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Posts Tagged ‘Quebec’

Montreal, in the snow, swirling with memories

In behavior, cities, journalism, life, travel, urban life on February 9, 2013 at 12:19 am

Montreal — like much of the Northeast U.S. right now — is in the middle of a heavy snowstorm. The streets are thick with snow. Pedestrians trudge and slip and slither, gaze firmly downward, their mouths covered by heavy, thick mufflers. The bus fills up fast, between puffy parkas and oversize backpacks.

A hallway light at the Nelligan

A hallway light at the Nelligan

When I got into the cab this morning to head north from Old Montreal — we’re at the Nelligan — to my appointment, I asked the driver, in French, “How’s traffic?”

“Terrible!”

“Are they plowing the roads?” It was then 10:30 a.m.

“Not yet,” he replied. “They won’t do it until later today.” (We only started to see plows at 3:30.)

I’m here reporting my fifth New York Times business story. It’s been interesting, since I lived here in 1969 and from 1986 to 1988 when I was a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. Jose is here with me, my husband, and he’s loving the crazy cold as much as I am.

As I move around the city, on foot and by bus and by taxi, so many memories! It was here I flew kites atop Mount Royal with my Mom and took a freezing cold caleche ride with my American beau, the man I would later marry (and divorce.) It was here my Dad took me to Expo ’67; the grey concrete cubes of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat still stand, a few blocks from our hotel.

It was here I lost a tooth — yes, really — at the Ritz-Carlton, when my father was staying there. Jose and I later took refuge there, at bargain rates, after we both reported on 9/11, terrified and exhausted. We came downstairs for breakfast and wondered who the raspy-voiced, long-haired guys were at the next table — Aerosmith.

We drove past the Royal Victoria Hospital, an enormous gray Victorian stone pile on a steep hill — and I remember the day I slipped and fell on the ice outside my hotel and tore all the ligaments in my left ankle. It took six hours to get a pair of crutches. (I was on assignment then for The Globe and Mail, and [of course] kept working, in snow and ice, on crutches.)

Here’s a photo of what was our 1969 address — now transposed to a glam condo tower from the gray limestone apartment we lived in, since torn down.

former home

It’s 3432 Peel Street, a block north of Sherbrooke. We were here for a year — my Mom had a TV talk show and I attended a private, co-ed Catholic school. It was a hell of a shock. I’m not Catholic and I had not attended school with boys since third grade – this was Grade Seven and all the girls were a year older and hopelessly sophisticated in comparison.

I promptly developed a huge crush on a pink-cheeked boy named, of course, Michel.

I love how French are this city’s aesthetic choices and offerings; I bought heavy stock Lalo notecards the exact color of raspberry coulis and an opera-length black bead necklace at Agatha, a Paris-based jewelry company. And I always enjoy Montrealais’ consistent chic — even in the bitter cold, one young woman on the subway platform, swaddled in her coat, sported a gamine pixie haircut and bright red lipstick.

We have been utter gluttons on this trip, as some of it is vacation. Yesterday we indulged in a 2.5 hour lunch, with wine at La Chronique. The restaurant, ironically designed with a menu that looks like a newspaper and a ceiling design that mimics a printer’s tray, had only four tables filled, people staying away because of the weather. It was silent, the food fantastic.

Gravlax appetizer at La Chronique

Gravlax appetizer at La Chronique

We ate one night at Lemeac, a neighborhood restaurant for affluent Francophones, and the couple at the next table were intriguing. She wore a gold signet ring the size of a grape, a leather skirt and expensive manicure. She sent back her food because they brought her a steak — not steak tartare, which is essentially uncooked ground meat. The picture of polished, wealthy, mid-life elegance, she sounded soigne en francais, and crude in English. “He’s a fucking idiot,” she snapped to her companion of someone they were discussing.

He was Asian and they slipped easily back and forth, as so many people do here, from French to English, like otters slipping in and out of water. I miss living in a place where language is so fluid and thinking done automatically en deux langues.

I took Jose to one of favorite haunts from my time here in the 1980s, Stash Cafe, whose apricot crumble is a thing of magnificence. Here he is, post-stew.

jose@stash

One major difference between Montreal and New York is that so many people, here, wear fur — trimming their parka hoods or full-length unapologetic mink and sable that sweep to their ankles. There are boutiques selling fur in a variety of forms.

It was also here, on a face-punchingly, nostril-shuttingly frigid day in February 2007, that I bought mine. (Fur horrifies many people, I know.) It is also both light, non-bulky and extraordinarily warm, making it perfect for this sort of unforgiving cold. It is nice to wear it here, and be completely unremarkable — in New York, some PETA fanatic might well douse me with red paint in fury.

Caiti:winter

People mocked us for heading north in February  — again! — for this holiday.

But, as my most Canadian friend — a former wildlife biologist — reminded us: “Cold is not the problem. Improper clothing is.”

A nine-hour drive

In behavior, cars, cities, life, travel, US on June 16, 2012 at 1:46 am
Nick Drake, c. 1969.

Nick Drake, c. 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that was an odyssey!

As some of you know, I could have crossed the width of Ireland three times in the time it took me to get from my Dad’s house in Canada to the house in Vermont where I’m now house-sitting til the 29th, responsible for a pool, a charming small dog and a huge garden.

I started at 8:45 a.m., dropping my Dad off at the car rental place to start his day. As it would turn out, I was driving in tandem with a convoy of tour buses filled with chattering, texting, flirting 13-year-olds…and every rest stop I made, they made as well.

The 401, which runs east-west in Ontario, might be one of the world’s most boring highways — a straight line of asphalt with farm fields on either side for hundreds of miles. (Kilometers, there.)

So, if you’re alone, as I was, tunes are key. My new radio wasn’t working (!?) so it was CDs that would keep me energized and awake for the next day.

Corelli. Martin Sexton. Some Indian instrumentals. That was enough to get me to the Quebec border, where a big blue flag said “Bienvenue” and I switched to the Indigo Girls.

Montreal traffic at 3pm was no pique-nique…especially when the first road sign telling me to look for Route 10 never re-appeared. Nope. Nowhere. And Montrealers, where I learned to drive in 1988, drive fast. At least I could read the road signs in French and knew which streets were which as the exits whizzed past.

Finally, I hit the Champlain Bridge…and was overpowered by a terrifying memory of a story I  covered as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. There is a lane on the bridge that’s a dedicated bus lane during rush hours, the same one I was now using to head south to Vermont. A car filled with young people had smashed head-on into a bus heading the other way…and I had taken (and passed) my driver’s test the following day.

The minute you cross the bridge, you’re in flat, green farming country, surrounded on both sides by barns, silos, cows. Enormous churches whose steeples gleam in the sunshine. I stopped for a breather and flopped into a deep bend to stretch out my back. I stood and caught the eye of a man in a purple polo shirt driving a flatbed carrying a tractor.

It’s fun to be out on the road alone, a redhead in a Subaru packed to the rafters.

The perfect music as I passed through towns whose names would take longer to pronounce than to drive through, like this one,  St.-Pierre-de-Veronne-a-Pike-River, was Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, (his third and final one, whose title track was used for a Volkswagen Cabriolet commercial.) I adore it — meditative, soft and quirky.

It’s barely a half-hour from Montreal to the U.S. border.

I offered my passport…which I had forgotten to sign after I got it two weeks ago. I showed my green card (which actually, now, is green, which allows me the legal right to work and live in the U.S.) in which I’m still a blond.

“Why do you have so much stuff in your car?” the officer asked. I stayed calm and perky and confident, the way Jose has taught me to be: “I’m away from home for a month.”

“Do you have receipts for all those things?”

I actually did. Even my auction goodies.

I figured for sure I was due for a complete shake-down, but was waved through.

It’s always an odd moment when I cross the border between my two homes, the one where I grew up to the age of 30 (Canada, and where my family still lives) and the U.S. (where I’ve married twice and re-built my career despite three recessions.) I treasure elements of both countries and find deeply irritating elements in both.

Toronto pals wonder why I’m “stuck there” and New York friends wonder about the appeal of that 10-hour drive north.

I end up trying to explain American political gridlock to my Canadian peeps and Canadian health-care to my bewildered American friends who desperately crave a better solution but many of whom loathe and distrust any solution involving government.

As I faced my final few miles, I turned the wrong direction and drove another half hour the wrong way, The Doors blasting loud to keep me awake.

I finally pulled into my friend’s driveway after nine hours, grateful for a huge glass of red wine and Chinese food for dinner.

What’s the longest drive you’ve ever done on your own?

Teen Mom Charged With Manslaughter After Her Dogs Kill Her Infant

In Crime, parenting on June 10, 2010 at 10:31 am
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

This is the news story right now in Quebec, (in addition to the Grand Prix in Montreal), a terrible tale of a teen mom who stepped outside two days ago for a cigarette — to protect her newborn from second-hand smoke — in which time her two huskies attacked and killed the child. She lives in a small town about 40 miles east of Montreal.

She has already been charged with manslaughter by the Crown Attorney, (Canada’s version of a DA), prompting howls of outrage in the Gazette letters page and even an editorial in the Toronto-based, national Globe and Mail:

Parents who make mistakes are probably the norm, rather than an exception. Momentary lapses are common. Sometimes, babies and small children die as a result. They fall into hot tubs and drown. They wade out beyond their competence into lakes and drown. They fall off farm machinery. They are asphyxiated when sharing a bed with a parent. They fall out of windows.

It is rare that charges of manslaughter are laid in those deaths. Manslaughter requires a foreseeable risk of injury, and a marked departure from the standard of reasonable person. “The momentary lapse that a reasonable person would engage in is not meant to be caught by the criminal law,” says Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta Law School. A marked departure implies gross negligence – “the absolutely egregious conduct that no reasonable person would engage in.”

There is some dispute about the facts…Her family says she was outside briefly; the police concluded after a short investigation (they charged her one day after the death) that she was outside for 20 minutes…

The state does not need to exact justice every time a child dies an accidental death, even where a parental lapse in judgment led to it. A grieving mother now needs to defend herself against a charge that her wrongful conduct killed her own baby. For a parent, the death of a baby is an excruciating punishment from which there is no parole. In the circumstances of this case, it is hard to see how laying a manslaughter charge serves the public interest.

Several of the letters in the Montreal Gazette raise the question of the mother’s age and likely low ncome — if she were 25 or 35, not 17 — would she have been charged, and so quickly?

As

The World Anew — Seen From A Canoe

In sports on June 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm
Photo © by Jeff Dean

Image via Wikipedia

I hadn’t paddled solo in decades, but today took a canoe out for a spin on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. I only paddled for about 90 minutes, staying close to the shore, the better to gawk shamelessly at the spectacular country homes and boathouses along the shoreline. (The boathouses were bigger than many Manhattan apartments.)

There is something deeply satisfying about moving across the water using a polished piece of wood only six inches wide — and your own strength. Canoeing is silent, calm, soothing. You can slice the paddle back and forth in the water, when necessary, to avoid the tell-tale splash of your next stroke.

I admired the butter-yellow mansion, the gray house, the one with an entire point covered in white birches, the one whose dock flies French, Italian, Canadian and French flags.

I dipped into a narrow cove just as a wet, brown furry head sped past me about 10 feet away, a beaver. As I came back out, there was another one.

I told the sweetie how great it was and how I was now planning a solo trip; he doesn’t swim, so any water-based activities are a little scary. But now he wants to come, too.

Nothing like a J-stroke to bring a couple together.

Zut Alors! How A Can Of Shaving Cream Made Me Homesick

In culture, History on April 25, 2010 at 12:41 am

It hits you without warning. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub about to shave my legs when I realize the new can of shaving cream is eerily familiar.

The label — although I bought it here in downstate New York — is in French and English.

{{fr|Photo des Plaines d'Abraham de la Ville d...

The Plains of Abraham. Image via Wikipedia

Quel big deal, vous dites? Non, c’est super!

One thing I really miss about Canada, where I was born and raised, is seeing French on everything you buy even if your first language is English. A bored little kid, even in Edmonton or Iqaluit, ends up reading it on the back of the cereal box, learning by default.  You just end up knowing weird words like “rabais” (discount) or, if you’ve ever lived in Quebec, “depanneur” (which literally means someone who helps you out; “etre en panne” is when your car breaks down) which is — natch — a corner or convenience store.

The U.S. has such a thing about bilingualism. Some people froth at the mouth with indignation when a voicemail prompt says to hit another number if you want to continue in Spanish.

The French got their collective butts whipped on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 13, 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm; Montreal succumbed soon after that and Canada became English-dominated. The Quebec license plates, forever middle finger raised in reply to les maudits anglais, say “Je Me Souviens” — “I Remember.”

But Canada remains officially bilingual, which really pisses people off in places like British Columbia (its name might be a clue), as opposed to Manitoba or New Brunswick which still have some significant pockets of French-speakers. English speaking Canadians know they’re Anglophones, Anglos, and those who speak neither English or French allophones.

I miss seeing two languages everywhere, a reminder that life — certainly in a culturally as well as fiscally intertwined global economy — can never be seen through the lens of one tongue and one point of view.

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