A couple of weeks back, I had an interesting trip where I had meetings Monday in Toronto, Tuesday in Rochester (NY), Wednesday in Montreal, and Thursday in Manhattan. Lots of different things made it interesting — each day was in a different country for one, my first trip to Montreal for another.
First, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed every trip I’ve ever taken to Canada. Now I’ve been to Vancouver, Victoria, Saskatoon, Toronto, Ottawa & Montreal — and they’ve all been terrific. I will say that I think Toronto is more like Vancouver than it is like Montreal, in spite of the proximity — Montreal was just something completely different, while still maintaining a sort of “Canadian-ness” that I’m still trying to articulate.
Toronto is just a together sort of city. Things seem to run well, everything is super clean, the people are amazingly friendly (if a little embarrassed for my Americanness). If not for the bitter cold that’s coming, would be a great place to live. The day we were there was beautiful — brilliant and clear and crisp.
We drove from Toronto down around Lake Ontario to get to Rochester, about which I have very little positive to say. Rochester seems a lot like Detroit to me — a place that history has passed by. Rochester is towered over by the Kodak building — you’ve probably seen it in pictures — an old art deco style building with “KODAK” in big red neon letters. Anyway, was a short trip there, and just as well.
Montreal was new for me. What an interesting place. The day that I was there, it was particularly cold and overcast — and man, is it French. I had a distinct feeling of being an outsider — a “just visiting” feeling that I haven’t really had anywhere else in North America. I think a lot of folks assume that Montreal is more French than Canadian, but it doesn’t seem so to me. It still seems very Canadian in attitude, relationship to space & wilderness, etc. I will say that French is a much much more attractive language than English. Every time I went to speak to someone they started out in French, then quickly changed to English (once they figured out I was a lost cause) — and the English just was much more nasal and, frankly, bad sounding.
Manhattan finished up the trip — I spoke at a breakfast on Wall Street in the morning, and basically killed time from about 11a until my flight out of JFK at 6p. So I walked around Wall Street for a bit (a very short street, incidentally), walked by the Bank of New York, by the Stock Exchange. The Bank of New York is interesting — formerly known as the Bank of America, founded in our Constitution in 1787 by Alexander Hamliton. There’s some interesting history there. (Great telling of the story is in Joeseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers.) Then I walked over to Battery Park, just at the Southern tip of Manhattan, and looked across at the Statue of Liberty — the first time that I had really seen it. Tried to imagine France giving us a present in the current day. Sigh. But nevertheless inspirational to be there and look out on Ellis Island and think of all the amazing people that have been there. How many people set out to start new lives here and founded whole branches of their families. I know it’s a trite image, but it sure is inspirational, still. There are some truly great things about the American story — a lot of them are getting lost lately, which is too bad.
Anyway, I was glad to see that part of New York and think about it for a while.