A Porchfest Porchcat Saturday

Band playing on porch

Pictured: I stumbled upon this band playing classic rock tunes as I made my way from the métro in NDG (details below).

Last night I went down to Boulevard Saint-Laurent to check out the street fair I noticed they were starting when my bus ride from Vieux-Montréal the other day took a meandering detour up Sherbrooke. I also wanted to go grab a beer at the Anglophone pub I discovered, Barfly, since I was starved for some socialization and figured it would be a good place to chat up some locals.

I had some great conversations about the politics of Quebec and Canada, the sheer complexities of which I was not aware. I didn't realize how contentious the Quebec political climate is, and how much the provincial government has alienated its anglophone constituents.

During our conversations, someone brought up the fact they were going to attend an event today called Porchfest NDG, a neighborhood music festival taking place all around the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. I woke up and, after writing my morning pages, decided I'd make good use of a sunny afternoon and find my way there.

Luckily, NDG can be accessed via the Métro Orange Line, at the Vendôme station. This was the furthest I had ridden the Métro so far, and I was taken aback by how unique and beautiful some of the station interiors were. It got me to thinking that it would be a fun photography project to visit every métro stop, photograph each one and publish the photos on a website to showcase the art and architecture that livens up commuters' days here.

When I got off the train, I emerged a couple blocks off Sherbrooke, and tried my best to orient myself.

First, I discovered the band pictured above playing some mean classic rock covers. People had congregated in the street to watch them play, so many that cars had a difficult time getting around us. It was incredibly inspiring to see a full-on concert crowd in someone's front yard.

I remembered NDG was just beyond the A15 overpass, so I followed the road signs to the A15 and eventually found the park that was to host the festival's inaugural event.

I was too late for that, but instead stumbled upon a dadcore punk rock band playing outside an Anglophone used books and music shop:

Band playing at

They were excellent, but unfortunately I arrived at the end of their set and they only played a couple more songs.

I also noticed this nifty mural while walking on Sherbrooke:

Mural on Sherbrooke

On my way back, I remembered that Sherbrooke would eventually lead me back downtown, so I decided to walk along it as far as I could before I got tired, and then find the nearest métro station to wherever I was. This led me to Westmount Square and the Atwater métro:

Atwater Métro

I had to change trains at Berri-UQAM, since Atwater was on the Green Line. Eventually, my legs sore and my body sleepy, I found my way home.

After a few hours of lazing about in bed, I walked down to the phở restaurant around the corner to get some tasty soup. The guy running the place (I imagine he's the owner) is an all-around chill guy—super-friendly and hospitable. And being that it feels like 110 degrees outside in Florida most of the year, I haven't wanted noodle soup much down there, so it was nice to have a cozy bowl of noodles.

When I got back from dinner and a quick trip to the corner grocery store, a white-and-black cat approached me on the sidewalk outside the apartment. When I bent down to pet her, I expected her to be shy and to run away, but she seemed quite interested in me. So much so that she followed me up the stairs, where I sat for a moment and pet her. Then she leapt onto my lap, at which point I began wondering if she'd been abandoned, or at least, forgotten about.

But then, when I left her and went to unlock my apartment door, she zipped up the stairs and walked in the door ahead of me.

It was at this point that I was concerned. Was this just an extra-social neighborhood cat, or was she in some sort of distress? I located two phone numbers on her tag and called and texted both of them while I sat on the porch and comforted her.

It took a full hour for her owners to return my calls, but they laughed and said she's quite social... which I think is quite the understatement! Her name was Fleurette, and she was probably my favorite part of the day:


A brisk wonderland

Church in Vieux-Montréal

Pictured: A church I visited in Vieux-Montréal yesterday. The interior was stunning, but unfortunately my little Nikon camera couldn't cope with the low-light conditions. Trust me when I say it was a spiritual experience.

Autumn has broken here in Montréal in a real way. I awoke this morning delightfully chilly, pulling the sheets and blankets up over me and snuggling in for a few more minutes of rest before springing up to make the morning coffee.

The sky is clear and blue, and Montréalers are bundled in hats and scarves and jackets.

The past weeks have been incredible for my personal growth, in spite of (and probably because of) a spell of depression. Here's why:

Throughout most of my adult life, I've been a hopeless romantic. I don't mean this only in the sense of yearning for romantic love, although that has been a component. I mean that I'm hopelessly addicted to the promise of salvation that allegedly waits for me on the other side of some effort.

This year, that effort was my 25-hour drive to Quebec. I was so sure that when I arrived, I would be greeted with perpetual elation and bliss. Instead, I found ... myself, here, in Quebec, away from all my friends and family, in a city where I know nobody.

At first, this was an exciting prospect. I love that feeling of arriving in a new city and feeling the energy and potential of the place. But, as the days go on, it becomes familiar, and that novel feeling wears off. What once was new becomes routine. And it happens quickly.

I found it difficult to cope with this, until I asked myself what the experience could teach me. And the lesson, found through weeks of daily journaling, wasn't what I expected to find on this trip. But it is what I've truly needed.

For most of my life I've struggled with remaining grounded. Sometimes I feel like a bee flitting from place to place, trying to pollinate as many flowers as he can. I try to view this as a part of my nature and nothing to be overly concerned with.

And I think, to a point, it's true. I'm so grateful for having the privilege to have lived more life by my mid-thirties than most people live in their entire lives. Sometimes, if I'm tuned into the divinity of the present moment, I feel the need to pinch myself just to see if I'm dreaming, because I've been so goddamn blessed in this life. I wouldn't trade my adventurousness, my creativity, or my appetite for romance for anything.

But the insidious side of all of this shows itself when I'm not tuned into the present moment and I'm not viewing my current circumstance as the existential perfection that it is. I become bitter. Anxious. Depressed. I expect so much more than life can offer, and when it doesn't deliver, I can't cope with the dissonance.

We all know that attachment is the root of all suffering. But it requires constant effort and practice to make use of this beyond uttering it as a feel-good platitude. It requires noticing when your expectations exceed reality, and bringing your expectations back down to earth. And most of all, it requires observation of our present circumstance—no matter how vile or unfit as it may seem—as perfect and divine.

The curious thing is, as much as my solitude on this trip has recovered this wisdom from the bowels of my intellect, I find myself constantly forgetting and returning to my patterns of control and the anxiety and depression they produce.

Perhaps that's what people mean when they say that solitude can help us find ourselves. Perhaps it is out of necessity, in our darkest and most lonely moments, that we uncover wisdom we've always known in our minds but seldom practiced in our hearts.

So today, I'm basking in the tranquility of this perfect present moment. I hope you find the courage to do the same.

Un paradis piétonnier

Off Mont-Royal

Pardon my French, haux haux haux... I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here. The title of this post translates to "A pedestrian paradise".

At risk of sounding like a broken record: Why do we build cities like we do in the United States, when there's clearly a better way? I came to Montréal to discover whether my suspicions were correct—that there could be a city somewhere in North America where the automobile wasn't the highest priority citizen. Even in "progressive" Portland, life without a car was tenuous at best due to most of the city being filled with single-family housing. And Manhattan has the opposite problem: Skyscrapers suffocate the island with hoardes of pedestrians on every streetcorner.

But here in Montréal, life is so pleasant on foot. I walked around in awe at how much I could access on my own two feet. I walked by several supermarkets, some ethnic and some organic. Shops of every stripe. Cafes, bars, restaurants. Parks and playgrounds. And despite the density, I haven't once felt overwhelmed. In fact, I've felt more comfortable than I ever do in America, because I haven't been steering a two-ton hunk of glass and metal through a goddamn city.

There are several streets in the central city that close traffic to private automobiles, such as the one pictured above. Walking down these is like being in an urban wonderland. It's quiet. It's charming. There's a real sense of place. You're free to stop and enjoy yourself without the threat of being run over.

Mont-Royal Avenue

I will never stop asking: Why don't we do this in America? Why do we choose to live our lives confined to horrid glass and metal boxes careening dangerously through asphalt-laden hellscape cities, when there's clearly a more livable way? I'm here, I'm experiencing it, and it's so much better. Not only is it better, but it's also, per capita, much more efficient and economical.

Residential street

I've had a few incredible multilingual experiences here so far. Yesterday, I came across a Latin supermarket, where I bought some pastries, a baguette, and some chorizo to prepare at home. The clerk didn't speak any English. I didn't speak any French, but I could tell she spoke a bit of Spanish. So I used the few Spanish phrases I knew to hopefully convey the transaction. It barely worked and we both kept laughing at each other.

Now I'm sitting at an Italian-owned cafe. I walked in, and, armed with a bit more French, asked "Parlez-vous anglais?" The barista seemed a bit confused, and just asked "English?" I couldn't tell what her native language was, but a couple of the regulars spent the next fifteen minutes conversing, switching back and forth between Italian and English.

All of this is making me realize how much more rich life would be if I were multilingual, and I'm going to make it a priority to learn French from now on, since I'm sure I would enjoy my time here even more if I weren't timid on account of the language barrier.

I'll leave you today with an interesting quirk I've seen here. There are still quite a few payphones strewn about the city—I wonder if these are kept in operation for those people who cannot afford cell phones. Anyway, being a bit of a telephony nerd, I couldn't help but snap a picture:

Montréal pay phone

À plus tard!

57 varieties of Pittsburgh history


I came to Pittsburgh with a single goal: To visit the Andy Warhol Museum. Beyond that, I wasn't sure what my time here would be like or if I'd even enjoy it. Almost a week in, I've grown quite fond of it here.

I can't remember where, but somewhere in my research about Pittsburgh I read that the original set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was on display at the Senator John Heinz History Center. Being that I grew up on a steady diet of Fred Rogers alongside Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Eureka's Castle, I knew I wasn't going to be able to leave Pittsburgh without paying respect to such an icon of children's entertainment and education.

I spent the morning writing at the lovely cafe on Butler Street that's slowly become my second home during my stay here. The locals murmered about how it was unseasonably cold outside. I felt a sense of gratitude for that fact, as I sauntered around the neighborhood in a black shirt-jacket and jeans, feeling more like myself in a full ensemble of clothing than I had in months in the sweltering and unending Florida heat.

I left the cafe and boarded the 91 bus toward downtown. The heat had started to pick up at the bus stop and an older man with a cane stood beside the trashcan on the street corner flicking his cigarette.

I pulled the cord and got off at 12th and Liberty. At first I wasn't sure where I'd find the museum, but the giant ketchup sign revealed itself soon enough. I walked around the building and found the entrance:

Senator John Heinz History Center

I walked in, paid my admission, and made my way up the stairs to the first exhibits. First was an exhibit on Pittsburgh sports, which admittedly I skipped since, you know, I love sports.

Then there was an exhibit about innovation in Pittsburgh. A couple reproductions of postwar households caught my eye, since they attempted to portray the rise of consumerism in America after the Second World War:

Heinz History Center - Postwar

Heinz History Center - WQED and Early

When I reached the fourth floor, I finally found the Mister Rogers television set in all its glory:

Heinz History Center - Mister Rogers

Heinz History Center - Mister Rogers
set - Castle

My favorite thing about travel is finding myself immersed in the unexpected. I had no intention of coming to Pittsburgh before I decided that was the path I'd take from Asheville. And out of that one decision, I was thrust into a whole new place and time that I'll always remember fondly. Before last week, Pittsburgh existed only in my imagination. Now I've experienced, bit by bit, its culture, its landscape, and its people. I'm grateful to be a guest here and have met so many wonderful folks along the way.

Now I'm curious where my journey will take me next. I'm planning on visiting my aunt and uncle in Upstate New York on Friday, after which I'll have a few days to kill before my apartment in Montreal is ready for me. Vermont might be calling me, or perhaps I'll drive all the way to Quebec City for a few days before I head settle in Montreal. Travel without a plan is both intensely stressful, as well as immeasurably rewarding. Had I planned my entire trip I probably wouldn't have stopped here at all, and instead booked it all the way up Interstate 95 as fast as I could to Montreal. My meandering has granted the trip a sense of spotanaeity, and to me, that's beautiful.

Accepting you're a dirty mess

Vincent, with fruit

I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday to the chaotic pitter-patter of rain drops on Vincent's back. In the evening I'd had the thought that perhaps I ought to pack away my camp furniture since it might rain, but paid it no mind and snoozed away. When I emerged from slumber, I squarely regretted my neglect and found my yoga mat waterlogged like a sponge.

The rain stopped for a few hours, during which I managed to drive Vincent out of the mud to a dead suburban mall several miles north to seek refuge and do my daily writing. I find a strange sense of solace in the bowels of suburban shopping malls—relics of what felt to me like a simpler time. This mall, nestled in the middle of Applachia, was particularly dead; I think there were more mall walkers circumscribing the mall's dark tiles than there were stores open for business.

I sat in the food court for a few hours writing and watching the people walk by. I made small talk with the security guard and asked him if there was wifi. And I took a break to make a cup of coffee on my camp stove in the parking lot, since the mall was so dead there wasn't even a place to get a cup of coffee.

It's funny, but sometimes the most benign and uneventful days are the most memorable. I'll never forget stumbling upon that shopping mall in the middle of suburban Pittsburgh and seeing it not as a blight on the landscape, but as a brilliant climate controlled oasis.

When I returned to the campground, I noticed it had thinned out considerably. Being that most of the campers were probably local residents, I imagine they decided sitting in the rain wasn't how they wanted to spend their weekend. I, however, was stuck, unless I wanted to get a hotel room, which, I didn't. So I made the best of a muddy situation. I went for a short hike. I made ramen noodles for dinner. I watched online videos about living in vans.

And then, the rains came again. This time, worse than the night before. I checked the weather report and there was an advisory that there could be 55-mile-per-hour winds and nickel-sized hail. Luckily, neither of these came to fruition, but I weighed my options and decided I could always seek shelter in the lavatory building if things got dicey.

I called my brother and we talked at length about life and my trip and his upcoming trip and I was at a bit more peace. As I went to sleep, the rains started again and I knew when I woke up I would be greeted by more mud puddles and damp clothes.

There comes a point when you're on the road where you stop trying to keep yourself up and just accept that you're a filthy mess. As I sit here awaiting my next rented room in Pittsburgh, my skin is oily, my head unshaven, my feet filthy, my clothes dirty, and my body aching. But it is what it is. Tomorrow I'll undoubtedly be elated to have woken up in a real bed in a room with ceilings suitable for standing. But now, I'm the dirty vagabond, going here, there, and nowhere in particular.

It's moments like this that make me wonder why I'm so persistent in my pursuit of adventure when I could very well have the kind of stable, secure life that many people forced into a life of nomadism would kill for. Is this sort of pursuit merely one of selfish indulgence?

I left on this trip, like all my road trips before it, to find America. It's hiding here somewhere, whether in the row houses of Lawrenceville or the steel mills of Appalachia. Maybe it's in the grateful spirit of an immigrant for whom Walmart does not represent a sort of American overindulgence, but instead represents their newfound land of plenty in a world of poverty. I am constantly in awe at the wonder and glory of this land in spite of its horrors, its inequities, and its wastefulness.

America, I love you, but it's not easy.

A leisurely hourslong walk to the Warhol

The Andy Warhol Bridge

I returned to the loft after my morning coffee and writing to shed the clothes I'd donned in the chilly, overcast morning and prepare for my journey down the river to the Warhol Museum.

I began walking toward downtown on Butler Street and my stomach rumbled. I came across a homegrown breakfast place several blocks into the walk and so I popped in for a bite.

The thing that strikes me most about Pittsburgh is its colonial influence in the architecture. Pittsburgh was founded before the Revolutionary War, and so it's a wonderland of diverse architectural styles reaching all the way back to the time of British rule. It's wild stuff to spend time in a place with so much history.

I walked through the Strip District, which felt like a strange combination of tourist junk shops and warehouses. There I asked a couple locals for directions, and they told me I could walk down to the river where there was a multi-use path.

The banks of the Alleghany are lush with greenery and the infrastructure is haunting and historic. Again, you get the sense here that real stuff happened.

Eventually, I reached the Three Sisters, of which one is named after Andy Warhol. I walked up the stairs from the river path and found myself suspended above the river. And suddenly, the museum's signage could be seen in the distance on the north banks.

Here are some shots from inside the museum:

Warhol balloons

Warhol sculpture

I walked back over the bridge into downtown, and caught the 91 bus back to Lawrenceville.

Aboard the Stansted Express.

I am sitting aboard a train in the Liverpool Street train station, bound for Stansted Airport. Unfortunately, I am accompanied by all of my baggage again, limiting my mobility. I do hope that Stansted has Internet access and public electricity; the old laptop needs a recharge.

London and I are starting to have a love-hate relationship on a grandiose scale. At the level of the individual, there are plenty of folks who will make you feel right at home, regardless of where you are from or what you believe. However, at large, London operates like an Orwellian dystopia. The Underground is flooded with automated announcements by a computerized British female voice, informing you of the train’s next destination. Large posters inform citizens about the improvements that are being made to the Underground to facilitate for more secure, faster, and robust travels. But through all of it, there is little sign of true compassion. London is not a community; rather, it is a system into which its citizens are so horribly integrated that they operate as mere cogs.

Fear-mongering is abound moreso than anywhere I’ve been in the United States. Signs warn citizens to be warned that they are being watched and will be prosecuted if a crime is committed. I witnessed a woman being accosted by the British Transport police and having her bag searched. Londoners, at least among those travelling aboard the Underground, have little or no sense of humor. I didn’t dare speak to any of them; it is almost as if there is an unwritten rule. I was tempted to break that rule, when I realized that the folks I would talk to may not take kindly to such behavior and might report it to the authorities, as they are instructed to over the loudspeakers several times per day.

As I travel out of central London, I am reminded that the United Kingdom isn’t completely close-circuited. What does Glasgow have to offer?

A drink at Stansted.

I got off the train and made my way to the check-in counter at Ryanair. They told me check-in for my flight hadn’t begun yet, so I decided to get a drink at the bar. I happened to meet a lovely girl from Kent, who bought me a Chardonnay. We talked politics, religion, dreams, and destinies. It’s amazing the conversations you’ll have if you just say hello. I told her about my idea to travel across the country in a motorhome, and I was met with fascination, as she was seeking to leave her current position as a police officer to move to Australia and seek a similar lifestyle.

A base of operations.

I found a hostel in Borough called St. Christoper’s which fortunately had a vacancy. I stowed my luggage away and embarked on my walk around the city. London is beautiful; it is a peculiar superimposition of modern architecture atop London’s iconic classical buildings. I’m sitting at a coffee shop outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

What I See:

The CCTV around London is a bit disconcerting… They’ve really turned the city into a police state. It doesn’t feel particularly invasive, but I am struck every time I see a sign stating that the area is being monitored.

I had a chance to see the River Thames as well:

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to spend some time preparing for the conference this afternoon, so I won’t be able to do much sightseeing. I suppose it is to be expected; after all, it’s what brought me here in the first place.