one that wasn’t funny because you’d heard it a hundred times. In that moment, we’d been transported — from waiting for one of the most powerful women in the world to speak in a ballroom in Montréal, to the second stage at the Flamingo in Vegas on a Tuesday afternoon.
Mercifully, he left — and Louise Penny took the stage. She began in French and finished in English — and I nearly cried multiple times. She spoke of her husband, a world-famous Canadian doctor. She’d written a series of articles in the New York Times about his abrupt slide into dementia, and the incomprehensible grief that comes when your partner loses themselves to a disease while you watch helplessly. She wrote of the Canadian health system — and how without it, she and her husband would have been left broke and desperate. She spoke of a letter she received from a stranger upon his death, that stranger being Hillary Clinton — Hillary sent her condolences and thanked Louise for her books, as they had comforted her after the election, after one of the worst days in her life. She spoke of becoming friends with that stranger, and the many weeks Hillary and Bill had spent at Louise’s new home in Québec. Hillary had fractured her foot in London a few days prior, and Louise finished with that quote about Ginger Rogers:
"I like to think that instead of falling down a set of stairs, she was dancing. Backwards, and in heels.”
As Hillary came out, the screens burst to life with campaign footage and speeches and quotes — and the emotion came in waves. Sadness, anger, hopelessness, sheer joy. Everything I’d felt during the campaign came right back up. I choked back tears as the videos stopped and we stood for many, many minutes in applause.
She spoke for a half-hour about her book and what she felt were the most important points to take away. She spoke about waking up on the morning of November 9, 2016. She spoke about Russia, she spoke about the debates, she spoke about Mr. Trump. She was radiant. She was angry. She was sad. She was blunt, quick-witted, strong. But most importantly, she was hopeful. She spoke about her new organization, Onward Together — and how we as a nation needed to reexamine every office, every elected official. We need, as a nation, to eradicate the hatred, the divisions, the propaganda, the fear of change. She left us with a challenge.
“Find that one cause you’re passionate about, and dedicate yourself to it. Every day, the current administration tries to destroy something else — but it’s impossible to tackle everything as an individual. You’re doing your best work when you’re focused on one goal, one end game. And millions of people, each focused on their one goal, can change the face of this country.”
We stood, we clapped, we sobbed. We walked out, numb.
We wandered a few blocks to Pullman, a dark wine bar frequented by Anthony Bourdain. We walked through the olive-green vinyl curtains, under the chandelier made of cut-crystal glassware, up the subway-tiled stair to a dimly-lit booth perched on the mezzanine. We ordered tapas and beers, and sat quietly — still processing the evening in our minds. We talked about the present, about the current situation, about the hypocrisy and the lies and the outrage. We talked about the future, about hope, about change.
Olives Cerignola au citron confit, hummus maison avec za’atar, chorizo Ibérico avec jardinière de légumes, calmars et oignons frits avec mayo à la salsa verde, gnocchi avec champignons, Romano et noisettes.
Over tapas, I made Mark and Esley document their favorite part of this trip in my notebook. We passed on dessert — we had decided to have a Canadian tradition instead. We walked the four blocks to a gas station, the location of the nearest Tim Hortons. Tiny espresso and chocolate glazed in hand, we strolled down Boulevard Saint Laurent towards home. Once there, we dropped my backpack for round two of Canadian nighttime traditions — the 24-hour poutine spot, La Banquise.
As we sat there, greasy forks in hand and half-asleep, I was reminded of the earlier part of the day — stressed and panicky, I hadn’t really been present. I was somewhere else, designing in my head and coming up with answers to questions I’d likely get as emails later on. “What the hell was I thinking?” I asked myself. I was away from home in an amazing new city with two of my favorite people in the world. We had seen Hillary speak, made countless new memories, laughed and cried together.
Hillary’s speech had stirred something inside me. It had made me realize that nothing is more precious than the present — and that you should fight for those moments, for those people in those moments. We walked home silently, the quiet of the streets and Hillary's words echoing in our heads.
"I am hopeful. And you should be, too."