July 1st is Canada Day. All over Canada -- or so I'm told -- there are joyous celebrations. Not in Montreal. Here, everything is shut. Shops, museums, restaurants, tourist attractions, everything. Montreal is in Quebec Province, which has tried -- unsuccessfully -- to secede from Canada on at least two occasions. On Canada Day, Montreal stays at home with the curtains drawn, and sulks.
But wait! The Jean Talon Market is open. It's in the heart of Little Italy, and is also the largest, open-air market in North America. The only problem is that it's a long way from my hotel. Take the Metro, suggests the hotel's concierge. I'm not so sure about that. I'll have Xingxing in his stroller. Are there elevators in the Metro? Absolutely! says the concierge.
Armed with a do-it-yourself walking tour guide to Little Italy, we descend into the virtually deserted Metro station beneath our hotel. There are no elevators. The escalator is narrow, steep and moving very fast. There is also a very long flight of stairs. Maybe this is not such a good idea. A kindly man appears at my side, offers to help and before I can stop him, he has picked up the stroller and is carrying it down the flight of stairs. Problem solved -- except further along there's another flight of stairs, and an even narrower, steeper and faster escalator, and no kindly gentleman. No elevator, either.
Dragging the stroller down this second flight of steps, I'm thinking unkind thoughts about the concierge. But we're here, at the ticket office. Of course, the stroller won't go through the gate, and they have to move a barricade so we can get to the platform.
How do disabled people in Montreal manage? I wonder.
At Jean Talon station, there is another escalator and another forbiddingly long and steep flight of stairs. No elevator. I jam the stroller onto the escalator, and up we go. It is awkward and difficult and a bit frightening, but we manage.
The Jean Talon market is enchanting, and well worth the effort it took to get here. Flowers, fruit and vegetables, lovingly arranged in colorful pyramids. Cheeses, jams and jellies. A whole stand of oysters, marked according to terroir (they are very big on terroir, here) and nestling in beds of shaved ice. A feast for the eye and judging by Xingxing's quivering nostrils, a feast for the nose, as well. And it's a real market. No tourist tat.
We embark upon our walking tour of Little Italy, Xingxing walking along and sniffing every tree and lamppost and then riding in the stroller when his little legs tire. He's a game little guy, but Shih Tzus can only walk so far. However, I love to walk. That's why I bring the stroller.
The most interesting thing about Little Italy is the prevalence of wrought iron winding staircases on the outside of most of the houses. This was apparently a Montreal thing, back in the day. It saved space. Exterior staircases were prohibited during the 1940s, but for the past 20 years or so, people have been allowed to build them on streets where they already exist, to preserve the character of the neighborhoods. Some of the houses also have tiny little doors beneath the stairs on the ground floor. These were servants' entrances.
There seem to be an inordinate number of plastic garbage bags stacked along the curbs. Mattresses, too. And now that I'm noticing, I'm seeing lots of cars with trailers hauling furniture. It looks like half the population is moving house. Turns out, that's exactly what they're doing. In Montreal, Canada Day is also moving day, because most leases begin on July 1st. This used to be the law, to protect tenants from having to move in the dead of winter.
We reach Saint Laurent Boulevard, which -- according to my guide -- is "lined with enchanting trattorias, cafes and shops". And perhaps it is. I don't know. Everything was closed. I'm not up to tackling the Metro again, so we use the money we would have spent on lunch to take a taxi back to the hotel.
I'm still wondering how disabled people manage to get around this city. On the other hand, during our three days in Montreal, I don't think I saw anybody in a wheelchair. Maybe the Canadian socialized medical system is so good that there aren't any disabled people, and they don't have to worry about wheelchairs.