The trip north took longer than expected. Then there was a metro to be navigated, and a walk to my hotel, and then a slip of paper I clutched all the way down rue St-Denis, looking for a Thai restaurant without a name.
But eventually I made it to dinner, where a chorus of shouts greeted me. Imagine: a dozen blog-friends, from as far afield as Portland (Oregon) and London (England), sitting at table on a terrace in Québec! In short order someone brought me dinner, and a beer, and the evening passed in a flurry of conversation.
Saturday was rainy but we wandered the streets nonetheless. Everywhere we looked there were murals and street art. We walked for hours, and ours were often the only Anglophone voices. We talked about poems and blog posts, travels near and far, the immediate and unmediated world.
When the downpour got too heavy, we sat beneath the awnings of a sidewalk cafe on cobbled streets. We drank strong café au lait and ate maple-sweetened bannock baked in hot coals. In late afternoon some of us found a noodle bar, and then an art museum (I loved Brian Jungen's totemic masks made from Nike sneakers, and his vast and ponderous skeletons made from lawn chairs suspended like undersea behemoths.)
By evening, the downpour had largely ceased. We walked to a pedestrian street and ensconced ourselves at a Greek restaurant, where we drank good wine and talked some more. We toasted our absent companions. Eventually we found our way to yet another coffee bar, where I nursed an enormous bittersweet chocolat chaud. At evening's end we had a group hug in the middle of a sidewalk, so that those returning across the ocean could carry our warmth and good wishes home.
Some of our merry band left early Sunday morning. The rest of us gathered for brunch, which for me meant crépes slathered in béchamel and gruyére, and conversation about wildlife and windmills and art. More hugs, more goodbyes. A ramble through a new bit of town, the park near our friends' house, children and bicyclists and dogs and everywhere the spiralling descent of maple seeds...
Meeting blog-friends is a deep pleasure. Before we meet I'm never sure what I expect voices to sound like, how mannerisms will translate from the screen to embodied life. After only a few minutes, I feel we've known each other for years.
I know we will meet again. Meanwhile, by the time I finish the long train journey back, a few dozen email messages will be waiting to welcome me home.