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 13, 2018

Nothing is clear. Simple thoughts come out in convoluted stutters. Even a toddler can speak about the weather better than I can, in French. Often, before entering a store I have to go over what the best way to ask for what I need is (can I shorten est-ce-que, I ask myself. Just cut to the chase? Maybe jump right into vous avez?). Whenever I spend time in any other Canadian province - especially Toronto, perhaps because it is so close yet so far away - I am struck by how easy it is to walk into a store without having to question my grammatical grasp of the language. I'd say almost too easy (a.k.a boring).

Easiness is...

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 16, 2018

They say the way you look at things changes the things you look at.

That saying may be grounded in quantum physics but it’s verifiable through my own perceptions, changing as they are. Montreal isn’t the same city it was when I moved here nine years ago.

I doubt the city has changed as much as I have. True, it has undergone reconstructive surgery. The re-paving of Avenue des Pins was finally completed (three years for two kilometres); the Royal Vic has been transplanted to a brand new sparkling hospital on the other end of town, and the St. Viateur sidewalks have been expanded to fit pretty wooden benches shi shi enough to make even Outremont jealou...

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...

January 2, 2018

New year, new rules. I always was skeptical of rules. Always did have issues adhering to authority. The first line in my law school application went: "In high school you would never have expected me to go to law school." Yet, I did go, and I also learned how to conform. 

North America's history is one of rebellion. Though some hailing from the old worlds certainly look at it with contempt, I've always appreciated the latitude given in this country to screw up, fall on your face, and come back. "Marching to the beat of your own drum" is almost a North American mantra.  I was often reminded of this in the summert...

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...

December 5, 2017

Ha! I didn't get it right away, but now I do.

You know that feeling. Somebody tells a joke - could be a friend or comedian, it doesn't matter - the point is, everybody laughs. Except you. Or maybe you do force out a pathetically fake snicker of some kind because you're afraid that if you don't you'll look slow. Still,  everybody understands somehow that you don't get it, but they do. It probably takes you no longer than a few seconds, at best. Then you join in on the laughter, because it's really funny. When you understand, it's funny. 

What makes comedians amusing is often the opposite of funny. You must...

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