Saturday, February 24, 2007

Montreal: Food and Clothing

It felt like it took an entire day to get to Montreal. I had to work late the night before, so we thought we'd get up early, pack, leave at the leisurely hour of 10AM, pick up some stuff at Darcy's company in Markham, and then make it to Montreal by about 5:30PM. Instead, we slept in, were 1 hour late picking up the rental car, went the wrong way on the 401 for 20 minutes, and got to my sister's building by 7:30PM where a big, fat mini van was parked in the parking spot she arranged for us. The young woman who owns the parking spot, Saskaia (who is so beautiful in that effortless, cool way that French girls have), was very annoyed because apparently this mini van has trespassed many times. Saskaia showed us an alternate place to park and then went straight to the police station down the street to try to get the van towed. I guess this is harder than you would think. The police don't really have time for these kinds of things, but she did manage to get them to leave a ticket. At one point, she wanted Darcy to leave the rental car blocking the van so we could find out who they were. It sounded like fun for a minute and then the whole idea seemed a bit too vigilante. I think the ticket was enough.

I had wanted to spend the entire weekend chilling, but since the Las Vegas trip is coming up, I needed to buy some 'business casual' clothes. What a pain. At my work, it's definitely 'casual casual'. On a normal day, I wear jeans and a hoodie. I have lots of nice dressy clothes that are too big or too small, but absolutely nothing decent that fits. I was feeling particularly unmotivated and shy because my French is awful, but I nutted up got out there.

There was supposed to be a Quebec cheese festival at Complexe Desjardins next to my sister's place, so I'd thought I'd check that out before I got started. It was lunchtime and there are lots of office buildings around there, so it was packed. I had just had lunch, so I didn't have any cheese (sorry to disappoint), but I did take some papparazzi-style photos of the event. These Montrealers managed to look cool eating their artisal cheese and sipping wine even though they were sitting on plastic patio furniture.

At Complexe Desjardins, I bought some semi-dressy, high-heeled, black winter boots, which I sorely needed because I really don't have any winter boots other than my hiking ones. My hiking boots looked especially shabby in the bright shoe store, so after I bought the new ones I went back to the apartment, changed into them, and then headed back out to keep shopping (yes, I put on brand new shoes and went on a marathon shopping trip). What is it about Montreal that makes you feel so uncool -- like you've just fallen off the turnip truck? I hate to admit it, but in general people dress so much better there.

In the course of 4.5 hours, I bought a cute pair of black, dressy shoes, 4 pairs of pants, 3 long-sleeved shirts, and pantyhose (when did these get so expensive?). Upon leaving the second to last store, I was totally accosted by a young salesgirl selling Dead Sea skin care products at one of those kiosks in the middle of the Eaton Centre. Her spiel made it sound like she was selling me a used car, but the demonstration was very impressive. I ended up buying the facial peel, nail kit, and salt scrub.

In most of the stores, I tried my best to speak French and I think I did pretty well. In Tristan, I was waiting in line at the cash behind this really mouthy middle-aged Anglo woman who was trying to return something that she bought at a different location. She was squawking like anything and all the while that they were trying to accomodate her, she was complaining. At one point, she turned to me and the Francophone man beside me and told us, in English, to move away from her because we were standing too close and that she'd be a while. The guy beside me gave her a look and said, "c'est quoi ton probleme, la". Then he looked at me and said, "c'est pas correct, ca". I went along, pretending I was French too, and sort of grunted in agreement. Then, in swooped the most beautiful gay Tristan employee and he opened a till to ring me through. I wanted to align myself with the Francophone man instead of the rude Anglo woman, so I spoke in French, but it was painfully obvious that I was an Anglo too. He was still very sweet to me anyways.

The shopping trip was taxing, but successful. I limped home in my new boots in the icy, cold wind carrying tonnes of bags. I had never been so happy to sit down. Sophie (my sister's cat) and I sat motionless watching Sex and the City for 2 hours.

Darcy got back from Quebec City that night at about 7 and we were both starving, so we went across the street to our favourite Vietnamese pho place, Pho Bac. Pho is totally fast food in that the time between ordering and chewing is about 5 minutes. We got our usual: imperial rolls (deep-fried spring rolls filled with pork and vegetables), fresh rolls (rice paper rolls filled with fresh and pickled vegetables), pho with rare beef (for Darcy) and pho with beef and tripe (for me). It was so cold that night and the soup was warm and filling. And cheap -- the bill came to $21.

The next morning we went to dim sum at our favourite place, which is also just across the street in Chinatown. When Darcy was living in Montreal 10 years ago, we used to go there for dim sum every Sunday. After all this time, less than half of the staff has turned over. Not only are the servers mostly the same, they drive the same carts. For example, the 'fried' lady always has deep-fried things like spring rolls, calamari, and taro while the 'scary' lady has stuff that we are too scared to try (chicken feet, duck feet, assorted innards -- I know, we should just try it!). Since it was just the two of us, we were fairly conservative. We had har gow (shrimp dumplings), siu mai (pork dumplings), garlic spare ribs, rice rolls with shrimp, fried tofu with shrimp and scallops, and garlic baby squid (for me). The baby squid was outstanding -- fresh, garlicky, and tender. The bill came to $25. I love this place.

The rest of Saturday was more like what I had in mind for the weekend. After we got back from dim sum we watched TV, took a nap, watched a movie (Munich -- very good), and then ordered from Alto's, a place I ordered from all the time when I was a student at McGill. If there are places like this in Toronto, I haven't found them yet. They make absolutely anything you could think of (pizza, pasta, sandwiches, hamburgers, hotdogs, poutine, salads, steak, omelettes, etc.) and you can have all of it delivered until 4AM. I don't know how many times I called for poutine at 3:30AM from residence. We had chicken souvlaki pitas, greek salad, and poutine (had to have it) and it arrived within 20 minutes of ordering. If I lived here, I'd gain so much weight.

Something that is at every greasy spoon like Alto's that I have never seen anywhere else is the Michigan hotdog. It's basically a hotdog with meat sauce on top of it. I can't say that after all those years in Montreal I ever tried it, but it's nice to see it on the menu and that it endures. Some places, like Alto's, take it one step further and make a 'Michigan poutine', which (you guessed it) is a poutine with meat sauce instead of gravy. Imagine.

My sister's condo building used to be a nursing school, I think. That seems to be the cool thing to do everywhere: build condos in historical buildings. For anyone who is thinking of buying one, I'd advise you visit the place during the winter. My sister's place is really beautiful and bright, but the difference in temperature between the rooms is astounding. The sitting room, where her computer is, is hot like a greenhouse while the bedroom at the other end is freezing. And the heating makes this really loud buzzing sound. She's only renting the place, so she isn't stuck with it, but I can't imagine if you bought the place and had to live with it for a long time.

On Sunday, we went for dim sum again because, well, why not. We were able to have all the things we didn't the day before. This time, we had radish cake, a sweet cake that I didn't recognize), garlic spareribs (yeah, again), pork and vegetable dumplings, shrimp and vegetable dumplings, shrimp and cilantro dumplings, and tripe (for me). Dim sim, like pho, is really fast food because you don't have to order (everything comes to you on carts) and all the staff is so quick. Within seconds of sitting down, you have tea and hot sauce. Within a minute, the first cart has found you and others are lining up behind it. The total time between when we stepped out of the apartment and when stepped back after dim sum was 25 minutes. So, I'm guessing we literally spent 15 minutes in the restaurant. I know. We eat way too fast.

The drive back was fast and easy until we got to the GTA and hit the snow. The Weather Network said 'light snow', which was so untrue! The snow was thick and blowing and we had to slow down to 50km/h on the DVP. It took us an hour to get from the 401 to the Lakeshore. But, we made it in one piece.

It was great keeping my sister's cat, Sophie, company while my sister was in Vail. She followed me around the apartment the whole time and slept with us at night. I'm glad she didn't have to spend this long weekend alone, especially since my sister's flight got cancelled and she had to stay in Colorado for an extra night. Poor kitty. Poor Koto too. The airline lost her bags.

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