Central lodgings for intrepid explorers – review of Hotel Le Roberval

Graffiti

Hotel le Roberval centres an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods

Conveniently located within a short walk to Montreal’s Vieux Port, the Village and the restaurants of St. Denis, Hotel Le Roberval offers affordable, clean lodgings for people who like to explore the city on foot or with a quick jump on the Metro (Berri-UQAM).

The rooms are quite spacious and well-maintained, offering a kitchenette space that included a bar fridge, microwave, coffee maker and two sets of dishes. The Queen-sized bed was firm and comfortable, and the television was hi-def. And for those needing to work or wishing to keep in touch via social media, the free WiFi was very reliable and allowed rapid upload of photos to Facebook.

Parking is a bit of a chore, however, as you need to store your car in a shared lot less than a block from the hotel. Unfortunately, you need a room key to access the lot, so you have to check in before you can park. That said, you can leave your car on Rue Berri for up to 15 minutes while checking in.

The free continental breakfast leaves something to be desired. There is no hot food, the entire spread limited to croissants, cellophane-wrapped half-bagels, yoghurt, pastries and a couple of dry cereals, as well as milk, juices and coffee. Like the small dining room itself, however, the buffet is well-maintained and the staff who work the room are attentive to everyone’s needs.

Although the hotel is located on the corner of two busy streets (Boul. Rene-Levesque & Rue Berri), bound by government offices and the Universite du Quebec á Montréal (UQAM), there are several restaurants within a short walking distance (mostly in the Village) and a couple of depanneurs (convenience stores that also sell alcohol) if you just want to relax in your room.

As comfortable and accommodating as Hotel Le Roberval is, the lodgings are really just a place to store your stuff and rest your head as you explore what Montreal has to offer.

Bloodied remembrance

Flag soldiers

I have no room for anger or hatred in my life, but I find myself perplexed, frustrated and saddened by the events of this past week that saw three men, three soldiers killed or wounded. And all of the efforts to understand or explain the reasoning of the two perpetrators, both killed, do nothing to assuage these feelings.

The two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal in Quebec, were crossing a parking lot in front of a recruitment centre when they were run over by their assailant. One of the men wasn’t even in uniform.

And in a messed up irony that could only accompany a death, the third soldier in Ottawa was standing guard over a war memorial to his fallen predecessors. His only defence from the gun man that took his life? An unloaded gun pointed at the ground out of remembrance and reverence to The Unknown Soldier.

For soldiers to fall in battle or in zones of conflict is painful, but somehow more acceptable as a known risk. For men to die while pursuing peaceful administrative activities or activities of honour is simply unfathomable.

While I am not yet ready to weep for the deaths of the two murderers, I mourn for their families and their communities, who have suffered losses as well. Without more information, I cannot blame anyone other than he who drove the car, he who pulled the trigger.

But even as I grieve, even as I question, I take heart and solace in the arms of my community. The people of Canada have not cornered the market in fortitude and endurance, but we are strong. And in times like this, times that matter most, we speak with one voice, we grieve with one heart and we love with one soul.

Despite the pain of our loss, we only grow stronger when events like this happen. And when faced with the uncertainty and fear of these events, that strength, that resolve will keep us whole, will keep us secure.

The coming Remembrance Day will be a touch sadder this year because the poppies will be more bloodied and the graves they mark will be a little fresher.

Peace.

 

Only the names of the deceased officers have been released: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24 (left, above), and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53.

soldier_andfield_of_poppies

Water course

Despite our best efforts to stage life with garden ponds, nature has a way of making them her own in very short order.

I find myself enraptured by the epic stories told in such confined spaces, losing hours of my life in these mythic displays.

(These photos were taken in Montreal; Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica; Kona Kailua, Hawaii)

Maps quest

In another life, I could have been a cartographer. I simply love maps.

Road maps. Old maps. Topographical maps. Biological maps. I love maps.

It is probably truer to say that I love visual information presentation, but let’s stick with maps.

Image

As a kid, I remember staring at maps that came out of the National Geographic or in my books and literally tracing the courses of rivers with my fingers, trying to understand what their winding patters told me about the lands through which they passed.

I would look at maps in history books, and see how topographical features literally and figuratively changed the course of civilization. There are several reasons, for example, why Montreal sits where it does, but most of them are geographical.

(Magazine art for my article on efforts to understand how proteins bind drug molecules.)

Image

Later in my life, I would draw maps—at first geographical, but later biological. The biochemical mechanisms that cells and organs use to communicate, to rejuvenate, to function are maps unto themselves, each criss-crossing with others, offering alternate routes to the same destination. The latter point is why diseases like cancer are so hard to treat.

Maps allow me to take journeys, but not just in the physical sense of providing direction. They also give a factual tether to my fantastical imaginings. I can go places I may never visit, understand things unfathomable, while pouring over a map.

And map systems like Google Street View have added to those imaginings. Often, when I write, I will visit the setting of my story on Google Street View to help me paint a more vivid picture of the location. Sometimes this makes my narrative sound more like a travel brochure, but that’s my fault and can easily be handled with editing. The important thing is that the reader gets the essence of what I’m trying to convey.

(Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. Setting for the climax of my murder thriller screenplay)

Image

My writing itself is a map. Like Google Street View, I am only giving the reader what fits within a specific frame, in essence guiding the reader. But at the same time, I cannot control what the reader thinks or how the reader feels as he or she journeys through my word jungles.

Just as with my childhood adventures of following rivers and mountain chains, the reader is free to layer his or her own imaginings on top of mine. And so, I have written not just one story, but hundreds or thousands.

Hunh?

I guess I became a cartographer, after all.

(Overview of my neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.)

Image

Witness

The building stands along the rue de la commune,

A sentinel on the waterfront of Montreal.

A few tourists walk by and the silence of morn

Is broken by the clack of cobblestones under the hooves

Of a horse pulling a caleche;

But the building is mute and observes.

 

It wears the marks of its hundred and fifty years

And hearkens back to Dickensian times.

The brick no longer white but stained

With the soot and rain of life in the city.

The windows are small, clouded irises

Through which pass the events of history.

The doors of the loading docks have been long painted shut

But the wood bears the scars of wagons poorly maneuvered.

She is a silent witness.

 

The wind blows ever so gently on an autumn’s morn

And the breeze passes the cracks and crevices

Of the wood and brick.

If you listen closely, you can just make out

The echoes of yesterday.

A foreman, en français, berates the workers

For being too careless with today’s papers

As they toss them into the backs of waiting wagons;

Threatening that the cost of bundles too damaged to sell

Will be deducted from their wages, mere pennies,

A meagre mouthful for the hungry families.

 

As your eyes scan up from the street

And you pass the windows,

You can see the signs of former residents.

Amongst the jumbled letters of words over words,

Signs painted over signs, you can still make out

The once proud letters of

Le Standard: toute la monde, tout le temps

A car drives by and the rhythmic beating

Of its wheels on the bricks echoes against the building;

Reviving the forgotten sounds of a printing press

Bringing the news to thousands of Montrealers.

 

Your eye continues skyward to a large bay window

On the top floor and you are startled by a reflection.

In the early morning sun, the light glints

Off dust-laden windows

And a spectre appears behind the panes.

Old Monsieur O’Toole, proprietor and publisher,

Still stands at his window, looking out over the river,

From his office and apartment above the presses.

The throb of the machines is a lullaby for the old man;

A mother’s heartbeat in the womb

Formed by the newspaper’s walls.

He smiles as he listens to the rantings of Gilles Garnier,

The foreman of the dock, remembering him

As an eager young lad who delivered the paper

For a much younger O’Toole

When Canada and The Standard were new.

 

These windows and this paper have been witness

To the founding of a nation,

Its history both ancient and new.

The presses have described the rhetoric of politicians,

George-Etienne, Wilfred and John A.,

Arguing the desirability of a union, a confederation.

It has announced the call to arms of Canadian boys

To fight for British guns in the fields of South Africa

And told of the death of a mighty monarch, la reine Victoria.

She has counted the bodies at Vimy Ridge

And, from these windows, has cried with joy

Of the end of the “war to end all wars”,

Only to weep at the start of the next one.

She called for calm on that infamous black Tuesday in October

And was instrumental in the programs to feed and clothe

The poor in its aftermath.

 

But now the building is silent,

A victim of post-war modernization;

A derelict in a sea of decay, the city fathers calling

For yet another committee to decide its fate.

A cloud crosses the sky, disturbing the light,

And O’Toole vanishes from the window.

The breeze dies and the Frankish rantings subside.

The presses have stopped and are long gone.

History proceeds.

Fading history clings tightly to the crumbling facade on Montreal's river front.

Fading history clings tightly to the crumbling facade on Montreal’s river front.

With the passage of time, Montreal's history fades into dust.

With the passage of time, Montreal’s history fades into dust.

Writer’s Block-ed – Part One

Anyone who has stared at a blank page or screen and been incapable of adding words to it understands the living nightmare that is writer’s block. The whiteness of the sheets or the blinking of the cursor mocks you as you struggle before it, desirous of wondrous expression but incapacitated and mute. You feel incapable, devoid of ideas, and worry that your creative ju-ju will never return.

But are we correct in feeling this way? What is writer’s block?

To my mind, the only difference between creatives and non-creatives is a willingness to create. We all have it within us; it is just that some of us move unbridled to the fore while others linger back. It is as though there is a psyche membrane or filter that separates us, or perhaps, to be more granular, it separates thought from expression.

Think of any filter in your house. The air filter in your car, for example. The filter keeps particulate matter—dust, dirt, debris—from damaging your engine while still allowing air to reach the combustion cylinders that convert fuel to power. When that filter gets clogged, however, less air can reach the cylinders and therefore the car underperforms or does not run at all.

I think the psyche filter works similarly but with a twist. In creatives (and likely in children), the filter is clear and wide open, allowing thoughts generated deep within to pass through freely and find expression in the outside world.

In non-creatives and people experiencing writer’s block, it is less that the pores of the filter have become clogged, so much as the pores have shrunk to microscopic size—a self-clogging filter, if you will. This prevents almost all of the generated thought from reaching the surface to be expressed.

You are generating ideas, but for whatever reason, your filter is keeping you from letting them free.

Alternatively, the filter works more like the car filter in that your psyche requires stimulating input to convert brain energy to creative power. In creatives, the filter lets in everything (or a large part of everything), whereas in non-creatives, again, the pores are too small to let anything more than the rudimentary information needed for survival enter and so the creative engine stalls.

In either case, the capacity to generate thought and to express those thoughts is the same in both groups of people. It is the nature of the filter that distinguishes us.

I wish I could present you with the secret answer for unblocking that filter when it becomes troublesome, but the working mechanisms of each filter are unique, yours attuned to your psyche.

In Part Two, I’ll offer some thoughts on what I have found effective in dealing with a clogged filter. They don’t always work, but by having multiple outlets, I hedge my bets that something will work.

The following gallery explores colour at one of my favourite buildings in Montreal, the Palais des Congres.