Sunday, June 6, 2010

International Travel and Overpriced Pancakes

Among the more delightful aspects of being an internationally famous, dearly beloved author is the fact that sometimes I get to risk my life to eat thin pancakes.

A while ago, I was given an offer from my friends at The Children's Literature Foundation that started with, "Really. Feel free to say no."

Always a sign of good things to come.

In fact, this was an offer to visit the tiny island of Isle La Motte in Vermont. The "Feel free to say no" part referred only to the fact that the island is about a ga-jillion miles from the secret underground lair where I live and I wouldn't be reimbursed the normal $355,000,000,000 travel fee I would normally have charged.

I decided to go, despite the travel fee, because of an offer from Diane Reilly, the principal of  Isle La Motte Elementary School. Not only did she offer to treat my family and me to pizza (everyone knows I will drive hundreds of light years for free pizza), but she offered to put us up for a few days in The Turner Farmhouse, a really great rental house right on the shores of Lake Champlain.

So, naturally, I immediately yanked my kids out of school and we headed off to Vermont. If you're looking to visit Isle La Motte, and you really should, here are some helpful driving directions provided to me by Ms. Reilly:

"If coming by boat go North on Lake Champlain, we are the last island on the right before Canada. If you see flashing Border Patrol lights in the rear view turn around... we are then the first island on the left...."

So, basically, if you are coming by car–and we had to travel by car because my invisible rocket powered yacht was in dry dock having a helicopter pad attached to the solid gold hot tub–you drive north until you hit Canada, the just back up a little.

We managed to find the island without having a border related mishap. That came later.

The school was great and they did, as promised, come through with pizza. The veggie pizza even had cucumbers on it. Possibly a quaint island tradition, but tastier than you might think. I did a presentation in the evening (after pizza) and then returned the next day to do a presentation for the entire school. All 38 kids that were there that day. It was loads of fun. The older students had even worked with a local theater group to create theatrical adaptations of my book, The Rules.

It was the best theater I have ever seen in Vermont. Ever. It was very flattering and the kids did a terrific job. The entire community was obviously deeply committed to that school. It was wonderful to see.

And, speaking of Canada–and if you were paying attention, you will remember that I was speaking of Canada a few paragraphs ago–we were even able to make a quick trip up to Montreal after my presentation. We went in search of a place called The Biodome. It was fascinating, I suppose, as there were monkeys and piranhas and sharks and penguins on display, but my wife and I spent most of our day in Montreal recovering from the drive up there.

I'm going to let you in on a secret. If you live in Massachusetts, please skip to the beginning of the next paragraph.  People who live in New Hampshire have a preconception that drivers from Massachusetts are, for want of a better expression, blind, homicidal lunatics who shouldn't be allowed to drive under any circumstances, ever. In fact, my wife pointed out on our trip to Vermont that of all the ways to enter New Hampshire: through Maine, Vermont, or Massachusetts, the entry from Massachusetts is the only one where the roads are posted with signs that say "Please Drive With Courtesy. That's the New Hampshire Way."

True fact.

So, despite a lifetime of exposure to Massachusetts drivers' famed courtesy, we were unprepared for the slavering, bumper-riding mayhem that is a drive through Montreal. Once we peeled our fists from the dashboard and steering wheel and unpuckered our orifices, we were able to relax and enjoy the soothing bumper-to-bumper traffic as we wound our way through the city looking for someplace to get some authentic French Canadian food to eat.

We weren't able to find a single Tim Horton's Donuts, so we settled for a creperie (a word I probably just invented meaning, "A place that sells thin pancakes for ridiculously high prices") and stuffed our kids full of authentic French Canadian maple syrup and sugar, because that seemed like a good thing to do before we got back in the car for an exciting ride back through the city and a thrilling trip through customs.

Going through customs is just another way to remind yourself that the US may be a bit over-zealous in the border security department. To get into Canada, you drive up to a small, unassuming building where a lone agent sitting in a booth asks you where you're from and where you're going and if you happen to have any thermonuclear weapons in your glove compartment. Then he wishes you a "good day, eh" and sends you off to fend for yourself on the Montreal highways of doom.

To reenter the United States, you sit in a long, slow line of hostile Quebecois, angry because they are not driving at mach 4. You approach the impregnable customs fortress with its lights, dozens of cameras, radiation detection systems, smuggled Canadian Bacon sniffing canine units, and heavily armored vehicles. The well armed border guard subjects you to an interrogation about your entire life and any past lives and then, if you're lucky grudgingly admits you back into the country without a full body cavity search.

The next day we spent the entire day exploring the lovely Isle La Motte. At 16 square miles, it's a fairly easy place to explore, but it's delightful. There is a really cool quarry that you can walk through and search for fossils that are carpeting the place. It's very exciting because you get to feel like Indiana Jones without all the bother of poison darts, fist-fights, and evil soul-stealing zombies who pull your beating heart out of your chest and then drop you into a volcano.  They simply don't stand for that sort of behavior on Isle La Motte.  That's the Vermont Way!

And, our time on the island having come to an end, we headed for home making one quick stop in Burlington, VT for pizza. It didn't have any cucumbers on it, but it was all right.