THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN MONTREAL
(OR, THE HONEYMOONER'S GUIDE TO PHARMACOPOEIA IN QUEBEC)
"You gotta be kidding!" boomed an American voice, echoing from the apex of
this dreaded staircase. Gasping, wheezing, we clawed our way up, leaden feet
clanking on metal stairs. Elegantly lighted by a dazzling array of emergency
lights, the hotel stairwell was serenely bathed in gentle urine coloured glow,
the delightful industrial bile green tinted paint cast a charming seasick haze
over our rapidly purpling faces.
We paused at floor eleven to catch our breath. Heavy footsteps stomped their
way down, punctuated by cheerful cursing. Weary, we pressed onward until
finally, at long last, THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR!
Five-twenty, April 16th, in a flurry of confetti we boarded our coach for
forty-eight hours of devil-may-care honeymooning. We slunk into our seats; man
and wife, exhausted and stunned, the train lurched away from the station. We
were off on our new life.
My dearly beloved brushed off the confetti fallout, and with a reassuring
squeeze of my hand, promptly fell asleep. The place seemed quite quiet to me;
looking around I realized we had the car to ourselves. With visions of lurid
necking sessions exploding in my brain, I watched my male happily snoring. So
this is marriage, thought I.
With two hours to kill, I decided it was high time to write in my diary. With
a fresh page in a new book, bought especially for my present condition, I wrote
what is probably one of the most important passages in history and bound to go
down in infamy: I'm on the train to Montreal and I'm married. It was something.
My thundering epic concluding an astounding two minutes later, I put away my
diary to contemplate my situation. Here we were, early evening, exactly six
weeks after we had boldly gone where neither of us had gone before; we were now
married, by God, alive and well and travelling into the Twilight Zone.
I wish there were a way I could explain the feeling I had that evening on our
own personal railway car. As I picked little tiny bits of circular paper from my
ears, hair, purse and boobs, I glanced over at the comatose form of my
freshly-minted husband. Except for the gleaming gold band on his left hand and
the fact that he was wearing a tie, I'd've never noticed any difference.
I thought about myself; my hair looked nice for once, I was wearing a dress
with real stockings for a change, and heaven help me, I had real live makeup on.
But I didn't really look different, only respectable.
How did I feel? Weird. Just plain weird. My left hand felt like someone tied an anvil on my finger; somehow I had thought that there would be this really amazing change that came about suddenly when the Minister begged my husband to take me; yet here I was, just me with a name I wouldn't respond to for weeks and this big mineral glob on my hand that would forever say to all sleezeballs and slimebuckets that this here broad was owned, you know?
It was slowly beginning to sink in that I no longer owned my name, my future,
my body, my cat or my furniture. You get married, you become public property and
that's all there is to it. Not wanting to contemplate this phenomenon any
longer, I contemplated the inside of my eyelids. Soon the train clacked into the
station and we were there.
Since we were moving to Mississauga and quick escapes to Montreal from Ottawa
would no longer be possible, we booked ourselves in the classiest place we could
afford; the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. In order to accommodate my credit card,
booked it in my name; my maiden name. As Mr. and Mrs. Maiden Name, our first Mr.
and Mrs. of our lives would forever be assigned to my long-lost self. I loved
We were ushered to our delightful room, which came complete with bed (1),
drink machine (broken), towels (one set) and television (geriatric). No matter,
to us it was the Taj Mahal, oh we of dancing hormones. Having napped we were
gleefully rested and raring to go so we decided dinner would be the best thing
to do. We weren't going to have just a meal, certainly not; this was the first
day of the rest of our married lives and so we would go to the most exclusive
and aptly named restaurant in the area. We went to the Beaver Club, downstairs
in the hotel and the icon of the monied folks of Montreal.
We were not disappointed. Skinned animal carcasses begraced the elegant
walls, the mood was hushed, the service impeccable, the guests even more so, and
the cutlery worth more than my life insurance policy.
Walking in there, dressed in my finery, I felt like the town bum. I had no
fur coat to speak of, no twelve carat diamonds weighing me down. I was sinfully
ordinary. But, with the bloom of a newlywed, we had no need for such
frivolities. We were delicately escorted to our table by a distinguished older
gentleman who was also our waiter. Would we like an aperitif? Thank you sir. At
first sight of a cigarette he was there, materializing from nowhere to light it.
Thank you sir.
Thank you. We ordered our meal in a leisurely fashion; after all, there would
be no more wedding nights for us. After every appearance, this dear man would
thank us profusely; after two hours of this I swore that if I heard thank you
one more time I would politely ram the candlestick down his throat. But of
course, it was all in good fun and the waiter didn't mind a bit (just kidding,
the candlestick was far too heavy to lift - they do that on purpose, you
The wine was fantastic, so much so we later bought a bottle of the same to
keep for our first wedding anniversary, and we closed down the restaurant, not
wanting to leave the rarefied air. Ah well, our eyelids were drooping and other
things weren't. It was time to go upstairs.
Deciding to take it easy the next day, we had lunch at Ben's, went shopping,
watched a movie and went to a lovely restaurant for dinner. The next morning was
more of the same. That afternoon there were wonderful movies on pay t.v. so we
stayed in and watched them. We had yet another great dinner, and then we went to
see Beetlejuice, a movie I was desperate to see.
Such bliss; the movie was coming along just fine, down to the really good
part. And... and - the screen went blank. Entombed we sat waiting for the lights
to come on. Nothing. An emergency generator kicked in, the flood lights flooded,
and we joined the rest of the theatre patrons in the building at the snack
counter. We waited.
At first it appeared the power was only off downtown. Then, forty minutes
later, with heavy heart, the manager informed all and sundry that the lights
were out all over Montreal. Raincheck voucher in hand, we joined the howling
patrons of Bright Lights Big City and crept out onto the sidewalk. All I
can say about the seven minute walk back to the hotel is simply Montreal without
lights is very much like Montreal with lights, only you can't see it. It was
dark. Very, very dark. So dark I hoped that the hand I was crushing was my
husband's. At least I think it was.
Suddenly there loomed before us, like a lighthouse in the swell of a storm,
glinting like a jewel in the night, our dear old Queen E. Bless their hearts,
they have an emergency generator. We walked in, fully expecting to at least be
able to sip a wee dram of wine and leisurely make our way back to our room.
Upon entering the hotel, we were greeted with the sight of hundreds of people
(well, it looked like hundreds) milling around aimlessly, some lucky souls with
glow-sticks in their hands. We were not so lucky. The only glow on us that night
was in our hearts. Thinking we might as well join the gang in the bar and
partake of whatever there was, we were finally able to get a seat and then we
waited. And waited. And waited some more. Around us waiters were whizzing with
trays loaded with food and drink who never once looked our way. No one except
VIA Rail employees were served that evening. And God only knew where all that
food was going to.
After an hour of frustration, we decided we'd be better off in our room. Of
course the elevators weren't working, so we were faced with the daunting
prospect of thirteen long flights of stairs. Since anything was better than the
boredom downstairs, we screwed up our courage and went for it.
It was a long haul, definitely not meant for their illustrious guests, but
rather, for the help. There being no help forthcoming, we had no choice but to
take it one step at a time. We were not alone however; there were others coming
down in search of any life, and way, way up others breathing heavily. Being our
honeymoon, we had no objection to heavy breathing, it was just that this was not
the type of heavy breathing we were thinking of, and certainly not meant to be
shared. Oh well. We made it in one piece.
Now we had the joy of trying to figure out what to do. It was still early, we
were having a great time staring out the window at the cars and people wandering
around, but there had to be something better than this. The television was out,
ditto the cooler, so there wasn't even a soft drink to be had. Then the mister
remembered our psychiatrist's parting prescription. We still had all those
little bottles of Cutty Sark. We'd have one of those. All we needed was some
ice. So, adventurous man that he is, he snuck out to the nice dark hallway in
search of an ice machine.
He came back not five minutes later, laughing about a couple of businessmen
who were staring woefully at the elevators.
These same men were in concert with a few others who were desperately trying to break open the drink machine. In a wave of generosity, we decided that a couple of prescriptions would do them nicely, and when these gifts were presented we had their undying devotion.
Now all this was fine and dandy for the boys on the thirteenth floor, but
frankly, I hate Scotch and would rather drink fermented goose droppings than
partake of it. No problem, stated my husband, there's always the wine we bought.
We'll buy another bottle tomorrow. How does that sound?
Sounded fine to me; unfortunately, our tastes were better educated than we
are and we realized that this was a wine with a cork and no opener. We'll ask
the folks down the hall. No problem. No corkscrew. Only a penknife that didn't
even dent the cork. So there we had it. Our chance for illicit wine and
candlelight, and no way to break open the bottle. That was when my eye chanced
upon those skinny white pens the Queen Elizabeth provides. With the help of our
Gideon's, the pen pushed the cork nicely into the bottle. We removed the pen
innards and there we had it! One opened bottle with a pour spout to boot.
We had a truly wonderful time listening to the radio, perched on the air
conditioning watching the world go by. From the radio we discovered that our
ignorant waiters were studiously ignoring us because they had a mission to
fulfil. Premier Robert Bourassa and et al were presently stranded downstairs. We
were in fine company. We were also in the dark with all of Quebec, parts of New
Brunswick and New England.
We watched the lights come back on, slowly, early in the morning; the
mountain started first with little glints and they inched their way down. Then a
block would light up, and another, and finally, ours. A cheer rose up from the
street, and all was well again in Montreal.
The next morning, all was not well. He sneezed. In the afternoon he coughed.
In the evening I ate from a room service tray, my husband bundled and shivering
in bed. And so it was; the last night of our honeymoon, we spent quietly, me
with a book, and him with his dreams and a cold.
Sadly we dragged ourselves onto the train, tired and sick, with two duelling
cats and an apartment to move to Toronto ahead of us, wondering whether we'd be
back here again some year in the future.
On the ride home we slept. When we returned, it was raining. Our last week in
Ottawa, our first as a couple. For better or worse, we were now in the Twilight
And for those who should require, in the course of their visit to the Queen
E. a pharmacy, there's a useful little place beneath the hotel. We served it
well...Your honeymooner's guide to pharmacopoeia in Quebec.
1990ęC.M. Harris Davies