Things what I have seen in Montreal, #3

Cuisine edition: Quebec of course, being French-ish, has a long and glorious history of fine cuisine, masterfully prepared dishes of exquisite beauty and a general cultural appreciation of fine food that surpasses other, lesser nations. Here, then, are some of said cultural gastronomic treasures.

The first, go-to constituent of traditional cuisine quebecoise is equal to anything the French can muster:

Poutine!

Poutine, as you can perhaps tell, is in fact chips and gravy. You know, like you get in fish and chip shops in the Midlands. The difference is that this is served with cheese curds. I’m not wholly sure what cheese curds are, though I have in mind to ask one of my friends who no doubt makes her own cheese in her spare time. But they taste pretty good, and the alternating feeling of jostling a hot chip around your mouth and occasionally biting onto a cold curd is quite interesting. It’s still chips, cheese and gravy though, whichever way you look at it, but like a Royal with Cheese, poutine is sufficiently popular for the big boys to want to cash in on the action:

Chez BK, indeed.

Another speciality local to Montreal is viande fumée. In the same smoked, boiled, kosher, Jewish-style beef tradition as from the mighty Brick Lane Bagel Bake, this is essentially the New York-style, thin-sliced pastrami. Even describing it as such is enough to have the viande fumée SWAT team kicking my door in, so I must clarify that it is not the same as New York pastrami, but is of the same tradition, and so a bit different from the vast slabs of thick cut smoked beef served up 24-hours a day in Spitalfields. It’s pretty good; hot, meaty, not greasy (because it’s boiled) but deliciously unctuous, and while technically served as a “sandwich” it arrives as a huge plate of meat with a light dressing of bread. Loads of mustard and a cornichon are essential extras.

Montreal's viande fumée

This is from Lester’s, a quite up-scale place at the end of my road (everything is quite upscale in Outrement, even the cornershops. It’s full of children’s clothing shops and hasidic Jews too, talk about leaving home to arrive at the same place, but that’s for another post). However, the place to get your smoked meat sandwich is Schwarz’s on St Laurent, which is always packed, often has a queue of 30 or more people lining up down the street, and is so famous it even has a biography:

You bought the meat, now read the book

At lunchtime after college, I like nothing more than to pop into one of the local restaurants where standing is the norm to pick up that great North American staple, the hamburger:

Bun's - bringing you quality cheap eats

Served with a six-inch-long gherkin, which they call a cornichon – despite not being the delicious, crisp, crunchy, French-style cornichons available in England, that I spend hours searching for fruitlessly in Turkish supermarkets. This restaurant is called Buns, the burgers are $5, delicious, and – read it and weep people – the cheese is free. There’s a girl who works in the Rue St Laurent branch (“Halifax girl”, because she told me she’s from Halifax) who I talk to at the end of every Friday night and who looks more and more miserable each time. I assume this is because summer is over and this means she’ll be going back to Halifax, rather than it being the cumulative effects of talking to me.

From the supermarket:

The horror.

Everything you heard is true.

 

Italophiles among you, get your head around this:

I'm sure this wouldn't be allowed in Italy. Am suppressing the urge to say 'zoinks'.

Not a pasta style I am familiar with.

 

And I saw this on St Catherine’s Street, the main drag through down, where office workers need to be fed and fed quickly. Sometimes you just need to eat quicker than the style of food you feel like eating will allow. For these occasions, there is KONOPIZZA:

Konopizza - for when you really need to hold a small, conical pizza
in one hand while doing something else

Cone? Pizza? Konopizza! Simples.

 

Finally, cliché though it is, I have to mention the tea situation. I walked around the old port a few weeks back on a sunny Friday and stopped off after hours of photographing churches and looking at ruins and bones and stuff for a cup of tea and a sit down. Everyone seemed to be ordering coffees with long and complicated sounding names, but my heart soared when I saw “pot of Earl Grey” on offer. It arrived looking like this:

Not what I had in mind.

A bowl. I am expected to drink out of a fucking bowl, and a tiny one at that. Canadians, bless them, have mistaken tea for some kind of romantic or pre-harakiri ritual to be solemnly observed, rather than the life-affirming, loin-strengthening, massive-mug-draining, utterly commonplace and without faff quotidian thing Brits know it to be. Needless to say, it didn’t come with milk either.

The situation in the supermarket is no better:

Not impressed.

See how much tea there is? Wrong. NONE OF IT IS TEA. It is all blueberry extract with ylang ylang and bullshit like that. Shelf after shelf of the crap. The only things I could find that remotely looked like tea were the bizarrely named Orange Pekoe Tea (Tetley and Salada), or the equally bizarre Twinings Irish Tea:

I feel Twinings have reneged on their Englishness for commercial reasons.

So here I am, in the Francophone side of town in a deeply Francophone state, and lo and behold, manufacturers have twigged that perhaps marketing your product as English Breakfast Tea might not be a moneyspinner. But everyone likes the Irish, right? Job done. A mere $4.50 for 20 bags, the swines.

Of course, with one of the highest numbers of restaurants per capita of any city in the world, Montreal also has a boatload of world class, internationally-renowned eateries. None of which I shall be visiting.

The storm before the calm

 

There is a moment of doubt before taking your first pill, your first line of something, your first tightly wound rizla bomb or acid tab. There is, at least the first time, a fractional moment when the possibilities of what may or will happen swim up to the forefront of your mind, suddenly thick with doubt as you lift the narcotic to your lips, the pipe to your mouth, the note to your nostril, whatever. Do you jump? Will it ever be the same?

That moment passes, but is replaced by another soon after. The woozy feeling of the drug’s fingers reaching up through each artery, from the pit of your stomach, driving a flutter to the heart, before reaching your mind: vision swoons and sparks, colours phosphoresce, perceived distance expands and contracts. Before mind and body are taken hostage completely, before you submit to the experience willingly or not, there is a moment again of doubt – tinged this time with panic, or fear. Because now it is in you, and no matter what your poison, you must run the course.

There are other times, other occasions that recall these moments. Moving to a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on your back and a sense of – potentially misplaced – optimism is one of them.

The prospect is exciting from sufficient distance, but looms larger and more real as the date approaches. Practicalities to be ticked-off preclude too much thought. The elation of arriving somewhere new or unusual carries you so far, but after the tourist sights have been seen, after days wandering town drinking small beers and coffees, taking photos of buildings, looking in windows at things you won’t buy, looking at people you won’t – or can’t – talk to, coming back each night to a hotel room, there is an emptiness that quickly grows to fill your days in lieu of anything else.

As adults, we don’t often have the experience of being alone, without friends or contacts. The first day of a new school, first day in a new town – these are experienced usually long ago as children, and at the time come with the support of family and friends from other places. So it was with some surprise that I realised the last time I was in this position, I was nine years old. Of course there’s Skype and email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. It’s at times like these that you realise what social animals we are.

Without purpose, without a social network to hand, with a language barrier and with the days growing shorter, it’s easy to focus only on what isn’t working. And it would be easy to succumb to that, to jack it in and take a route back to easier, familiar ground. But that would serve no purpose. I don’t want the feeling of safety; I’m looking to ride out the need for it, landing the other side. There either will be buried reserves of strength, stamina and optimism that can be tapped, new skills and discoveries that will alter the way I approach the world in the future, or there won’t.

I’ve taken the jump, swallowed the pill. I’m over the wave of panic, and I’m looking up. And I absolutely, categorically, hope everything will never be the same again.

Things what I have seen in Montreal, #2

This beast was just left on the pavement outside my hotel, along with piles of other detritus that had been tossed out of a flat that was being gutted. A lot more interesting than old saucepans and mattresses though.

 

It still seemed in pretty good nick too, complete with ancient 1970s (?) circuit boards inside that looked like some kind of 6th form electronics project to modern eyes. But looking closely revealed this:

 

 

So there you have it. I am going to rename this blog, Leslie on Reverb. Actually Bass Swing Bass Walk also has a certain ring to it.

Things what I have seen in Montreal, #1

Despite being equipped only with a shitty phone camera, there are far too many things I stumble across that demand to be photographed. So I’ll put them up. First, shop window edition.

Strange shop display on Rue St Catherine.
This was the window display for a shop that designed and
supplied specialised or customized mannequins.
Creepy big-eyed winking shop dummies. I hope it wasn't one of theirs.
It's Canada - lumberjack shirts are not optional.
So they're really trying to protect their classy clientele and all the hard work they've put into making it look wonderful from the oiks outside. I wonder how classy it is inside...?
How classy? It's full of lava lamps - kneel before their levels of classyness, heathens.
This is a glass of Earl Grey tea with hot frothy milk. Look how authentic it is! - it has a London bus next to it. Needless to say it was revolting.
"Best swanky joint", eh? Praise indeed.