Toto, We’re Not in Michigan Anymore

I have been in a whirlwind of travel lately, so this post is a bit of a Weekend Update (of the non-world news variety).

On the way to Montpelier, Vermont and my next chapter of schooling, my father and I decided to take a few detours in our welcoming northern neighbor, Canada. After fueling up with coffee at the quirky, Poe-inspired Raven Cafe in Port Huron, Michigan, we crossed the border and made our way to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see alas not Shakespeare, but a musical of equal excellence: Guys and Dolls (the show featuring the song “Luck Be A Lady Tonight.) The actors’ talents were incredible, especially Alexis Gordan who played the part of Sergeant Sarah Brown. If you love irreverent humor, Cuban music and dancing, and can understand thick New York accents, this one’s for you. After seeing this production, I am now excited to go back and watch the 1955 film adaptation starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

A Stratford Swan

The next day, we drove into Montreal. I had visited there in the winter of 2003, which was ages ago and I was too young to really appreciate the city. Plus, cities are completely different beings in the snow than in the summer. As we approached town, we could tell how close we were from the city based on the ratio of French to English radio stations. The closer we were to Montreal, the more French we heard. I usually despise listening to the radio (mostly because of the vexatious commercials ) but hearing a voice speak in a tongue I can’t understand has a strange peacefulness about it. I think this has to do with the amount of energy it takes to process language. When we listen to radios in English, we can’t help but process the advertisement’s information whether we want to or not. If we hear it, it is inside our brain and we are forced to understand its meaning. When we commit ourselves to just hearing other languages as “sound” and not “words,” then we are lulled into the kind of calm we experience when we listen to music. We get a break from thinking, which can sometimes be a welcomed escape from reality.

Located in Old Montreal was the chic Hotel Nelligan (named after the francophone poet Emile Nelligan). We checked in and then made our way over to a delicious vegetarian lunch at Lov. We needed the energy for our three-hour bike tour of the central city. Our guide, Mike, was so knowledgeable and taught us things about the architecture of Montreal apartments and why they have curved staircases on the outside of the buildings, about Montreal’s “Quiet Revolution,” and that all Montreal residents are required to have at least two years of college education. The bicycle is really such an easy way to see A LOT of a city. While I am quite the flâneuse myself and prefer to walk around cities, the bike allowed me to see MORE. Did you know that Montreal has over 500 miles of bike lanes? It’s a very eco-conscious, bike-friendly city, where bikers don’t have to follow car traffic laws. Bikers are respected on the road and given the right of way. Oh Canada, teach our American drivers how to love those on two wheels.

Montreal at Dusk

The next morning was spent back on the road, this time heading south to Vermont. Instead of taking the freeway, we chose to explore the backroads in search of those quaint small towns we might call of a pastoral aesthetic. We passed one town in Canada called Bedford, where we passed a movie crew, filming at an Airstream diner called “Clark’s.” Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to notice the simple and nostalgic beauty of this small dot on the map.

I already knew that Vermont is the only state in the U.S. to have ZERO billboards lining the highway, but I didn’t realize the effect it would have on me. Instead of focusing on the constant advertisement distractions, my dad and I spent most of our driving time commenting on the spooky haunted Victorian houses, the abandoned barns, the funny street names, the covered wooden bridges of yesteryear, the general stores, the serene wilderness, and of course, we tried desperately to scope out moose, but to no avail.

And then, all at once, we turned up a steep hill, in the middle of a mountainside, and there it was: Vermont College of Fine Arts. My heart! The New England red brick buildings and large open green squares of land. The little cottages. The verdant canopy of trees overhead. The feeling that I had been transported to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I immediately felt like I had returned to a home I had never known to inhabit before. This must be the reason why the state’s motto is “Vermont, Naturally,” because there is no other way to feel but that you have naturally always belonged here. That nature has pulled you to this spot of earth.

I have been waiting for this day to arrive ever since I received my acceptance letter back in March. And now I am here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.

More about my first impressions of Montpelier and the VCFA campus to come!