February 20, 2018

It’s finally time for some objectivity around here. I have been told that I speak too kindly of this town, and it is enough of gratuitous praise. There are things that are wrong with this city. There are wrongs all over the damn place, and these wrongs, too, deserve to see the light of day. I have spent the past two weeks wracking my brains trying to come up with all the wrongs, and here they are – all ten of them - in order of importance:

1. There are not enough Portuguese chicken rotisseries in town. All the good ones are concentrated in the vicinity of metro Mont-Royal and the rest of us have to go hungry or travel great distances for a drumstick...

February 6, 2018

In case you haven’t noticed, most world capitals and other significant cities are built on the shores of a body of water, whether this be a lake or a river, the ocean or the sea. In Ottawa, there is the Canal, for example, while the Danube runs through Vienna, the Nile through Cairo, and the Mississippi through New Orleans. Geneva has its Lake Geneva and Toronto has the Beaches.  New York has the ocean and Barcelona has the sea. Johannesburg is among the few major cities without a body of water, while Mexico City has buried about 45 rivers under pavement, some of which now serve to carry its sewage.

Proximity to a body of wat...

January 22, 2018

It is time to say a word or two about the aesthetic of this town, which is an acquired taste, to say the least.

It is said that Montreal is the Paris of North America (as Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East, Shanghai the Paris of the Far East and Abidjan the Paris of West Africa), and when I arrived here starry-eyed nearly a decade ago, I fully expected to come upon some Canadian version of the Champs Élysée. Alas, as I stood on the corner of St-Denis and Cherrier on my first day and observed the plainness of the surrounding three-story (grey) brick structures, I experienced a bit of a sinking feeling: it was more like Manchester. 

This was in the ...

January 9, 2018

Some years ago, my mother came to visit Montreal in order to inspect my living conditions and what I eat for breakfast. I also showed her all the city’s wonders, and one sunny afternoon, as we were standing on Saint-Laurent in front of Schwartz’s (having just wolfed down our medium smoked meat sandwiches), she proclaimed: “This is paradise!” She meant the city, not the smoked meat, which she found altogether inferior to Sarajevo’s cevapcici.  She then proceeded to add: “What a tame place this is!” meaning Montreal, not Schwartz's, obviously.

My mother meant this as a compliment. She’d arrived here expecting a frenetic North American me...

December 25, 2017

Those of you who do not drive – and why the hell would you in a city ravaged by public works on the scale of FDR’s New Deal (his program was intended to combat the Great Depression, however, while ours serves to bring it on) – must have a bus line or a metro stop that is woven into the fabric of your daily life. This is how you journey through the city toward your daily bread, and it is on these buses and on these trains that you encounter your anonymous fellow travelers, some of them sullen and tired, some of them stoic, some dozing, and some with stars in their eyes.

I have always felt a great sense of fraternity with all the people board...

December 12, 2017

In ten days, winter will officially be upon us: that dreaded season of sidewalk salt and slush that no elegant shoe has been invented for, which is why many young Montreal women continue to wear open-toe pumps in -10 degrees Celsius in late December whilst awaiting entry into clubs on St-Laurent.

Soon, folks will start to pull on the hoods of their winter coats over their hats, which, as I noticed during my first winter here, are rather deep and tubular. This shelters the wearer’s face from wind, but precludes vision to the left and right, and so people go about like horses, also half-deaf because their hoods’ warm insulation interferes with hearing...

November 28, 2017

This one’s about a species of woman that one frequently encounters in the Quebec landscape and that one must be weary of lest one wishes to be crushed or steamrolled. Having obtained her popular moniker through the merging of the French verbs “gérer” (to manage) and mener (to lead), the so-called GERMAINE does these things precisely, whether she might be the head of an enterprise, a couple, a kindergarten, her cubicle, or your condo association of co-owners.
 

Let there be no mistake. Having an official leadership position does not a germaine make. Title is irrelevant; attitude is everything. Even in the absence of any matter or undertaking of any impo...

November 14, 2017

They say that no man is an island, but even an island isn’t an island because there are islands within islands, and especially if the island in question is a metropolis.
 

Those of you who do not live in Montreal may be surprised to learn that the city is an island in the St-Lawrence River, and a heart-shaped island at that. I personally find that it’s more of a bat-shaped island, but the heart, like the bat, finds its way blindly in the dark.


On this bat-shaped island, many hearts beat to the tune of islands of their own.


Several years ago, when I was still relatively fresh off the boat, a terrible wave of homesickness overcame me in the fall. A coupl...

October 30, 2017

Canadians are nice people. Everyone in the world knows this. They are not just superficially friendly like their American cousins, but somehow wholesome and true, and when they say “we should get together for a coffee,” they usually mean it. Sometimes, traveling Americans attach a little Canadian flag to their backpacks in order to be well received out there in the world where people might not take kindly to the star spangled banner but aren’t frightened by the maple leaf.

I find people in Quebec especially nice. In Montreal, for example, we live in a metropolis but still interact as if we were on the farm. Random female shopkeepers routinely address...

October 17, 2017

It is that time of year when the days are getting perceptibly shorter and the nights pleasantly longer. The proverbial rooster now crows at 7:13 am - which is an almost respectable time - and will soon rise even later than the neighbor’s dog across the alley who is released into the yard at 7:30 am sharp every morning and performs the task of waking all creatures within a three-block radius, whether they wish to be awakened or not.

I have often dreamed of harming this dog, but, unfortunately, this is a criminal offense. One should not even intimate such things. According to article 264.1(1) of the Criminal Code, “everyone commits an offense who, in a...

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