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Ellen writes...


Let me establish one thing right off the bat: I love Montreal. I love its looks, its style, its earthiness, its vitality. I've carried a torch for that town ever since I first vacationed there as a high school student, exactly thirty years ago. My affair with it culminated in my two years as an undergraduate transfer student at McGill University (due to scholarship eligibility issues I had to do my freshman and sophomore years elsewhere). Those years as an honorary "habitant" ignited a passion in me that's never been extinguished. I love Chicago, but oh, you kid.

So, last year in Manhattan, when I learned that this year's Gathering was to be held in Montreal, I was thrilled to have a long-overdue excuse to get back there. This, combined with another opportunity to enjoy a meeting with my writer friends (et alia) such as I'd just had in New York, meant that my attendance this year was never in question.


Being the mother of a very active four-year-old keeps me busy, and the day I left for Montreal was no exception. It was my son's last session of day camp, so I had a blessed couple of hours to myself to pack amid the usual chaos before having to run off to the store to buy flowers and chocolates for the day camp staff for putting up with my bottle-rocket offspring. My husband was able to get home from work by late afternoon, which allowed me time to put the finishing touches on my preparation. Then it was time for the boys to take me to the airport.

Ah, sweet freedom.

The sun receded into the west as we flew east, and was gone for the night by the time we reached Quebec. As the plane descended, I peered out the window, looking for familiar landmarks. I found the silhouette of Mount Royal against the urban landscape in the distance, and spotted the four-way beacon atop the Royal Bank Building just beyond it. I grinned spontaneously and felt the thrill that the sight of this old flame of mine always gives me. That sealed the deal: I knew that this was a can't-miss weekend.

Well, okay; it missed on one account. Due to what was determined to be human error at Bell Mobilité (if the U.S. Cellular folks were giving me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), my cell phone was inoperative while I was in Montreal -- during the three days out of the whole year when I really, *really* needed the blasted thing. Nice job, guys.

I arrived at the hotel fairly late. Especially after spending time phoning people and trying to get my phone to work, I decided that I'd be inviting trouble by attempting to stay up much past midnight. I knew from last year's experience that I'd be getting entirely too little sleep that weekend anyway, so I did the sensible thing and called it a night.


Friday started out with breakfast with Kathy, Leo, Denis, Alex Garg, Kelly ("Sadistic Cow"), and Rob. I was particularly delighted to meet Denis and Kelly face-to-face after meeting them online. I regret not chatting with Rob, however, especially after learning that he's the Lord Sloth of S8 comment board fame, who was kind enough to offer me a cyber-cookie the first time I posted there. My apologies, Rob. I didn't mean to slight you.

Breakfast *did* feature the first of several good chats I had with Kathy, however, and for that I'm pleased.

We headed from there up to the mezzanine to register. There I greeted my "adopted nephew" Dylan and met his fiancée Mary, greeted my dear Philly pal Allaine (who chastised me, good-naturedly but rightfully, for not alerting him when I went to breakfast), greeted Spacebabie, greeted Silver and her mother, greeted Sarah the Great...so many faces, familiar from last year, and how nice to see them all.

And I finally met Christine Morgan and her family. As I've said many a time, she is my first and best inspiration in this delightful little world of fan fiction writing, and having the chance to shake her hand at long last was a special treat.

I then sat down to study the packet of information I'd just received from the hardworking con staff. I was pleasantly interrupted by my breakfast companions inquiring whether I was game for walking around the city with them. Naturally, I was -- once I'd changed into more practical shoes, that is.

We walked past the Basilica of Notre Dame de Montréal and wandered through Chinatown, then headed north to Sherbrooke, my companions amiably agreeing to head back eastward along one of the city's main arteries. We turned back south on University and ended up at an indoor food court at Place Ville Marie.

We'd nearly stopped for sandwiches along Sherbrooke, and I was ever so glad we waited. Kathy and I ended up ogling the food stations lustfully, in a state of total sensory overload and not knowing how to decide among the sushi, custom-made pizzas, mussels, fresh fish... Then we came across a cozy little seating area that featured salmon and beef tartare, and it was game-over. Kathy had the salmon canapés; I succumbed to the temptation of the raw beef. We each had a glass of wine, and we shared an utterly delightful conversation, over the course of which I began to discover just how fascinating an individual she is.

Predictably, we made it back to the hotel frightfully late for John/Flanker's discussion of real-life weaponry and its equally realistic use. This was typical of the weekend, though. The limit to the number of hours in each day made everything a trade-off -- sacrifice a half an hour here for the same amount of time there, try (and, of course, fail) to be in two places at once, make the best choices, on the spot, under the circumstances. I wouldn't have given up a moment of my lunch with Kathy, but it cost me the opportunity to hear John speak for longer than I did. And he's an excellent speaker, too. In the end, I settled for being (very) pleased just to have met this impressive young gentleman.

I had a little time to myself before the opening ceremonies, so I made a dépanneur run. Dépanneurs (the name literally means "breakdown service," in the automotive sense) are convenience stores that dot the city of Montreal, and the nearest one was in the train station. I stocked up on all the essentials -- extra water, Diet Coke, beer, and Coffee Crisp candy bars. I returned to my room with my booty and dressed for the evening.

Between Greg and his presentations and MAui and Abe with their Clan Olympics hijinks, the Opening Ceremonies were thoroughly entertaining. The inclusion of the words "uncut" and "unedited" in Greg's announcement of the December 7 DVD release drew a spontaneous shout of joy from me, and I wasn't by any means the only one. As for the Clan Olympics, it's always a treat to see Allaine loosen up. As for Dylan (he of the well-stuffed shirt), he's always loose. I'll be watching closely to see whether his cries of "Acadie!" and accompanying flag-waving make it onto the DVD.

After that it was dinnertime -- late, of course, as befits Montreal. Princess Alexandria, Allaine, Dylan and I ended up at an Italian-style sports-bar-type place downtown (after a few wrong turns owing to my dismal memory of the layout of downtown). This was truly a special occasion. Great conversation and good food with friends we see but once a year (if that). Priceless.

When we got back to the hotel, we headed to the con suite for the Blue Mug-a-Guest session. I agree that it wasn't terribly blue this year, because we were all preoccupied with the release of the DVD. (My guess is that next year's session in Vegas will be back on its proper track of impropriety.) One of the highlights for me, however, was the chance to lean over to Gorebash and compliment him on his Station 8 Gargoyles site. He'll never hear such remarks as often as he deserves.

In theory, I could have sat and listened to the Boss talk all night long and then some, but when his flesh proved weak and he took a potty break, mine proved weak as well, and I embraced this opportunity to go collapse into bed. After all, I did have responsibilities the following morning.

(To be continued.)

Greg responds...

Always nice to see that people are also making the most of the environs of the Gathering. It's one of the things that makes the Gathering special and different. New places to explore. I never (or rarely) have the time to explore, but I'm glad someone does.

Response recorded on May 10, 2006