TEN GREAT FIRST DATES: SEEKING SANCTUARY

Warning: Just because you go somewhere spectacular on a first date don’t assume that the date will also be spectacular.

Parc des Rapides is one of my favorite places in Montreal. It’s a bird sanctuary. You will find it as a tourist attraction in Lonely Planet, Fodors, Tripadvisor, Tourism Montreal, Montreal sites and attractions and so forth. Yet, few Montrealers know about this wonderful wild and peaceful oasis along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

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What makes it unique is the contrast of the rapids churning on one side and the reservoir of calm water that flows through the dam built by Hydro Quebec on the other side.

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This park is one of my favorite meeting places with my friend and writing buddy, Thelma. Our walks usually end up with us chatting about our writing or the men we date. At the time I met Thelma, she was well into a paranormal romance novel, while I was writing a psychological crime novel. Our novels finished, drafted a zillion times and polished we are still looking for an agent or publisher and debate about going the self-publishing route. You have to understand that we do not embrace ebooks with the same enthusiasm as those in their twenties or thirties. We’re barely half way over the stigma hurdle of self-publishing.

Because Thelma was leaving for a trip to Italy in a few days, I asked her to join me at the park for my photographs of this post of great first dates.

“I’ve taken over a dozen men here on a first date,” she told me. “It’s a much more natural environment than having to sit across someone in a noisy coffee shop examining how his nose is too big,  his teeth too crooked, or OMG he put six packs of sugar in his coffee!”

As I clicked away, sorry that I didn’t have a powerful lens to photograph the huge turtles lying on a rock or the cormorants in the middle of the seaway, I listened to her first date tales.

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“Not one of them,” she claimed, “Turned into a second date.”

Click. Click.

I mentally made a list of reasons why she’d rejected them.

He threw his Kleenex on the ground. “Hey,” she told him, “You’re polluting my environment.” His reply: They’ve got somebody to pick it up.

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On another date, at dusk she and her date were walking along the rose-bush path. There was no one around when he told her, “You know I could take you right here.”

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Then she had the date where a flock of birds flew by and her date said “God, I wish I’d have brought along my gun. I love shooting birds for sport.”

  • There was the crazy man who at the end of their walk said, “So, what do you think? Do you want to see me again?” This is always a difficult situation to be in. Thelma said, “I just don’t think that there’s anything between us.” His response: “You’re the first woman to tell me that.” Really! She thought. Hard to believe. This is the same man who showed her his driver’s license to prove he was who he claimed to be, after asking if her teeth were REAL. “I felt like a horse at an auction,” she said.

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In spite of these first date disappointments, this park is a wonderful place to get to know someone. Is he a nature lover? Does the quietness bother him? You get to know someone much quicker by walking in nature than you do among a crowd coming and going talking on their cells. Not to say that being in nature is a guarantee that a fellow will turn off his cell phone. There’s nothing more annoying and disrespectful than having a date constantly pulling aside to take a call. Worse still, to make one.

Things like this, ladies, do happen.

It was late September and there weren’t any rafters, but if you go there in the summer time you’re likely to see this:

© Luc Girouard - Rafting - Jet Boating Montréal          image courtesy of http://www.tourisme-montreal.org

TEN GREAT FIRST DATES: SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

 

When I meet a man for the first time I tend to focus on what’s wrong with him. Call it sabotaging or relationship anxiety or simply that  even though I do want a man in my life I sometimes fear that he might take up too  much of my time and I will have to forgo my dreams. In fact, this is so much part of my inner making that The Dating Club, the novel I am writing, circles around the theme of a woman having to choose between her career or the man she loves.

So, I tell myself -and in this I do not think my mind is in either panic nor disillusioned mode – I believe that a man in my life ought to make it better and not worse. Naturally, as self-preservation, I look immediately for the worse. Why waste time?

Instead of seeing a good heart, an exciting mind and a man pursuing his own remarkable dreams, I see the physical faults which are enough to stop me from going beyond the surface.

I don’t think that I am alone in this and men probably suffer more from this syndrome than women do.

For these reasons, I think that going to see art is a good first date and an antidote to this OMG I hope it’s not him.

Not long ago, I told a friend about how I thought artists have a difficult time making a living because art, unlike food, for example, is not a necessity.

“Art is a necessity,” he said.

Hmm.  That made me reflect and wonder in which way art was as necessary as our daily bread.

The website http://painterskeys.com/  contains a huge resource of art quotations. I was most interested in seeking those regarding the purpose of art and found as example:

Art has no other purpose than to brush aside the conventional and accepted generalities, in short everything that veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself. (Henri Bergson).

Now that’s an interesting first date discussion bound to get you beyond the superficiality of the size of the man’s ears standing before you and dig into his own reality.

One of my favorite contemporary artists is Louise Carrier Nichols.

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Her art, reminds me of what Edgar Degas had to say about art: Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.

Her art makes me see beauty. Looking at something beautiful can help us see the beauty in the person we are with.

Bob Dylan had this to say about art: The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for any one but inspire them?

Why not look for the beauty in the person? And inspire him or her to see that beauty in themselves?

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I once read something by a writer who, I now unfortunately forget his name, said that their life was their art. He didn’t mean it like I couldn’t live without being able to paint or sculpt. But rather that his day-to-day life was his art. The painter Barbara  Cook Spencer reiterated this in more detailed terms:

Art is what each of us is, deep inside – our own beauty. And while we remain related to our fellow-man by those infinite qualities we all share, our art is what makes us different. Art is expressed in the way we cook, arrange flowers, place furniture, raise our children, chair a meeting, close a business deal, or gather our friends. It’s having our own voice. We challenge drabness and boredom by resisting the pressure of comparison and preserving our own individual beauty.

I think relationships can also be works of art. Why not?  What do you think?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1uINJeOw30

 

TEN GREAT FIRST DATES: THE NIGHT REVEALS ITS SECRETS

Up until now, my first dates have been during the day. So, I thought that visiting the Japanese Light Show would make a remarkable first night-time date.   The Japanese Light Show is in the Botanical Gardens and it so happened that the amazing Mosaic exhibition was going on. Unless, you have a season’s pass, the price is pretty hefty to get in and I didn’t find it fair to ask a date to fork out twenty-five dollars as entrance fee.  So, I went date-less. I felt a bit like a movie scout searching for good filming locations.

In order to reach the Japanese Gardens, I passed by some of the mosaics, and in particular one of my favorites, The Red-crowned Crane.

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The Red-crowned crane mosaic, tells the true story of a young Chinese woman in the late 1980’s who traveled to the Yangcheng Nature Reserve to care for cranes. While trying to save an injured crane she slipped into  a swamp. The crane was saved but she died. Touching the hearts of thousands of Chinese people, a song was composed to pay tribute to this girl.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF3IAHGqihs

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Onward to my scouting plan.  It wasn’t quite sunset when I reached the gardens so I roamed around towards the light show passing by some beautiful Japanese art.

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There were plenty of couples holding hands or arms around each which made me envious. That’s what I want. This is what all these first dates are about. Leading to a second, third and finally a relationship. Instead it was me and my camera which I had quite a bit of problems with. By now the sun had set and I had a difficult time maneuvering the buttons on it. Taking a photo was, excuse the pun, a shot in the dark and so a lot of my photos came out pretty badly.

Still, I think, I managed to capture the essence of this light show. I was lucky because there was a full harvest moon out that evening,

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 which reminded me of a line from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon: Let’s go out and feel the night.

Feel the night. The night that evening for me felt serene, romantic, peaceful, stunning, and hopeful. All qualities of  a great first date.  Or second or third date. Or any date.

I imagined myself walking there with a man whom I was, if not crazy about, at least dangerously attracted to. The garden had that kind of poetic quality to it.

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TEN GREAT FIRST DATES: GOING FOR ICE CREAM

Some of you might think that going for ice cream is not much different from going for coffee on a first date. After all, you’re meeting over some kind of food and there are lots of great coffee places where you can people watch.

But listen to this: According to a recent study by Baskin-Robins a person’s choice of ice cream flavor says something about his or her personality.

For example, if you order vanilla you’re more likely to be impulsive, easily suggestible and an idealist. (Oh, my, one of my favorite flavors ).

A chocolate lover suggests a dramatic, lively, charming, flirtatious, seductive and gullible person. My second favorite ice cream flavor is the six types of chocolate at Ripples. Does that mean I’ve six times more drama and charm?

My first job when I turned sixteen was working selling soft ice-cream in my father’s store, Louis Luncheonette.

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I loved that job. It was a place where I met all kinds of people and so it was only natural that my memory would have such positive connotations regarding ice-cream and that I would suggest it as a first date. Besides, who doesn’t like ice-cream?

But which ice cream parlor to go to?

The Dairy Queen was out of the question simply because I save it as my personal ritual into spring. I always choose a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon for my first chocolate dipped cone. The first one of the season is always the best. Isn’t that always the case?

Also, I wanted this first date ice cream choice to have some class to it. In other words –home-made ice cream.

My choice dwindled down to three ice cream parlors in my area. The first one is in the east end of fashionable Laurier Avenue called Bo-Bec.

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Here’s what an article in The Gazette (2012), Montreal’s daily English newspaper had to say about Bo-Bec.

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Choice number two was Kem CoBa on Fairmount Avenue. A cute store front where you can watch the owners make their ice-cream right in front of you and sit on colorful benches along with other ice cream fans. They have original flavors such as salted butter and their own soft ice cream, a combination of ice cream and sorbet:  apple and cinnamon or sour cherry sorbet and Almond Milk soft ice cream. Flavors like that for the adventurous taste buds.

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My final choice was Ripples on Boulevard Saint Laurent. It is a hole in the wall kind of parlor.

You can’t sit inside Ripples but there’s a bench outside facing Swartz’, the famous smoke meat place where tourists line up for hours.

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I chose the French Vanilla and my date chose Rainbow Sherbet. I made a mental note to check what his personality profile meant when I got back home, but so far the prospects weren’t looking that favorable. For one thing, he was a lot better looking and younger on his photo. And the t-shirt he was wearing already had stains on it and not from Rainbow Sherbet. My bet was if there’d have been a beer flavored ice cream he’d have chosen that one.

“Vanilla’s always boring. Are you a vanilla girl in bed?”

I ignored him. “You know a person who chooses vanilla ice cream tends to be an idealist,” I told him giving him the once over.

As we sat on the bench watching the line up in front of Schwartz’s I said, “Have you ever been there?”

“No,” he said. “Too touristy.”

“Do they make tombstones at that place next door?” he asked about the yard next to Ripples.

“Yup,” I said.

“Creepy.”

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“I don’t know,” I said. I told him about an interview I’d recently heard with Samuel Beam.

“Never heard of him.”

“His band goes by the name Iron and Wine.”

“I only listen to old sixties music.”

“Anyway,” I said taking another lick of my ice cream. I was getting in a hurry to finish it. “He said that the only three things that matter to write about are love, death and God. What do you think about that?”

“I’m an atheist,” my date said.

Even before we’d finished our ice creams I needed to move and suggested that we walk along Saint Laurent. I pointed out the Veille Europe, told him that when I was a kid my parents would come here to get their kielbasa.

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He didn’t seem interested until he saw a bar and asked me if I felt like having a drink.

“Ice cream always makes me thirsty,” he said.

It was two-thirty in the afternoon. The sun was shining. A fabulous fall day. I didn’t much feel like wasting the remainder of my afternoon drinking beer in a dark bar, even less being with him.

“No,” I said. “But you go ahead. I think I’ll head back home.”

He didn’t argue and I watched him walk into the bar by himself. I kind of felt sorry for him. But then I walked to where I’d left my bike passing by some interesting architecture and landmarks.

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I stopped at Kem CoBa and bought a pint of Madagascar vanilla to take home. I wonder if the type of bean makes a difference to one’s personality.

So this first date wasn’t so great. But it wouldn’t have been great anywhere except maybe some drinking hole. Where he could have got drunk. You can’t win them all. My writer friend, Thelma claims that, “Maybe the whole point (of dating) is to stop looking for romance and to just enjoy where you are, with whoever you’re with.” Or just to enjoy the ice cream, in my case.

When I got home I went on the Baskin-Robbins study and found out that Rainbow Sherbet indicated a pessimistic person.

Lesson to learn: One should always ask what their favorite flavor of ice cream is before accepting a date.

I then listened to this and thought that in my case, ice cream was better. At least this time.

Ten Great First Dates: Walk on the Other Side

An interesting first date, I find,  is to visit each other’s neighborhood. When Andre, a man I met online,  suggested that we go for coffee I counter suggested that we walk around his neighborhood, Saint Henri. I told him about my blog regarding Top Ten First Dates. He happily agreed.

It was in Saint Henri that one of Canada’s greatest authors, Gabrielle Roy, set her famous novel The Tin Flute, translated from the French Bonheur d’occasion. The novel depicts the grinding poverty of working-class families of Saint Henri in this post WWII industrialized section of Montreal and won several awards, including the Governor General’s Award, the Prix Femina in France and made into a movie in 1983. Truly a great novel.

I had read the novel in university and again a few years back and so one of the first things I asked Andre when I met him in front of the Lionel Groulx subway station was, “Are there any historical sites of Gabrielle Roy’s Saint Henri?”

“I don’t know,” Andre said, “But I can take you to see a B&B by the name of Bonheur d’occasion.”

As I followed him west we came across this plaque out of nowhere. I looked around to see if perhaps there might be a historic house, perhaps the house of Florentine, the unforgettable character of The Tin Flute or the snack bar where she worked and met the tragic love of her life, Jean Levesque. But there was nothing but this:

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It started to rain and we both took out our umbrellas, his black, mine orange. “Do you mind continuing our walk?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he said. I was happy to hear that, although I knew that the rain would affect my photos. Nonetheless, we continued to walk and chat and I continued to take photos.

To get to the B&B we went through Saint Henri Square.  “I come here to write,” said Andre, “because it is so quiet.”  It reminded me of squares I’d seen in Savannah. The park had a wonderful fountain in its center surrounded by bright red park benches.

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The B&B  was across the street from the square.

“It used to be one of the most prestigious B&Bs in Montreal,” Andre said as we scuttled through the Friday afternoon drizzle. I could see why.

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“But it’s now been sold into condos.”

Saint Henri is considered one of the poorer sections of Montreal, ironically adjacent to Westmount, one of the richest.

Much of Saint Henri still remains poor today although among the dilapidated buildings are some charming homes such as this one and the outside staircases so typical of Montreal.

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As we continued our walk,  I learned that Andre had two dogs,  that he’d been living in Saint Henri for over thirteen years and that he once worked for the Human Rights Commission. I suppose, I could have got all this information sitting across from him at a Starbuck’s but it wouldn’t  have been as interesting. Walking around his neighborhood  took away the interview feel of meeting over coffee; it was a lot more relaxing, a lot more natural.

I pointed out features of his neighborhood which, living there day-to-day, he had failed to notice. Like the lovely old lampposts and this wonderful Spanish style building which could easily have been in Old Havana.

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I learned that Andre played tennis and badminton and  was interested in boxing.  “You must have heard of Louis Cyr? He asked me.

“No,” I said.

“They just made a movie about him.”

“Oh, yes, I heard about the movie.  It’s one of this year’s top rated Quebec movies,” I said.

We crossed the street to where Louis Cyr’s statue was.

“You know he’s still the strongest man in the world,” Andre said.

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All the while, Andre and I talked about our writing. He had boxes and boxes of stories, some that had been published but his favorite was a collection of stories regarding the writing life. “I really like those stories,” he told me.

“So, why don’t you send them out?”

He’d gotten discouraged, not from this collection but from others. “You get to a point where you’re tired of being rejected,” he said.

I asked him about his writing stories and as he described them I knew that these were just the kind of stories that I love to read. I encouraged him to send out queries and we talked a bit about the changes in the publishing industry.

He had brought along an article on Isaac Asimov . “I know all the miseries, but somewhere among them is happiness. I can’t easily explain where it is or what it consists of, but it is there. I know the happiness and I experience it, and I will not stop writing while I live…”

The next day, Andre sent me a short e-mail telling me how much he had enjoyed meeting me and best of all that I had given him the spark to contact publishers again about his writing.

Sparks. You never know how or when they can happen.

Ten Great First Dates: The Market

Raise your hands if you’ve been guilty of suggesting going for a coffee on a first date? Oh, my, quite a crowd.

Well, I’m here to tell you that going for coffee on a first date sucks for many reasons. First of all, meeting a guy for the first time makes me nervous enough without having to add more caffeine to make me look like I’ve just been released from a study on clinical anxiety.

I know. Yes, of course, I know. Coffee is just a metaphor for let’s meet somewhere (preferably a coffee shop) where you can tell me all about your favorite breakfast cereal and I can tell you how much I hate these first dates. Then what?

So, my suggestion is that you roam around a market where you can have interesting things to talk about.

For instance. Look at these beautiful leeks.

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I have a great recipe for a leek pie. Took it from The Silver Palate Cookbook and modified it. No longer put in cream but milk. Sometimes substitute the Gruyère cheese for goat’s cheese, like the Greeks do. Have you ever been to Greece?   Oh, you have. So how do you like to travel?

Now would you have a look at these onions?

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These are perfect for another pie I make. The secret is in browning the onions and then letting them sit for at least half an hour (even overnight) in a bowl of uncooked whipped eggs. Then you just cook the mixture like an omelet. Do I make my pie crust? No. Oh, except for my blueberry kutchen pie which I put in the recipe in my book Mourning Has Broken. Oh, you’re also a writer. What do you write?

Wow, would you look at all these mushrooms. I used to have an uncle who would go mushroom picking and then place a dime into the pot. If the dime turned green then it meant the mushrooms were poisonous. Apparently, that’s not true. Your grandmother used to do the same thing? She died of mushroom poisoning? Just joking.

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You get the point, don’t you? And if you happen to not click with the guy at least you’ve done some of your marketing.

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Check out my blog next week, or better still subscribe to it, for the next Top Ten Best First Dates.

Wrong Guy

Brenda’s cell phone rang. It was Marvin telling her that he was wearing shorts for their date later on this evening.

“Shorts?”

“Yeah, it’s so hot outside.”

True, they’d had a spring thaw but it was still February. Hardly what she’d call hot. Wearing shorts was gauche.  Still, she wasn’t going to let his lack of social grace keep her from what she was planning on wearing:  her jean jacket with the faux fur collar over a woolen dress and a pair of knee high boots.  What was it Naomi Wolf had said?  Dressing for sex is sex and grooming for sex is sex. Not that Brenda intended on having sex with Marvin. Did she?  Certainly not if he was wearing shorts on a dinner date.

Annoyed at Marvin, she clicked her phone shut. There were guys who inspired you to write dating advice for men; after five dates with him, Brenda concluded that Marvin supplied the perfect do-not-do list:

– Never answer your cell phone on a date unless it’s a total emergency like your mother is dying any minute or the parole board needs to get in touch with you at all times. Especially don’t answer it five times during the meal and each time excuse yourself to go and talk in private like you don’t want the person on the line (a secret wife or girlfriend) to know that you’re with another woman.

-Don’t ever complain about the slow service which goes with don’t wolf down your meal as if you can hardly wait to get out of there.

-When you’re leaving the restaurant, don’t walk ten feet in front of your date talking on your cell phone like you’re making some kind of drug deal.

-Finally, and this Brenda felt particularly hurtful, do not text message to ask a woman out on a date and especially do not add “if the hockey strike is still on”.

Marvin picked her up at eight-thirty sharp and at nine-fifty exactly he dropped her off at her doorstep. When he came to kiss her on her lips she diverted so that his kiss landed in the space between the car door and her earlobe.

Why she agreed to his invitation for a meal at his place the following Friday evening had little to do with her believing that she might have missed something grand about him, nor was it because of the book she was reading which advised going out with a guy at least ten times before throwing the towel in. As she drove Friday evening to Marvin’s house, veering her car beneath the highway underpass she knew that she was going there for sex and only sex.

Yet, she hoped that somehow when she saw him she would feel for him the wild, inexplicable chemistry that she’d been seeking but never finding. As soon as he’d open the door for her she’d feel her heart jump with sexual excitement. He would forget about the hockey game, even turn the TV off and lure her into hot passion as he slowly began to touch her, his shallow breath quickening. Unbuttoning her cardigan he would lead her into the bedroom, taking her hand as if he were protective of her. Lying on the bed she would stare into his wonting eyes as he tenderly looked down on her. He would tell her how beautiful she was and she would feel the rush of her blood going through her veins.  In bed it would be glorious. He would instinctively know where to touch her and spend hours kissing her eyelids and the nape of her neck, teasing her. They would hungrily search each other’s mouths, softly biting each other’s shoulders and forearms. It would …Brenda screeched on the brakes just in time to avoid crashing into the car in front of her…be a fantasy.

“Come on in,” Marvin said and raced back in front of the TV.

“I thought the hockey game is on strike.”

“It is. These are old games I taped.”

Brenda sighed. If there had been the tiniest wave of electricity it had instantly gone mainline. Still, as she sat next to him his hand was on her thigh and although Brenda felt no sprinting of her heart for him it pleased her that he wanted her. It had been a long time since a man had desired her even though this was not the way she wished to be desired.  After the game, and the commentaries that followed, Marvin led her into his bedroom where their sex was boring and mechanical. She lay beneath his bony body staring at his peeling paint on the ceiling and thought how they were just two people who hated being alone more than they hated the emptiness of their lovemaking.

“Was it good for you?” he asked.

What kind of question was that? There was no other answer to that question than a lie. “Yes,” she said and then rolled over, got out of bed, pulled on her jeans and t-shirt and said “I have to get home. There’s laundry to do.”

It took Marvin a week to call back. “I’m looking for a man who will call me the next day we have sex and tell me how wonderful it was. I’m not looking for a man who waits over a week and calls on Monday. Those kind of men are a dime a dozen.  I want to be a man’s Saturday night girl; not Monday’s leftovers.”  Brenda said all this and then hung up.