Sunday, June 12, 2005

Montreal Reflection

When I was six, my father took a business trip to Canada. He was gone only a few days, but knowing he was away bothered me, even at that young age. It also thrilled me thinking he was in a foreign country, a place far, far away. When he returned, I remember him showing me Canadian coins, one with an elk or caribou and one with a loon. Holding them made Canada real, and brought home to me that there was something more out there, another world waiting for me when I grew up and could travel on my own.

Canada has held a fascination for me ever since. For a while it was the rugged beauty of its mountain regions, then the allure of its largest city, Toronto, described for years as a “clean New York.” I visited Toronto 15 years ago and it exceeded my expectations, energetic, modern, and yes, clean, it had welcoming warmth even though it was mid-December and snowing.

But it wasn’t until last year that Canada took on a significance I never thought possible. For my entire life I bought the line that the United States was the home of the free. Prior to coming out and self-identifying as gay, I was able to delude myself that, that was, in fact, the case. But I know what other minorities have known for years, if not decades, that in the US you are only free is you are mainstream—white and Christian. Two years ago, Canada started allowing gay marriage. No matter how you react to the idea of two men or two women loving each other, you cannot deny that gays and lesbians are not free to marry and are not given equality in the US. When Bush talks about spreading freedom in the world, I laugh. He barely knows what real freedom is. He needs to spend more time spreading freedom in our own country.

So when I came to Canada this time, I didn’t really think much about how I’d feel being here, in a country that truly treats me and my people as free and equal. But after being here, I can tell you the feeling is powerful and refreshing.

As grateful as I am to Canada for recognizing that GLBT people have the right to freedom and equality, I am just as disappointed with the US for its bigoted, backwards adherence to prejudice and discrimination. I never thought I’d have to visit another country do fee true freedom.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Melting Like the Ice Caps in Montreal

So Montreal is hot! No, I mean it’s hot, as in really, really humid and about 98 degrees. So much for that theory of coming to Montreal to escape the Texas heat. It has to be cooler in Dallas and at least in Dallas we have air conditioning. I know, it would have been better for the environment if air-conditioning had never been invented. It destroys the ozone layer which even wrecks more havoc on the environment. Generally, I am very environmentally friendly, but right now I’m just hot and all I can think of is how wonderful air conditioning is. We went to dinner last night at 9 PM. The restaurant seated about 20, so intimate, and when we approached the front door, we noticed a floor-stand oscillating fan twisting left, then right, then left again. My heart sank. We’d walked only a block and a half to the restaurant from our B&B in The Village, and were already drenched with sweat. At that point I wasn’t even that concerned about how great, or even adequate, the food would be, only that it be cool and refreshing and relaxing. Instead, we arrive only to find that their one and only air-conditioning unit, a long, narrow slit of a contraption high on the all near the ceiling, was broken. Since the only place to stand was just inside the door, we stood there awaiting our table. Unfortunately, we also happened to be standing between the fan and the patrons, many of whom looked up from there plates or away from their companions long enough to glare at us. We shuffled a bit to one side, pressing ourselves against the wall and tried not to block the flow.

The restaurant is BYOB. We chose a Chateaux Nuef that turned out to need breathing, lots of it, and since the stifling heat made it hard for us to catch our breaths, I could relate. The food, however, was fantastic. I’d highly recommend it. I had the veal chop and Clint the duck.

Today we visited Olympic Park. Again the heat was wilting, the Metro stifling. We saw the Biodome and road the funicular to the top of the Tower. The view of Montreal was hazy through the humid air.

Tonight we are off to Old Montreal to a French restaurant there. The Grand Prix is in town this weekend and finding a reservation is difficult, but we are told the restaurant is superb and they definitely have AC. We called and made sure.

As we were walking along Sainte Catherine’s Street this afternoon a scary thought hit me, “If it’s this hot here, a thousand miles North of Texas, this much closer to the North Pole, surely the ice caps must be melting at an alarming rate.” Clint nodded, wiped his brow with the back of his hand, and we slogged on.

Realizing Relief in Montreal

Mid-way through a banking turn over Montreal last night as we made our final approach--the bright lights of the city stretching out beneath us, the Olympic stadium reaching up from the city like the raised command deck of a futuristic starship--I grew tearful, and I didn't know why. I've always wanted to visit Montreal, a French-speaking slice of the old world within three and a half hours of Dallas. I'd heard it was beautiful, energetic, and gay friendly with great restaurants, and night life. Just minutes earlier I was excited to be landing. Why the sadness? What changed? My mind sifted data trying to find the answer. Then it hit me. I wasn't sad so much as relieved or maybe a bit of both, but for different even if related reasons. For the first time in my life, I was about to land in a country where I was truly free and truly equal. I had not realized how tired I was from fighting, how stressed I was from the constant struggle. It's not like I think about it every day, but living in the US, perhaps especially in a Red State, is like existing in a constant low-grade state of siege, and it wears on us. One of the psychiatric associations recently called for recognition of our right to marry precisely because of the added stress our relationships are under due to the social stigma and lack of support structures. It takes a lot out of us, whether we realize it our not. I didn't realize it until my heart and mind gave an autonomic sigh of relief. I was sad for my country and the state it is in, how it has lost it's way and perhaps even it's soul. And I was relieved to know that we would soon be touching down in allied territory.