Monday, September 08, 2008

La Canadien Errant, Part I

The Cartier monument in front of Mont Royale

Well, I’m back. I’m still battling jet lag, and the multifarious ways France is conspiring to welcome me back with as much annoyance as I can stand (Lost luggage? Check. Unexpected tax bill? Check. Broken oven? Check. Broken toilet seat? Check).

I’m not sure how to account for the last three weeks in Canada on this blog, especially as roughly 95 percent of my readership saw me during that time and thus can correct the distortions and exaggerations to which I am prone. And what fun is that?

Portuguese church on the Plateau

I suppose the biggest surprise was how familiar everything felt. Our last dinner in Montreal was shared with people with whom Amynah and I have had almost no contact in the last two years. Nonetheless, it felt like we’d last fought over the last shreds of JJ Chicken in a Pot* two weeks ago, not two years.

That is not to say that there were not some moments of culture shock. I was astounded at how different Quebecois is from France-French. I waded in gamely, to some effect, but I suspect I’ll have to lose my Old Country accent to really succeed in La Belle Province.

Dilapidated house guarding the corner of Guilford street

The bigger surprise was how much held up to my snootified Euro-standards: living in a UNESCO World Heritage site has not made Montreal or Halifax look any less beautiful to me. Tim’s is as good as I remember it, notwithstanding my recent taste for cappuccino, and I decided, in future, to refer the Rhine Creek after re-acquainting myself with the mighty St Lawrence.

Of course, my main reason for returning to Montreal, other than friends, was to raid Fairmount Bagels.

The Fairmount Bagel experience starts with the purchase. Located in a tiny shopfront in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, the bagel “factory” has been in operation for roughly 70 years.

Where the magic is made

Walk inside, and you see men behind the counter, cutting broad slabs of dough from a giant mass of the stuff on a central platform. These are broken down and hand rolled into tiny, pale rings, that are then boiled in a honey mixture. These are then placed in their dozens into a wood fired oven that burns 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can buy bagels here any time of day, meaning there is often a rush on weekends at 3 AM when the bars close.

I bought my first thirty six the day after I arrived, with the intention of bringing them back to Halifax: 30 sesame, 6 poppy-seed. The counter-lady brought me a tiny bag, in which there were nine bagels. When I gently pointed out the error, she replied “You asked for three and six.”

“Well, I want thirty and six,” I said.

“You said three and six,” she insisted, chin jutting.

“Sure,” I said, which seemed to satisfy her enough that she retrieved the rest of my bagels, muttering under her breath.

Despite her disdain for my communication skills, she did pick out those bagels freshest from the ovens. Stepping out onto the Fairmount street sidewalk, dyed black from decades of ground-in sesame oil, I pulled out a golden cherub’s halo, dusted with angel’s dandruff, warmed as if from the love of a benevolent deity, and took a bite.

It was good to be home.

Next: Canada’s Navy goes to the Opera, and other adventures in Ottawa!

* A specialty of New Dynasty on Clark Street, south of Rene Levesque in Montreal’s Chinatown. Highly recommended. I’ve no idea who JJ is, but I remain forever grateful for his poultry.


Victor Chisholm said...

I am glad to see you brought a little bit of ze old kontry with you: the episode of being corrected about what you really did order (3+6 bagels) sounds a bit more like France than Quebec.

Natalie Joan said...

"dusted with angel’s dandruff"
Was that supposed to sound appetizing?
How might I find this place you speak of, if I am staying in the Sheraton downtown?

Mark Reynolds said...

Perhaps not the best metaphor, but I couldn't think of of anything appropriately heavenly that resembles a sesame seed. I'm still working on it, but I welcome suggestions.
I sent the directions via email, but you can just follow the golden pillar of light in which the store is perpetually bathed.

Anonymous said...

Nice nod to the local landmarks -- but what your Montreal (McGill)crew really wants to see is a picture of your birthday-self with Victor's Mad Hatter cake-hat atop your crown.

Sally said...

Your photo of that Portuguese church on Rachel and St. Urbain made me so homesick for Montreal. Mark, I'm sorry I suck at keeping in touch.

Mark Reynolds said...

Anonymous: If someone gets me said photo, I promise I will post it. I've no shame.

Sally: You do suck at keeping in touch. Only way to make up for it is to visit!