Jean says: My favorite spectator sport is Formula One ("F-1") car racing. From the time I saw my first race in Brazil in 1974, I have been hooked. That I can't drive a stick shift and have never driven a high performance car (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Porche, Zonta) is beside the point. The fact that I don't have a 100-mile an hour serve doesn't diminish my appreciation of Rafael Nadal one iota. (Congratulations, Rafa, for your win at Wimbledon earlier today!)
Ferrari is the team I root for. Many of my favorite drivers over the years have worn Ferrari red at one point or another in their careers. Here I am in Montreal in mid-June, posing next to my dream car. (Does this Ferrari make my butt look big?) I'm wearing a Burberry cotton top, Zara pants, my charm necklace and Dansko clogs. The weather was spectacular - low humidity with highs in the low to mid 80's.
Since 1996, two California friends and I have attended 12 races together, along with a changing cast of friends and family members we can cajole into joining us. Greg and David and I have been to Monza, Italy twice and to Montreal, Canada 10 times. A little over 2 weeks ago, we raised that number to 11. It was our great fortune that Ken, a California friend who had previously accompanied us to Canada and Italy, decided to join us for a reprise.
Montreal is a fabulous city and a perfect race venue. Whole streets shut down to traffic, people park their high performance cars (like this Maserati from Ontario) on the street for the rest of us to gawk at, and the City sponsors free concerts and events all over town. Unfortunately, last year's race in Montreal was cancelled by Formula One. Luckily, this year it was reinstated for another several years. There are no F-1 races in the U.S. Years ago, they used to race at Watkins Glen, NY. A few years ago, they tried a Grand Prix in Indianapolis but abandoned the location after just a couple of years. Word is out that Austin, TX will be the site of a U.S. Grand Prix, but since they'll have to build a track, that race is still several years out.
The Montreal race track is located in Parc Jean-Drapeau on Ile Sante-Helene in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and encircles a beautiful Casino surrounded by fountains and man-made lake. Reachable by walking across a bridge from Montreal's quiet, clean subway stop, the island was the site of the 1967 World's Fair. EXPO '67's Biosphere still looms over the race track from another side of the park, to the left of our grandstand.
The race track is named after Canada's first great F-1 driver. His son, Jacques Villeneuve, was also a successful driver. This year, banners on the lampposts on the path to the track chronicled the names of previous winners of the Canadian Grand Prix. Here are a few that hold special meaning for me.
Several years ago, when we were staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel (when Kirsten Hawthorne accompanied us), Sir Jackie Stewart was celebrating his 60th birthday. On the eve of the race, we heard bag pipers marching up Sherbrook. When they entered the lobby of the hotel, Jackie came out of the ballroom to greet them. Continuing to play, they proceeded to march into and around the ballroom while Jackie greeted fans like us gathered in the lobby. After a short period of time, the band marched back out through the lobby and proceeded up the street. Jackie bid us adieu and returned to his guests. Breakfast at the Ritz Carlton is served in the garden which encircles a pond filled with ducklings whose lively antics provide an ongoing floor show.
Peter Revson (of the Revlon cosmetics dynasty) was an Indianapolis 500 and Formula One driver. In the 1960's, he drove with Steve McQueen at Sebring. He was the quintessential race car driver: a rich, handsome bachelor who liked to take risks. He was killed in a practice run for the 1974 South African Grand Prix when his car's suspension failed. Tom Pryce, who replaced him in the race, died three years later in the same Grand Prix. Peter's brother Douglas who was also a racer died in a crash in Denmark in 1967. They are interred together in a crypt in Ferncliff Cemetary in Hartsdale, NY. Peter is the last American born driver to win a Grand Prix race. (Mario Andretti was a naturalized citizen).
Emerson Fittipaldi (known as "Emo") is a Brazilian driver who was the youngest driver (at the time) to win the World Drivers' Championship. He drove for Lotus and McClaren. When Spaniard Fernando Alonso won his World Championship, he unseated Emo to become the youngest driver to win.
Another Brazilian, Ayrton Senna, won the Canadian Grand Prix in 1990. The three-time World Drivers' Champion is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time. He died in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola. Ayrton drove for McLaren. His nephew, Bruno Senna, followed in his footsteps and has become an F-1 driver.
German Michael Schumacher is a seven-time World Drivers' Champion and drove for the majority of his career for Ferrari. He retired for three years but returned this year to F-1. He has yet to win a race this season with his new team. Somewhere in my travels, I acquired a Ferrari Barbie with a red leather skirt and jacket and black lace-up boots. I always regret not having purchased a Michael Schumacher doll about a decade ago to keep her company.
Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen, a two-time World Drivers' Champion, drove for Lotus and McLaren. Michael Schumacher said Mika was the driver he most respected. Their rivalry was as bitter as it was legendary.
Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen was also a World Champion. He drove for McLaren and Ferrari. Nicknamed "the Ice Man", Kimi was famous for his ridiculously low-key demeanor.
British driver Lewis Hamilton dethroned Fernando Alonso as the youngest racer to win the World Drivers' Championship. The last time we were in Montreal, we met his dad in the lobby of the Nelligan Hotel in Old Town. This year, rumors were rampant that Lewis Hamilton was actually staying in our hotel.
Twenty-five year old Lewis' latest claim to fame, besides his skillful driving, is the fact that his current girlfriend, thirty-three year old Nicole Scherzinger, is an ex-Pussycat Doll and a recent contestant on the last round of Dancing with the Stars. (Who knew he liked older women?)
For the past several races, we've gotten seats on the hairpin turn because it maximizes the view of the cars. You see them approach the apex from the right, slow down to make the turn and then accelerate up the track to the left. You can see the brake pads glow bright red as they enter the curve, and the roar of the engines as they exit the curve is deafening. Most spectators (including me) wear ear plugs. Between the ear plugs and the air horns, it is a wonder that we are able to yammer at each other as much as we do. I caught this shot of 2008 World Champion and current Ferrari drive Fernando Alonso just exiting the turn on the hairpin. The various teams' engines have distinctive sounds. I swear the Ferraris alternately purr, snarl and growl. The added bonus of our location is that our grandstand faces a jumbo TV screen that provides information on the race's progress in other parts of the track. Since the race lasts about 50+ laps, keeping track can sometimes be a challenge, so the jumbo-tron is a blessing.
Here's a shot of my intrepid compatriots at Saturday's qualifying sessions. High-SPF sunscreen was the order for the day since our grandstand is in direct sun for the entire race. Luckily, our seats were high enough that we got a strong breeze during Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.
On Sunday morning as we were going to breakfast before the race, I was stunned to run into race driver Lewis Hamilton walking all by himself through the lobby of our hotel - no managers or handlers (or Nicole) around him.
The minute I noticed the famous sideburns, my inner celebrtiy stalker went into over-drive. I (nearly) screamed "Lewis, we love you!" He stopped and spun around. (Stalkers, take note. It is much less intimidating to your targets to say "we" than to say "I"!) I wished him luck and told him he was going to win the race. He beamed, flashed that famous smile, and was off to the track. The boys and I headed in to breakfast and then headed to the track.
Race day weather was terrific. At the top of our grandstand, a group of die-hard Ferrari fans set up their flags and blew their long red plastic air horns, made world famous thanks to recent TV coverage of FIFA's World Cup soccer matches. (Another reason for ear plugs!)
Although Fernando Alonso (in the red Ferrari) was leading Lewis Hamilton (in the silver McLaren Mercedes) in the early laps, true to my prediction, Lewis Hamilton did win the race! (Lewis, Dahling, if you'e listening, I am available to be your good luck charm!)
Here I am at the end of the day in front of the map of the race track. It gives you an idea of how convoluted the track is, even though it is one of the fastest tracks on the F-1 circuit.
Ken, Greg and I pose for one more picture as we were crossing the bridge to head to the subway.
All that racing sure gives a gal an appetite. The train station (Gare Centrale) across from our hotel has a wide array of restaurants. We picked Deli Planet in part because it had a flat screen TV showing the Germany-Australia World Cup match. Here I am flexing my muscles. I am wearing a blue nylon and lycra v-neck 3/4 sleeve reptile print shirt, black Marithe and Francoise Girbaud cargo pants, yellow lanyard and ticket holder, and Dansko clogs.
David, Greg and Ken indulge me with yet another picture while waiting for our order.
Hilton Bonaventure - Mothership Extraordinaire:
Our hotel has a great outdoor pool and wooded landscaped area surrounded by a man-made stream on about the 10th floor. Here I am, taking a break by the pool after Saturday's qualifying session.
Here's the scene in the hotel bar on Saturday afternoon. Everyone there - and everywhere else - was watching the FIFA World Cup match between the U.S. and England. There is a reason I don't wager on sporting events. One is that I am a sore loser and the other is that I am impossibly incompetent at betting. It took me forever to figure out which team was in navy and which was in white, so I didn't cheer at inappropriate moments. Unfortunately, the match ended in a tie - zero to zero.
Here is one of the large carp that inhabit the man-made stream at the Hilton's 10th floor oasis. This bad boy measured about 20" long and was a total ham - begging for food.
The Ritz Carlton has nothing on our hotel. ("Yo! We got ducklings too, Dude.") We could see this mother duck and her nine ducklings from our windows. Since the cement sides of the stream were high, I was stewing about how she kept her babies from floating downstream and over one of the many mini-waterfalls. I talked Greg into being Watson to my Sherlock to investigate the situation. We got into the courtyard through one of the restaurant terraces and discovered the ducks had wooden ramps to get out of the water and to get to their food trays. When she heard us coming, Mom shooed all her babies up the ramp and tucked all of them under her body and her wings. (You can see some of the little critters if you look closely.) Not wanting to spook her, we backed off. By the time we got upstairs, they were all back in the water quacking and merrily paddling around. Needless to say, my worrying factor dropped off considerably after our successful reconnaissance mission.
After our post-race snack at the train station, we relaxed with cocktails by the pool.
Dinners on the Town:
Montreal has some of the best restaurants in the world. On Saturday evening, we ate at Joe Beef, which despite its name, also boasted great seafood. Our friend Joao, a Brazilian banker, joined us for dinner in what literally was a garden that produced not only herbs but also spinach and romaine lettuce, peppers, squash and carrots. The highlight of the evening was the bison in the bathroom. Its head was absolutely huge. Needless to say, it is rather disconcerting having those beady eyes seemingly watching your every move.
We were laughing so hard at the bison that one of my companions bounced my camera off the floor, permanently locking the lens in the open position. This was a huge buzz-kill. Being camera-less for me is akin to being lost. All the way back to our hotel in the taxi, we took turns trying to coax it back into the closed position. At one point, one of them pulled rather than pushed the lens and it snapped into position. This is the test photo to make sure it was functioning. I am wearing an Armani v-neck tunic, St. Vincent skirt, vintage red wooden gumball beaded necklace, vintage red bakelite rings and bracelets.
Toque! is my all-time favorite restaurant, hands-down. We have been going there since 1996, starting at its old location. It is our first choice for Saturday night dinner. The food is spectacular. Since David is a wine expert, I take his word for it that the wine list is superb. Here, David is consulting with Samuel, the sommelier, on his choices.
Another reason we love Toque!, besides the fabulous cuisine and service and atmosphere, is the fact that Chef Normand Laprise gives us such royal treatment. (It's so nice to be appreciated.) We've been totally spoiled over the years with tours of his kitchen and wine cellar, and this year was no exception. Here is the master in his element. Unlike those screaming chefs you see on reality TV, Normand is relaxed and calm with an army of staff at his disposal. His kitchen is huge, well organized and spotless. It is an oasis of calm. He is always glad to see us and welcome us back to Montreal. He is a most charming host and his smile makes you just melt. The good news is that he's about to open a new bistro soon, so we'll have a new adventure to look forward to next time. I'm wearing an Atrium turtleneck, Zara black and white striped knit wrap top, Rosebud skirt and a black and white gumball plastic 1960's necklace. (Click on photos to enlarge.)
After dinner at Toque!, we walked around for a while enjoying the lovely evening. I cajoled the boys into a photo in front of yet another red Ferrari.
On Sunday evening, at the recommendation of the lovely Vanya (sommelier for Joe Beef), we dined at La Montee De Lait (literally,"The Mountain of Milk"), a restaurant frequented by the locals. We were obviously the only tourists in the joint. The menu is written on chalk boards on the walls. The breads and cheeses were really great and the desserts were sinful.
Ken and I ham it up for the camera at "The Mountain of Milk." I am wearing a Morgan Le Fay top under a Top Shop black and white striped tank top, a St. Vincent skirt, assorted rings (black bakelite, gold, black resin skull), Ice Pirates chronograph watch with skulls.
Here we are, at the end of the evening on our last night in Montreal. Stuffed and happy, we waddled back to our hotel to pack our suitcases and prepare for our return flights home on Monday.
I love to travel, but I think I love coming home more. DeeDee was so glad to see me, she jumped into my bag and would not come out. I had to wait to fully unpack until she got hungry and finally trotted off to the kitchen to eat.
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