I'm not bräve, just naïve...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Losing my identity

How much does the image of a nation matter to those who inhabit it? And what does the projection of that image tell us about the country itself? Still recovering from a sunny weekend in Québec City last week, it's time for a real 'national' holiday in Ottawa. With another Friday off, I was able to do some laundry, clean the apartment a bit and leave town in time for a weekend in the capital. Buses leave every hour from Montréal - more often in fact, as it seems Ryan and Jonathan (who I would be spending Canada Day with) managed to invent a bus that left fifteen minutes before four o'clock, and the bus that I caught.

Although this isn't the first time that I've been to Ottawa, it is the first time that I've driven between the two cities in daylight. Our bus parted company with the island of Montréal after about forty-five minutes and then cruised along the highway towards the border between the provinces of Québec and Ontario. Ontario announced itself with bilingual roadsigns and blue skies. Off to the north lay attractive tree covered hills: I'm planning a long weekend away exploring this part of the country some time between now and September.

As the coach rode along, I sat listening to my iPod and the distractions of Jett Loe's Letter to America podcast. The parallels between Northern Ireland and Québec are only occasionally apparent, but they always stimulate me to think about where I am, and why. French-Québecois(es) frequently portray their province as if it were an independent state, free of some unmentionable Canadian opression or an imposed alien rule: in comparison with the troubles of Northern Ireland though, I find it hard to give this point of view much sympathy... It seems that the October Crisis is the only time that the army has ever patrolled the streets of Québec. And if it is an idependent identity that is sought, it already exists in the unbelievable vitality of French Québecois music, arts, and theatre, and the destruction of the secondary language in all instances of publicly visible writing. After two successive defeats in referendums for indepedence, do Québecois and Québecoises continue to seek the confirmation of their identity? Or are they happy to continue marketing their province as a nation (with a 'national' holiday, a 'national' library etc etc etc) and living with a half-truth of faux-national-identity?

(In my experience, nothing reflects the identify of a community that the arts that are produced there: this is confirmed in the confused direction and identity that Northern Ireland finds itself burdened with, now over-hyped with government initiatives and buzz words rather than the security and atmosphere for true definition of itself.... Québec has no need to worry according to my yardstick, in that case...)

As the bus rolls towards Ottawa, I am intrigued about the celebrations that I will be witnessing. I am beginning to understand how the people of Québec perceive their province. I may be an anglo immigrant, but I work with French Canadians and French speaking immigrants, and I have been lucky enough to spend my year in the company of native French Québecois and Québecoises, bilingual New Brunswickers and anglo-Canadians. I am fiercely protective of my identity as an impartial outsider: I do not want to be dismissed as an 'anglo'. But last weekend I saw Québec celebrate itself with an enormous party, and now I am deeply interested in how Canada's capital (which I have previously found to be a windswept and over-planned vacuum) will present itself on the nation's birthday.

I found myself alienated on Saint Jean Baptiste Day. The celebrations were excited, lively and absolutely enormous. But it centred on an image, or an identity, that was not mine. I left Québec City last weekend feeling detached, as if the nine months I've spent in Montréal have come to nothing. Imagining myself as a real, permanent immigrant, I tried to imagine if I could have felt proud at the celebrations I had witnessed. I could not. And as much as I love Montréal, I am realising that this province is not for me. But what I have yet to discover is whether I have the same feelings on the national holiday of Canada. Am I incapable of ever detaching myself from my British identity, or have I just not found a suitable destination for hypothetical emigration?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

So long, and thanks for all the good times

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Time Lapse: Ryan talks and drinks

Snapshot: Ryan lets Caca have her seat

Monday, June 26, 2006

These four day weeks are killing me

I'm back at work, with confirmation in hand that I will be benefiting from not one, not two, but three long weekends this month. This coming Friday is another national holiday for Canada Day, and the following week I will be flying down to Boston "on business". I have never flown anywhere "on business" before and am looking forward to the trip, even if a visit to a new city is being tempered by a very serious commitment on my part. Watch the blog for news and views from Beantown next week.

Until then, Ulli is leaving us very soon... I have two and a half months left, but for her the year is up. So, less blogging, more enjoying of the last few moments.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Snapshots: Québec street scenes

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Lounging in someone else's hammock

The afternoon catches up with us, and the warm sunshine finds my lying in someone else's red hammock, under a tree beside the Montmorency River, about 15km from Québec City. After a morning avoiding my hangover exploring Québec City on foot, I met up with Kari and Vincent for my second breakfast. On their suggestion, we've driven out of the city to be beside the river, just upstream from precipitous Montmorency Falls. Kari and Vincent are out sun bathing on the rocks, I'm happily reading the newspaper and writing postcards here in the shade. It's by reading Kari's Lonely Planet guidebook to Peru that I am offered this hammock. A South American man is stretching on the rocks when he sees it and I tell him about Kari's forthcoming holiday. He goes to introduce her to his Peruvian friends, and I doze in the gently rocking hammock.

After an hour or two in the sunshine we divert for an ice cream and to look down on the waterfalls from the footbridge that is slung almost directly above the drop. More than twenty metres taller than Niagara Falls, these crashing foaming chutes of water drop seventy-six metres to the St. Lawrence River below. Kari discovers I have vertigo, but I take a few photographs by standing as close to the middle of the bridge as possible, and by holding my camera out as far as I can. This slightly better view is afforded from round the corner of the hill, looking back towards the falls...

A little later we drive back to the city, via a loyal pit stop at a Metro supermarket to get food for a barbeque outside the city. We pass the evening with friends of Kari, including an ex-NHL hockey player and his friendly wife from Indiana. On the way home we agree to disagree on tastes in domestic architecture, and by twelve o'clock, I am lying face down, almost asleep, on the bed in Kari's apartment. I've had a great weekend, and owe 99% of it to the generosity and hospitality of friends... thank you :-)

I return to Montréal tomorrow...

Québec City: the morning after the night before

I'm cursed with an inability to sleep late in the mornings. Regardless of whether I go to bed at 02h00, 03h00 or 04h00, I will generally wake up before 09h00, and be unable to return to sleep. It hurts, but does not surprise me to full the sunshine burning through my eyelids just after eight on this bright Saturday morning. Before I have even opened my eyes and turned to look at the alarm clock, I know that I am now awake, and that I'm going to have to live with whatever time it is.

My head hurts, and my stomach is not as stable as I would like it to be. With every year that passes, it's get harder to recover from a night on the sauce. Time was now would be the time to start again in preparation for the following evening. Urgh. A half empty bottle of Molson Export eyes me from the kitchen counter, as if to say "why didn't you finish me, aren't you man enough?"

The cause for this pain was a long, drawn out evening of celebrations for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, otherwise known as the national holiday of Québec. With my adopted-Québecoise friend Kari and her pure bred Québecois boyfriend Vincent, I was guided through the celebrations. Foolish plans had been suggested to make contact with a few of my Montréal friends during the evening, and to meet up. However, as ever, we made the mistake of believing that it would be easy to just call someone's mobile telephone and then find a large and obvious landmark to meet beside. Unfortunately it seems that the other 250,000 people who converged on the Plains of Abraham in the city that night had the same idea, and repeated attempts to use one of the two mobile phones available to me failed: perhaps the networks were overloaded with people trying to make the same calls ("What? No! We're right beside the hot dog stand on the right of the stage beside the tree next to the flagpole....")

We began the evening with a beer on the deck of the family of Vincent in the suburbs of the city. The sun was setting behind a row of trees, lawn mowers were buzzing and the swimming pool was looking tempting. After an hour or so chatting in the sun, we made our excuses and headed to the next party, a barbeque back in town. A quick beer stop was made chéz Vincent, and we managed to bag the last vaguely barbeque-able meat from the near-by supermarket (minced veal, which was soon shaped into burgers). The atmosphere continued to build at this party, where I knew no-one but was soon introduced. It turned out most of the people there were anglophones from other parts of Canada.

At around ten o'clock, it was time to leave, and join the throngs of people in the streets heading towards the Plains of Abraham, the large national park that hugs the hill down the spine of old Québec. It's here that a massive outdoor stage is constructed each year for a free music spectacle that runs late into the night and which is followed by fireworks and bonfires. Out on the streets, I met more people holding Québec flags that a western Canadian might be comfortable with. The queue for beer and cigarettes at every dépanneur snaked out onto the pavement. We turned east along the Grand Allée, Québec's busiest and trendiest street for nightlife. The traffic had been diverted away, and the road became a throbbing sea of people heading to the plains. Thousands of people were moving in the same direction, being held up only by the controlled entrance to the plains, where all alcohol was to be stopped from entering the site. I shan't go into the details, but a little bit co-ordinated magic transported our backpack of twenty bottles of beer across the barrier, and we carried on along our way. Slightly tipsy by this stage, we felt like we'd managed to pull off a major bank heist...

We plodded on towards the stage, and disappeared into the crowds...

Snapshot: René Lévesque nurses a hangover

Friday, June 23, 2006

The car sharing house sharing rush

I am delivered safely to Québec City about two and a quarter hours after leaving Montréal. My driver, Frederic, is a friendly man who drives fast and has questionable reaction times. Being a front seat passenger with someone like that is interesting, because as with two memorable incidents on highway 20 between Montréal and Québec City, there are times when you have about one second of realisation of what is happening on the roadway in front of you before your driver does. This one second difference between the two of you is a moment of mild panic and confusion. Is it rude to say something (like "ffffffuuuuuuuuuuccccc.......") or scrabble helpless on the floor of the footwell for the imaginary set of dual controls you desperately want the car to have acquired?

But fear not, loyal blog-fan, I am safe. Frederic braked in time for us not to hit the back of a suddenly stationary Ford in the fast lane, and honked his horn after being cut up by a dozy looking Hyundai driver. I have no complaints, however. A car is always more comfortable than a bus, and besides, flying along at 130km/h for most of the way, we overtook at least one bus of the Orléans Express fleet, which ply the highway between the two cities every hour.

The Allostop terminus in Québec City is actually just outside the city limits, but is within the green sprawl of the provincial capital. So I wait out in the sunshine (continuing to heed my doctor's words and keeping my leg in the shade) besides a run down pyramid-shaped shopping centre that has been relegated to being occupied by rather tatty looking owner-operated florists, clothes stores for retirees and a horrendous looking nightclub. It's around lunchtime, but the nightclub is already testing the sound system for the weekend, and the walls are shaking.

This weekend the network of close friends I have been privileged to have made in Canada is looking after me. I'm staying in the studio apartment of Kari, a cousin of Ryan, close to the old town centre of Québec. This weekend, however, she's beginning to move out of the apartment, to live with her boyfriend down in the 'ghetto'. I'm told that he lives in an old bra factory, which must be a clear sign of urban regeneration. All around me, it seems, people are rushing to co-habit. I've already lost one house mate to the calls of domestic bliss, and in just a few months time it looks like this independent blogger will also be giving it a go. After watching the French-dubbed version of Four Weddings and a Funeral the other week, and after receiving the first wedding invitation of a friend I met at university, it seems as if I am entering the stage of my life when everyone starts to move in, marry and probably make babies. Mortgages and estate cars are on the horizon.

I do not complain of course: Kari has chosen very well, and because of her upcoming move, I have a conveniently located downtown studio apartment in Québec City to myself for the weekend. The festivities of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday are warming up, and it's now a beautifully sunny day. Let the celebrations commence...

A rendezvous

I ascend the escalator of the métro station with an overnight bag in one hand, and a slip of paper in the other. In my bag are some fairly light odds and ends, and a cheap nylon flag found in a Dollorama. On the piece of paper is a cryptic message:

10h30 Frederic, Ford Focus grise, stationment de métro Rosemont

I walk out into the grey morning, and take in my surroundings. Like a secret agent in a thriller film, I attempt to adopt the nonchalent pose and expression of someone who is meeting someone he doesn't know, but who doesn't want anyone to guess. Maybe I am the only one who is meeting Frederic. Maybe there are others. A stocky looking man in a tracksuit is pacing up and down in front of the market by the métro. A young lady is reading a paper on a bench next to the métro entrance. She looks me up and down, and returns to her free morning newspaper.

I have not been recognised. I walk to the edge of the car park, and sit down on a bench. There is no sign of Frederic's most noticable feature - a grey Ford Focus. With that sort of description, it should be easy to find him in a small car park. I, however, am not that noticeable... maybe I should have worn a rose in my lapel? Or a hat?

"You'll know me by the expression of the dog I am walking..."

Maybe not.

I am (unfashionably for a faux-secret-agent) a little early. So I give up on the adolescent pretence and try to wait in an obviously waiting manner. I'm not here to sell contraband or to discover the truth about what happened on the Grassy Knoll, or who paid who how much prior to the 1995 referendum. Nope, I'm here for a lift.

The details scribbed on the piece of paper were given to me by Allostop, the rideshare agency that has been putting passengers in touch with drivers since 1983. The agency is unique in Canada, serving only the province of Québec. Much like the Hospitality Club, another travellers service that I love and use frequently, Allostop can sound strange and unsafe to the unitiated. But it's been working now for over sixteen years. Membership costs $6 a year, and comes in two formats: driver and passenger. If a driver is planning a trip somewhere within the province of Québec, he or she simply calls the Allostop a few days before departure to inform them of where and when he's going. Passengers then call or visit, and register an interest in a destination with a rough time of departure on a given day. The energetic employees of AlloStop then join up the dots. A one way ride from Montréal to Québec City (AlloStop's most successful and popular corridor) costs $16, compared to $35 by bus or $45 by train.

It would be great if hitchhikers could rely on the service for rides out of the province of Québec. Since the service is safe, it's also fun and a great way to meet people. But following complaints from the Voyageur, Greyhound and Trentway bus companies to the Ontario Transport Commission, the service had to be withdrawn between Québec and Ontario. Passengers heading to Toronto, Ottawa and the other cities of the densely populated southern province now have little choice but to resort to the rideshare pages on sites like Craigslist, where there is third party to record or regulate the rides that are arranged, let alone confirm the safety of the vehicle in which your ride is booked. The complaint from the bus companies was one of a legal definition: Allostop is proud to call itself a 'covoiturage' service. The bus companies said they were providing a form of 'public transit' and as such were flouting the rules applied to public transit providers. Interpret that as you will, and don't forget the former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin did then and continues to own a majority percent stake holding in Voyageur bus lines.

So while this utopian dream remans limited to the confines of Canada's largest province, it remains a successful and popular service that fills empty seats in cars that would have already been going places. Since there's no guarantee that Allostop can find passengers for a driver, it doesn't encourage extra vehicles on the road.

Just after 10h30, a Ford Focus pulls onto the car park, and the driver hops out and smiles at me. I'd say his car was more silver than grey, but that's not important. How did he manage to recognise me so quickly...? I leave by bag in the boot, and hop in the car. I'm off to Québec City for the weekend.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The apartment empties

With the humid summer days come changes to the apartment. Ulli is away on holiday in the Îles de la Madeliene before she returns to Germany next week, and Ryan has begun to steady process of moving out. Without a car, this is done in fits and starts using the bus. Each time I come home something has been boxed and/or removed. The process has been anticipated for some time, but it's still a surprise to walk into a room and to see that a computer has vanished (don't worry Charlotte, it was his, not yours...).

On Sunday night, however, the wooden floors of the old apartment creaked and complained as a few more pairs of (human) feet came together for dinner. This weekend I had the pleasure of hosting Abby, a friend from New York who was in town to launch her new book at a local comic book store. She brought a friend who knew the city, and my evenings were enlighted with their stories of what they had found while they were around town. Ryan was back for the evening, enhancing the atmosphere with his compulsive summertime half-nakedness. To finish the scene, Laura was over with a nicely chilled rosé.

The menu reflected the high humidity: asparagus fried in butter and garlic leaves on cream cheese bagels; spinach and avocado salad, tomato and boccacini salad, and a big chilled bowl of berries, kiwi and apple salad with ice cream for desert. I now understand the secret to summer time cooking: do things that can be made and eaten without too much effort or without using artificial heat when there's already 75% humidity.

With a cold tall gin and tonic, and with some careful shielding of my burn allowed me to savour the end of the hot afternoon out on the balcony. Ryan caught the rays, Laura lamented not having achieved anything, and I just savoured being there. I'll miss this place when I'm gone, but the gradual departure of the people I have begun to associate with this place is preparing me for the inevitable. It's time to think about my departure, and more importantly, about my return to another place.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Snapshots: Nova Scotia

In this digital age, it takes me a few days to remember to take a black and white film to be be developed at the lab across the street. Since it's esoteric black and white instead of good ol' colour, development takes another five working days; then another few days have passed before I remember that I left the film there in the first place, and then a I leave it for another few days deferring the inevitably extortionate cost of collecting them. But here, at last, are a few snapshots from some explorations of Nova Scotia with Bea...

Bea's namesake in Halifax cut my hair, and told us the story of how she came to Canada as a refugee from Kosovo. My problems with uncontrollable hair pale into insignificance.

Contrast of scale: Mahone Bay City Hall and a GMC pick-up.

Beatrice photographing two churches on the Lighthouse Trail.

Bea apologises to the flattened bugs we have collected on the front of our Chevrolet Impala...

...and then tampers with the license plate.

On the train back to Montréal.

Snapshot: our thermometer today

Friday, June 16, 2006

White socks not permitted

Disastrous news this week with regard to my self inflicted injuries. They are healing rapidly and very well, but that does not mean I am out of the woods yet. My last scheduled hospital visit had been arranged for this morning at the near-by Hôpital Notre-Dame here on the Plateau. I walked down to the hospital early so as to try and deal with all the paperwork required for treatment to be given to non-Québec residents. It turns out this can be dealt with very quickly when you have a thin slice of plastic with either 'Visa' or 'Mastercard' written on it.

I was given permission to see the doctor, and proceeded to wait for a couple of hours in the subteranean 'Omni-chirugie' waiting room. When the doctor was able to see me, the wounds were undressed and many approving sounds were made by the doctor and nurse. The special silver-based cream that has been applied to the burn every two days since the accident has down wonders: with every change of bandages, dead skin and multi-coloured gunk has been lifted away from the rapidly healing wound by the dressings. I need not be convinced that I am lucky to have been born into this generation: the wonders of modern medicine have helped to practically heal a superficial second degree burn in less than two weeks. My skin has recovered and is now re-growing, but it remains exceptionally thin and sensitive to light.

It was the news that followed, however, that brought me to my knees. The skin has been left so sensitive, that I've been advised to stop the wound being exposed to any direct sunlight for the next two years. Sunscreen cream is not enough - trousers or long socks need to physically protect the portion of my leg above my ankle from the bright rays of the sun. And what's worse, I am now strongly recommended to break the only important rule of men's fashion. I must wear white socks.

From operating theatre to day patient wards, my screams of anguish could be heard, echoing on bare lino-floored corridors. In order to stop my sweat from seaping dye out of dark socks and into the fragile skin, I should only wear non-coloured cotton socks. If I were a tennis player, that might be ok. But I'm not, and I don't own a single pair of white socks. The horror of wearing white socks torments my dreams, and last night I dreamt that my boss made a mocking comment about me wearing white socks with my dark office trousers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Snapshot: cats on a hot tin roof

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Feeling ill for the Canadian consumer

One rule I want to share with you today. Don't volunteer for things. Even if they seem like really fun things to do.

As you may know, my career has taken a brief diversion away from architecture and into the interesting world of retail. No, I'm not a check-out clerk, but a 'synergy technician', crunching numbers as part of the on-going process to reduce prices in the supermarket chain that I work for. While mostly involving long days in front of a computer, trawling through interminable Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, there are some interesting days away from my clavier and my souris. This morning, a colleague put her head round my door and asked if I would like to take part in a taste test. It was approaching lunchtime, so I said yes.

And now my stomach is hurting.

Taste tests are an important part of our business here. Many suppliers compete to provide our private label (own brand) products. The selection process looks at many things (cost, production capability, delivery costs etc), but by the far the most important is the quality of the product. Quality Assurance tests are carried out to compare products by numbers, but there's still room for the good old fashioned taste test. And today it was the turn of our biscuit suppliers to seduce us.

We tried out a couple of rounds of regular butter biscuits, rating their texture, taste, aroma and appearance with a numeric scale and a box for commentaries. So far, so so good. I learnt that it was not necessary to always eat the whole biscuit to make a fair judgement.

But then the final round approached, and the discomfort began. Being a foreigner, I don't have quite the same connection to this type of product, and in fact had never seen them before moving to Canada. We were each presented with ten maple syrup cream biscuits. British readers will remember custard cream biscuits. These are similar, with two thin biscuits held together by a splodge of processed cream or icing. In this instance, they're made with maple syrup or maple syrup flavours. Apparently these are extremely popular with Canadian children, and inspired images of sitting by the fire in the middle of winter with a big glass of cold milk and a plate of sickly sweet biscuits. That image would work for me, but after five, I was beginning to feel queasy. Other members of the taste panel agreed that this was going to be a difficult category to sample. With so many submissions, we were forced to curtail our reviews before sickness ensued. One conclusion did emerge from the discussion, however, which did not relate to taste. According to my Québecois collagues, the biscuit must be shaped in the recognisable form of a maple leaf. The round ones, even those with little maple leafs stamped on the biscuit, just don't cut it.

I lurched out of the room just as the break for lunch was beginning. I decided to skip my sandwich for now and go for a long walk to try and remove the sickly feeling in my stomach. Round 2 of the taste test will come tomorrow. I will not be volunteering...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Behind closed doors

On Saturday night Ulli and I took our first dip into the Montréal Fringe Festival with the opening night of You Like It at Club Lambi on St. Laurent. We can't deny our close links to certain members of the company that has produced the show, but I encourage you to go out of your way to go and see the show. It'll be in Montréal until the end of the week, and then heads south in this or maybe a slightly evolved form to the Toronto Fringe in August. I won't attempt to summarise or review the show here, but it's a tightly improvised and unscripted work that started with Shakespeare's As You Like It and finished up with a piece that teases you with amusing and touching interweaving stories gender and identity.

After the show (and a quick plate or two of poooo-tine) we headed to the after show party. It was rude not to, since it was being held in an apartment two doors from our own. We went to congratulate the cast and crew, enjoy some sangria (although yours truly had to refrain because of the continued medication...) and, most importantly, to peak around one of our neighbours apartments.

The apartment itself was slightly smaller than 'ours', and also much more sparsely furnished. White walls reflected more light, yet somehow made the place feel smaller. It was also a 'reverse' of our pad, with the rooms arranged in a reflected plan. Ulli says she prefered 'our' place. I said I wasn't sure, feeling rather jealous of the blank walls that I could imagine painting and decorating to my own personal specification.

The next afternoon, I walked down to the Biblioteque National to browse and blog without wires. On my return to avenue du Mont Royal, the sun had come out and the street was packed. The 'Nuit Blanche' festival (see photo below), in which artists are assigned four square meter blocks of the street to paint on, had been a bit of wash out this year. Rain fell both during and after the nocturnal painting session on Thursday night, and when the sun rose the next morning virtually all the paintings had been smudged and blurred by the water. It continued to rain for most of the weekend, also dampening the atmosphere between the tents which extended the noisy and intimidating reach of the street's trendier clothes shops. But on Sunday afternoon the sun was shining down, and people were out in throngs along the temporarily traffic free street. Just a few doors before I reached our apartment, I noticed that an artist had opened up their front door for an open studio event.

So naturally, I had to go and have a little look...

I wasn't drawn to any of the paintings, and while some of the pencil drawings were amusing, nothing grabbed my heart's lust. But of course, I was more interested in the apartment. Poking my head through doorways, eyeing up the long kitchen and imagining what furniture occupies the spaces when the place isn't converted for use as a gallery.

I trotted back down the stairs (past a hideous internal wall of bricks) and back out into the street. In one weekend I've managed to sandwich 'our' apartment with visits to two of our mysterious and rarely seen neighbours. We only expose ourselves as residents when we slip in and out of the heavy front door (closing it carefully behind us so as not to break any more of Sylvie's pot plants), so we don't often see our neighbours. On the one hand, I love this place because we are so central, right on the busiest street of the Plateau, with everything our hearts could desire just a few steps away. But then it's also comforting to climb the stairs, unlock the door, and retreat to our private balcony, warmed by the sun and insulated from the city by two storeys and a quiet ruelle behind our building. And just sometimes, it's fun to sit out and imagine our neighbours, who probably feel just the same, but whose paths never cross with ours.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Milk, sugar, and no second degree burns...

Regular readers will be delighted to hear that I made myself a cup of tea this morning, and was able to drink it without being interupted by a quick trip to the Emergency Room. Water was boiled in a water boiling device, and after the gas had been turned off, said boiling water was safely decanted from said water boiling device into a sturdy mug. Thanks to living with a unashamed Anglophile, I was even able to make my tea with a genuine Tetley tea bag. These series of events obviously brought me much satisfaction, having thought throughout much of the week that I am now incapable of making myself a hot beverage without severely burning myself. It seems that last Sunday's early morning incident was, however, a one off, and I am gaining re-gaining confidence with my kettle.

Various other events and situations have combined to make this a not particularly enjoyable week. I'm working, but have no money to show for it for another week or so. And while my leg is healing very rapidly, I still have to go to my neighbourhood clinic every two days for a change of dressings and to the hospital once a week for a three hour wait followed by a five minute check-up. So I'm feeling particularly unproductive at work and will have to go to my first review tomorrow after logging just twenty five hours of work last week.

But the future is calling. Three months today, I will leave Montréal to return to England. Where did those nine months go to? Last night we indulged in some poutine at the Mont-Royal Hot Dog Restaurant downstairs, and I recalled those frigid sub-zero nights when the same food had brought much needed warmth to my heavily insulated body. Now the winter coat is hanging up in the wardrobe gathering dust.

E-mails and phone calls are shuttling across the Atlantic as plans are made for a place to live in Sheffield. We have two interesting options shaping up, one of which I've been spying at from above with Google Earth. After almost two years living away from Sheffield, a sense of nostalgia and a hint of broodiness is coming over me. I know the next few months are going to fly by, so while I will make sure I enjoy the remaining weeks here in Canada, I can't help thinking about the future. Such broodiness manifests itself in some unusual hypothetical browsing of the internet, encouraged by the discovery of a remarkable number of blogs recording the progress being made on allotment gardens across Britain. Sheffield City Council maintains a large number of allotment sites, and I'm very tempted to commit to a productive form of exercise by investing in the remarkably low rent that allotments are leased for (less than £30 a year). Some of the most amusing and rewarding blogs I've found today is Plot Holes... I'm already encouraged to give it a go.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Snapshot: a Greyhound far from home

Friday, June 09, 2006

Snapshot: Nuit blanche sur avenue Mont-Royal

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Courrier interne

Internal e-mail, received today, at 11h05:


Prenez note que les vendredi 23 juin et 30 juin, nous serons fermés pour les congés de la fête Nationale et la fête du Canada.

Bon congés à tous

Living in Northern Ireland last year, I benefited from two sets of public holidays - those derived from important Catholic festivals and those derived from important Protestant festivals. For instance, St. Patrick is the patron saint of the predominantly catholic Irish Republic, but St. Patrick's Day is also a full public holiday in Northern Ireland. For the Unionist community, much of July was occupied with the preparation before and clean-up after the notorious 12th of July festivities. The night before the twelfth sets the tone for the follow day's Orange Order processions, as orange flames leap into the sky from five metre high bonfires that are constructed in the preceding weeks in abandoned lots all across Northern Ireland's unionist communities.

Here in Québec, there are no bonfires. But there are two 'national' holidays. Saturday 24 June is Saint Jean-Baptiste Day, or Québec's National Day. One week later, Saturday 1 July is Canada Day. And for those of you who are confused, let me explain. Québec is not a separate country. The last time a referendum in favour of independence was taken in 1995, the result was just approximately 49% in favour, 51% against. But rather than get bitter over this narrow defeat, Québec sovreigntists went right ahead and continued to celebrate a 'national' holiday every July. In the same manner, Montréal recently acquired it's own 'National Library of Québec'. So while Québec remains in the steely iron grip of the oppresive Canadian Empire, and while the army patrol the streets in armoured Land Rovers (just kidding), Québecois everywhere can at least pretend they are free.

And in the mean time, we in Québec get two national holidays, which means two days off work, and two long weekends in a fortnight. C'est pas pire, ça?

I plan to take full advantage of these two long weekends, and plan to be in Québec City for Jean-Baptiste day. I have yet to decide where to spend Canada Day. Asking for opinions on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree produced a fairly broad consensus that Ottawa would be more fun (it's also closer and cheaper to get to) but I wouldn't mind finally spending that long weekend in Toronto I've been promising myself. My last visit was too brief, and I'd also like to go before a friend leaves the city. Watch this space for my eventual decision...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Yours for $15

On the bus on my way to work this morning I found fifteen dollars, in crumpled, used and non-sequential $5 notes. The bus had just turned at the terminus to re-trace the route, and no-one was sitting near me when I sat down and found the notes - so I am presuming their owner was no longer on board.

What do I do with the cash, which is now burning a hole in my wallet? Your comments and suggestions are welcomed.


Medication central

On our kitchen table we now have a selection of prescribed medcation. Novonaprox, Stantex and a strange silver based cream for me and my burns; and some antibiotics for Cucu, our most elusive feline friend.

On Monday night Ulli and I walked through the quieter side streets of the Plateau carrying a very distressed Cucu to a vetinary practice on Saint-Hubert. The condition of her teeth has deteriorated over time, and she continues to have a very matted and dandruff clogged coat of hair, worsened by her poor standard of hygeine. Although to be honest, if I had a mouth as sore as hers, I probably wouldn't be inclined to lick myself that much.

An extremely friendly vet examined Cucu, who had now also endured a noisy ten minutes in her box in the waiting room of the practice, surrounded by ugly little dogs yapping at their ugly owners. She was not happy, but like many cats in similar situations was quite calm and placid while she was examined. A sad history prefixes her condition: at age 12 she has endured a troubled life, and now I feel guilty for ever dismissing her as simply the 'one with the strange smell'.

To cut a long story short, an operation to remove two teeth is necessary, as well as other treatments and medication. Charlotte has wired money to us for the work, and we are now enduring a painful week in which antibiotics have to be administered twice a day and which will include a day long stay tomorrow at the vet for the treatment to be carried out. Ulli has become the domestic nurse, administering the drugs with some difficulty. We are taking extra care to all take the right drugs: although the antibiotics from the vet are for Cucu, because it was my name on the appointment the label has been printed with my name on it. I am reading the label of every pill bottle twice before swallowing...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Snapshot: Sunset over the Plateau

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A sandwich and a shot of morphine please...

Sometimes I forget to lower the blind in my bedroom before going to sleep. Last night was just such an instance, so I was woken far too early by the ever longer and brighter summer sunshine. I ignored the friendly advances of Toast and Caca who noticed that I had woken, and buried my head under the sheets for another hour or two. The bizarre dream that followed managed to include an awkward moment with a documentary film crew, the house of family friends I've not seen in years, my darling BMM and a character from Green Wing. It might have been better to get up when I first woke...

After the disturbing apparitions had cleared, I stretched, said good morning to the cats, and went to the kitchen. I put the kettle on, poured a bowl of home made granola cereal mix and sliced some bread (also home made, incidentally... aren't I good?). The door to the balcony was open, and it was a bright, fresh morning.

The kettle began to bubble, and I fetched some margarine from the fridge and honey from the cupboard. I turned off the stove, and wrapped the sleeve of my fleece top in on itself several times to lift the old kettle.

What follows can perhaps be best expressed by an account of the sounds that followed.

"Holy f****************" (extended expletive deleted)



"Huuuuuuuuurrrgghhhhh" (sound of pain and shock)

Shoooooosh (cold water)

"Errrrrrr" (Ulli, rudely awoken)

Pep-pep-pep-pep (James dialling 9-1-1)

- a few moments later -

wow-wow-woW-WoW-WOW-PAAAAARRRRRP (Urgances Santé ambulance siren)

- a moment later -

"Beh-saluuuuhh..." (Urgances Santé paramedic entering the apartment)

- a few moments later -

Vrrrrroooooooooooom (Urgences Santé ambulance on Christoph-Colomb, now with passenger)

- a few moments later -

tick-tock-tick-tock (clock in waiting room of Notre Dame Hospital Emergency department)


A few hours later, at 12.15, I took several tentative steps out of the Emergency department, and breathed in some fresh air. After an hour or so of triage, registration and waiting, I was eventually seen by a friendly doctor. My early morning attempt to make myself a cup of tea has left me with second degree burns down the lower inside of my left leg, and shortly after arriving I was injected with morphine to calm me down. And my my my, calm me down it did. Nothing was a problem after that point. The shakes have now passed, and after one failed attempt by a nurse who was later taken aside and remonstrated, my leg is now doused with cream and dressed. The next week will be punctuated by visits to my local CLSC (primary care health centre) to have the dressing changed and to hear nurses looking at my wounds and saying "oooooph, c'est pas pire ça"

A taxi took me home ($15 - my insurers had better help me out on that one) through the slow moving Sunday traffic. Today's Tour de l'Isle bicycle tour has brought thousands of Montréalers out to explore the city on two wheels. I'd forgotten this until I saw the disproportionate number of lycra clad cyclists in the waiting room of the emergency room, all apparently nursing minor injuries caused by parting company with their bicycles at speed. Stuck in a traffic jam, I told the cabbie to pull up a few blocks short, and I tentatively walked the last few hundred metres to my door.

Ulli was home. She had, in the intervening period, brought me a packed lunch of sandwiches in the hospital which had thankfully staved off hunger and stopped the morphine going to work on an empty stomach.

I put the kettle on to finally make my morning cup of tea.

"Be careful with that." said Ulli, with a smirk.