Lundi après-midi, il faisait -13°C et le vent était glacial. Brrrrrrrr! On s’est encore une fois entraînés à se faire des passes d’un bout à l'autre de la patinoire et certains ont pratiqué le freinage. On a encore fait deux grandes équipes (celle de Kilani et celle d’Alison) et on s’est mis à jouer. Cette fois-ci, c'était moins anarchique que la dernière fois!
Monday I awoke to a team of young students painting bright images in our back alley. I walked out the gate for a closer look and to ask them about the project. A joint effort from private, corporate and government forces aimed to improve areas of Montreal where low-income or high risk youth live. Besides painting games and activities like hop-scotch and snakes and ladders, the crew is due to return at the end of the month to plant greenery and tame the unruly vegetation.
Unfortunately, as the young artists worked on the colorful creation, dark clouds rolled in. Within a few hours the sky let loose and giant drops splattered the ground. I ran inside for my camera and when I returned this was all I saw. Hopefully they’ll be back to finish when the sun dries everything off again.
Some friends were visiting from the west coast so we celebrated their last evening in Montreal by dining at a restaurant that was recommended to our group of six. Having recently relocating to this historic city (June 18th, 2012) I’m fortunate to have been introduced to Restaurant l’Express (Near Station Sherbrooke in Le Plateau-Mont Royal ). A place I would quickly understand to be one of Montreal’s ‘landmark’ bistros. (Zagat Guide)
We hovered on the sidewalk wondering if we were at the correct address. No sign, no address… just a menu posted outside the door. We skimmed the page, heard the clanking and hubbub from within and opened the door to be greeted by alluring aromas and enticing atmosphere.
We were completely famished from an exhausting day sightseeing (On foot… Ouch!) and devoured 2 baskets of bread while we looked at our menus. I’m sure it was good, but I could have eaten cardboard at that point and been satisfied. I read the descriptions of dishes on the multilingual menu. The traditional bistro fare offered a well-rounded choice of appetizers and entrées that delighted everyone at our table. I started with a refreshing ceviche followed by a warm goat cheese salad. I couldn’t even consider any other entrée once I discovered they offered Risotto au Homard (Lobster) as a special.
I was in heaven. As each dish arrived there was a flurry of forks being passed about to sample followed by resounding approval of each item. We ordered a bottle of red wine, Domaine Perrin Nature Syrah Blend 2009, which was lovely but had horrible sediment. The bottle was about 80% finished when the waiter noticed and swiftly lifted my grit filled glass and removed the bottle from the table. With all honesty, I fulled expect him to return with a replacement but as time passed by I realized he had craftily averted what he judged to be potential trouble. I don’t think he was aware I had observed the entire “cover-up”.
I choose not to mention it to my dining companions since none of them seemed affected and there was no need to spoil what was otherwise a perfect meal. The ambiance was cheerful yet classically elegant. The service was relaxed but efficient. Despite the fact that the room was at capacity (hopeful diners drooling on a wait-list) our reservations secured a no rush, leisurely meal.
The highlight of the evening came after the main course. We selected a variety from the menu and were warned by the waiter who stood in awe of our indulgent requests, “That’s a lot of dessert!”
When the sugary treats were delivered to our table the surrounding customers gasped, oohed and awed! Mine was the most amazing of all, Ille Flottante avec Caramel. A mountain of meringue floating in vanilla crème and topped with crispy glaze of caramel. Absolutely, hands down, the best dessert I have ever experienced. I was stuffed to the point of anguish by the time we waddled out into the muggy Montreal night.
There are few meals I’ve eaten that have prompted me to rave and reminisce let alone post a review. L’Express offered a challenge that will be hard to beat. Superb food, delightful ambiance, impeccable service all highlighted by fabulous table companions. Benny, Joanne, Martin, Karen and Atoosa… same time, same place, again next year?
Earlier today I was sitting in a patch of shade, writing a short story. While I was contemplating moving inside (to air-conditioned comfort) my roommate Benny appeared at the back door and shouted for me to grab my camera. I jumped up and ran through the kitchen where I exchanged my laptop for the Canon T2i that was sitting on the counter. I hurried out the front door onto our tree-lined street. To my left, down the block was a motorcycle officer in the intersection. I rushed after Benny Mallette, nervous with anticipation… camera strap flapping behind me.
My concern evaporated into the muggy afternoon when he turned to announce,
“It’s the cutest thing you’ll ever see”.
I reached the corner as Donald deChamplain, an accountant from Saint Julie, herded a mother and 7 ducklings safely across the sizzling hot pavement while Carlos, a police escort ensured that oncoming traffic stayed at a distance.
Donald and officer Carlos had escorted the mother and her babies since they were originally spotted on Rue Viau and Rue Hochelaga. Donald tucked his laptop under his arm and hastily rescheduled the client he’d stood-up for duck traffic duty.
Once the birds were safely on the sidewalk, Donald and Carlos invited us to aid in capturing the mother and her charges. My other roommate, Joanne Taillon, ran back to the house to get her cat transporter cage. We huddled around the chicks to strategize as they cooled off in the shade of a garden.
We placed the cage down gently in front of the wayward mallards hoping they would voluntarily enter the refuge. They did not. We attempted to herd them into the cage… total chaos ensued. The mother flapped her wings and sounded the alarm. The chicks scattered faster than cock roaches at night with the light flicked on. Two neighbors came forward and helped to corral the birds. One of them caught the mother and managed to get her into the cage. We thought it would be easy to capture the ducklings.
We figured the babies would follow their mother into the cage… they did not.
They became even more elusive, as if they had been given an order to create a diversion. Chicks were peeping and chirping as they scooted inches from our grasp. Several exhausting (and traumatizing) minutes later, the last of the seven chicks was secured in the cage.
Now they were in the cage, where should we take them?
Since there was no longer any threat of injury or danger, Officer Carlos bid us adieu. After a brief discussion of possibilities for relocation Benny, Donald and I set off in search of water for our captors. We were close to the river (too polluted) but opted to drive across town to Parc Lafontaine where we thought the ducks would have a better chance at survival.
The momma quacked and honked but eventually calmed to a quiet soothing sound as we drove through the city. We passed Parc Maisonneuve but were told that no water was there to accommodate ducks. I sat in the backseat of Benny’s car as we drove. The cage was balanced upon my knee and I did my best to keep the ride as smooth as possible. It was a relief when the birds settled and began to preen themselves. (In all the commotion they had soiled the cage) The chicks huddled close to each other and momma.
I was worried that they may have been dehydrated due to their long journey across busy streets on sizzling pavement. It seemed an eternity until we arrived at the parc. Benny, Donald and I rushed toward the waters edge in anticipation of the release. A small group of onlookers watched with curiosity as we placed the cage at the shore. We kept it shut momentarily as a dog-walker stopped to put a leash on his Jack Russell Terrier. When the coast was clear… Donald swung the door open and the ducks scrambled to the water.
We hugged and kissed each other while tears streamed down our cheeks. What a great feeling to watch as they swam happily away. Thanks to everyone who helped with this important mission.
I was raised to dislike the Québécois. Friends, family, co-workers, the media and the pro Asian populace on the west coast contributed to my acquired prejudice against fellow countrymen. After nearly 5 decades of being focused on west coast ideology, a general mistrust and suspicion of those who I suspected of plotting to dismantle our unified country, I moved to Montreal. It was a spur of the moment decision and one I was momentarily regretting (ever so slightly) but which I can confidently claim is the best move I could have made. Time and place take on a whole new meaning when you arrive in a new city.
I’ve lived and worked around the world and while I left my heart in Venice Beach California, Montreal is jockeying for second place. Of course I haven’t experienced the harsh winter or been caught in a summer thunder shower without an umbrella, but weather aside, Montreal is a very friendly city. No one has been rude to me for not speaking the language. It seems like almost everyone speaks English. I haven’t ventured outside the confines of the city so I may be in for a rude awakening… But for now I have been received warmly.
The history of Montreal seeps through the bricks and stone of majestic buildings on gently curving streets lined with giant oak and maple trees. It’s easy to forget you are in Canada since the feeling is much closer to a European city with its rich culture and flair for festivals and entertainment. Even the Occupy movement possesses the common sense, maturity and purpose found lacking in Vancouver. I was impressed with the diversity found in the Student Manifestations (protest marches throughout the city) which included all ages an ethnicities chanting as they proceeded with orderly purpose along streets lined with well wishers and to cheers of shop owners and staff from local eateries.
I was fortunate to arrive before the annual celebration for St Jean Baptiste Day. Considered a National Holiday in lieu of Canada Day (July 1st) the french gather for music, food and bonfires. After a dramatic stage production (all in french so really don’t have a clue what it was about, but the costumes, dance and lighting was amazing) we were handed the biggest marshmallow I’ve ever seen to roast in barrels set out by the fire department. I was exhausted by the activities and barely made it home since my feet were complaining about the 8 hours of trekking through the heat of the day. I had been so engrossed with the sights, smells and sounds of this vibrant new city that I didn’t even notice my feet swelling from the humidity.
Yesterday I attended the world-famous Jazz Festival. The city has invested millions on permanently installed lights, sound and staging equipment and it’s proving to be worth every penny. All day long we were treated to impromptu performances by acrobats, comedians, and the venue stages had an endless run of jazz acts from around the world. A fellow former Vancouverite, Designer Atoosa Keihani and I picnicked on a shady grass berm above the promenade in Place des Arts and watched as thousands of attendees traversed the expanse between the various stages. We finished the night with an amazing concert from Rufus Wainwright.
Wainwright at Montreal Jazz Festival July 28th, 2012
While my intention was to arrive in Montreal, find a job and write a book, I’ve modified and reshaped the plan over the past 10 days. I’ve been working on the idea of a novel for some time now and the stimulus derived from my arrival in a new land has given me plenty to mull over. The diversity and rich culture has inspired me to investigate further. Attitudes, styles and patriotic differences aside, this is a uniquely European flavored city in the heart of the Canada. I can’t imagine a better place to spend the summer writing and exploring. One thing for sure, the uniformed bias I held since childhood has evaporated. I have wholly embraced the opportunity to learn a new language, connect with my fellow Canucks and hopefully capture an incredible story as it unravels before me along my way.
I saw this old crane when I was paddling in my canoe at Kennedy Lake to celebrate Victoria Day. Reminded me of the same PINK that my old bicycle was. Here’s the story about what happened to it…
I’m often teased about my bicycle. Originally a bright red beauty, now weather beaten to a pink like socks washed with a red shirt. Last summer on my Tuesday excursion to the Drum Circle via the seawall at Stanley Park a pedestrian actually shouted after me, “Nice pink bike!” His insincerity taken in stride, I peddled onward beaming with pride that I was in possession of such a head-turner. My prize, a cast-off from a friend who rode it back in its glory days, was perfect for running around town since I never had to worry about it being stolen. Having fallen victim to a string of stolen or stripped down rides, it was refreshing to own a bike that could be left unattended for more than 5 seconds.
When it passed into my care, I gave it an overhaul; tightened bolts and screws, oiled and greased the chain and wheels, adjusted the brakes and pads… The gear and sprocket guides were badly worn so I elected to leave it permanently in a stiff gear. (Much better work out!) It was like riding with the brakes on. The seat lacked sufficient padding so I usually rode standing tall on peddles (better torque to push) and recently ‘adjusted’ the constantly flopping seat to a stable, tilted down position with one of my favorite tools, GAFF TAPE! Very classy! But who cares? It’s a method of transportation that is reliable and free.
It makes me crazy when people throw away perfectly good things. A friend was helping to lift the bike onto the bus one day and commented how heavy it was. “You can get a new one cheap that weighs half as much” he informed me. My reply “What? And miss the workout this one gives me!” In some respects it reminds me of my old rollerblades. I had skated for so many years and had worn them completely beyond repair. When I got a new pair, I just about broke my neck on the first step. They were so smooth and fast that I couldn’t even get a good sweat worked up. I finally understood why I was so breathless when those who bladed alongside me were barely huffing.
Okay, I admit it; sometimes I’m embarrassed by my ghetto bike. It has a tendency to attract attention, and not in a complimentary way. I was told that it looked like it belonged to a crack head.
I brushed aside humiliation for the sake of convenience. I could leave my junker for 2 or 3 days, with a flimsy lock, and no one would touch it. Last Saturday I retrieved Pinkie at Braid Station where it had been parked since the previous Wednesday. I got off at Broadway and biked home in about 6 minutes. I dropped my bags and headed back out the door this time headed for Braid again. I was going to meet a friend at the French Quarter Pub just over the freeway from the station. Pinkie was the perfect method of transportation and paired with public transit met my environmental standards.
There are a couple of treacherous corners on route between Braid Station and the pub. The traffic heading along Brunette is merging on and off the Trans Canada Freeway and there are 2 streets that feed this flow. The intersection at Rue Bernatchey is a feeder route from Lougheed Highway to Brunette granting access to the Trans Canada Highway. I’m incredibly cautious of traffic since people in Vancouver generally drive faster than they should. They run red lights, blow through stop signs and change lanes without notice or shoulder checking…. Pedestrians and cyclists take life in hand at each crossing.
I paused at the corner (Rue Bernatchey and Brunette Ave) to digest the sign over the Best Western Hotel. “Hot Waffles and Eggs” (Do people eat cold waffles? I dug my blackberry from my pocket to snap a photo but passed on the idea since I was likely the only person who thought that funny) I point my tire toward the dip in the curb and look left up the hill for oncoming cars. A giant arrow painted on the road restricts oncoming traffic to a right turn. There was a stop sign before the corner and since the closest car was over half a block up the hill, I ventured into the crosswalk. Safely. Or so I thought.
I won’t rehash all the details of the actual impact but… I will say I’m grateful to be alive at this moment. I watched as a car came steadily toward me. It didn’t take long to realize that the driver did not see me and that she had no intention of stopping. Her attention was focused on finding a gap in the flow of cars instead of looking right in front of her. I don’t know how I managed to peddle forward fast enough but I thought she was going to hit me dead on and push me out onto the road. Instead she collided with the back wheel of my trusted Pinkie and I was spun around with a sudden jolt.
HOLY CRAP! I’ve been hit! That was the first thing that sprang to mind. Then, I’m not dead.
At the time I didn’t realize how severe the state of shock I was in. I kept saying I’m not hurt, I’m okay. My toe might be broken, but I could be dead. A bystander called 911 and moments later, an ambulance arrived. EMT’s questioned me while I sat on the curb examining my scuffed manicure. (Could have lost more than a coat of polish) They urged me to step into the ambulance to give me a better examination. I was shaking violently and fairly confused. I reluctantly agreed in an effort to appease them.
Apparently the police arrived while I was dictating medical history the driver was telling her version of the story. She said she had stopped at the stop sign and was inching forward to see the traffic when she hit me. Yeah, whatever! She neglected to mention that she tried to leave the scene without so much as a word to me to see if I okay. I forced her to stay by positioning my bike in front of her car. She never did apologize. She was pretty quiet, likely in shock too. I can imagine that hitting a person because you weren’t watching would be quite a shock.
The officer poked her head into the doorway of the ambulance and asked me what happened. When I started to tell her, she interrupted me and started to reprimand me for not wearing a helmet. While I agree that it was stupid not to have been wearing one, with all due respect a helmet would not have stopped the car from hitting me. I failed to see how I was being berated for risking head injury by foregoing a lid. I never did get to give a proper statement at the scene. The police was not at all sympathetic to the fact that I had just been struck by an automobile. She kept lecturing me on the evils of riding on sidewalks and warned that she could ticket me for no helmet.
She instructed us to exchange information with our cell phones and when we started to exchange numbers she abruptly reprimanded us and told us not to give each other our personal numbers. I asked “What information are we supposed to exchange?” She got testy with me, “Just record her name and driver’s license number into the phone” I didn’t want to piss her off any further, female officers make me nervous, so I found the record function and actually ‘recorded’ the driver details while the cop rolled her eyes at me. I still didn’t get it.
I was quite confused as to her demeanor and it wasn’t until days later that a friend pointed out the obvious. My bike. The cop had arrived and interviewed the driver (who had been less than honest) but she had not seen me. She saw my bike, my crack-head bike. Is it possible she made an inaccurate assessment about me based on the bike? That certainly makes sense. It would explain the comment “You people riding on the sidewalks.” I really didn’t know what she was talking about when she said that to me.
This has been a hard article to generate. My story came out in chunks and fits. Time has passed since the accident and the process to capture my experience but I still feel unsettled. Nausea churns in my core and my sleeps are restless. Perhaps publishing this will soothe my urgency to call attention to the issues contained herein.
- Always wear a helmet
- Watch for pedestrians and bikes at crossings and intersections
- Never judge a bike by its rider
Until then, I ride onward. Here’s my new ride…. Wonder what people will think of me now?