"Canada 2003" story # 18

Montreal, Quebec           July 22, 2003

On the morning our group left Quebec, Nichola got the call he was dreading. His work wanted him back on the Gaspe Peninsula to observe on a fishing boat within twenty-four hours. Poor Nichola. He was going to have to high-tail it just to see his family on this short-lived vacation, a vacation he'd spent entirely with us.
     "Total strangers," said Johnny.
     Of course, by the time we left Quebec, we were far from strangers. I told cool pot-head Nichola that the most important thing I'd learned from him was to drink beers on roof-tops. Nichola spoke so fondly of this pastime. He said the bottle-caps really go far when you flick them.
     Quebec was soon flicked in our westward-bound dust, as we headed to Montreal, where they have a different urban drinking tradition.
     As a result of a bet, I hitched beside Julie with a three-day-old moustache. Foolishly, I had thought the Ottawa Senators were one of the NHL's "Original Six" teams, and Adam called me on it. Countless Quebecors were consulted on the matter; all they could agree on, though, was they were bummed the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado.
     If I would've won, then Adam would've had to part his hair down the middle and wear his owl glasses for ten days. It would've been awesome to see him looking like an even-dorkier version of Sherman (the boy from Mr. Peabody). Alas, though, it was going to be long-haired, moustachioed me who would look for that long like a slimy, latin bar-fly.
     Fortunately, my moustache comes in light. Julie and I traveled the two hours to Montreal in good time.
     Our favorite ride was from Luc, a bearded, happy guy in a station wagon/truck thing. He barely spoke English, but we communicated. He asked if Julie was my "wife," then looked in the backseat and saw that she was sleeping. I told him she'd drunk the night before, by making the "drink-ee, drink-ee" motion. He put up his fingers to ask "how many?" I showed fingers up to five and more.
     When Julie woke up, he jokingly lectured her not to drink so much. Sleepy Julie laughed and turned red. When we left, Luc said, "Remember, Julie. Not more than two beers. Two beers!"
     We got to Montreal, found Johnny and Adam, and waited for the girl we'd be staying with. Planning Johnny had gone on a couple of websites, namely hospitalityclub.org and globalfreeloaders.com, where people post their addresses and either stay with or host other travelers.
     Twenty-year-old Marie-Kristin came from one of these websites and had been e-mailing Johnny. She turned out cool. She had really dark hair and beautiful, dark eyes shiny like a forest animal's. Her skin was pale, grayish. She took us to her friend's city apartment she was house-sitting and then to a big, bar/nightclub for Thursday night on St. Catherine Street.
     Marie-Kristin had a grungy, alternative style, and her hair fell straight down. She was a Gen-Xer and didn't care too strongly about too much. She was young. She hung out.
     She didn't speak a lot. When she did, she trailed off inwardly, unimportantly, like she didn't want to impose. When she thought, she looked down. Her habits and dark features reminded me of the character Ed from Northern Exposure (what a show!), who was native-American. So, I bet Adam, on a hunch, that Marie-Kristin had some native-North American in her blood.
     Not that she knew of, she said. The loser of this bet had to go speak ten consecutive sentences using only his limited French vocabulary, and persistently not switch to English no matter how stupid he might sound. It was a good bet.
     I got up, in this bar section of the packed nightclub, and walked amongst the crowd of alternative, casually dressed young people. Finally, I stopped this short, pretty-faced waitress with little, pink lips, a wide head, a bouncy blond ponytail, a black, one-sleeve shirt, a brown skirt, and flip-flops.
     In French, I babbled to her. The ten things I said included, "Excusa moi," "Oo e la toilet?" (Where is the toilet?), "Je sui du Michigan" (I'm from Michigan), and I asked seriously if they needed help in the nightclub. Once or twice, she tried to aid my struggles by speaking English, but I insisted, "Je parle pa francais!" (I speak French!) then stuttered to say half a sentence. She was quite patient. I left her with, "J'em te faz belle!" (I love your beautiful face!)
     Later, I asked her out. She'd been coming by and updating me on my job prospects, and I asked, "Que sortie tu va fait demain, ma belle muffin?" (What are you doing tomorrow, my beautiful muffin?)
     She said she'd be resting, then working. I asked her to come get a smoked meat sandwich with me. (A friend said these sandwiches are a must-do while in Montreal.) The waitress revealed she had a boyfriend, as most waitresses do.
     She left, and Johnny and Adam went straight to mocking me. Of course she was going to say she had a boyfriend - said Adam, all of the sudden the doctor on love - I'd asked her to get a "smoked meat sandwich!"
     Hmm ... yeah, I can see how that wasn't the most romantic date idea.
     We left the club. (Julie had more than two drinks.) Marie-Kristin took us to an all-night Lebanese take-out place, and we walked five blocks through the man-filled gay section of St. Catherine Street to Marie-Kristin's apartment. We Canada-trekkers fit ourselves in the tiny living room for a sleep.

When we went to bars and Lebanese restaurants, I usually had to go without. Johnny and Adam and Julie - who all either had college graduation money or had worked to earn money before this trip - always offered to get me beer or food, but I usually didn't mind going without. I was concerned, however, that the $210 I'd begun the trip with was now depleted to only $40.
     So, I went around Montreal looking for weekend work. "Nobody's gonna give you a job with a moustache!" Nichola had blurted at me one night in Quebec. Johnny then commented on where an employer would place a moustached man: "Never near the money."
     Still, I went.
     "Eww, the city," I'd said when we first came into Montreal. The subway smelled bad. The dirty streets were the first part of Canada we'd been to that wasn't really clean. There were unfortunately many down-and-out beggars, and some young people sat with dirty dogs and signs that said "Homeless." Other street sights included people who advertised their drugs as you passed.
     I'm not a big city fan, but Montreal had its cool aspects. It seemed to be about half-English, half-French. At first, I sought work in the bars and restaurants in the French part of town, with no luck. Then, I was told to go to the more fashionable St. Laurent Street, a place where all the girls and guys working looked like models.
     The favorite girl I saw was this very short Italian restaurant hostess. She wasn't that pretty, but she made the most delicious eye contact. It was like my eyes were a mouse, and hers were a hawk that mine couldn't shake. As for finding work, though, the closest I came was a cafĂ© that said they might call me to clean their bathrooms. Woohoo.
     On the neighboring, pedestrian Prince George St., there were many craftsy people selling paintings and hemp necklaces. I pulled out my travel-story-booklets and sat down and joined them for a few minutes.
     I didn't sell anything, but these alternative, street-selling artists seemed like a good place to go if you wanted to meet some cool, progressive thinkers in the city. The blond girl beside me, Alexis, had some great ideas. She gave me the address to a party I was invited to. She explained, "Just come by the building. We'll be drinking beers on the porch all night."
     Regretfully, I never made it to Alexis' party. Back at Marie-Kristin's, everybody was also drinking in front of the buildings, on a door-step. This is apparently a big Montreal activity, and it was a good time.
     Marie-Kristin's two neighbors, Will and Gabe, were dark-haired, dark-glasses-rimmed, cool French-Canadians in a black jacket and dark navy sweatshirt. Will was a buff of movies, documentary films, and underground music. Gabe was more political, and he led a knowledgeable discussion on how cold-hearted and selfish American foreign policy is.
     We laughed through the window with the four shrieking African-Canadian children who lived across the street, we played hacky-sac under the lights, and we had some beers and shots of Jagrmeister. The biggest blunder on the night came when Johnny was whisked away with Marie-Kristin into her room, and he didn't even make a move on her. He didn't even call her "ma belle muffin." Tsk, tsk. Now, I'm the doctor on love.
     But, it was a good night. (For the second straight day, our bearded driver, Luc, would've been disappointed to see the quantity of beers Julie had.)

And, the rest of our time in Montreal included the following:

We spent a night at Marie-Kristin's mom's suburban home. Their family was having a raucous get-together, and some of the older folk got cherub-faced drunk and told jokes and sang merrily. The song that tickled everyone the most was one led by Jean, in a buttoned-down Hawaiian shirt.
     Each verse had Jean pretending to play a new instrument and singing, "Ma piano fait, 'ding, ding, ding!" (My piano goes, 'ding, ding, ding!') or "Ma flute fait, 'flute, flute, flute!" Then, he would go through the list of already-mentioned instruments until his verse ended with everyone belting out, "Ma violin fait, 'dee-daleedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-lee, dee-daleedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-leedle-la!!!" The French-Canadians sure know how to enjoy themselves.

Johnny and Adam, for all the "smoked meat sandwich"-bashing they'd dealt me earlier, went to local legend Schwartz's Restaurant with me. The small place was packed, and we waited in a huge line out the door just to carry out the special sandwiches. Their red meat was with thick string-parts. They were pretty good, but vegetarian Julie managed to abstain.
     We ate the sandwiches at a nearby park on an urban mountain. Every Sunday, lots of hippy-type people come to play in or dance to "Tam-Tams," a big drum circle. It was cool, but we only caught the end of it.

We said good-bye to Marie-Kristin and went to stay a few nights with Pierre, the musculy cyclist we'd met in Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. Pierre and his round-faced grin were bubbling to have us. We played sports, watched movies, and, when Pierre wasn't looking, laughed at Johnny's impression of Pierre looking at you and raising his eyebrows up-and-down a bunch of times fast.
     Pierre was just another loveable, fun-loving, worriless, kitten-friendly French-Canadian we were gonna miss.
     But, the long expanse that is Ontario was just dying to have us Canada-trekkers comet through.

Later, French-Canadia. - Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

Thanks to Andre; Luc; Sylvi; and Antoine for the rides!
Much thanks to Marie-Kristin & Gen; Lili & Jean; and Pierre for the places to stay!

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