I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wanton vandalism...

Official statement: I can only say that I am shocked, appalled and disappointed with the purile, immature and depraved activities of certain anonymous friends of mine, who take pleasure in destroying the purity of freshly fallen snow. Residents of this street must have been quite confused as well... because that doesn't look anything like a certain famous soul singer...


Sunday, February 26, 2006

He was not wrong...

Five or ten minutes after we had placed our order, the proprietor of the Mont Royal Binerie brought Ulli and me our heaving plates of breakfast, and then returned a few minutes later with two small side dishes. These he had filled with beans from a dish kept piping hot behind the counter. He put them down and slipped from French into English (perhaps to make absolutely sure we appreciated the gravity of his words) to say "And here are the best beans in the world." He was not wrong.

Last night was Montréal's annual Nuit Blanche, during which art galleries, cinemas, and public events were open all night long. Ulli, Mélisse, Laura and I caught a few exhibitions early on before retiring to the plateau for a birthday party with friends. In a fit of purile and immature selfishness, I made a good attempt at polishing off a case of twelve beers all on my own. I regret to confess that this was possibly brought about by a sensation of anguish at having paid for the entire case, and then not wanting to share them. So, my apologies are due to everyone who was at the party last night for my selfishness, and to my liver for the stupidity.

Ulli rang me at about midday to invite me to breakfast. I had been woken much much much earlier by the cats, who were perhaps meewing loudly because of the strange post-boozing parps that were disturbing the Sunday morning peace from under my duvet. Or perhaps they were just having difficulty beathing. Initially I turned down Ulli's invitation, although this foolishness only presided for about three minutes.

It is a sad truth that alcohol will not, despite many claimes to the contrary, take the pain away. It will simply defer it to the next morning. Once it's returned, the only way to deal with it is to have a big breakfast. So I rang back and said I'd be there in fifteen minutes.

The Mont Royal Binerie is on avenue du Mont Royal Est, just west of St. Denis. It is not a presuming little café: just an honest functional diner with a long counter and a few small tables at the back. Like all good diners, there was a cup of hot coffee in front of me before I'd even had a chance to look at the menu. Ulli arrived and we ordered a number two from the breakfast menu. Mélisse showed up a little later, having had a similar pair of phone calls with Ulli just after me. After initially turning down the idea of breakfast, it took only a few minutes for her to change her mind as well. The vast quantities of salt, sugar, saturated fats and caffeine were soon coarsing through our veins. It was a very good feeling.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

You can barely see the mend...

I remember now why I have always bought laptops instead of desktop computers. It's Saturday afternoon, and I'm lying on my bed with Caca and Toast purring beside me. It pains me to suggest that I have favourites, but this week Toast has been the light of my life and the warmth in my bed. She usually comes up to nuzzle, snif and lick my face just before I turn the lights out at night, and then curls up in the folds of the duvet beside me, close enough for me to tickle and stroke her tummy until I fall asleep.

Last night Ryan and Jonathan made tacos, and they were very good (the tacos that is, although Ryan and Johnathan were well behaved in case you were afraid they might have been turning into scoundrels). We talked about this and that, including getting shoes and jackets repaired. I mentioned having to leave my winter coat in at a little seamstress and dry cleaning place on Mont Royal. The flap of the left hand pocket had torn along the seam... it wasn't a vital repair but it was exposing the nice downy insides of my coat, and would get worse every time I thrust my hands in my pockets. As you can imagine, one thrust ones hands into ones pockets a lot in Montréal in the winter.

Ryan reminded me of an interesting observation. In this consumerist throw-away society, the cost of most goods and products has now fallen (and the prevalence of designed-obsalesence has at the same time risen) to the point that some people will buy a $50 pair of shoes, and then just throw them away when part of them tears or falls apart. But as Ryan put it "I only paid $50 for them, so I can pay $15 for a repair and I'm still paying less than I might have done on a more expensive pair..." Why don't more people think like that, instead of just tossing aside something that was badly made to begin with?

My jacket has, incidentally, been repaired superbly, and it cost me $13. Money well spent.


James & Ulli at Café Utopik

Posing for Mélisse with camomile tea and wine we found on the table...

Friday, February 24, 2006

It's not cold, but I am...

On our stereo tonight was a string of albums by Belle and Sebastian. Why? Because after work today I managed to buy two of the last four tickets for their show in Montréal on Sunday night, neatly side stepping the eee-jit on craigslist who said they'd sold out and that he would sell his to the highest bidder (I believed him and bid over $50 ... thankfully the venue still had 'em at $36 hehehe...)

I first heard Belle and Sebastian's music towards the end of 1996, when I arrived at Winchester College. The Art School, where I am inclined to believe I spent most of my happiest moments at the school, was fitted with a rather basic sound system - namely a hi-fi with a very long cable between the two speakers. If I recall correctly (although it could be the other way round) the left speaker was in the wing of the building with the printing workshop and the right speaker was across the bridge in the other wing, in the painting studio. Tracks recorded in stereo were a problem, since depending on which half of the building you were in, you would only get half the lyrics or music.

Through this selective filter, I managed to listen to a badly copied cassette tape of Belle and Sebastian's second album If You're Feeling Sinister. The size of the cassette collection in the art school was limited, so I heard it a lot, and like virtually every other GCSE and A-level art student at Winchester College, I formed a very strong emotional tie with B+S. The band's history includes this opening paragraph:

"Belle and Sebastian were formed in an all-night café in Glasgow, January 1996. Stuart Murdoch (singer/songwriter) and Stuart David (bass guitar) met on a government-training scheme and recorded some demos, which were picked up by a Jeepster scout who was taking part in the Stow College Music Business Course. The course, run by ex-Associate Alan Rankine, produces and releases one record every year on the college label Electric Honey Records, usually a single. However in the case of Belle and Sebastian they had enough songs to record a whole album, and so the elusive Tigermilk was born. Recorded in three days and one thousand copies released on vinyl only, it now changes hands for up to £400 per copy."

So I've listened to B+S for almost ten years. Through thick and thin, their music has stuck with me, and many tracks carry many memories that were not included in the original packaging. Thinking about it, I don't think I have such a connection with any other artist or group, not even the delicious Beth Orton (who, incidentally, we're seeing here in April). So Sunday will be a fun night, and a toast will be made with an overpriced plastic cup of warm beer to Arthur Morgan. If you know who he is, you'll understand why.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I laughed so hard...

... that Toast clawed my legs as she ran away in fright. The better thirty second version is here.



I'm not quite sure of the origin of this photo, so apologies to the photographer I've knowingly ripped off. This is the Montréal - Delson railway bridge over the St. Laurent after last Friday's storm. Yep. There was a lot of head scratching about how to fix that one. Five of the last cars of a mixed freight train were blown over by strong winds. Each one is carrying two shipping containers, one stacked on the other.


The Montréal Métro: what those codes mean...

If an emergency occurs on the London Underground, you can expect to hear a coded public announcement - "Mr. Ellison please contact customer service" or something or the kind. In Montréal's Métro, the codes are numeric, and can be decoded if you really want to know why you're being evacuated... The first numbers indicate the location of the event, the second numbers indicate the nature of the incident. I think that this morning I had a 158-04, which sent me running to get a bus instead.

Code 61 : Surtemps pour les changeurs mais en urgence
131 ou 132 Les surintendant des stations ligne 1 ou ligne 2
131 ou 132 suivi d'un autre chiffre autre que le 6 : Le gérant de station portant ce code d'appel personnel.

Un chiffre suivi du 6 : Le nettoyeur de la station concerné (ex: 132-6 = le nettoyeur de la station Lionel-Groulx)

430 - 440 - 432 et 442 = Les 4 contremaîtres responsables de l'entretien sanitaire.

Code 900 suivi d'un chiffre de 01 à 013 et du nom de la station indique aux employés la nature de la panne. Ces codes sont des codes d'urgences demandant aux employés de porter assistance s'ils sont dans la station concernée.

Ex: Code 900-02 station 140 indique une intrusion en tunnel par un usager à la station McGill

01 Interventions policières
02 Intrusion en tunnel
03 Alerte à la bombe
04 Tentative de mort violente
05 Incendie
06 Panne d'électricité
07 Infiltration de matières dangereuses
08 Inondation
09 Dynamitage
010 Dommages structuraux
011 Collision et/ou déraillement
012 État de panique de la clientèle
013 Assistance médicale

Ces codes servent également à décongestionner les lignes téléphoniques utilisées pour le code 99 puisque le code donne toute l'information requise pour informer la clientèle. Ces codes indiquent également que le Centre de communication est en état d'urgence et que les appels non-urgents doivent être reportés après l'incident... C'est pas le temps de les appeler pour les informer qu'un client a vomi à tel endroit, ça peut attendre !

Il existe plusieurs autres codes mais ce sont pour la plupart des appels s'adressant à des employés spécifiques (matricule de l'employé ou encore no de la section concernée). Voici la liste des codes des stations...

118 - Angrignon
120 - Monk
122 - Jolicoeur
124 - Verdun
126 - De L'Église
128 - Lasalle
130 - Charlevoix
132 - Lionel-Groulx
134 - Atwater
136 - Guy-Concordia
138 - Peel
140 - McGill
142 - Place-des-Arts
144 - Saint-Laurent
146 - Berri/UQAM
148 - Beaudry
150 - Papineau
152 - Frontenac
154 - Préfontaine
156 - Joliette
158 - Pie-IX
160 - Viau
162 - L'Assomption
164 - Cadillac
166 - Langelier
168 - Radisson
170 - Honoré-Beaugrand
222 - Côte-Vertu
224 - Du Collège
228 - De La Savane
230 - Namur
232 - Plamondon
234 - Côte Ste.Catherine
236 - Snowdon
238 - Villa-Maria
242 - Vendôme
244 - Place Saint-Henri
248 - Georges-Vanier
250 - Lucien L'Allier
252 - Bonaventure
254 - Square-Victoria
256 - Place d'Armes
258 - Champs-de-Mars
262 - Sherbrooke
264 - Mont-Royal
266 - Laurier
268 - Rosemont
270 - Beaubien
272 - Jean-Talon
274 - Jarry
276 - Crémazie
278 - Sauvé
280 - Henri-Bourassa
452 - Jean-Drapeau
454 - Longueuil
534 - Côte-des-Neiges
536 - Université de Montréal
538 - Édouard-Montpetit
540 - Outremont
542 - Acadie
544 - Parc
546 - De Castelnau
552 - Fabre
554 - D'Iberville
556 - Saint-Michel

Source: metrodemontreal.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scenes from a suburb...

At lunch time on Monday I took my usual walk to clear my head of Microsoft Excel and to try and generate some hunger before eating (the office takes its lunch at midday, which I find much too early). It was not cold, but the wind was cutting and hurt me in the usual places: it's my teeth and gums that feel it first; then the skin on my cheeks begins to tingle as if it's being rubbed with sandpaper. Say what you like about the North American love of the car: it's no-one's fault but our own that these auto-orientated places exist.

A few blocks south of our office on Boulv. Galeries d'Anjou (I can't believe the actually named the street after the mall) are some new condominiums (apartment blocks - see the photo) which seem to be selling well. I'm tempted to drop by the show apartment later this week, because I just can't see anything desirable about them. They have underground parking, which appeals to some people, and they're new, which probably appeals to the same group of people... but they're in the middle of nowhere. There's a dep a few blocks south, but it's too windswept to walk there. There's a McDonalds drive-through (sorry 'drivethru') opposite, but that would, by definition, necessitate a car... which reminds me, I have a voucher for a free McFlurry in my wallet. I wouldn't normally, but I suppose I should take advantage of it. Since I'm not actually spending any money there, it's ok. Maybe today...

Before I go, here's highway forty. It runs behind our offices. I commute from the plateau by métro and bus, but there are several people who I work with who use this autoroute to commute from the same district. On the face of it, it's a cold, grey, depressing motorway. But, it is Montréal's segment of the Trans-Canada Highway. If there was a car (filled with fuel) in the basement, and maybe with some cash stuffed in the glovebox, and a fresh travel mug of coffee in the cup holder... I could drive onto the ramp and down onto the right hand lane...... and just drive.

All the way to Vancouver. 4850km. Assuming 90km/h, that's about 54 hours before breaks are considered. If someone can sort me out with a car, then maybe I'll see you in Vancouver on Friday for a drink?


Monday, February 20, 2006

"Darling, why is that man photographing snow?"

"Because he's English, and to him it's a novelty to see so much snow, piled up in the corner of a suburban shopping mall car park by snow ploughs after successive winter storms. He also finds strange beauty in the thousands of shades of grey and white caused by months of grime and dirt that have polluted this apparently purest of natural substances. By photographing it, he is asserting his presence and cementing a memory, and will probably brag about the amount of snow that Montréal receives to his friends back home in Europe by posting the image on his blog. He'll then take advantage of the fact that we drove through the shot just as he took the photograph to a) provide scale to the photograph and b) to create an imagined conversation between the two of us."

"Darling, I hate it when you pretend to know everything..."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An underground vacuum...

It's warmer than yesterday, which is a good thing, because I don't like it when my nostrils freeze. I've been making chicken stock on and off this weekend, so the apartment has another nice weekend smell permeating the rooms and promising much. But I wrapped up warm and quit my metropolitan sanctuary to head down town. I had to collect some tickets for the Canadian portion of my upcoming North American Rail Pass adventure from Central Station, which wasn't much hassle. The ticket agent was envious of the bargain I'd snapped up with the low season rail pass. The parts of the trip in Canada alone would cost $1,852 if I had paid cash.

The Montréal En Lumière / Montréal Highlights Festival has started, and I think that part of this week long event (it's hard to tell because there are so many damn festivals in this city) is the intriguingly titled 'Montréal Underground Walkway Celebration'. It began this morning with a 5km mini-marathon and walking tour. The route (you can see a map here) winds through Montréal's Cité Souterraine (Underground City), and walking from Central Station to a photography store in the Eaton Centre I wanted to visit, I found myself following the route, albeit in the 'wrong' direction. There were families (children all with painted faces... are painted faces compulsory on 'fun' days out?), couples and eager tourists. Of course as I got closer to the start I met more of the slow walkers, many of whom seem to have exhausted their supply of 'ooo this is fun'. And I think that's just the problem. In a guidebook, the idea of an 'underground city' sounds pretty neat. Blade-Runner-esque images of a deteriorating society forced underground by urban warfare, perhaps.

But in reality, it's just a vast shopping mall. Actually, it's about a half dozen shopping malls that have all burrowed tunnels under streets to each other, but it could be just one. Perhaps with a few more multi million dollar property takeovers, it will be. The idea is fantastic. But the reality is just depressing. The one thing that sets much of Montréal apart from every other city in North America is that it doesn't feel commercialised or North American. So it's a bit of a disappointment to find this subterranean labyrinth to be the same collection of franchised and chain stores and food concessions. It's not cool. It's tragic. This spider like creature has pushed it's commercial tentacles under dozens of streets and buildings, sucking people into an air conditioned environment where there's nothing to do but spend money.


But let's not finish this blog entry on a low note. jamesbrownontheroad has hit a century; this is the one hundredth post. Thanks for reading and for coming back so often. I love you guys :-)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Don't run after a moving bus...

...you know it's just not worth it.

"The Evening News starts NOW..."

Ever since moving here I've watched the French language television news substantially more often than the English broadcasts. That's because a) they're another very useful way to understand and speak more French on a daily basis, and b) they're much much better than the programmes on the English networks. This week, however, I've been tempted back to the darkside, to channel 46 where'll you find these two anchors presenting the provincial news. The fella is Raymond Filion (that's Raye-monde Fill-eee-on) and next to him is Jamie Orchard. I'd love to show you a photo of Aphrodite Sallas, but I think I'll just leave you with the mental image her name projects.

Global have just re-zigged their logo, ident music, on-screen style and news graphics. It certainly looks more zingy and dynamic, but I'm not a big fan of being told that "The Evening News starts NOW..." at the beginning of the six o'clock news. Partly because I think I might have guessed that's what was happening (what with all the zingy music and flashing colours) and also because it's not true... it started thirty seconds earlier when M. Filion started reading the headlines. These things do matter... I suspect I'm just a TV hussy though, and I'll just stick with Global until another network re-designs their on screen look and sound.

And in other news this week: I have forked out $300 to return to the YMCA School of Languages in two weeks time to take up level 5 of the French Grammar and Conversation course. It's also being complimented by a weekly English-French language exchange with Mélisse in the trendy tea bars of rue St. Denis. Suddenly my weeks are looking much more busy again.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Golf in the café car

Hidden away in a dark corner of the VIA Rail Canada website is this bizzare publicity photo, which shows you just how much fun coach class passengers can have in the café car of the trans-continental Canadian. Wow. On board golf. Does it get much better.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Do photos get more flattering?

It's always a surprise to find Molson Canadian lager on sale in Montréal. So I celebrated by digging out my 'I am' t-shirt to match the occasion. Proud Québecers, do not fret, a case of Boréal Rousse was bought at the same time to neutralise the damage...


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Good things come in brown packages...

I don't want to spoil the surprise for any Sunday night regulars who might be reading this in advance of tonight's meal chéz nous, but yesterday was passed happily on avenue du Mont Royal searching out ingredients for tonight's winter-dish. I had walked from the apartment as far as east as Papineau, and was on the verge of giving up. What I really wanted at the moment was a good independent butcher, with lots of choice and perhaps some cheese as well. I desperately wanted to avoid buying the principal ingredient in the supermarket. And then, just sometimes, you get what you wish for... I found the dream butcher. Mountains of red meat piled up in shining display cabinets. Beef, lamb, veal, sausages (oh, the sausages...). If I had been born fifty years ago I could imagine a scenario where I would cast a son or daughter out of my house for announcing their homosexuality. Now, I can only imagine the same if such a hypothetical sprog was to declare his or her vegetarianism. Just think of the joy that they would be removing from their lives...

So, a kilo of beef bourginon was purchased for a very reasonable price, and the smell of the magic ingredients that have complimented it are now spreading through the apartment. I remember Charlotte once telling me that the best meals are the ones that are prepared six hours in advance, and which gradually seep their character through the rooms of the apartment, exciting the senses for the evening ahead. I had forgotten just how right she is :-)

Oh, and by the way, that photograph has nothing to do with tonight's meal. Rest assured, it's just Ryan doing his weekend thang and chopping a pineapple (99c in the supermarket) for breakfast this morning. No pineapple will be involved in tonight's dish.

See you at 8.


Maple Syrup on snow

A stall has appeared under the roof of the Mont-Royal Market selling maple syrup delicacies. As most of the north-east of the United States and the maritime provinces of Canada battle with a heavy snow storm (75cm + in New York), the snow here has to be brought into the city from the countryside, from sources untarnished since our last signigicant snowfall. Hot maple syrup is poured onto the snow, and it solidifies. Sugar on a stick. Mmmm....

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

One a half tonnes...

Some time ago, National Express used to offer passengers who booked online the opportunity to pay a few extra pence to 'carbon neutralise' their journey. Public transport is, as you can imagine, already one of the environmentally lighter forms of transport. But this allowed passengers to donate to an organisation that would promise to plant enough trees to offset the calculated carbon impact of your journey. True, those particular trees would probably not chug the black smoke from your bus, but the overall environment would be helped and your conscience would be clean again.

Unfortunately, for reasons not know to us, National Express don't offer this option any more. So it's now up to you, lone traveller, to make sure you do your bit to compensate for your journey.

In Britain we love to bash people who drive big, thirsty 4x4 (SUV) trucks. These unnecessary vehicles are an easy target to bash... big must mean bad. The truth is somewhat different when you consider the rapid leaps forward made in the technology of a modern car engine. The real villains are harder to bash, because they're not so easy to dismiss as a hierachical symbol of class.

In Europe, Easyjet, Ryanair et al have broken down the class barriers when it comes to air travel. In the last fifteen years, it's been possible for anyone to afford a flight to the sun, or to a city that would be more expensive to reach by train. Stelios Haji-Iannou (founder of Easyjet) proclaimed that it would be cheaper to fly to Glasgow for the weekend than to buy a pair of jeans. Now it's even cheaper than that.

And of course, the rampant anti-truck folk go quiet when this comes up. Because a 4x4 truck is an easy target. It symbolises wealth and class. But an £30 flight to Venice for the weekend... well that's become your god given right. And consider this. The carbon released by such a weekend jaunt per passenger would be equivilent to driving one of those trucks non-stop for a year. And of course, 4x4 drivers get stung with roughly 80% tax on unleaded fuel at the pumps. Easyjet and Ryanair don't pay a cent in tax on aviation fuel. So they pollute more and don't pay the penalty.

Now comes the good bit. My flights from London to Montréal and back cost me £250. But they will have released almost one and a half tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every passenger on board. With the technology offered by this website it costs just £10.87 to neutralise the damage.

So if you're planning a trip, bookmark the webpage of your favourite cheap airline, and then bookmark that one. Don't stop traveling, but don't stop considering.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Before George W stops me...

Exciting news, folks, James has gone back to work, which means only one thing. It's time to start daydreaming about the next holiday. And here are the hard facts that pertain to my next vacation... the itinerary has been researched, adjusted, researched, re-adjusted and checked; friends in remote cities have been contacted and reservations have been made. From 21 April to 20 May 2006, jamesbrownontheroad is going ontherails...

Thirty days, two countries and one rail pass... the North America Rail Pass has been booked and the following route has been confirmed (click on the map to enlarge)... Montréal - Schenectady - Chicago - Denver - Emeryville (San Francisco) - Seattle - Vancouver - Edmonton -Winnipeg - Churchill - Winnipeg (again) - Toronto - Montréal - Halifax - Montréal. Thirty days to pack some books, load up the iPod and sink into one of those trademark Amtrak coach class seats: the huge reclining ones designed for fat American arses.

More news will follow soon; and once the trip is underway, you can visit the travelogue-o-blog:



Back to normal...

On Saturday night Beatrice left for England, and once again we are plunged back into our long-distance-love state of mind. I am getting used to only being able to hear her voice with a two second time delay on my Skype phone. The cats have begun to return to their normal state as well... after a week and a half of intensive attention during daylight hours, Ryan and I are both back at work for most of the day. I think they knew that something was missing when I came back alone from the airport on Saturday night. But that night I wrapped the duvet under my feet, put an extra blanket on the bed and took advantage of their warmth through the covers. They seemed to know that I needed company on that first lonely night.

On Monday I returned to work, and not a moment too soon. $13.50 an hour couldn't have returned soon enough, and any more time away from my francophone colleagues would have probably done serious damage to the progress I've made with my French language. I have returned to my 'reverse-commute' too. While most people who commute in this take the métro or bus in from the suburbs to the city centre every morning, I do exactly the reverse on my way to the office in Anjou. I never thought of it this way, but actually it's a much better deal. I get to live in the middle of the city, with everything the Plateau has to offer right outside my door. For the seven hours I have to spend in an air conditioned office every day, I leave the interesting urban landscape behind and retreat to the grey suburbs where distractions would be a bad idea. Then when I finish work in the evening, I can come back to the city and relax where it's easier to have a good time.

Plus, I always get a seat...


My last post, Googled

Here's a version of my last post 'translated automatically' by a Google Translate computer from English to French and back to English again...

Monday harms, and make us sausages and corn salad. Relieve food during one week very comfortable in my life. The dinner of Sunday turned over to the normal program the night spent, and it all came together... Braided bread of Bea, sauce salad miso-based of Laura on chops superb-good market in a salad of avodcado which was simply exact, of pig of Ryan the enormous ones, fine beer of Quebec d' Ulli and Melissa and fine red wine of Jane. Apart from snow fell wistfully, accommodating to be pretty however noninconvenient just enough for those which had to go to the house. I tried to initiate meal-with-friends of this Sunday evening currents after the experiment of chéz happy Beatrice and Co of much of Sunday nights in Oxford. It became so significant for me to have this rate/rhythm, and I always await with interest the meals.

We obtained an E-mail of a distant friend and peripetetic... and are this evening in top a photograph of the reading of Beatrice it. It is a pretty damnant device of my character that I update my blog before I answer him, but does not worry Stef, we think of you and will update soon to you. If it is any consolation, I am even worse with remaining in the contact with my family... than all will be addressed (or called) this week, I promise.