Checking in, and checking out

Walking to an undisclosed location on a recent Friday evening to celebrate our 13th anniversary:

Foodie: I love the light out right now, and the way the snow has just sort of settled on the tree branches. It looks like a Bruegel landscape.

Beast: For fuck’s sake.

Foodie: What?

Beast: I didn’t know I’d be spending the night with Wordsworth.

[Approaching a Michael’s]

Beast: Where are you taking me? OMG you’re letting me buy whatever I want for my crafting! How much money can I spend on glitter?

Foodie: We’re not going to Michael’s.

Beast: It’s the aquarium isn’t it! No wait–you’ve rented out Brooks Brothers so I can have a personalized shopping experience!

Foodie: It’s not either of those places.

[Walking along Adelaide St.]

Beast: Holy shit. The Trump Hotel. You’re taking me to the Trump Hotel.

Foodie: It’s not the Trump Hotel anymore. It’s the Adelaide Hotel.

Beast: Oh god I was only joking. We’re actually going to the Trump Hotel?

Foodie: It’s not called that anymore!

Beast: Ok but are we seriously staying at a hotel?

Foodie: Yes! Won’t it be wonderful? I had a free night to use up with my hotel points and we got the most bang for the buck at the Adelaide Hotel. It’s a suite!

Beast: I can’t wait to tell all my friends that I’m staying at a Trump Hotel!

Foodie: [Silence]

After investigating every corner of our suite, which included quite a bit of time in the washroom and just generally behaving like children, we set out for dinner at Brothers.

I didn’t take any photos of the food because I was distracted. Three hours of talking and eating–including what I think could be the best carpaccio I’ve ever had, went by in a blink.

The next morning I had a bath because that’s what you do at a hotel, and we read the papers while wearing white robes because you also do that. An optional activity is trying to do a photo shoot of yourself in the robe reading because you think your hair looks like Julia Roberts’ in Pretty Woman.

After checking out, we went to go see Phantom Thread at the Varsity cinema. We chose the theatre carefully because we assumed they’d be playing a 70 mm version. But we were wrong. They stopped doing this because unlike digital the format requires a projectionist who they have to pay, and they didn’t want to do that, the nice young man at the ticket booth explained to us. He was just as disappointed as we were. The Beast said he was going to write a letter. (He hasn’t.)

Nevertheless, we both really enjoyed the film. The charges of it being anti-feminist and promoting toxic masculinity confused me because Daniel Day Lewis’ character, ReynoldsWoodcock, was a trope of all the stereotypical suffering male creative types, which was hilariously portrayed. Portraying a “type” on screen doesn’t condone said type. And examining a subject doesn’t condone a subject.

Anyway, the film was far funnier than we expected, especially after we kept imagining Maya Rudolph hitting Paul Thomas Anderson after she read the script while saying “WTF, Paul! We are NOT fucking like this!”

Just before I’d planned our anniversary stay-cation, I also started planning a road trip for me, the Beast, and my mom. She hasn’t renewed her passport yet so our options were limited. Seeing as there was an exhibit on J.W. Morrice, a painter whose work often makes me long to paint even though I can’t, at the National Gallery of Canada I chose Ottawa, and the night after that at the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, just 50 minutes away.

After picking up my mom from the bus station, we headed directly to Cafe Polonez for Hungarian pancakes, a dish I’ve longed for my mom to try.

She wasn’t disappointed, nor was she when we made her watch three episodes of the new Queer Eye before bed at our place.

The next morning, I drove us directly to the National Gallery. It took me a while to accept a few things: First, weekday trips to public institutions means there is a good chance there will be visiting school groups. And teenagers, like they were when I was one, are loud. I don’t know if they know how loud they are, or if running and laughing and singing aren’t distracting to others, or if they just don’t care. I kept looking at the security guards and shaking my head as if to say, Can you even believe this? I kept looking for their teachers to put them in their place. In that moment, when no one else–save for my mom–was bothered by the packs of teenagers–I knew that I was officially “older”.

Second, I accepted that my mom had to move at her own pace. Once I knew she was fine on her own and I didn’t have to hover over her, four hours disappeared.

We stayed at the charming and storied Chateau Laurier that night. I had plans of going out to eat–because holy shit does Ottawa have some incredible restaurants–but my mom was pretty worn out. So we had burgers at the hotel.

The next morning, the Beast and I zipped over for an hour-long tour of Parliament, something I wish I’d done sooner in life. But better late than never, especially because starting in September, there won’t be any public tours for the next 10 years.

Plus we wouldn’t have been able to see the Senate’s Red Chamber’s audio devices which look like they were designed by Wes Anderson.

We made a pit stop for poutine at Le Pataterie Hulloise in Hull before driving to Montebello, QC. We all squealed when we saw the 100-year-old Chateau, the largest log cabin in the world. While mom rested in her room, the Beast and I went on a big walk.

Afterwards, we lounged in our room, and then we three played cards by the Chateau’s enormous six-sided fireplace.

This was a moment I’d envisioned when I first booked the trip. Sometimes I try too hard to create these moments. My anxiety over finding the right seat with the right vista in order to create the right memory not not only causes me anxiety but also everyone with me.  I just want everyone to have a nice time.

But nice times just sort of have to happen on their own.

For example, I didn’t plan on opening our bedroom window later that night, after dinner at the Chateau. But I was just so hot! Just a crack, I thought. But the room grew so cold that it woke the Beast up. “What are you doing?” I asked him from under the duvet as he stumbled around at 2:00 a.m. in the dark.

“Trying to find the heater. This room is freezing!”

“Oh I opened the window…”

“Are you insane? Feel this pillow! It fucking feels like ice!”

[Feeling pillow and yes, it was cold AF.]

I didn’t engineer the moment that we couldn’t stop laughing about.

I did, however, mastermind our sleigh ride the next morning. But I couldn’t have predicted that the other three people who booked ended up cancelling so we had an hour-long private tour around the grounds.

It must’ve been 20 years ago that one summer, after a family BBQ at my uncle Jim and aunt Pat’s, I crawled inside a giant cardboard box with my nephew James. He would’ve been four years old. We just sat there in that box, really the best toy ever, in silence–until James looked up at me and said “We’re having a nice time, aren’t we.”

“Yes,” I said. “We are.”

It wasn’t a question. James simply noted our reality.

That moment has stuck with me–and not just because I was touched that a tender four year old was emotionally aware enough to point it out. I started saying “we’re having a nice time” to preserve every moment I wanted to remember, as if saying it out loud would make it never disappear. I say it so much that my friends at work started making fun of me. They’ve even started saying it too when, say, we’re on a field shoot and we pause to have a laugh, or appreciate how lucky we are to do what we do.

But in trying to be the architect of nice times I tend to be so distracted that I forget to actually have a nice time.

I probably have a photo of me and James in that cardboard box. I am tempted to to go and find it. But I don’t really need to. Because I remember.

9 replies »

  1. What a wonderful way to spend your anniversary…and, I wish I was your Mother. What a wonderful holiday you gave her. I’m an Ottawa girl, born and bred so I could see you in my mind’s eye enjoying what it has to offer. Didn’t know Parliament was going to be undergoing renovations. Guess that has to happen, but 10 years…. Went to Montebello as a teenager, so didn’t really appreciate it the way I should have. Love your posts Jess. As I moved to the Toronto area many years ago, vicariously I sure enjoyed your Ottawa trip.

  2. I remembered you mentioned wanting to take your mom on a vacation. Nice to read you guys made it to Ottawa. Thanks for the travel inspiration, I’m in the process of planning a sole trip. The beast is becoming my spirit animal. I’m really trying to experience things the way I think he does…hoping my interpretation of the Beast is not far out.

  3. I adore everything about this post! Hotel shenanigans, Ottawa and being an “architect of nice times”. I am a long-time follower of your blog (my fave!) but this is my first time commenting.
    I teach kindergarten and am often taken aback by how emotionally aware children can be and how this can really centre me, especially on those tough days, and I think THIS is the part of the day I want to remember.

    A beautiful post, as always. Glad you enjoyed Ottawa and parliament – it is a favourite weekend road trip for my husband and I when we need a little get away.
    Happy 13th anniversary!
    Thank you for making my heart smile.

  4. Sounds like a perfect trip to Ottawa and surrounds. I had no idea that Parliament was unavailable for tours beginning in September!! Time to plan the trip that you always thought that you would do. I’ll do the tour again in 10 years!!! Hopefully. You do have fun Jessie!

  5. Sitting here playing a hand of Solitaire that doesn’t really feel like it will come good, the thought of a game of Gin by a roaring fire with drinks, snacks and loved ones really sounds like heaven on earth. Beautiful.

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