For the past 28 years, the city of Montreal has been the host to over 30,000,000 people who flock to the streets waiting to hear some of their favorite jazz performers. This year, two additional American writers would be included in this extremely festive event.
In May, a friend and I flew for six hours to get to Europe for a business trip. Two months later, we were off again, looking forward to another six-hours of travel, but this time we had to drive. No in-house movie to watch, no coffee or in-flight dinner would be served… just the bottled water and snack bars I packed for the ride.
It was hot and sunny when my cohort in crime, I mean travel buddy, arrived at my home in her candy-apple red convertible Mini Cooper. The top was down, and as I walked towards the car, I wondered where I would place my suitcase. “Just sling it in the back seat, and let’s go!” she said. The navigation system was already set and it (Navi Girl) informed us to take a right-hand turn out of my driveway. Uh duh… we knew that! Charlene put on her right blinker, pulled out of my driveway, and we were off with the hot sun hitting our face and shoulders, while the wind cruelly messed up our hair (ok, my hair… for some reason, hers did not get messy at all!).
Three hours into the trip, we decided it would be a great time to pull off the highway for a quick lunch and bathroom break. We headed towards Lincoln, New Hampshire to have lunch at one of her favorite restaurants.
We took the exit into downtown Lincoln, and Navi Girl was already telling us “If possible, make a legal U turn”. She wanted us back on the highway since we were off our planned route. “Shut that girl up I said… doesn’t she know humans have to eat?” A few miles off the highway, we pulled up to the Gypsy Café. For our meal, we treated ourselves to an appetizer followed by two desserts that we decided to share; a jaw-dropping, mouth-watering Cuban flan and a slice of coconut cream pie with two cappuccinos dusted with cinnamon. Keeping an eye on the time, we finished our dessert and got ourselves back on the road to make the 8:00 pm Winton Marselas concert. The sky was starting to look a bit ominous, but we just turned the music up louder and headed back towards Route 93 North, and Navi Girl was glad we were back on our destination course that she had set for us earlier.
As we approached Franconia Notch, a scenic portion of the White Mountains, we noticed that motorcycle drivers had pulled over to the side of the road to put on their rain gear. We wondered, at that moment, if we should put the top up on the convertible. We looked at each other for just a brief moment, knew what the other was thinking, and proceeded without another word about it. We were two women determined to get to The Montreal Jazz Festival… with the top down. As we drove higher into the low cloud cover in the mountains, the temperature kept dropping. We started the day off at 82 degrees, and now was 65 degrees. At this point there are goose bumps on my arms, but I decided that until they also show up on my legs I won’t even consider putting on my jacket. Then my dear friend, Charlene, reaches forward and flicks a switch. “Are you kidding me… this whole time we could have had heated seats?” Ahhh, that was much better. Then we see it… the sign that says “Danger – Cross Winds”. “Hold on!” she said (Charlene, not Navi Girl). With Charlene holding on tight to the steering wheel, that little car plowed through the wind chamber like the story book train that said “I think I can… I think I can”.
A few hours later, we arrived at the Canadian border. “Can you believe we made it here with only $1.25 in tolls and less than a tank of gas? I pay $3.00 just to get over the bridge in Boston”. We pulled up to the Customs window and presented our passports. We were asked the routine questions of “What brings you to Montreal? Do you have any explosives, fire arms, alcohol, or cigarettes? How long will you be staying?” After the interrogation, we were allowed to enter Canada. I am sure that Charlene was glad to drive away without getting a hands-on body check like she did at the airport just a couple of months before! Anticipating commuter traffic, we figured we should be at the hotel within the hour.
The downtown portion of Montreal was dressed up for the festival with signage, bright colored flags, and stages. It was all very impressive. Once we arrived at the press room, we collected information packets about this grand festival. The numbers were staggering… 658 total jazz performances were offered during this year’s festival and 346 of them were free! Thirty countries were represented and approximately 3,000 musicians performed. We were a bit late for our concert and, since this concert was being filmed for television, we had to wait to be seated between sets.
The next morning, we walked around Montreal and looked for Eggspectations, a restaurant that is known for their Eggs Benedict. After several zigs and zags up and down the streets of historic Montreal, the two of us finally found it. By this time we were starving, but we knew we needed to get back in time to get seats at the press conferences for Harry Connick Jr. and Sean Lennon. So, after a quick breakfast of traditional Eggs Benedict and two cups of coffee, we hurried back to the hotel for the interviews.
We made it with time to spare. We got a wonderful opportunity to meet and listen to two incredible and surprisingly humble men speak about their work, their family, and their reasons for attending the festival. Cameras were clicking and journalists were writing away. Harry Connick Jr. told stories to the press group that made us laugh out loud, and Sean Lennon’s poetic words moved us. We were both grateful to hear their inspiring stories. After the conference, plans were made to attend a few more concerts, eat some more food, and then enjoy some cocktails during the midnight (yes, midnight) Jam Session that was being held in the hotel lounge.
The next morning, it was time to head back home to reality and the daily grind. We had our breakfast, then called for the car to be pulled around to the valet station in the parking garage. Now that we knew how to read the word EXIT in French (we drove around a few times trying to get out a few days before), we were able to SORTIE the parking garage without any wrong turns.
After being stuck in traffic at Customs for more than an hour, then driving through cloud-covered mountains, then past open fields, we finally came to the Massachusetts border. It only seemed appropriate at that time to say in my best Navi Girl computer voice.
"If possible, make a legal U turn".