The Northern Option – Part I

Posted by admin on January 19th, 2010 filed in batman, bicycles, food, travel

So recently we’ve been biking every other day, if not every day, in preparation for some nearby brevets and eventually, Bike Sebring.  Unfortunately, central Florida’s forecasts have been particularly dismal for the weekends lately, so we’ve yet to actually attend any events.

After viewing the forecast two weeks ago, a trip to snow-blanketed Montreal sounded more appealing than biking in Lycra in Florida’s below-freezing conditions.  The trip was a short one but it did have a number of highlights.  For instance, the hotel room had a nice view of downtown Montreal – good for guests and crimefighters alike:

The Dark Knight over Daylit Montreal

and more importantly, the room had a wonderful heater (considering that it got down to around minus 20 C, factoring wind chill, during the daytime.)

I arrived Thursday night and had arranged to participate in a class at Philip Gelinas’ school, The Gelinas Academy of Mixed Martial Arts, Saturday morning.  I have always heard wonderful things about his fighting style as well as his teaching abilities and reveled at the opportunity to meet and train with him.  So the day before the class, my friend and I stopped by the gym to scout out the location and preview the facilities.  After introducing ourselves and promising to return the next day, we headed out to explore more of downtown Montreal and stumbled upon a gem right across the street from the academy.

Batman Goes to Church

Double take

We walked around the side of the St James United Church then, out of curiosity, decided to peek inside. The interior immediately stunned us.  Numerous stained glass windows lining the side and back walls aided a huge central chandelier in gently lighting the large, deep, vaulted space. Radiating ranks of rich, well-oiled wood shone in the diffused light, each pew polished gradually over the years by the caresses of countless patrons navigating the rows, by grasps stabilizing those devoted bodies politely invited to rise and be seated time and again.  Even the aged cushions – still stuffed with horsehair – whispered hints of endurance and faith.

From the upper deck


One of myriad beautiful stained glass windows


Rose window from the staircase

Without a doubt, however, the focus of the quiescent room was the magnificent pipe organ.

Quite the set of pipes

As we wandered around, a professional organist practicing his repertoire floated the huge space with gentle melodies, while slowly flooding the room with imperceptibly crescendoing layers of chords.  We later found out he isn’t the regular organist for the church – his normal church was closed and his organ inaccessible – and that St. James makes a regular habit of offering it’s facilities to musicians like him.

While marveling over the majestic display of pipes, my friend and I got into a disagreement over the mechanics of the organ.  Although I was (partially) wrong I’m glad it happened because to resolve the argument we turned to a nearby docent in a pastor’s beard & sweater who had been strolling up and down the aisles, awaiting just such a circumstance.  Delighted at the question and our interest, he described the organ’s design as well as this particular organ’s history.  He invited us to view it (and the organist) up close while describing it’s functions. The organist paused his performance to demonstrate the instrument’s ability and potential alongside the docent’s descriptions.  Apparently, when they (pardon the pun) pull out all the stops and employ the largest, lowest-toned pipes (which are made of wood rather than metal), the sound literally shakes the plaster off the walls of the sanctuary.

Front, left panel - the missing plaster is supposedly due to the holiday concerts

Our docent continued to give us a guided tour of the expansive church.  He showed us the rooms for their myriad charitable programs for the homeless and needy, including an impressively efficacious art and writing program, a soup kitchen, food bank, mission office, and a day lounge where those living on the streets were invited to repose and congregate during Montreal’s days – the temperatures of which are often below freezing.  We thanked our guide while stressing how moving it was to witness a church offer such stable, useful, functional charitable efforts.  Upon exiting, we both agreed, “This is what a church SHOULD be.”

We continued our meandering into the Old Town section of Montreal and stopped by the city’s basilica, Notre Dame:

Notre Dame

but found out they charge a fee for entry.  After the experience at St. James, it just didn’t seem worth it.  So we continued our tour of downtown and Old Town:

Across from Notre Dame

and after breaking down to buy some warm hats and postcards, we retired to Stash Cafe, a Polish restaurant in Old Town, to warm up with some comforting soup: borsch (beet soup) for me & flaki (tripe soup) for my friend.  The restaurant was in an old building with a number of other businesses which all shared one set of restrooms, reached only by scaling an awesome, gothic staircase:

Batman's Case

The rest of the day was spent in the underground tunnels and in the hotel because the temperatures continued to drop.  Not much else to report … until Part II.

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