The barista said Bonjour as I reached the head of the line. To confirm that the bank note I pull from my pocket is Canadian, I have to remind myself that this cafe is in a country I've never heard of. I walked between the tables, each crowded with young tech workers speaking in French and English, to a stool by the window overlooking the crowd.
I arrived in Montreal at the age of 18. After two years, my boyfriend and I were so secretive that he wanted to go to the jazz festival. I didn't like jazz, but I liked road trips and couldn't believe that our small hometown in western Massachusetts was close to a French city.
I flew to Montreal many times as a pilot. The world's large cities remained as bright and beguiling as ever, despite the Pandemic. Local restrictions were still in place at ground level in many places. We were not allowed to leave the airport hotels that we were staying in. I wasn't able to see anything of the destination I'd flown so far to, so I sat at my hotel room desk and wrote "Imagine a City: A Pilot's Journey Across the Urban World"
In the late spring and summer months, Montreal is beginning to bloom. As Pride celebrations around the world coincide with the arrival of a summer in which many places are reopening, there is no better time to reflect on the importance of journeys in the lives and hopes of queer people.
The most straightforward reason to travel is the chance to meet other queer people. Aphorisms like "We travel not only to discover distant places, but to encounter ourselves" are still relevant for those still searching for their identity. People travel to escape. Travel can remind us that L.G.B.T.Q. people are more likely to hold passports than the general population.
Universal dignity and rights are not progressing as quickly as they could. There are many challenges that L.G.B.T.Q. people face at home and abroad. Word of mouth is important, so are online resources such as those offered by the IGLTA.
The earliest escapes were within my imagination. I loved the idea of cities as much as I loved the planes I dreamed of flying to them as a child. I would turn my illuminated globe and read out the names of the cities on it, I would assemble model planes and move them down the runway, and I would draw maps of the imaginary city that distracted and sustained me. I identified my hope of one day being myself with being somewhere else.
Three early journeys to places where I saw the possibility of ordinary happiness were the greatest gifts travel had to offer.
In June 1988, when I was 14, I flew from New York to Amsterdam for a short stay with two friends of my parents, before spending the summer with my father's family in Belgium. I had never been alone on a flight. I looked down at the lights of Long Island, Providence, R.I., and Boston while turning up the volume on my Walkman on my plane. I knew I wanted to be a pilot when I saw the fields on the far side of the ocean.
I was able to answer a more pressing question. I met Lois, the woman who introduced my parents to each other, and Titia, the woman who was with Lois. In the course of those days in their quiet home in Alphen aan den Rijn, southwest of Amsterdam, I witnessed for the first time the familiar routines. I realized that if my parents were good friends with Lois and Titia, then surely they would love me no matter what I say.
We went to Montreal with my first boyfriend. Three decades later, I recall that we drove into the city from the north after crossing the Canadian line in his car. We climbed Mount Royal to get a better look at the city. I wondered if I had been too pessimistic about the world after we checked into a hotel and sat down in a restaurant. We were listening to the Pet Shop Boys. Even if I didn't like the urban geography of the West End, I loved their London-centered songs. I could not have imagined that one day I would move to London, fly airliners from the city, or have a first date there with my husband.
In college, my fascination with Japan lead me to study its language and work in Tokyo. Drew Tagliabue lived there with his partner while I was a student. When I met them for a meal at one of their favorite restaurants in the largest city that has ever existed, I was amazed at the small dimensions of the place, and at their freedom to live as they please. Drew was the executive director of PFLAG NYC and gave me a collection of E.M. Forster.
It is possible for armchair L.G.B.T.Q. travelers to hit the road with the writers who shaped their words. Consider James Baldwin in Paris, Christopher Isherwood in Berlin, and Elizabeth Bishop, who broke the heart of a boy from Pittsfield, and later lived with an architect named Lota in Brazil. The San Francisco area is where some of the loveliest stories of travel may lead to self-discovery and new forms of community.
I am inspired by the spirit of Herman Melville, the author of "Moby-Dick". It is difficult to separate the clues from the response of gay readers who find themselves drawn to him, something that impelled him to set out for. He was born in New York and wrote about many places, including the turrets of Jerusalem and Constantinople.
The low, creaky rooms of the home of Melville were a frequent stop for field trips when I was a child. I found the queernesses in "Moby-Dick" only as an adult. I and Queequeg will be our honeymoon couple. As an adult, I could not imagine Melville dedicating his masterpiece to Hawthorne. Melville admitted that he had destroyed Hawthorne's replies.
My husband and I go back to Pittsfield a lot. Several of my parents' closest friends are still there and are like family. I think of Melville back home in my first city, and wonder if there are any other places he might set down in the future.
We like to travel outside of the country when we aren't in it. We have been told by a hotel clerk that our room has only one bed. Sometimes we've been assigned a room with two. Mark and I are sometimes referred to as brothers by hotel staff. We still do unconscious assessments in many unfamiliar settings before one of us will reach for the other.
I sometimes summon the cautious optimism of Jan Morris when I look out on the world.
In Montreal, I brush the crumbs from my keyboard, check the time of my flight home to London, and remember the red bricks of my childhood house. As pedestrians walk past this window in one more of the metropolises I have been lucky to see, I am reminded of how much I miss my parents. I attempt to remember their faces. I lifted my backpack and walked out into the street.
He is the author of "Imagine a City: A Pilot's Journey Across the Urban World" and "Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot"