It was a good day to be a Montrealer yesterday. Mostly.
Naomi and were staying in Le Plateau, a large funky neighbourhood in central Montreal, filled with duplexes, with their distinctive outdoor staircases, condos, boutiques and restaurants. Also: large trees and a surprisingly sizeable number of Anglos. The apartment itself was on the small side, a little pied à terre belonging to a good friend of ours who gave us use of his place in exchange for his stay at ours while we were away on our cross-Canada trip.
What we didn’t know when we planned our stay was that it coincided with the 2016 Montreal Marathon. Do a lot of people run in this marathon? Oh, I’d said so: how about 30,000?
On Saturday, while driving along rue St. Joseph, we had noticed signs everywhere telling drivers that the road would be closed the next day. “There’s going to be a marathon tomorrow,” I said to Naomi, scanning the signs for info each time we passed one (the lettering was quite small). As a result, we planned to hang out in the neighbourhood until the marathon’s end, around 2:30 pm.
So that’s how we spent most of the day, outside, strolling along closed streets and along the marathon’s windy path through the neighbourhood.
What an interesting way to see one of the most interesting quartiers of the city and to also observe Montrealers in their glory: a perfect fall day, on the comfortable side of cool temperatures with virtually not a cloud in the sky.
And there they were, the marathoners, people of all ages and sizes (mostly thin, as you would expect) running along to the encouragement of the people watching, people who clang bells and swung their grogger-like devices in the air and called out their bravos. On one corner, as we walked down Avenue Laurier, an elderly woman who had seated herself in a portable chair clapped to every runner who passed by. How sweet, I thought, at the sight of this woman and at everyone else who participated in this way, children, teenagers, adults, people of all ethnicities.
What struck me, of course, was the sheer number of participants (actually, a lot looked as if they were jogging: the marathon could be run for 1k, 5k, 10k, 22k or the whole 42 km distance.) Only those in the front looked as if they were really running… Still, I was mightily impressed with the determination and stamina needed to run so far and happy that these people had such ideal conditions. (The race was won by an Icelander.)
Montreal is a great city at large communal events like this: the Jazz Festival is another good example. The festive air was tangible.
Still, we felt for the motorists who had to get somewhere and found themselves either in gridlock on the roads open to them or having to go far out of their way to get to their destination. Sipping a yerba matte drink at an outdoor terrace on avenue Mont-Royal, I could see that the traffic was barely moving, and I felt for the drivers stuck there.
At some point during our stroll across town we stopped and chatted with a policeman who told us that it might be best to wait til 3 pm to be certain that the marathon was over. No problem, we had to be in Hampstead by 5 pm, lots of time.
We circled round to our apartment, rested, and at 3 pm headed out on the road.
All the roadblocks were still there.
A pretty pissed-off cop told us that she had no idea when the marathon would be completed…
And so we joined the traffic moving slowly… to nowhere.
Instead of trying to join it for a slow and painful drive down Sherbrooke Street near the marathon’s finish line at parc Lafontaine, I talked Naomi into trying the Ville-Marie Expressway at the end of rue Papineau. Brilliant idea – we motored westward downtown unimpeded.
Unfortunately, no one told us that all the normal exit routes off the expressway – to the Champlain Bridge and another to the 2 & 20 – were closed. Only Decarie Boulevard was open. It was like joining a giant metallic school of fish and Naomi steamed at this mistake of mine. But how were we to know? Except to listen to AM radio which we never do…
Eventually, we arrived at my father-in-law’s in time for his barbecue. All’s well that ends well. The time wasted in the car was forgotten, but not the festive atmosphere of a few hours earlier, when Naomi and I rediscovered Montreal’s best neighbourhood, along with 30,000 other runners.