Around and around we went in Montreal

We saw a greater cross section of Montreal's population at the rink than we did on our excursions.

'I think my confidence is getting more confident," said my 7-year-old daughter as she skated unassisted around the rink. Watching her move smoothly across the ice, I had to agree.

Ice-skating at an indoor rink was not on my list of activities planned for a week in Montreal. The day we landed, however, the city's crisp fall weather soured. The forecast for most of our visit was rain, wind, more rain, and more wind. After a cold outing to a covered market and getting caught in a downpour as we walked from the Museum of Fine Arts back to our hotel, I was desperate for activities that would keep us out of the weather.

With some trepidation, I suggested to my daughter that we visit the rink, which was a few blocks from our hotel. Several months earlier, her initial attempt at learning to skate ended after a hard fall on the ice moments after stepping onto it for the first time.

The Montreal rink was located in an unexpected place - the atrium of a large downtown business complex. Surrounded on three sides by a large food court and on the fourth side by a wide hallway leading to offices, public transportation, and underground shopping centers, the rink dominated the space, with passersby and diners in the food court watching the skaters go round the ice.

Skating is one of the few winter sports I enjoy. In the small northern New Mexico town where I grew up, the outdoor rink was one of a handful of social outlets, and its November opening was eagerly anticipated each year. I wanted my daughter to like skating as much as I did.

That first day went well. By the time we left, my daughter was no longer clinging to me. Although she was still holding my hand, she was moving herself slowly forward, learning how to keep her balance on the ice. Her smiling face told me that she had grasped the basic concepts.

We went to the rink for a couple of hours every day after that, and each day her skills grew. She went around the edge of the rink by herself. She began to let go of my hand, to glide rather than walk across the ice and to regain her balance when she started to fall. On our third day at the rink, she ordered me off the ice to watch her go around by herself.

Sure, we saw many of Montreal's sights - museums, shopping districts, the St. Lawrence River and Seaway, ethnic neighborhoods, Olympic Park, the Biodome, and the Botanical Garden. But each day's activity was planned around a visit to the rink, not vice versa.

Ironically, we probably saw a greater cross section of Montreal's population at the rink than we did on any of our excursions.

We met people who spoke English as poorly as I speak French. During lunch hour, people in business suits laced up hockey skates. One day we saw a man who looked as if he were in his late 60s grab the blade of one skate, extend his leg in the air, and gracefully glide on one foot.

For three days in a row, I watched an elderly woman make several laps unassisted and then take a metal skating support, more commonly used by people learning to skate, to keep going. "With this, I can skate longer," she confided as she went past.

Better skaters offered impromptu lessons on gliding backward and the best way to start a turn. Small children dressed in hockey jerseys hurled themselves across the ice, spending more time sliding than they did skating. Beginners of all ages clung to the rail, while parents and friends urged them onto the ice.

On Friday evening, which was DJ night, the rink was full of teenagers exchanging breath mints, chatting, and playing games on the ice.

As an added bonus, the time we spent at the rink doubled the number of French words my daughter and I know. We could say bonjour and merci, and by the time we left, we had added bon patinage. It means enjoy the skating - and did we ever.

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