I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Sunday, October 30, 2005

My only acknowledgement of Hallowe'en: pumpkin soup...

Sunday night means open house for food and friendly natter at the apartment. Ulli provided both tonight, with a stonking pumpkin soup. We did, admittedly, forget about the seeds which we'd put in the oven to use later, but the soup was brilliant, and was the perfect way for me to experience my first ever Hallowe'en themed meal :)

Conversations subjects included (but were not limited to...) phone sex, Albertan sovereignty, the qualities of beer versus wine, the correct name for 'Kinder Egg' and phone bills from Bell Mobility. The bastards.


Is this the last chance...?

Daylight savings started today... or did it finish... I can never remember which way round it is... Anyway, I woke up this morning with an extra hour in the bank to use for my pleasure today. So after a caffeine free breakfast (it's good to do it just once a week) I meandered east along avenue du Mont-Royal. The apartment is about five minutes east of the nearest metro, so I know the section of the street between here and the metro very well, passing along it at least twice every day. So it's always a pleasure to turn left out of the front door instead of right.

I wandered... peering into cafés, looking over crowded notice boards in shop doorways, browsing around clothes stores, savouring the smells at the bagel place and bargain hunting at the Dolorama. As long as it isn't dependent on retail, this is my favourite way to spend the weekend. The sky was a clear blue, cloudless and high above. The air is not yet cold - a very fresh 10 C at most; perfect for an urban weekend I returned home to eat and then got a call from Ryan and Jonathan imploring me to come up to the moutain where the air was even sweeter. I grabbed the camera and stepped out of the apartment just as a bus was passing. It carried me to the top, and to my favourite view of Montréal, from the pavillion that is at the same height above the island as the tops of the skyscrapers.

The fall colours were in full swing in the park, and the paths were heaving with people out in their dozens... it was as if everyone knew that today might be the last warm weekend that we'll have with only leaves carpeting the ground. Everything was vibrant, fresh and autumnal. Winter's approaching, but it's not here yet, and that leaves the most wondrous intermission.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

A sensuous Saturday

So, friends have been re-united... last night Ulli returned from her mammoth tour of the Gaspé peninsular, with stories, photographs and wistful reminiscences of small houses that look out to sea. Looks like she got back just in the nick of time, it sounds like the appeal of retreating to a remote shack to write eloquent novels and poetry seemed to be quite strong...

Meanwhile, back in the big smoke, we continue to lurch towards winter. The first snow fell in the south of the province earlier this week, just 30km from Montréal. However, we have yet to a flake here. When it does come, however, I suspect it will come with great force, and will sweep unsuspecting Englismen off their feet.

Opening this week is the excellent Sense and the City exhibition at the Centre Canadien d'Architecture. The exhibition explores how we experience the city through the senses, and offers some methods of recording sights, sounds, smells and textures of cities from around the world. As you leave the exhibition, everything takes on an immediately sharper clarity; the colours are brighter, the sounds are clearer, and the tastes are sharper. I recommend it highly. Go now, and you'll also catch the best of the colours in the CCA garden (pictured above).


Friday, October 28, 2005

Snapshot: Caca, James, and the map

Caca and James consider the map of most artistic places in Montréal...

Cracking the creativity code by Kelly Nestruck, reproduced from the National Post (Toronto), October 28, 2005 (original article here)...

Montreal has five of the 10 most creative neighbourhoods in the country, according to a new report released yesterday by Hill Strategies Research. Based on data from Statistics Canada's 2001 census, "Artists by Neighbourhood in Canada" details which Canadian postal codes contain the highest concentrations of working artists.

Montreal's H2W is the artsiest neighbourhood in the country, with 605 artists out of 7,560 workers, or 8% of the workforce. (Overall, artists make up 0.8% of Canada's workforce.) H2W, bordered on the north and south by Mont-Royal and Pins and the east and west by Parc and St-Denis, is the centre of the Plateau Mont-Royal district, whose streets were made famous in works by Mordecai Richler (St Urbain's Horsemen) and Michel Tremblay (Sainte-Carmen de la Main). "It's a wonderful and amazing neighbourhood," says local resident Chris Hand, whose Zeke's Gallery is one of 27 places that show art in the "Horse 2 Water" postal code. Among the creative folks Hand knows with a home address in H2W are Governor-General's Award-winning poet Erin Moure, sculptor Israel Charney, jazz festival programmer Laurent Saulnier, and inflatable artist Ana Rewakowicz. The eastern and northern parts of the Plateau -- H2J and H2T -- have the second- and third-highest concentrations of artists in the country, 6.1% and 5.6% respectively.
[James, aspiring cartoonist, and Ryan, aspiring film maker, both presently reside at the über-trendy postal code H2J 1X7...]

Elsewhere in central Montreal, both H2V (Outremont) and H2L (Montreal Papineau, below Rachel) tied for the seventh most creative neighbourhood in Canada; B.C., the province with the highest proportion of arts workers, has two postal codes tied for seventh, too: V8K on Saltspring Island and V6A in East Vancouver.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Introducing... er, what's his name?

My new job brought me more than just a nice steady flow of cash... it also helped me get going on a strong idea for a graphic story that I'd toying around with. Like many, this idea started with a strong image; a single male figure in the metro during the rush hour, oblivious (like many people early in the morning) to everyone around him. This disconnection, perhaps alienation, continues through the day, and will become the central thread in a story that will include a certain element of alienation in an urban environment. The rest is still forming, but watch this space.

Incidentally, any similarlity with this fictional character and a real life English man who happens to have recently started commuting on the Montréal metro to a part time job in telephone based customer service should not be assumed. Any such coincidence is purely coincidental yadda yadda yadda...

And here he is... what looks like being one of the opening pairs of pages of what might well become a full mini-comic in the next couple of months. However, this gentleman needs a name, so I thought I would arouse some interest in the project and ask for your suggestions. There doesn't really have to be any meaning or relevance, I just need to give him a name, and I'd rather someone else did it. Click on the image for a larger version if you feel that will help you :)


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Snapshot: Sunday night, dinner for three

Snapshot: Jean-Talon Metro station

And to think I would never have noticed this mural (by Judith Klein on the Snowdon platform of Jean-Talon) if I hadn't turned round to check my bag... the Montréal metro is beginning to show it's age (built in the sixties, seventies and eighties, and largely without renovation since then) but it remains one of the coolest I've ever ridden on. Every station is unique; an different architect and artist was appointed for each one that was built.


Dimanche dans le metro...

In the graphic novel of Michel Rabagliati Paul dans le metro the Québeçois cartoonist recalls his childhood in Montréal, when he and his friend would spend lazy summer afternoons riding the metro, collecting transfer tickets from the machines by the ticket gates.

This afternoon, partly inspired by a cartoonist I admire, and partly curious to experience some of Montréal's architecturally quirkier metro stations, the blue (fifth) line was my chosen distraction today. You can plot my route using the STM map here... there's a world of non-trainspotterish and interesting info as well at this great site. For example... why you can some times smell peanut oil in the stations, how do you identify the last train of the night as it enters the station and what movies have been filmed in the metro?

I took the orange line from Mont-Royal in the direction of Côte-Vertu as far as Snowdon, and then station by station on the blue line. The blue line is appealing since it's the runt of the network - it doesn't go anywhere near the downtown districts, and has the highest number of least used stations of the network. Although the stations have been built for them, trains never run at their full length, and on Sundays they're even shorter, causing occasional panic on station platforms when passengers realise they're not standing anywhere near the train when it comes to a stop...

My favourite station? Hmm... Acadie for it's funky colour scheme, and because it's the least used station on the line (I always like the underdog) and De Castelneau for chunky construction and airy platforms.

Next up: it's going to have to be the biggie... the full tour of the orange line :)


Saturday, October 22, 2005

And did I mention...?

I forgot to add this to my earlier posts - my dramatic shift from being an unemployed layabout who stayed in bed until eleven, to a hard working Montréal-er who's in the metro by 0730hr has brought about a new opportunity. With an income on the way (and thank the lord for fortnightly pay-cheques) I've enrolled on the 'French Grammar and Conversation' course at the YMCA School of Languages in downtown Montréal. The course starts on 1 November and will give me two three hour sessions a week until mid-December. The fees (which unfortunately include a 'foreign student enrollment fee'... grrr...) bring it to about $10/hr (£5). Which to be honest isn't bad... I think paying for them myself has had a remarkable effect with regard to focusing the mind on making the most of them too :-)


Samedi dans les ruelles...

It's not cold yet, but it's certainly getting ready to be cold. The temperature in Montréal this week has hovered between -1 C at night at 10 C in the day time. Today we took the metro north to our favourite Saturday afternoon haunt - the Marché Jean-Talon. Today's crop includes a carrier bag full of McIntosh apples ($2) two bunchs of bananas (29c/lb) and a pineapple. Nice. We delivered some to Johnathan on the way home, and then walked back from Boul. St. Laurent to Mont-Royal through the back streets and 'ruelles' of the Plateau.

In the Plateau area of Montréal, this are the wonderfully peaceful back alleys that run parallel to the streets between the rows of houses and apartments. The leaves are starting to fall as well. With the crisp fresh air, it's a beautiful time of year to be a flâneur in Montréal.


The second loaf... :)

... and it's a beaut' ! A few mid-knead concerns about the consistency etc, but when all was done and it went into the oven, I had a good feeling. Again, this is a 100% wholeweat mix - I've yet to try the 50% white / 50% wholeweat mix, but I might do it next week. None of the annoying folds at the bottom of the baking tray, so it cuts smoothly and is a really nice way to start the day. In this instance, a lazy Saturday morning breakfast (creamed wheat, coffee, orange juice, home made bread... and to finish some home made yoghurt with bananas, peach pulp and syrup... trust me, it works).

Also a major addition to my diet lately are the flax bagels from the St. Viateur bagel bakery just down the street. It looks like a café from the street, but when you go in you suddenly see the flames inside the vast open brick oven at the back of the kitchen, with several bakers working on mountains (and I mean mountains of dough). I originally went in and tried in my best French to ask for wholeweat (grains entiers?). However, an interesting (if only half-understood conversation followed) and I ended up with six flax ones instead. And to my surprise, they're gorgeous - I think I've always been a man for chewy tough breads, and these are great for lunch time sandwiches. I recommend them highly, especially as they're just $2.40 for 6 (about £1.20) compared to $3.50 for factory produced ones in the supermarket. Thank you for the recommendation Charlotte... again you have improved my quality of life :-)


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cats hear more than you think...

This apartment is quite large, and our four feline flat-mates like to hide all over the place. However, at the sound of the can opener being taken out of the kitchen drawer, there is a patter of little feet that sounds like heavy rainfall on a wooden balcony. When you turn round, four pairs of eyes are giving you a 'we-love-you-really' look, and four tails high in the air with excitement. After that, you can't exactly not give them a can of meaty cat food... a twice (and sometimes thrice) weekly treat soon follows... maybe I'm going soft, but it's nice to be weak to sometimes :)


Monday, October 17, 2005

James in the Americas: version 1.1

Courtesy of world66.com/myworld66 it's my great pleasure to present the latest update of my 'provinces in Canada that I've visited' and 'states in U. S. of America that I've visited' maps!

So, north of the border, tick off Alberta and Québec (although don't let that simplistic shading fool you - I've not been much further north than the bottom half of AB or the lowest eighth of QC, and there are frankly few reasons to consider it). In the United States of America... Illinois (but of course six hours counts!!! I connected flights at Chicgo O'Hare three years ago...), New York, Connecticut, Massachusets and Vermont.

Vital stats:

2 Canadian provinces out of 13... that's 15%
5 US states out of 51... just 9%


The first loaf, the first day at work...

Here's a clever trick I learnt at university... my first 'architectural' CV was, in the style of many Sheffield architecture graduates, a full colour, double sided folded leaflet. All very snazzy, but very difficult to print well unless you did it on a heavyweight paper (the ink just seaps through, y'see?). Trouble is, the best print quality comes from a colour laser printer - ink jets can be a little unreliable in my experience.

So, the solution? Print the two sides of your leaflet on standard laser paper, and then use a spray adhesive to stick the two together. Trim and fold for the smartest look. I didn't bring any of my trusty '3M' brand Spraymount with me, so I found a similar looking spray adhesive in a papeterie on Mont-Royal. It certainly works well, but it does produce a very different kind of high to my preferred brand... apologies if this blog entry is a little spacey.... %-)

Pictured is the produce of a quiet night in chéz James: my first batch of home made bread in Montréal: a gorgeous wholeweat loaf that is satisfying chewy and hefty. Breakfast is now a very much more interesting event.

And just as well, because this morning my new routine started with my alarm buzzing at 06hr. I have a job downtown with a large marketing company, and am in training to provide customer support to customers who want to cancel their subscriptions to a savings programme. I'll be honest with you, I think the savings programme is, well, not quite a scam, but frankly not worth the weight of the paper used in their mailouts. But, since I have to 'believe in the product in order to sell it' I'm embrassing the ideology and trying a very different line of work to anything I've done before. I came home tonight energised with ideas for a new comic thread, perhaps even a mini-story. Watch this space, because now I've told you about it, I'm really going to have to follow it through :)


Friday, October 14, 2005

Time to justify myself

Time to just to update everyone in the James/money/work situation... my first month in Montréal is just about up, and it's time for some decisions. On all my previous visits to Montréal there never seemed to be any doubt in the minds of the architects I met and spoke to (knocking on doors unannounced is still my favourite method of career research...) that it would be difficult for a student architect to find work here. Even with only a smattering of French and a desperate wish to improve, everyone said it would be fine to find someone who'd employ me and help me along when I couldn't find the right words, tense or intonation.

Hmm... ok, well that was then, this is now. The fact is I've pounded the streets with my portfolio for long enough - I've visited about twenty firms and called twice as many more. But the construction industry appears to be slowing, and people are much more reticent about employing an architect who can't walk straight into a job and take up the baton. It's not just a bad time for students; a lot of firms seem to be contracting and relying on speculative competitions.

So here's the plan. A certain young lady whom I miss greatly in so many ways is coming to Montréal in mid-January. She will act as my reward for a winter of relentless money-making in a shameless and potentially soul destroying customer service job downtown. I'll be taking calls from Americans who want to cancel subscriptions. I will be paid $11.25/hr plus commission to persuade them to stay.

I intend to do this for as long as I can bear, taking advantage of our favourable rent conditions right now to save as much wonga as possible. Then in December/January I will send out more reminder CVs and see what happens. I want to do something architectural or design related, and I look forward to finding something then, maybe even thinking laterally and using my skills elsewhere.

So just so you know, I'm well, financially stable and looking forward to a long cold winter. Sort of ;-)


New York

And so that was the weekend that was... I'm back in Montréal after four nights and three packed days of, well, just mooching about NYC. I always wanted my first trip to be a bit of a wander; travelling in the footsteps of Rabigliati and Doucet, I went with wide eyes to the great metropolis, and had a few days being an easily distracted flâneur. My first day was spent almost entirely on foot: breakfast on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, before walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan and all the way up Broadway to Times Square. Day two was spent largely in the Guggenheim, Central Park and the Met... I caught sight of the shabby end of the Columbus Day parade, but wasn't too fussed about missing it. Day three involved more mooching, mainly in downtown Manhattan and across to Statten Island on the (free) ferry.

Special thanks are due in no small quanitites to Abby for letting me invade the personal space of her and her cat Slinky, and for a memorable evening meal every night (NYC is, of course, the city to eat out in). Also thanks to Ellen Quint, at Delloite and Touche for a very personal tour of a small part of the World Financial Centre, and an understanding of what it was like to have worked in the shadows of New York's stolen towers.

I headed north on Wednesday morning, again with Amtrak, but this time on the 'Vermonter' train - via Connecticut, Massachusets and Vermont, with a very personal connection from St. Albans, Vermont, to Montréal by bus. The train arrived at it's terminus in St. Albans on Wednesday evening. Right by the door we disembarked the train from, a Vermont Transit Greyhound bus was waiting for us. Just five people boarded for Montréal, although it was nice to see that the driver (who would spend the night in Montréal before running a return connection early the next day) had brought his wife with him for company :-)

Unlike going south, customs was a breeze... Yay! two more stamps for the passport!

I've been planning a second trip in January and my findings suggest that this distant outpost of the Amtrak network is set for closure... a great shame, although with more crew on the train than passengers (one per carraige, I noted) I can understand the economics aren't there. But for US$97 return (about £54) the value-comfort ratio was incredible... Enjoy it while you can!


Monday, October 10, 2005

Snapshot: cup cakes, Beeker Street, NYC

New York's finest young cartoonists, Matt Loux and Abby Denson, take time out from their busy schedules (both preparing for imminent publication deadlines...) to eat fresh cup cakes in the West Village.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

you never forget your first time...

Sunday morning, and I woke up in Abby's studio with her cat Slinky sleeping on my feet. Slinky has an odd habit of hanging around under the dripping faucet in the bathroom, so she has a very damp head usually. No jokes about damp.... er.... cats, please...

The night before Abby had waited for me at Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan. Our train was successively delayed by fastidious border guards and heavy rain (wow, a train that can be delayed by rain... that's something we don't have back home... leaves maybe... but rain...?) but we eventually made it in around an hour behind schedule. I didn't have a guide book with me (despite the best efforts of RAB back home...) so I let myself be led by my genuine New Yorker friend. She came up trumps, and took me through a torrential downpour to the 'best pizza restaurant in New York' - Grimaldis, right under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn. The pizza was indeed amazing...

So the next morning... From the apartment we picked up bagels and coffee from a little deli round the corner, and Abby headed off to work. I walked just one block west, and found the Brooklyn Heights promenade, where I caught my first glimpse of the famous Manhattan skyline. Arriving by night and heading out to Brooklyn by subway meant I missed the full force of the experience... wow ... :-) With New Yorkers jogging by, I just sat and ate my bagel looking at the skyscrapers, most of them with their tops hidden in the low clouds.

I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, and then up Broadway as far as Times Square. That was a long walk that took a few hours with odd stops that didn't even get me near Central Park - but what a way to spend my first day in New York. The movies and television programmes that illustrated my childhood were telling the truth: the taxis are big and yellow; steam does rise from man hole covers in side streets and the buildings are feckin' huge.

Today I just meandered... a flaneur down from Montréal for the weekend. Maybe tomorrow I'll do the determined-tourist routine. Until then I'll just carry on tripping out on the feel of the city. A very happy James...


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Snapshot: train #68 the 'Adirondack'

James is in New York

Train # 68 is the 'Adirondack' - and it carried me from Montréal to New York's Penn Station today - a journey of about eleven hours that ran the length of NY state and showed off the stunning electric fall colours.

More news from NYC soon :) A big big thank you to Abby for putting me up and putting up with me at her studio in Brooklyn.


Friday, October 07, 2005

Get yer arses over 'ere

If you're thinking of coming over to experience a true Québeçois winter (and here I must admit I'm guilt tripping everyone who said they'd come to Belfast but never did :-) then now's the time to think seriously: Air Canada are selling off hundreds of seats from London to Montréal for £290 return, including all taxes. Although you can sometimes beat this on the charter airlines during the spring and autumn, this is the best price you'll see on any of the flag carriers. But you'd better be quick: the sale ends on Tuesday October 11, and is limited to travel from November 10 to December 5, 2005, and from January 5 to March 31, 2006.

And for those of you who've said you might come over from the UK next year, here (in order of preference) is who you should check for flights with:


Autumn begins, James heads south...

The week of hot hot hot (27C) days is coming to an end. I climbed to the top of the Mont-Royal on Wednesday, but didn't spend too long up there because of the intense heat. In some parts of the province of Québec it's been the hottest October ever. However, it hasn't stopped the onset of autumn: the leaves are beginning to turn colour to an astonishing palette of reds, yellows and oranges.

Perhaps a bit like in Belfast, the grid layout of streets in the city centre allows for some beautifil perspectives: long boulevards of skyscrapers framing the autumnal 'mountain' in the distance, and some times the illuminated cross that stands high above the city.

And I'm looking forward to seeing more of the same colours tomorrow, as I head south across the border to New York for a few days. The daily Amtrack Adirondack train runs from Montréal to the Big Apple, and pretty much the whole length of New York State in the process, and is named after the mountains it passes through. I'm back in Montréal on Wednesday night, and will tell all soon...

Mwah mwah x


Sunday, October 02, 2005


Diner chéz Ryan et James á Mont-Royal. Ceçi n'est pas notre maison, mais... bienvenue, et bon santé! Every Sunday night from 19hr: see you here soon!


Montréal seen from Parc Jean Drapeau, on the Île Sainte Hélène, Sunday 2 October 2005 (26C, sunny and hot... meanwhile we found out that in Edmonton, AB, there have been 50mm of snow in the last 24hr...!)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Yeah, great... a real regular blog...

So, anyway, the plan was I would be keeping you updated on this blog with news of my progress in Montréal. And I've just realised it's almost two weeks since I arrived and you've not heard a jot.

So here's what's happened. Ryan and I rendezvous-ed in Montréal at the apartment of our wonderful friend Charlotte, right on the bustling ave. de Mont-Royal, in the heart of the French speaking Plateau of Montréal. Within 100 metres of the front door are cafés, bars, shops, patisseries, boulangeries, an amazing bagel bakery and everything that a young man about town could possibly want.

Due to a very sad illness in her family, Charlotte has had to leave town for a while, and has returned to her home town of Chandler on the Gaspésie coast, about 17hrs from here. In her absence, we've agreed to keep an eye on the apartment, the four cats (pictured above is Toast peering out of the window onto the street) and the plants. We'll be here for the foreseable future; please email me if you don't have our telephone number or address here and I'll send you them.

Ryan has been thwarted in his numerous attempts to attend film classes by regular cancelations, but he has plenty in the pipeline to keep him busy. We are both anxious to keep ourselves busy; there are only so many days you can spend waking up at 1100 with a 'to-do list' that has one item, namely getting up.

I have visited the offices of about a dozen architectural firms in Montréal, and have been cold calling, email and posting CVs to many more. And the truth? It's a bad time to be an architect in Montréal - no-one is hiring, and many firms seem to be laying off as the construction industry slows down after a hectic few years. I might just have been twelve months too late on this big plan. However, there remain a number of options still to be explored: rest assured I am a long way from washing dishes.

In between job hunting we've been enjoying the fantasic scene and atmosphere Montréal has to offer. It's an incredibly cheap and easy city to explore and to get to know: we can walk downtown in about half an hour, passing from the low rise Victorian houses and apartments of the Plateau, down the broad and trendy Boulevard St. Denis and straight into the cluster of downtown skyscrapers. Everything is cheaper, friendlier and more diverse...

To everyone back home, we send our love. Ryan apologises for his long silences - I can assure you that he is alive and well. We look forward to welcoming our first guests from home soon...

More to follow...