I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Monday, November 28, 2005

The unbearable weight of gravity...

So, as you know, my online 'brandname' is jamesbrownontheroad. This suffix was largely influenced by the vast number of people with the same name as me who've managed to grab every easy-to-remember and logical email account at all the free email providers... Well, today I lived up to that name and managed to successfully identify myself as a non-Canadian when I took that name and gave it a new meaning, by stepping onto a pavement and doing a loop-di-loop on a glassy sheet of ice.

The painful bit is that I was very close to my office (actually, that's a lie, the painful bit is my hip...). I'd just stepped off the bus, managed to cross two icy and thinly gritted streets and get about 20 metres down another icy and thinly gritted street towards the office where I'm now working... and then it all went tits up. Or rather I went tits up. Only my tits aren't that impressive and they didn't offer much cushioning for my fall, y'know? A number of Québecers were walking past me on the way to work. Did anyone of them stop and help or offer words of sympathy? Of course not, although that's probably because they were all having enough difficulty staying vertical themselves. My sincere apologies go to the middle aged woman I very nearly took down with me when my arms flailed around in desperation... you were very wise to swerve out of my way.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Snapshot: Ryan on Rue Boyer

Saturday afternoon, on the way back from the Jean-Talon Market, and the annual Montréal Expozine comics and alt culture fair.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

This is what an Englishman looks like...

...when he overdresses for the cold weather. Our first clean crisp day of nice snowfall, so of course the incentive to go crazy with the camera. Plus some good news at last; a semi-permanent job offered to me through my agency which should see me through until January when Beatrice comes to visit. Not architectural or design related, but then it doesn't sound like it involves being economical with the truth with exploited Yanks. $13/hr, and reachable by métro and bus.

1) Rue Boyer, just off avenue du Mont-Royal Est, looking all Christmas-card-ish.

2) Here's Ryan getting all happy because he's seeing what a little bit of snow can do to perk up the disposition of his English friend. And yes, for my distant English friends, that Esso station really is selling unleaded for 89.4c/litre ... about 44.2p... And Canadians think that's expensive. The truth is gonna hurt 'em...

3) Icicles forming on parked cars opposite our local supermarket (you ain't seen nothing yet, everyone assures me...)

4) Avenue du Mont-Royal, near to the apartment. Notice how the plastic signage for the Couche Tard (trans: 'Go to bed late') convenience store opposite has been designed to be enhanced with just a little bit of snow... :)

It's actually not that cold

We're in the zone, folks... the snow's falling, but it's not too cold... a nice crisp -5 to -10, which makes for a happy James. It could almost be England. Only there's snow. But you get my drift. I've had a fairly low few days between the end of a short mandate placement (see below), desperately sending out CVs for jobs that only get me half-excited. This photo was taken on Wednesday night, as I tried to write my loyal, luscious, and loving girlfriend a letter. It's really not that easy when one or more cats choose to park their furry frames on my pad. Not that I'm complaining, Cucu has been a lot more friendly lately, and she seems to be taking more care of herself, after a particularly dandruffy stage...

Good news, though, fans... I have a job starting tomorrow. Two months up in Anjou doing something that doesn't sound too exciting or taxing for $13/hr. Watch this space for first day reactions. Now that's snowing I just want to get my head down and work; it's not easy being a layabout, y'know :)


Monday, November 21, 2005

Farewell Sam...

Sam, winner of the 'World's Ugliest Dog' competition for the last three consecutive years, passed away at his home in California on 18 November. We were just talking about him today, and then when I went to find out more about discovered that we were just a few hours too late. He died of progressive heart and kidney failure... this statement is reproduced from Sam's blog...

Sam, a Chinese Crested Dog entered in our World's Ugliest Dog contest and known throughout the world as Sam, the World's Ugliest Dog, has passed away. He was fifteen. We were notified of his death during a phone call with his owner, Susie Lockheed, today.

Anyone who has spent anytime with Susie and Sam would know that she adored him, and, he adored her.

Sam helped Susie through some difficult health issues and Susie also credits him for helping her find her fiance. In addition to the love she showered on the little dog, Susie likely also saved his life when her fostering him on a temporary basis turned into an adoption.

Sam was getting on in years, not the most social of dogs and very hard to adopt out as a result.

Susie saw something beyond his looks and brought him into her life.

Their story illustrates the point DogExplorer.com had hoped to raise through humor with our World's Ugliest Dog contest. That older, less photogenic dogs, not only deserve homes, they can enrich the lives of those who adopt them in ways unimaginable.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Susie at this difficult time.

The emptiness of mall life...

I've just completed a mandate shift, courtesy of my friends at Randstad. On behalf of a well known publishing house, I helped set up the furniture, move the stock and set up for their annual staff only clearance sale. On sale for just C$5 each (about £2.50) were thousands of remaindered and returned books, videos, DVDs, CDs etc... even some very juicy atlases that I had my eye on, but which were snapped up before I returned on Monday.

This all took place in a grim suburban mall out in Hampstead, in the west of the city. It was a typical example of what happens to a shopping centre when it loses the vital 'anchor' tennant. In this case, a massive two storey department store formally run by Eatons, which propped up one end of the mall. It shut up shop in 1999, leaving behind a vague shadow of the mall, with about 30-40% of the retail units vacant, and a depressing feel of a mall that's dying on it's feet. No big name, means most people would rather just head downtown than shop there.

It's a stereotype (and a pretty accurate one, in my experience) of modern North American life that with nothing else to do, teenagers like to cruise the mall. Many communities don't have the social facilities for them elsewhere, so it's something that I'm pretty used to. However, this particular mall exposed another startling ommission from the local community - an effective senior centre for the area's large population of eldery and retired people. Each morning, when I came in at around 0830, the place was buzzing... but no-one was shopping. Groups of lycric clad pensionners (*shudder*... now there's a material that looks good on no-one...) were making gentle walking circuits of the malls atriums, and enjoying lively banter over breakfast in the foodcourt. With nowhere else for them to go, the community had started to appropriate the space in the mall for them to use for exercising and socialising...

So now we have two distinct groups who have been marginalised by society and who have found themselves with no alternative but to use a privately (rather than publicly) managed space for their leisure activities - the under 18s, and the over 68s...


Shameless Canadian propaganda...

America is not in some proto-fascistic state and, actually, there is much I still love about the place, but the country is in a very weird mood. So much of its decency, cordiality, wit and thoughtfulness is drowned out by strident chaps wearing flags in their lapels and the babbling hatred that pours from the Fox Network. When you get to Canada, the clamour stops. Suddenly, you find yourself in the place that America should be and once was, though it would offend every American to think that Canada has anything the US should want.

Henry Porter, 'It's great up north', The Observer, Sunday 20 November 2005. Read the full article here.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Sunday night collective composition...

Ryan was walking through an industrial wasteland one day;
Ryan smells like poo on his birthday.
My generation's freedom, doomed to memory by the red haze of irony,
When suddenly the dog sneezed and fell asleep.
The volcano erupts, the stegasaurus gives birth, the caveman claims his mate.
Time goes slowly, so slowly, and I get tired.
But it was ok; he had some Kleenex left over from last night.
Pro-facedly, the hobbit tried to hide the smell and pull out his
Hand your pride over to my alcoholic keeping like so much cheap whiskey.
The funny thing is that dogs never drink whiskey.
But the flowers wilted due to the inconsistent watering regime.
Gingerly he sauntered across the room,
The heels digging into his supple flesh.
The moist oven ready loaf fell into her lap, and she screamed.
Meanwhile... the lights turned on bright and red and the fairies drew their
Wands like flowers, which surprised us, to find
That the rector we knew and trusted, was actually, all this time,
A camel. Unfortunately, the camel stooped down and puked.
This is why both sets of parents refused to attend the wedding ceremony.
A year later, he stared into the sunset,
Lamenting his lost innocence and questioning the location of his underwear.

Can you believe it, Ryan's 26...

Well, he will be on Tuesday. And he seems to think that that's old. Must have been the fast living youth that's finally made him feel old. Here he is with Jonathan and a cake that looks like it's on fire. Sorry 'bout that, must get a better digital camera some time soon, although I quite like the way everything looks red with it.

Happy birthday Ryan :)


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Welcome to Montréal...

Forwarded God-only-knows-how-many-times from one (anglo) Montrealer to another, but for me it's beginning to make more sense...

You know you're a Montrealer when:

· You pronounce it "Muhntreal", not "Maahntreal".
· You say things like "I have to stop at the guichet before we go to the dep."
· You know that a "poutine", "steamés", "frites-sauce", "joe-louis", and a Pepsi is a full course meal.
· You like your pizza all-dressed, and you can get one with any of the following toppings: fries, spaghetti, ground beef.
· You have no concern about jaywalking.
· You have no concern for crosswalks.
· You understand and frequently use terms like 'unilingual,' 'anglophone,' 'francophone,' and 'allophone.'
· You agree that Montreal drivers are crazy, but you're secretly proud of their nerves of steel.
· The most exciting thing about the South Shore is that you can turn right on a red.
· You know that the West Island is not a separate geographical formation.
· In moments of paranoia, you think that there's no red line on the Metro because red is a federalist colour.
· You have to bring smoked meat from Schwartz's and bagels from St-Viateur if you're visiting anyone west of Cornwall.
· You refer to Tremblant as "up North."
· You know how to pronounce Pie IX.
· You actually notice and point out stop signs that still say "stop".
· You still call 'levesque street' dorchester.
· You believe to the depth of your very being that Toronto has no soul.
· Your high school reunion is held in Toronto because most of your classmates live there now.
· You greet everyone, from lifelong bosom friends to someone you met once a few years ago, with a two-cheek kiss.
· You know at least one person who works for the CBC, and at least one other person who used to work for Nortel.
· You've been hearing Celine Dion jokes longer than anyone else.
· You have no clue who Rita McNeal is, but you know who Ginette Reno is.
· You can watch soft-core porn on broadcast TV, and this has been true for at least 25 years.
· You cringe when English sports announcers pronounce French hockey player names.
· You get Bowser & Blue.
· You were drinking cafe-au-lait before it was latte.
· You order fries 'with sauce', not 'with gravy'.
· Shopper's Drug Mart is Pharmaprix and Staples is Bureau en Gros, and PFK is finger lickin' good.
· You really believe Just For Laughs is an international festival.
· For two weeks a year, you are a jazz afficianado.
· You need to be reminded by prominent signage that you should wait for the green light.
· Everyone on the street - drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists - think they're immortal, and that you'll move first.
· You're proud that Montreal is the home of Pierre Trudeau, Mordechai Richler, William Shatner, Leonard Cohen, Guy Lafleur, Charlie Biddle, and the Great Antonio...and, you consider Donald Sutherland (and by default, Keifer), and Roch Carrier Montrealers, too.
· You know that Rocket Richard had nothing to do with astrophysics.
· You know the legendary story of the fat lady at Eaton's.
· You know what the "language police" is.
· You miss apostrophes.
· No matter how bilingual you are, you still don't understand "ile aux tourtes."
· You know the difference between the SQ (cops), the SAQ (booze), and the SAAQ (car insurance).
· You measure temperature and distance in metric, but weight and height in Imperial measure.
· You show up at a party at 11 p.m. and no one else is there yet.
· April Wine once played your high school (alternatively, Sass Jordon or Gowan).
· You know that Montreal is responsible for introducing the following to North America: bagels, souvlaki, smoked meat and Supertramp.
Also, Chris de Burgh and the Police.
· You don't drink pop or soda, you drink soft drinks.
· You have graduated from high school and have a degree, but you've never been to grade 12.
· The margarine in your fridge is the same colour as lard.
· Every once in a while, you wonder whatever happened to Luba.
· You never thought that Corey Hart was cool, but you know someone whose cousin or something dated him.
· There has to be at least 30 cm of snow on the ground in less than 24 hours for you to consider it too snowy to drive.
· You remember where you were during the Ice Storm.
· You used to be an Expos fan, but now all you really miss is Youppi.
· You're a Habs fan; always was, always will be...
· You know that your city's reputation for beautiful women is the result of centuries-old couplings between French soldiers and royally-commissioned whores (aka Les Filles du Roi).
· You don't understand anyone from Lac-St-Jean, but you can fake the accent.
· You discuss potholes like most people discuss weather.
· You encounter bilingual homeless people.
· While watching an American made-for-TV movie, you realize that "Vienna" is actually Old Montreal, that "New York" is actually downtown and that the "The Futuristic City" is actually Habitat '67.
· You find it amusing when people from outside Quebec compliment you on how good your English is.
· You secretly listen in on French morning radio 'cause they're much funnier and the music is better.
· You have yet to understand a single announcement made on the Metro PA system, no matter what the language.
· You understand that La Fete Nationale is not a celebration of "Quebec's birthday".
· You agree that CHOM sucks, but there's no alternative.
· You don't find American comedians speaking "gibberish" French even remotely funny.
· You don't find it weird that there's a strip club on every corner downtown.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Er, this had better not be it...

I thought Montréal was the city of the five month winter; the three week ice storm and the daily high temperature of -25 (if you're lucky).... Honestly, even I can handle snow fall that's as poxy as this (this being the scene on ave. du Mont-Royal this morning: a bit like England in the one day of snow we get every winter). Come on Canada... do your worst... I'm ready :-)


Monday, November 14, 2005

Snapshot: train #38 back to Montréal

Isn't it annoying when you want to take a photo of some asleep, and they wake up just as you're about to press the shutter?


Sunday, November 13, 2005

November 11 - 13, Ottawa

Once again, the Hospitality Club looked after us superbly, and lead us to the warm welcome of HC member 'cyclops' in the convenient suburb of Westboro. Not only did he provide us with a place to stay for two nights, he also cooked for us, gave us a guided tour of the capital city on Saturday morning, and took us out for breakfast on Sunday morning. Thank you Glenn ;)

Over a superb and generously provided dinner on Friday night, we talked cities, and in particular the issues facing Ottawa now and in the future. Most of Canada's provinces share this interesting characteristic... where there are two big cities, it is the smaller that is the provincial capital. Québec, for instance, has an undisputed commerical and cultural centre in Montréal, but the provincial legislature is in Québec City. Alberta finds most of it's trade going on Calgary, but you have to go three hours north to the smaller city of Edmonton to be in the capital. Ontario is no different: Toronto is far and away the bigger city, but it's Ottawa that is both the provincial and national capital... now there's the winning answer to a guaranteed pub quiz question for anyone back home in Britain: Toronto is not the capital of Canada.

Ottawa's civic focus in Parliament Hill, which is on a proud bluff above the Ottawa river. Just across the bridge is the province of Québec, and the twin city of Gatineau (formerly Hull). It's ironic to think had the 1995 referendum in Québec led to the separation of the province, the Canadian government would have been treated to a daily view across the river of their lost province... despite the fact that Gatineau and the region seem to be some of the most federalist in Québec.

Ottawa is a beautiful city... although not quite what your European agent in Canada was expecting. Because it's a small city, the density of the downtown core is very low, and Ottawa doesn't have the intimidating pressure of other North American cities. There are broad boulevards, well maintained parks, accessible government buildings, world class museums on every corner, and more Canadian flags flying than you thought necessary... as Ryan pointed out, even the homeless people are well dressed.

On Sunday we explored parliament with an over-excited tour guide ("...and THIS is VERY UNIQUE!!!") and ascended the 'peace tower' in which the bells of parliament hang. Call me cynical, but they do sound rather like the ones in the British Houses of Parliament in London...

I hope to be back in January, when the city becomes even more aesthetically perfect, and 7km of canal through the city freezes to form the world's largest ice skating ring (yep... people actually commute to work on it...) We left on Sunday night thoroughly relaxed (thanks to an amazing host) and chuffed to have seen one of the world's more attractive capitals on some of the last clear mild days of the autumn.


Snapshot: James in Ottawa

At last, a salsa partner who doesn't mind when I step on her toes...

Friday, November 11, 2005

James and Ryan are in Ottawa

Ryan and James are in Ottawa until Sunday night. In fact, they're probably as happy as these people are, because they've chosen the irrational, slow and expensive option of travelling by train instead of bus. But, hey, who cares, because everyone is overjoyed when they take the train :)


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Things are never as bad as you think

Monday night, and I'm offered the chance to go and see a film downtown with my ever kind Albertan housemate. He continues to insist when I protest that I have no money, and insists on getting my ticket. A good friend, huh? Wrong, a stunning friend, because he also got a big plate of poutine and two pitchers in afterwards.

This photo shows the corner of Boyer and Mont-Royal Est, and we're looking east. The apartment is just a few steps away. Calling us in, every time we walk home from a movie, are the bright, warm and welcoming lights of Mont-Royal Hot Dog. It's an established haunt for nighthawks, friends, lovers, students and other misfits. We fit into at least one of those categories, so it's no wonder we end up there, talking about jack and drinking too much rousse. I don't remember whose idea it was to have a second pitcher (but it was Ryan who ran after the waitress to order it...) but I think we should both take the credit. It's been a shitty time of not much money, not much optimism and not much enthusiasm. But I have no doubts in my mind; Montréal is the place for me right now, and I have the friends who can look after me and pick me up.

And when we got home .... a lovely email from an absent friend. I went to bed feeling very happy.


Lasagne for Canada

Is it just me, or do Canadians instinctively do things in bulk? As if living in the second largest country in the world wasn't enough to comfort them, when it comes to cooking in particular I am in awe of the Canadian instinct to prepare food in bulk, and then freeze whatever isn't eaten.

Before coming to Canada for the first time in 2001, my perception of a freezer was a modest thing. A small cupboard just above or even inside the fridge, with some ice cubes, some frozen vegetables of questionable age and origin and maybe some unmarked 'stuff' in a bag that no-one has had the courage to defrost (perhaps this betrays my extensive experience of student accomodation?).

However, my first true experience of rural Alberta with the family of my dear friend Ryan introduced me to a shocking truth. Here, freezers are bigger than cars. In fact, because of that, they are usually found outside in the garage, next to the cars. They are usually of the 'chest' variety, requiring gas props to keep the lid open. Perfect for mafia-style disappearances. And just to point out... Ryan's mother (who is not only an expert chéf, but also a prodiguous producer of food for the western half of the country) does not possess just one chest freezer. She has three. And they're all full. Stocking up for a Canadian winter seems to be similar to stocking up for a nuclear winter.

Some nationalities take comfort in financial security. Others like to decorate their homes or make them look more impressive than their neighbours. Here in Canada (and yes, in Québec as well) it is a national instinct to hoard food in deep freezers. So this weekend, when Ryan and Jonathan arrived back on Sunday night to cook lasagne, I still naïvely expected to see a nice casserole dish being prepared, baked and put out for us.

But no. They did four. Four big ones. Four big mamma lasagnes. I felt full just being near them.

I am continuing to adjust to the sense of scale this country demands. Very slowly...


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday, 20.00hr: Côte-Vertu, end of the line

A real place, not just a name on the front of a train...

From H-B to C-V

So, this weekend, I met a young lady off the internet. Why do I get the impression not that many of you are surprised???

Ha, had you worried though... nope, not some elicit rendezvous with a femme fatale, but a refreshing, enlightening and entertaining day out with a complete stranger. We were drawn together by fate, the world wide web, and a common interest in the Montréal Métro.

So, after an aborted first attempt to meet up on Saturday morning (we missed each other by just a few minutes) we re-arranged our rendezvous at the Henri-Bourassa terminus of line 2 (a.k.a. the orange one) at 14hr. This time we met successfully, and after a quick shifty around the ground level of the station, we descended, and began our epic journey. Twenty-eight stations, including four interchanges with three other métro lines, three interchanges with suburban commuter lines... and a lot of escalators. Our month and day passes allowed us out of each station to sample the architecture and art of every station - when the Montréal métro was conceived, designating an architect *and* an artist to each station was a top priority. So while the platform dimensions and signage remains constant, no two stations are the same, and there are many surprises in store.

For instance the very old network poster at Laurier, which included the unbuilt extensions to the blue and orange lines, and the abortive line six; vast municipal graveyards aboveground at Sauvé; at Place-Saint-Henri we found sculptures both old and new suspended on the slimmest of supports hundreds of feet above the platforms; dozens of young hockey players collecting for their teams in and around the deeply vertiginous Lucien L'Allier station; the only ramped access to the platforms at Plamondon; and the incredible giant's Meccano set called 'Systéme' by Pierre Granche that has been constructed inside the atrium of Namur station at the north-western end of the line (see here for details).

Allowing for an hour's break in the middle to seek sustenance above ground, the tour, stopping at every métro station and collecting a transfer ticket from almost every one - to prove we'd done it, of course - took six hours. It was an amazing experience to compare artworks and architecture in one big go, and to see some of Montréal's finest works of public art. Needless to say the next day I made sure that my day's activities required no use of the métro... I was, how shall I say, a little overmétroed...


Saturday, November 05, 2005

A beautiful fog

This morning, the most gorgeous soft mist met me when I stepped out of the front door. Like an English autumn morning, the air was crisp and damp. And unlike an English autumn morning in an English city, the straight-as-an-arrow roads of Montréal's Plateau allowed my eyes to wander into a distance that was obscured from sight. I've spent the last few weeks getting up at 0600hr for work. With work gone, however, I'm tempted to continue the habit, because these early morning experiences, as I make my first tentative steps outside, are always a treat.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The last chance I'll have to make a stand

Many of you will have been reading here, following my trials and tribulations of life in Montréal. Many of you will also know the absolute low points I've been through, discovering that despite everyone's compliments and promises of an easy ride, I just could not find work. Being unemployed is bad - we all know that... but discovering that everything you've tried to do so far is worth nothing in your new circumstances, and that the career path you've chosen has turned into a sudden dead end... well, it was one of the most soul destroying things I've experienced.

So after five or six weeks or constant rejections and shrugged shoulders, I gave in. The need for cash made me take stock, and go for second best. A really not bad job in marketing with four weeks paid training and a great team of attentive and friendly staff. Principally in English, it would get me going and bring in plenty of cash.

But the more time I spent with this firm, the more I discovered about their marketing practices. Not the practices I had to employ, but the practices I had to explain and defend to cheated customers. The more I discovered about the total lack of faith in the company - not just amognst my colleagues but also my trainers. They didn't show it, but it was funny how certain answers to certain questions were always phrased.

Of the nine people who went through orientation, by week three of training, it was just me and one other left. Everyone else just walked. It wasn't for them. And today, the penultimate man walked. Unlike some of my colleagues, I don't have a family to support, and thank god I don't have huge rent bills to pay. In a few years it could all be very different. I see a time when my conscience won't be able to overrule my bank balance. But right now, I still have only myself to answer for. I admit fallibility. Maybe I was conned, maybe I was naïve, but I can tell you for sure, if I'd known what I know now when I applied for the job, I sure as hell wouldn't have started.

So, I'm taking a huge risk. A massive-girnormous-vast-f***-me-that's-enormous risk.

But I'm going back out there, and I'm not taking any of that 'bilingué parfait seuelement'. I'm going to speak the French I can and I'm going to speak it well. I'm going to learn more, listen more and speak more. If I don't challenge myself now, I never will.