The snow has melted revealing a winter’s worth of dog doughnuts. Welcome to Montreal. We moved our clocks forward. If you didn’t …leave home now you’re late. It’s hard to lose an hour of sleep, but it’s better than total darkness at 4:30pm.
The Saint Paddy’s day parade invited all Montrealers to make complete fools of themselves and we didn’t disappoint (you know who you are). It’s our first opportunity to come out of hibernation and celebrate regardless of language or ethnicity. A cross section of lifestyles, generations, cultures, and just plain drunks lining St-Catherine’s Street and enjoying this wonderful city we all share together. I think of it as a spring cleaning of the mind…a brainwashing.
Soon the foot of Mont-Royal will vibrate and echo with the sounds of the season’s first Tam Tam. A great example of the melting pot that is Montreal. Renaissance knights, hippies, posers, ice cream vendors, kids in strollers, pot dealers, dogs, and pseudo hipsters along with hundreds of drummers all meet to worship the sun through peace and music. Where else in the world can you attend a weekly Love In?
On a sad note “Park Avenue Nick” won’t be pushing his shopping cart and yelling at no one in particular anymore. Nick is gone and we are left to wonder why most of us never took the time to say hi or ask how he was doing. I know he wasn’t always in a social mood. I once gave him a new winter coat and he threw it back in my face and cursed at me. But, a few days later we had a long friendly conversation at the Dairy Queen while he fed his army of pets. May he rest in peace.
I will also miss breakfast on Dusty’s terrace…a Park Avenue landmark. As much as we fight it things do change here. Remember Ben’s and Eaton’s?
In March, we lost a true friend of the Montreal music scene. Internet radio station “Rock FM” based in Verdun and self financed. This independent band of gypsies were always willing to support local talent by providing on air interviews and promoting up coming shows. They also played a wide range of music. Nothing was off limits and listener requests were encouraged. Rock FM did it their way…for the love of music.
I had the pleasure of hosting one of the station’s final broadcasts. A three hour trip down memory lane…completely unscripted. I played thirty songs picked at random and performed four tunes live on my twelve string acoustic guitar. How many other local radio stations would give me that opportunity? By allowing myself and the Hi-Fins to appear frequently on their airways we were able to build our fan base and increase our ticket sales. As a result our last four concerts were sold out. To Michael, Michel, and Abe a heartfelt thank-you. I have heard rumors of a new location and upgraded facilities, so here’s hoping for a Phoenix like rebirth soon. Stay tuned.
Marois’ Big Gamble
I purposely delayed publication of this article to let the dust settle after the recent provincial elections. “Does anyone think this election is about a referendum? The answer is NO” per Pauline Marois. “This election has been so dirty it’s like America” per political analyst Jean Lapierre. Investors are wary, Quebec’s credit rating was downgraded during Marois’ eighteen month reign. Property values dropped. Pre-election polls showed two third of Quebecers have no interest in another Refer-Rear-Endum. This magical misery tour of an election cost Quebec tax payers eighty five million dollars. Former premiers Landry and Pariseau were critical of the election. I believe the PQ relied on the polls too much…hello earth to Marois…how many moons on your planet. Listen to the Vox Populi. Maybe it’s time to focus on jobs, the poor, and senior citizens issues. Like the city itself we are all aging.
The Liberals though ahead in the polls had their own crosses to bear. Let’s not forget it was the Liberal government that strongly opposed the inquiry into corruption not so long ago.
As the election results poured in it became obvious that the people of Quebec had called Marois’ bluff. By not even winning in her own riding she was forced to walk the plank. Her political career finished. The powerful sound of our democracy in action. I could almost hear the huge sigh of relief rising above the city. So, is this the end of the PQ? I recall a quote from Marois’ former boss that put things into context “the future is something that lasts a long time” per Rene Levesque.
So, how did all this nonsense affect me? As a British born Quebecer perhaps I best exemplify the white male anglo-saxon Jew so feared by the PQ, but there is more to me than that five word description.
When In Rome…Speak Roman
Upon my arrival in Montreal in 1967 I spoke no French. Luckily I had the universal language of music to bridge the gap. I soon found myself playing in a band with three non-English speaking rockers. Slowly through repetition and practice I taught myself basic French. I watched the news and hockey games in French to improve my vocabulary. In those early days I got my share of “tete-carre” (“square head”) comments from a few country bumpkins, but it just made me more determined to learn how to insult them back in their own language. Today I speak French fluently and even perform a few French songs in my solo shows. I have never had a confrontation based on language in over forty years of living in Quebec. I was born a Brit. I became a Canadian citizen, but I consider myself a proud Quebecer.
A non-French speaking Brit moving to Lac St-Jean might not feel welcome, but the solution is obvious and has been for as long as we have been kicking this language football back and forth. Simply learn French. It’s a lot easier than Chinese, it doesn’t hurt, and it opens more doors than it closes.
Man #1 “I’m learning latin.”
Man #2 “Why?”
Man #1 “’Cause I think latin women are hot.”
When I first moved to Los Angeles I lived in a gang infested neighborhood where drive-by shootings were common. Believe me I learned Spanish pretty quickly. It probably saved my life. Small things like hand gestures, wearing the wrong colors, or not speaking the language has serious consequences. Imagine living in a place full of fear where decisions are made based on a lack of understanding, poor communication, and long held grudges. No not L.A. I am talking about Quebec.
I can’t think of any occasion where speaking more than one language has been a disadvantage. To all you Anglos in Montreal that refuse to learn or speak French I say get over it. Move on. You’ll be happier. Like my friend says I’m bilingual…I speak French twice a year.
During this long brutal winter thousands of Montrealers got up early on cold dark mornings and left for work. We stood at windy bus stops half awake. Shivering and shuffling. We nodded to familiar faces and chatted with our bus buddies standing in line. All of our cheeks were red. All of our toes blue. It united us. Language wasn’t an issue. We are all Quebecers.
I have lived in London, Nashville, Toronto, and Los Angeles, but in my opinion nowhere compares to Montreal. A cosmopolitan vibrant city we all call home. Let me tell you why.
In my mind I carry sensory memories of this city. The bells of Notre Dame Cathedral. The musical sound of horse shoes meeting cobble stones in Old Montreal. Cherry blossoms in bloom. Shakespeare’s timeless plays brought to life as we picnic under the stars. Kites and soccer balls in Jeanne Mance park. People watching from Crescent Street terraces. Fireworks over La Ronde shimmering above the water. All the outdoor and free festivals. The piano that anyone can play on Prince Arthur. Galleries and museums on Sherbrooke Street. St.Viateur Bagels. Poutine. Orange Julep. Schwartz’s. Street performers. Getting reacquainted with friends at the Dr. Penfield dog run. Seeing great live music at Calistoga Grill on the West Island. The Lachine and St-Anne-de-Bellevue canals. Kids splashing in the wading pool at Westmount park. Dim Sum in Chinatown. Kissing your lover under moonlight at the Mont-Royal lookout and so much more. These are the things that remind me how lucky we are to live here.
Using my imagination I can travel back in time to see what life was like in Montreal in the mid 1800’s.
We Built This City
The Past…A few facts:
Montreal was literally built by immigrants. Irish construction workers’ backs and Italian stone masons’ hands crafted our streets and buildings. From the 1850’s to the 1980’s women toiled in the garment sweatshops of Montreal. Working conditions were so bad the entire area was known as “Dante’s Inferno”. Forced to work for lower than minimum wage and without union protection this was the plight of thousands of immigrant women who came to Montreal. Italians, Haitians, Greeks, Portugese, Chinese, and Latin American women…eight hours a day of hard work. Exploited yet unable to complain. These long forgotten people were just some of the colors and creeds that built Montreal. These generations raised families here and neighborhoods developed. Catholics and Jews. French and English. Black and white. All of them side by side marching towards the future. One other thing… A seldom mentioned fact is all of this land once belonged to the Native people. THEY were here first.
Question: How do you become a millionaire in Quebec?
Answer: Start out as a billionaire.
Think of Montreal today. What comes to mind? Crumbling infrastructure. Corrupt mayors. Language Police. Pot holes. One English newspaper. Bridge closures. Parking ticket quotas. The highest tax rate in Canada…and that is just the good news.
We have a football team looking to fill the void left by Anthony Calvillo’s retirement. Though the Habs are in the playoffs they are in the twentieth year of a five year rebuilding plan. The Expos are just a memory of better times. Parents are pondering what Quebec’s future holds for their kids. The fear mongers have them worried. Will there be an exodus of Westmount matrons clutching their fine china to their bosom as they flee down the 401?
If you have read this far you might get the impression it’s all doom and gloom and our future is uncertain. But, step back and look at the big picture.
The future will always be uncertain. Everyday we wake up it is a new future. There is only this moment connected to the last and the next. Thousands of moments that makes a life. Why worry about past moments? Regret wastes the precious moments we have left. To be anxious about events in the future that you have no control over is also a misuse of life’s valuable time. If your life’s moments are speeding by too quickly breathe and relax. Everything is okay. Listen to the birds singing. Take a walk. Read the paper. Smell the flowers. Spring is a time to refocus. And, remember our moments of life are not endless. This is not a rehearsal. We have all lost too many loved ones recently. No matter how old you are life is short, so be young at heart and enjoy the spring. ‘Till next time…the beat goes on…