Do you reside or live?

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French Canadian woman looks down on symbol of English oppression – the Bank of Montréal.

Reside as a word to describe where you live sounds forensic to me, like something you’d read in a police report. “The victim, a 59 year old female with two gold fillings, resides at 123 Dull Street, in Ottawa East. It rings of resignation and victim-hood.

Montréalers do not reside, baby, they live, Live, LIVE! Don’t bore me with that old joie de vivre bullshit. Montréalers are way past that borrowed colonial French cliché. They’re on a whole different planet of life.Take food for example. A couple of weeks ago we toured – lordy, how we love food tours – a section of the city known as “The Main”,  Boulevard St. Laurent which historically divides Montréal into east and west, the west being the Anglophone enclave and the east the French world. As immigrants arrived they settled in neighbourhoods butting on St. Laurent and created flavourful places. And that’s where we trooped to sample what our guide, Louis, called Montréal comfort food. He said “If you came for the latest, greatest foodie trend, you’ve come on the wrong tour.”

To start, my girlfriends and I walked from our air b-n-b just two blocks from Chinatown and hoofed  towards the Mount. Ie. Mont Royal from which Montréal takes its name.  Don’t ask me what direction that was. North maybe? Directions are not my forte although I think they are. I insist with the fervour of a writhing saint that where we need to go is “This way.”  And away we go in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I was with women who had iPhones with maps whereas my information came from an inadequate paper flyer picked up at a tourism kiosk.

As we walked, we passed cafés and delis and grocery stores full of people out doing their Saturday thing, packing babies front and back, walking dogs, sitting on benches at the side of the road eating snacks, yakking. I felt like I’d been dropped into a 1960’s neighbourhood where there were no malls or big box stores. Everything felt human sized and energetic.

Along the way, we found 21 Balancoires outside the Université du Québec à Montréal, a group of musical swings at a bus stop. Seriously. As you swing, music plays created by the tempo and height you propel yourself. All around you other people swing and make music too. You become part of a band. You swing and swing and swing! People who reside do not swing. People who LIVE swing.  People who live created these swings.

Swings

Musical swings

On we pressed to our destination at the corner of Mont Royal and St. Urbain, the area known as “Mile End”. Our sampling took us first to Seraphin Boulangerie, a Portuguese bakery, where Louis proffered Pasteis de Nata – custard tarts. As a person with severe lactose intolerance issues, I took the smallest nibble to get a sense of what I was missing – creamy, sweet filling with a buttery pastry. My husband would have loved it. We strolled to a nearby park to finish this traditional treat and listen to Louis describe the history of the neighbourhoods and boroughs of Montréal.

Next up was Fairmount Bagels, one of two old-style Montreal bagel makers. New York bagels – meh. Montréal bagels – oh yeah. Feeling quite full we marched to Wilensky’s Light Lunch, a tiny business in operation since 1932 by the Wilensky Family. They make two Wilensky Specials: Fried beef baloney and beef salami on a round corn meal bun with a hint of mustard, or the same with cheese.

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Wilensky’s Special & a cherry cola

When ordering a Special,
you should know a thing or two.
It is always served with mustard;
it is never cut in two.
Don’t ask us why; just understand
that this is nothing new.
This is the way that it’s been done
since 1932. – Wilensky’s Light Lunch

I had a cherry cola right out of the soda fountain with my Special and which transported me to 1965 and the Woolworth’s counter of my childhood. Others tried the “Egg cream” – seltzer with milk and either chocolate or vanilla flavouring.

That was the comfort food tour, minus the cannoli at the Italian bakery across from the church where Montréal mafia get married. I can tell you no more. We were sworn to secrecy.

In contrast to this local tour, the night before we dined at Chasse Galerie, a restaurant in the hipster neighbourhood of “Le Plateau”. The chefs must laugh when they create their stuff. Case in point: the amuse-bouche, which strictly translated means “funny mouth”. In fact it’s a single, bite size nosh given free by the chef to let you know what you’re in for. (Did you know Montréal is the home to the Just for Laughs festival? Keep that in mind as I proceed.)

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Amuse-bouche

A small plate with a few waffle wafers arrayed on a bed of fir twigs and a teensy dollop of crème fraiche flavoured with lemon and weird crunchy yellow fish eggs that popped in your mouth was the amuse-bouche du jour.  After this, artisanal breads sliced cracker thin arrived in a cement container reminiscent of a pansy planter along with a selection of three butters – regular, lemon, and hay flavoured. Yes, hay and it tasted exactly like hay. The laughs continued.

HayButter

Hay butter anyone?

My appetizer was buffalo mozzarella mousse with smoked eels – better than it sounds  – served in a bowl that looked like a fancy dog-watering dish, hand crafted, of course and sourced locally. The main course was Halibut in Parmesan Cream, a near gastrointestinal disaster but I managed to eat the fish, the size of which was about half a deck of cards, sans sauce.

Finally, dessert. This is where I think the chef must have been busting his gut when he devised mine. I asked our server what was the least cream based dessert on the menu. Carrots, he said. Not cake. Not pudding but sugared carrots with lemon cream dots topped with little green islands of sweet wafers (maybe hay?) and a spoon sized serving of oyster flavoured ice cream.

Carrots

Sugary carrots and oyster-flavoured ice cream

I cannot recall the name of this confection but ultimately I laughed. The whole meal was a laugh. Tasty, tiny, hilarious. No one who merely resides could create food 100% made for fun, to entertain and surprise. To amuse your mouth.

We left satisfied – not full – giggling at the goofiness of it all. And then we danced at a Cuban nightclub because in Montréal that’s what you do even if you’re 59.

Ah, Montréal. You’re a belle dame sans merci. Je t’adore.

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Maudit Anglais looks down on symbol of French Canadian culture – Notre Dame Cathedral

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50 thoughts on “Do you reside or live?

  1. I love this post Susanne! It nicely describes why I moved away from Oklahoma and to the Pacific Northwest – because here in the Northwest we LIVE like we mean it!!!

  2. You sure know how to live Suzanne! And you certainly know how to impart your joie de vivre through words. Reading the post was like being there! You just made me realize I may be taking life too seriously 😣

  3. I live. I resided in Georgia, but I live here. Every day is a gift here.
    I think your getaway looks and sounds phenomenal. Joie de vivre is rather delicious 😉

  4. A wonderful few days of living and exploring! Delicious food, long walks and great conversation is good for the soul! Next time we will go to The Latin Quarter on St-Denis – terrasses
    Keep writing my friend and Happy Mother’s Day! xo

  5. I live less than an hour from Montreal, in New York, and have never really felt like I’ve gotten to know that city–I’m much more comfortable in Boston or Ottawa, for that matter! I think I need to do what you did and take a tour or two, to really orient myself and get out of the habit of just going to Vieux Montreal, which tends to disappoint. Wonderful post!

    • I understand the not getting it and I honestly didn’t get it until this trip when we got out of old Montreal and wandered through Chinatown (and ate, of course) and took the food tour. We ended up at the Jean Talon market which is a massive outdoor farmer’s market with more treats to enjoy. The pleasant weather helped a lot too. Still to explore Mount Royal and all the gorgeous parks and bike paths. So, I’m a convert based on this trip.

    • This recent trip helped me “get” Montreal and I credit it to the food tour. If you Google “Mile End” Food tour you’ll come up with lots of options. I love the history represented in old Montreal but I have to agree that it isn’t that interesting unless you know the history.

  6. We were in Montreal 2 years ago. I remember yhe kady with her dog…and Notre Dame. But we didn’t eat such fancy food. Husband would have wanted a burger after. I’m sorry we missed the swings though.

    • My husband would have definitely grumbled over the portion sizes and mocked the experience so I’m glad I was girlfriends who had a sense of humour!

    • It was a much needed respite from the stress of work. Lots of therapeutic benefits to be had from spending time away with good friends for sure.

  7. Susanne, yesterday, before I’d read your post, I said to my husband, if he were to go to North America again, there are 2 cities I’d like to go back to. Montreal and Chicago. And today I read this beautiful piece from you. Lovely. And by the way, I’m having coffee with cacao, have you been able to find cacao in the shops?

    • I was so embarrassed last night when I read your comment and realized I had not yet purchased the cacao that I ran out this morning to buy some. Now I have a fancy bag of organic stuff and am wondering “What next?” Do you have a recipe I can try Shubha?

      I hope you do visit Montreal again someday. Preferably in the spring when the weather is nice but the crowds haven’t yet arrived.

      • Oh Susanne, why were you embarrassed? I stir a teaspoon of cacao into my coffee and it tastes like mocha, I never have sugar in my coffee. I suppose you could make hot chocolate with this brilliant stuff, full of antioxidants! And I was meant to have sent you some vegetarian recipes for one of your daughters that I haven’t done! So I should be the one to be embarrassed, eh?
        Yes, we will visit Montreal again. We were there in June 2014.

        • I tried the cacao this morning and it was wonderful. I like my coffee bitter and hot but adding 1 tsp of the cacao added smoothness and a nice chocolate undertone without taking away from the bite. Great stuff!

  8. I’m generally shy of large urban cities – but man, do I envy you the experience! Musical swings, heritage buildings, sculpture – classy, classy joint. And of course, the funny food! Thanks for sharing!

    • The time of year we went (last weekend in April) meant crowds were minimal and the neighbourhoods we visited were pleasant human-scale places. I didn’t really feel like I was in a big city most of the time. I don’t like crowds, either, and generally avoid “BIG” events because of that. The tour group was 6 people, again probably because of the time of year. We’ll go back in the summer for the Just for Laughs festival and it will be crowded and I will need respite and wine.

    • I can’t imagine what my husband’s comment would have been had he been there. Oh wait. Yes I can and they wouldn’t have been kind. he’s definitely a man who prefers quantity. There’s lots to be said for a weekend getaway with your best gal-pals, eh? The ground we cover conversationally far exceeds the miles we walked on our tour. Wonderful times.

    • Needless to say, we didn’t even scratch the surface of its many possibilities. I will be going back for more visits. Do you LIVE in NZ or do you reside, Pauline? I’d say I’m a bit of both in Ottawa. There are days when even residing seems challenging but today, with the tulips finally blooming and trees starting to blossom and my glass full of wine, I’m definitely living. Cheers to you!

      • Do you count puddling about in your art room most days as LIVING Susanne? I know I used to LIVE, but now I think I simply live……. I’m intent on avoiding your definition of residing for as long as possible!

        • To live is the best. Do avoid residing at all costs. It just smacks of reading book reviews instead of books. And puddling about in your art room is DEFINITELY LIVING as is scribbling in a journal. Carry on, Pauline.

    • I’m glad you came along for the tour. I forgot to mention the coffee shop where we had possibly the best espresso in the city. Not a fancy place, either. Just a neighbourhood dropping in spot. Wonderful.

  9. Ohh, what can I say. My friend, you are a gifted writer! You perfectly described our days, the food and feel of the city. I am so glad how you remember details because I couldn’t recall it all.
    Love you, and happy Mother’s day!

    • Love you back, Mrs. It was a glorious weekend and I came home refreshed and full of life thanks to good company. Happy Mother’s day to you, too!

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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