Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Back in the English-speaking world again...

Montreal was, as always, lovely. Hot, though. It gets to a whopping 90 degrees about a week out of every year, and I was there for five days of it. With 70% humidity. And wind. Quebec's motto is "Je me souviens", which translated from the French, means "Hey, who's the fat sweaty chick with the frizzy hair?"

Joey has a sweet condo just across the canal from the Atwater Market, with brick walls and a soaring ceiling and a loft. It also has the Quebecois version of "central air conditioning"--a Japanese-made widget about one foot by three that somehow cools the air without actually exhausting anything to the outside. It was placed in the stairwell facing the western exposure of the condo, facing the glass doors to the deck. The top two stairs of the stairwell were therefore very cool indeed. I spent most of my time between showers there.

We went to a wedding on Ile d'Orleans, which is a bit east of Quebec City and smack in the center of the St. Lawrence river. It's beautiful. That's all there is to it. Not only was it cool, but there were little stands advertising pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries (heaven), and a really good pub with homemade beer--some of the best I've ever tasted. We partied all night long with the bride and groom, then drove to Quebec City afterward, which was (if this is possible) even hotter and stickier than Montreal.

QC's old portion, where the wall and Parliament and all the old buildings and cannon are, is interesting and lovely and European and hot and sticky and sunny and crammed with tourists from all over the world. It also takes the prize as Most Inconveniently Hilly Place Ever, even worse than San Francisco. There's one SF-style hill, and everything spills down and winds around it, effectively a) blocking any breeze and b) ensuring shinsplints and fractures in the unwary. What vertiginous spiral staircases are to Montreal, That Damn Hill is to Quebec City.

Everyone in Quebec City greets you with a cheery, "Bonjour, Mademoiselles!" which, translated from the French, means "We weren't able to Darwinize you with the staircases, but we'll get you with the hill, by God!" They then charge you two dollars for a soda and laugh hysterically as you immediately turn said soda into sweat.

(I was pretty exhausted and cranky in QC, having stayed up all night for the first time in my life. Don't let my grump dissuade you from visiting.)

It's impossible to get a bad meal in Montreal. Well, I suppose you could if you tried hard enough, but it would take some doing. La Banquise is, of course, the classic poutine shop. Cafe Internationale in Little Italy has some sort of salad that combines grilled calamari and baby octopus with capers and endive and is heavenly. And, of course, Marche Atwater is good for cheese and bread and fruit and veggies and chocolates and fizzy water and San Pelligrino lemonade and meat and oh, my God. And, as always, there's Le Pied De Cochon, for all your piggy needs.

Everyone is fit and beautiful and very, very tan there. They all speak some lovely but unintelligible version of French. The men shake your hand with an "Enchante" which, translated from the French, means "You may be a fat, sweaty American, but I'll be nice to you anyhow and speak English, because I am so much better-looking and cultured than you are." Joey has just won a Maclean's Magazine award for being a person who makes the world a better place to live in, so she was even more impressive than usual. All her friends greeted me with a double-cheek kiss, which, once I got used to it again, made me feel very cosmopolitan and not at all silly.

All in all, a lovely time. Next time, however, I am visiting in the spring.


Anonymous said...

I checked out Joey's award.

It is partly for inventing a skirt that lights up when your ass is grabbed.

I love Canada.

shrimplate said...

I love Montreal and the groovy restaurants on Rue St Denis and all the lovely little places to buy artwork and fresh edible goodies and Fin du Monde.

But Quebec City is the best. We went usually in "Septembre" so it was cool and dry and the clouds floated by like Charlie Chaplin dreams against azure.

We pushed the little one in her carriage everywhere, and I carried her up the western steps of the lower old city, stopping for Trois Pistoles along the way, clutching artwork we scammed from the downstreet galleries.

J'etude le francais pour quatre ans dans la lycee de lointain mais je suis en trains d'insiste que les Canadiens do not speak French.

On paper it looks like French but spoken it is something more like the barking of small dogs who have been soaked in Maudite.

The architecture is lovely, the people challenging, the old city walls are charming, the food delectible, but there's no surfing. Perfect city otherwise.