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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”