I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Scenes from subterranea and suburbia...

My day off, and it was time to escape the city. Always intrigued by the exotic sounding names at the end of métro, bus and railway lines, I decided to head out of town this afternoon to the scenic-sounding town of Deux-Montagnes. Montréal's VIA and AMT Central Station is located on the south side of downtown. It became a station around the turn of the last century, and has had bits added here, there, above and below ever since. It's now completely enclosed and seemingly subterranean at platform level. Most trains leave towards the south, some to the USA, some south-west to the capital and Toronto, others north to Québec and Nova Scotia. Just a few, however, go in completely the opposite direction, north-west... directly under the city and the 'montagne' of Mont Royal. For five kilometres, two electrified train tracks climb a slight incline towards the north side of the island, passing under the steep hill of Mont Royal through the Mont-Royal Tunnel.

This tunnel was planned to become line 3 of the Montréal Métro, but the difficulties of running one line with steel tracks unlike the rest of the city's rubber tyred métro trains, and the local politics of the city's municipalities prevented it from happening. The rest of the city métro lines are numbered as if it had been completed... 1 (green), 2 (orange), 4 (yellow) and 5 (blue) After about six or seven minutes underground, we emerged dazzled by the sunlight and the bright snow. We passed through mile after mile of white suburb. They were more grey, to be honest, but snow can improve the look of most dreary suburbs for a few months.

I don't really have the attention to detail or patience to be a proper trainspotter, but I'm pretty content riding trains to new places and just looking out of the window. I think I'm probably a genetic window-seat-hog... I've noticed that whenever I travel by train or plane, I end up with a crocked neck from peering out too much. We island hopped from Montréal onto the Isle-Bigras, Laval and finally the Couronne Nord. Deux-Montagnes was not quite what I had hoped it to be. Lifeless suburb after lifeless suburb. Identikit houses for people with no imagination. Perhaps you know what it's like to return to a car park and not remember where you left your car. I suspect there are people who step off the train at Deux-Montagnes at the end of a work day, and wonder where they left their house.

I followed a cleared path through a bare forest, and walked for half an hour. None of the housing developments seemed to consider each other. Each patch of two hundred executive houses faced in on itself, and to the roads that wound in between the little box-dwellings. But between the developments were tree lined belts. I crossed the occasional road, and plodded through hardened snow, occasionally passing people walking dogs or dragging children. The sky was blue, the smooth frozen crust of undisturbed snow was sparkling and the temperature was above zero. I just walked and walked, much prefering this walk in suburbia to a walk in the park.

I knew I'd have to turn around after about forty minutes if I was to make the next return train. Just as the path began to break up into smaller ones that headed to less promising destinations, I came upon an intersection. There was a strip mall, traffic lights and people in cars bemused to see a me crossing the road. And there was a Tim Horton's. A strawberry danish was acquired, and stowed away in a pocket for an on-board post-walk reward. I stepped out of the standardised coffee shop, crossed the standardised intersection, and returned through the standardised suburbs to board my sleek silver chariot.



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