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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Montreal

Thursday, July 6.

Began with breakfast, of course. Then we explored the Latin Quarter, reminiscing about our brief, terrible trip to this city many years ago, when we were just friends. We saw the clean, functional hotel we’d stayed in, Castel St Denis, to which we'd moved after a night in a filthy, smelly hotel. Could not find the Picasso Bar, where we had spent the few enjoyable hours of that trip drinking beer, our table bumped over and over by an intoxicated Francophone, who'd given us long, flowery apologies we didn't understand. Or perhaps he'd been trying to pick a fight, who knows. Concluded that this city is more fun with some spending money and July (rather than March) weather.

The Latin Quarter was a hodgepodge, from college-student-style shops and eateries, to higher-end boutiques. We walked up and down the steep hills and stopped for salty, yummy poutine--the famous Quebecois comfort food, French fries topped with gravy and cheese nuggets--and beer at Allors Frites!, which we later learned is owned by a company called Cholesterol Plus. How appropriate.

That night caught a great band called Shane Murphy Trio at the jazz festival, a rock, bluesy, wonderful local band, vibrant! Then we headed for a 9 PM reservation at L’Express. We should have known something was up as soon as we learned that they had no sign, merely their renowned name written in sidewalk tiles outside the door. The place is famous, hopping, noisy. Not so romantic, but the décor was sleek and appealing. We ordered and then, quickly and all at once, stumbled onto the dark side of Montrealers. They are generous to the tourists overrunning their city, do not mind speaking English with you, and seem generally to be a gracious lot of bon-vivants. Yet every culture has a topic of such grave seriousness that it cannot be broached with lightness--think of the caution required when talking politics or religion with an American, or money with, perhaps, a European. For the Quebecois, this topic is wine, a minefield haphazardly and carelessly danced upon every time a tourist innocently, like a lamb to slaughter, eats out in this city of 4,000 restaurants.

I wanted to order white wine with dinner-—I like it better than red, and reds often disagree with me—-but I made the gravely unforgivable error of requesting white wine with a beef dish. The waiter made a face as though I had slapped him with sharp rings on my fingers, rubbed salt in the wound, and then forced him to swallow a rotten lemon, while calling his mother a putain*. I feared for a moment I would be thrown out of the restaurant. White wine with beef was not allowed. I was spared the humiliation of being thrown out, but I was brought a red.

I still don’t understand why a giant jar of teeny pickles and a small jar of mustard came with our order. (I asked the assistant waiter, who shrugged and replied, “They come with the meat orders." Like red wine, I suppose.) G.’s quail was not as good as the food at Sel de la Terre, our favorite Boston restaurant. We began to fear that French cuisine was a one-trick pony, that we had moreover eaten the best food in the universe in our own neighborhood and all other meals were destroyed. We wandered back through the jazz festival, briefly, en route back to our hotel. The moon was beautiful. The city was fabulous. We were in love.

*whore, not cheesy fries


Blogger Larry Jones said...

Lucky you didn't order a Pepsi. That's when they call in the mimes.

5:01 PM  

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