Back in 1980 I spent nearly three months in America. Its so long ago I'd almost forgotten about it, but the other day I found a bundle of airmail letters - the kind that were folded, stuck down and super light - in a bundle of old university papers that my mother had kept. DH and I seriously considered cleaning out the attic and we made a start, which was how I found these letters. Sad to say, we never finished the task, but I enjoyed reading the letters and I thought I'd record the last one here.
"I am travelling around the great continent of America now in company with Maggie and John. You must excuse the hasty writing but I have to do it before the sun sets, which is imminent, or I shan’t be able to see to write. We are camping in a tent and have stayed at Montreal, Toronto and now just past Buffalo, which is the second largest town in New York state after New York itself.
Montreal was a pleasant, well-bred town, not rowdy and frenetic like the bit of New York I saw nor cool and precise like the bit of Boston I whizzed through. Montreal is set on an island in the middle of two rivers and a canal and has huge sea-going liners gliding past its gates every day. It has a hill in the centre, like Edinburgh, and the city swirls round the foot of Parc Royal Mount in all directions.
Everything in Canada is in French – I expected some French, but not 99.9% French like it is. Some people don’t speak English! The shops look very French, ie chic, and there are cafes in the Old Quarter (Vieule Quartier!) where everyone sits out and drinks wine on little street balconies. We went into Notre Dame Eglise and found it very beautiful, looking like Notre Dame in Paris, but built here in Montreal in 1889 or some such recent date.
The French influence in driving is apparent, too, for navigating the motorways in and out of the city was hazardous to say the least. The legal limit in the US may be 55mph but here in Canada its 100kmph and I’m sure they exceed that; I’m inclined to write-off our correct selection of route 20 out of a handful of criss-crossing intersections taken at speed as due to Madame Luck.
The same thing happened at Toronto. I don’t know yet where the city began or ended. The map I had from Ontario Tourist Information Office just stopped communicating information about 15 miles from the city limits, and we hurled along a huge section of dock-land sub-auto routes with crossing rail tracks for freight trains, which regurgitated us smack bang in the middle of Canadian National Exhibition. The number of people collected around this centre was too much for us – used to rural Maine for two and a half months – and we just kept going. I never noticed where Toronto ended either; one town just faded into another.
But I noticed Niagara Falls, which we saw today along with along with a million other tourists. (It is Labour Day, after all, the equivalent of out Bank Holiday). I took some pictures, so I hope they’re alright. We are now heading east again, for Boston this time, where Maggie and I have the offer of a floor for a night with Joanne from Camp Modin.* Then its off to New York on Saturday and then down to Pennsylvania to meet Nancy and her family. Take care, see you soon, about three weeks…"
*Jewish summer camp in Maine where between university breaks I spent a summer working as Camp Counsellor. Still have vivid memories of swimming and canoeing in the freshwater lake every day and some of the personalities I got to know. Sadly, no pictures survived. Or perhaps they are lurking in another part of the attic.