Near the end of my trip to Montreal a couple of weeks ago, I discovered my purse was stolen.
It was most likely slipped from the back of my chair at a crowded bar, while I gesticulated enthusiastically about some segment of my life or other that my husband had not experienced (not having known me then) and now needed to hear about in animated detail (fueled, of course, by my desire for him to know me better and not, of course, by my second house Manhattan - renamed "Old Montreal" and garnished with a dash of maple bitters).
Upon realizing the disappearance and wrapping up the customary crying and cursing, Nathan and I launched into hours of panicky, necessary and banal phone calls - adjusting airline reservations, instigating passport shipments, and managing Montreal city searches - interspersed with (what we weren't sure yet but hoped would be) our last hours in Montreal. Complementing the pressures of the missing purse (zut, alors!) were the -39 degree temps (with windchill), which had been cramping our style for the duration of our trip.
What were we to do?
Armed with a PDF map, we headed into Montreal's Underground City with a mere couple of hours (could they be our last?) to explore this corner of Canada that was unfamiliar to us - and under sunnier circumstances certainly would have remained so.
For the first time on our little holiday, I kept my phone in hand for better or for worse (would our contacts locate my purse? could we extend our reservation? did Melanie, my concierge-slash-mom, have anything new to share?). Manically clicking every connective platform throughout the afternoon, I was privy to every Valentine's Day Instagram update of heart-shaped pancakes, ski dates and home-cooked champagne dinners - all of which stood in sharp contrast to my own day in the underground, making my own Valentine's look like the stuff of TV pop psychology shows (Interviewer: Carrie, how does it make you feel when, on this day of romance, your husband walks you through a musty, fluorescent-lit underground passageway beneath a frozen city towards what can only be a mall, a bank or Tim Horton's? ).
At the same time, having my phone - and therefore my camera - on hand, reminded me to take note of the quirky, memorable and surprisingly beautiful moments along our underground journey. I knew, after all, that for years afterwards, Nathan and I would sit over more Manhattan's and reminisce about That Weekend in Montreal, laughing about how we flew across our wide country to see little more than tunnels and Tim's. So, using my camera phone, we began to make the memories we knew this trip would become.
Holding the rose-coloured glasses of my camera phone, I started to see funny little vignettes along the underground (Nathan buying Mike & Ike's from a 25-cent dispenser, groups of cheerleaders in overdone eyeliner queuing up for Double-Doubles), seeing beauty in the shapes and colours along the airless hallways, and acknowledging that in experiencing the Underground City, we were participating in part of Montreal's life we would have otherwise skipped. I found myself snapping away, enjoying my anonymous day without a Visa or identity card, finding beauty in the banality of the underground.
Kundera calls such stuff beauty by mistake, where forms which are in themselves quite ugly turn up fortuitously, without design, in such incredible surroundings that they sparkle with sudden wondrous poetry. Certainly, the ugly sparkles in fortuitous moments and spaces (25-cent Mike & Ike dispensers in a brick tube glisten with promise like a rainbow) - but I'd add that it may be our eyes that make it so. Our knowledge that one day, our frustrating trip would become a story, a shared memory, dignified it in the moment - the future shining light back into the now. The beauty may be less by mistake and more through the eyes we use to see - whether our own, or the rose-coloured lenses of our camera phone's editing platform.