Wednesday, September 22


Someone I know from New Jersey once drove to Montréal with a friend. When they got there, she turned to her friend and remarked, without irony, "Wow, it’s like a whole different country here."

I drove up to Montréal on Friday night after work. It took me about two hours not including the half hour wait at the border. After you cross the border the interstate ends and you drive on local roads through farm towns and past grain silos. It was like driving through an alternate reality where the French settled Western Australia. About an hour after the border the skyline of the city becomes visible in the distance and the road is a freeway again and then suddenly you’re in downtown Montréal.

I drove to the Plateau neighborhood and found my hostel. My reservation had been lost and they only had one space left (a mattress on the floor). I managed to convince two Ontarian cousins and a French girl to go back out for drinks and we wandered around until we finally found a quiet but crowded bar. Oriel barely spoke any English and I speak no French so the increasingly drunken conversation had to be translated back and forth for us by Natalie the Ontarian who had gone to a bilingual school.

Later when we all got back to the hostel at 2am people were still up playing guitar and singing. I warbled some Silver Jews songs. The hostel was fun but it was difficult to sleep on a thin mattress between a couch and a wall while people drunkenly stumbled back in all night.

On Saturday morning I started by walking around the Plateau neighborhood. It’s sort of a French version of Williamsburg Brooklyn if not quite as solidly dominated by 20-something hipsters who are trying too hard. From the Plateau, I walked around to McGill University and then up to the top of Mont Royal (you might remember the Mont Royal views from the movie Jesus of Montréal).

After lunch back down at McGill, I walked to the Old Town. I got to the Old Town and turned right around and walked out of there and back up to the Plateau. I wasn’t in the mood for streets populated solely by fellow tourists. When I got to the Plateau, I still had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with my friend Luc so I saw Riding Giants. If you can put up with all the self importance and two-cent surfer mysticism the big wave footage is worth it. As I walked back to my car I saw a small flier advertising a show for that night. It was for Macha, a super-obscure band from Athens Georgia, play indierock on traditional Indonesian gamelan instruments.

I drove to Luc’s place in Rosemont, a neighborhood next to the Plateau. Luc was a post-doc at Rugters while I was there; He has achieved the almost unheard of feat of finding a philosophy teaching job in the city he actually wants to live in. Luc’s main passion is cycling and three weeks ago he had a horrendous accident. He was in the middle of the peloton turning a sharp corner at over 50kph when a rider in front of him had a tire blow out. Luc crashed into him and went over the handlebars. He realized his body was going to land on the other rider’s bike so he used his arms to protect his body from the pedals. Unfortunately his hands levered him face first into the pavement. Luc found himself on his side watching a large pool of blood forming in front of his face and he wondered if he was going to die. His injuries (including a badly broken jaw and lost teeth) turned out not to be life threatening.

Anyway, Luc was looking a little worse for wear when I arrived at his place. We went to a Brazilian restaurant where the waiter, after initial confusion about our language preferences, comfortably settled into talking to Luc in French and to me in English. After dinner, Luc was too tired from his post accident medications so I headed to the Macha show by myself.

When I got there the first band, Mahjong, was going on. The crowd of about 8 people only just outnumbered the band. Mahjong were pretty damn good. They were not unlike Godspeed You Black Emperor. This was strange as Mahjong had traveled from the U.S., while Godspeed’s recording studio was only a few blocks away (according to Olivier, the Montréaler I was chatting to). The second support, The Creatures, didn’t even go on until 11.30 so I knew it would be a late night. Macha finally played at 12.45am. They were fantastic. According to Olivier, who had interviewed them the day before for a newspaper, the instruments Macha play are not designed to be miced so they sound different every night. They were getting an excellent sound that night out of a Javanese zither, a Sumatran shawm and a hammered dulcimer. It was a scandal that only about 20 people where there.

After the show, I walked back to Luc’s taking the occasional detour down one way streets. Finally, I found Luc’s and crashed on a spare mattress that I had to share with his cute golden retriever Bill. After a quiet breakfast chatting in the sun on Luc’s balcony, I drove back to Burlington.

I’ll go back to Montréal soon. It’s like a whole different country there.


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