Mon Coeur, Ma Biche!
Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
74Trip End Sep 01, 2010
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We wake up early and The Beard takes the wheel – I think I’ll be resigned to mop-up driving for a while, having crushed that sign in Niagara Falls – and he drives straight into the gut of the city. By now, all the signs are in French, as opposed to French and English like elsewhere in Canada, and I’m starting to get excited. Once again I put on The Arcade Fire or some other quasi-Francophonic Canadian band (do I have any others on my iPod? Probably not. Therefore: liar), for I’m in a huge mood to dive into another culture. Oh man, I’m so giddy. To the others, it’s nonsense to concern oneself with all of this; they find it curious or even anti-American, perhaps – though not in an angry or accusatory way – that I get so amped at the prospect of foreign culture and language, but what can I say? It’s there and happy is happy. So after circling a bit, landing on the tourist bureau for some maps and an incredibly in-depth conversation about the city with a kind city worker, we follow that woman’s advice and head to Parc du Mont Royal for some chirpy birds and leafy greens and a wonderful view of the city. Before we 've locked the doors or even paid for parking I’m out the door with a bounce I so rarely possess, diving deep into the green with my nose high up in the air, cranking up Feist on my headphones, to feel the acid on my quads and the breeze on my neck. There’s the lackluster lake at the outset, surrounded by lovely rolling hills studded with modern limestone statues and all sorts of mallards, and then there’s the villa with the vista, a beautiful cobblestone banquet hall in gray and black, smacking of an oversized Marsellaise chateau, giving way to a sun-shaped skirt that opens up the aforementioned view. Then of course there’s The Croix, that which is exciting in concept – a massive cross studded with lights perched atop the city’s largest mountain for all to see – except that it mostly looks like a carnival ride. Oh well.
I head back to the bus to find no one there, and while I’m trying to talk myself out of breaking into my own property, my phone rings from Cornbread, who informs me that all had left for the town center long ago, and that they stand to meet up in two hours. With my time I do a bit of wondering around, marveling at the colonial architecture, at all the rustic little homes with potted daisies and carved golden signage, and decide that I love the city. I stop by a boulangerie and wait for my number (62) to be called out in French, planning to order my meal (un baugettine et un salat avec avocats et oranges, SVP), and when a sharp-looking girl with a quaint black dress walks up next to me to study the cheeses I complete freeze, and instead can only shout, "bread!" Being in Quebec, however, my cashier switches seamlessly to English without nary a hint of an accent and, blushing, I take my food and walk, defeated, to the steps of the museum.
At two I make it to the tourism bureau and only find Tristan. Soon Cornbread calls, telling us he’s up the street at a pub with Shmark, polishing off a liter apiece. Tristan and I join them – he with his own stein, I with merely a pint of porter cocktail (a brown ale with a shot of Jameson stirred in…interesting, I guess) – and then, Cornbread falling asleep in his drink, we split up. I head with CB to McGill University to ask a few questions, and there I find myself greeted oh-so-warmly by the Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department, all while wrapped in the epic stone architecture of the campus. It’s ingenious, how they’ve designed their school smack in the middle of a city: all their buildings tall, compact, and facing into a massive quad, blocking out effectively the city’s noises while lending a special sense of community within. It’s a cool place, but I don’t think they have my program, and I stroll on to find Cornbread passed out cold in the middle of everything, a toothpick still in his mouth, ready to choke him. I give it my best effort to wake him, and after a while I do, where he just blinks, apologizes, and makes for the long walk up the hill and back to the bus. I, meanwhile, head to the Musee des beaux-arts for a free exhibit, and fall for the cute concierge with the nose ring (not to mention the kick-ass glass and interior design exhibitions!).
Eventually I sweat it back to the bus to find some of the guys blasting music. I get giddy again and sprint after the sound, grabbing guitar or drums where I’m capable, noting all the park-goers gawking our way (because I’m like that). Eventually some security guards approach us, but haven’t the will to mess with us, and anyway everyone soon passes out until The Beard arrives with his skateboard.
After a few hours’ rest, we drive around the city in search of a parking spot, eventually settling on a place encouraged to us by a friendly guy on a balcony. In no time, a number (three) neighbors poke their heads in, eager to help, excited about Pearl. Quebecois are so friendly.
I’m soon getting itchy again to see the city, and where the others are playing music and drinking whiskey from the bottle, I get testy and head down the street. Cornbread chases me down and we work our way to the subway in search of Old Montreal.
We find it, and it’s glorious. Cobblestones, oil lamps, wine and squares filled with dining tables: I have to remind myself I’m not in Paris. We make it to Place Jacques-Cartier and sit down for a heavy meal of poutain (this one with cheese, onions, gravy, fried ham, and summer sausage), a shared burger, and some summer beer. Our waiter and hostess are our age and completely stoked by our being from Los Angeles, and smile when they talk to us because they want to, not because they should. Oh, Canada. By chance, the rest of the guys end up walking right into the same restaurant, and after The Beard somehow manages to get three free slices of pizza, we use the waiter’s advice and head back downtown for some bar action.
The recommended street, Rue du Cascade, simply sucks. It’s all neon and thumping bass and sluts in miniskirts, and we all lost the wind in our sails, but for Greg. He stroll off pouting a bit, looking for his own action, while The Beard goes to look for him, Shmark heads back to sleep on the bus (he sleeps more than anyone: like fourteen hours a day), while Cornbread and I opt to wander and stoop it a bit. A quick stroll to a parallel street reveals an entirely new scene, however, full of young people sitting at sidewalk tables sipping wine, talking at great length about the world, and I’m rejuvenated. Cornbread needs to use the restroom and heads into a place called Grumpy’s and as soon as he’s done, he pops back out with a huge grin, saying I have to see this, and I follow him to find a basement-style brasserie, one that might belong in some small Alpine town in France, complete with a group of old folk playing various types of music quietly in the corner, facing one another, not so concerned about the patrons, simply enjoying themselves, and I sink into my barstool all euphoric (even the beer, a St Ambroise Stout, is incomparably good!). Alas, the bell chimes, and we’re stuck chugging the beer in a swig, after which we sprint back to the metro stop, curds and thick fermentation churning away at our stomachs, before gliding back safely to lull Pearl back to sleep. Sleep: I’ve heard of it, and I think it’s high time I go get some of it. Viva Montreal!