Pleasure and Pain


I was in a state of shock. The day before, I was in a Tuk Tuk in dusty Delhi with sandals on my feet. Now, the boots were on and I was trudging through pure white snow in temperatures of -20c. This was my first day in Montreal. I couldn’t feel my fingers but I was happy. I’d been on the road for weeks and was back in the company of old friends – back to a comfy bed, back to a washing machine and back to booze.


When I was asked if I wanted to go to an operetta, I wasn’t sure if my jet lagged body could handle it, but this was very different. Le Docteur Miracle was performed in an old warehouse, with a bar on one side, the stage at another and the orchestra just metres behind us. As it turned out, Bizet and beer were a good combination.


There’s no pleasure without pain. Just as I was getting used to long, lazy afternoons in front of log fires, I suddenly found myself cross-country skiing on Mont Royal and high in the Laurentians. I hadn’t exercised for three months. It was hard work, but the views were worth it.


There were dramatic views on the train down to New York too. It’s said to be one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys, but it’s also eleven hours long. An hour of that is taken up with Homeland Security officials boarding the train and setting up office in the dining car. There were piles of papers, pens, stamp machines and staples and after a $6 fee, I returned to my seat with the Visa Waiver in my hand. It’s just as well – I’d arranged a very important date in NYC which couldn’t be missed.


This was a treat I’d promised myself months before – Afternoon Tea at The Plaza Hotel. I’d booked it with a friend who’d come over from Washington DC. We were spoiled rotten. For one afternoon, I forgot I was a traveller on a budget.


The next day, I remembered. I was looking around a vintage clothes store in Greenwich Village and spotted this Vera Wang dress for $60. I was about to try it on when I suddenly caught myself in the mirror. I was dressed top to toe in Gore-Tex. This was me for the rest of the year and I was lucky to be doing it. The dress went back on the rail and I went to the bagel shop for dinner.


A couple of hours later, I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend who’d come over from Ireland. It was a date we’d fixed a year before and we’d stuck to it. We explored parts of New York we’d never seen before – lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District from the High Line and we went to a Gospel Service at Mount Neboh Church in Harlem. Clapping and high fiving complete strangers puts a real smile on your face first thing in the morning. It was a sombre service too, following the gas explosion earlier in the week which killed eight people just six blocks away. The Reverend made an appeal for nappies and food for the dozens of families who’d been displaced.


We also paid our respects at the 9/11 Memorial. It was beautiful, but it was painful. I didn’t know that the names of the thousands who died were actually carved into the stone. It means that relatives can put a white rose into the lettering on the victims’ birthdays. We saw some roses. We also noticed people who were inconsolable with grief.

New York is an amazing city. It made us very welcome. Next time, I’ll go back and get that dress.

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