This year’s road-trip season kicked-off early on May 13 when I boarded a train from Montréal to New York City. My partner was attending a conference at the United Nations, so I though it a perfect opportunity to tag along and visit one of my favourite cities, next of course to the city I will always consider home – Montréal.
As someone who doesn’t fly, I have become an avid train-rider and Amtrak’s Adirondack Route from Montréal to NYC is one of the most scenic and the prettiest that I’ve experienced. And despite the ten hour train ride, and on this particular trip, the extremely real threat of track flooding (both the Lake Champlain and the Hudson River regions are experiencing severe flooding with all this rain) it was still a breath-taking trip.
Our nine days in NYC made for a world-wind tour. While my partner worked, I played tourist – exploring both familiar and unfamiliar corners of NYC. I took in two great exhibits The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection at the Guggenheim Museum, which featured one of my favourite artists Vasily Kandinsky, and The Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty Exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I love the frenetic pace of New York and walked endless miles throughout the city people-watching, window-shopping, and of course I did some serious shopping myself. And when the torrential down pours forced me indoors, I escaped the rain in one of NYC’s million cafés with coffee and book in hand. We also took in the musical Mama Mia at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway, had some great dinners at wonderful restaurants that we discovered (Montebello Ristorante Italiano and Matisse Restaurant Bar a Vin are memorable for their food, wine and atmosphere) and visited with my family and our ex-pat Canadian friends living and working in NYC.
Hands down though, the highlight of this road trip was meeting my online friend Hilcia Suarez (Impressions of A Reader) in person for the first time. Hilcia and I first met online about four years ago in 2007 and since then have become good online friends. We chat on a regular basis via our respective book review blogs, and in particular, regularly exchange detailed and lengthy emails about the books and authors we read, politics, life and the general state of the world.
On the evening of May 17, Hilcia met me after work and we went to her favourite NYC haunt La Lanterna Caffe in the West Village where we had a nice dinner, some really good wine and talked for hours about what else? Books of course! We had a wonderful conversation about the books we’re currently reading, authors that interest us, the state of fiction and literature in general, as well as the ups and downs of reviewing. But, as with our email exchanges our conversations about, books, authors and literature segued into the current state of politics in our respective countries, human rights issues, our families and cultures.
Since our love of books is what brought us together in the first place, during our evening we exchanged books as gifts. Hilcia gave me a copy of her favourite LGBT book of 2010 Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories by Sandra McDonald (Lethe Press) and a copy of her recently reviewed The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay (Bold Strokes Books). In turn, I gave Hils a copy of one of my favourites of 2010 The Summer Between by Andrew Binks (Nightwood Editions/Harbour Publishing) and to sweeten the pot a little more some maple syrup (because everyone knows that the best maple syrup is made in Canada – LOL).
It was an altogether wonderful evening and visit that was equally altogether too short. And although this was our first in-person meeting I feel as if I’ve know this woman for years. What I’d realized about her over our four years of online exchanges was confirmed to me in person – Hilcia is a genuinely great lady, intelligent, articulate, funny, with a zest for life and a natural curiosity for learning. She is also one of the best read people I know. I consider her a kindred spirit.
At evening’s end, Hilcia and I shared a cab. I dropped her off at Port Authority Bus Terminal where she caught her bus for home and I continued on to our hotel. I immediately began missing her and can’t wait for our next in-person get together. Although I never need an excuse to visit NYC, I hope our next visit will be north of the 49th parallel, perhaps in Ottawa, or in Montréal, or in both cities, when Hils comes to visit. Hilcia, once again thank you for a wonderful evening.
While in NYC I read two books and one short story: Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway (Anchor Canada/Random House Canada), a re-read of a personal favourite and Canadian classic; The Perfect Family by Kathryn Shay one of Hilcia’s gifts which I thoroughly enjoyed; and the sixth and final story in The Zagzagel Diaries: Loved by Bryl R. Tyne (Untreed Reads Publishing) one of my favourite fantasy series. On the trip back home I began reading another of Hilcia’s highly recommended reads Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman (Lethe Press) which I’m savouring by reading very slowly.