Monday, November 15, 2004

Life as a Tête-Carré off Sainte-Catherine....

Well, I'm finally in Montréal, and I have to say that I like it so far. The only problem I've come across is that I actually have to go outdoors for twenty seconds twice a day — thirty if I need groceries. I found a tiny, but comfortable and quiet place for a better-than-reasonable price just a few feet off of the Maisonneuve Metro line. (Montréal's Metro is a sort of subway wearing sneakers — rubber-tired trains running in a trough rather than steel wheels on steel track. If you're not actually in the tunnel, you'd never know a train was running by every few minutes.)

What's surprising about all of this is that I'm in what would be considered a "bad neighborhood" in most cities. I live under a bridge. The building directly across the street houses a strip club. Oh, and it's not the only such establishment in the area, since I am a short block from the fabled Sainte-Catherine strip. With all that said, it is a much quieter life than I was used to in Toronto. The traffic on the bridge is a lot quiter than a TTC streetcar, and I have yet to run across yahoo-level drunkenness. I've only been here one weekend, but even though the strip sees a lot of action, people are calm and polite. There is a lot of retail mixed in with the sin spots, and overall it's not the kind of place that parents would steer their kids away from.

This is in very sharp contrast to, say, the Combat Zone in Boston or even the Entertainment District/Yonge Street in Toronto. I haven't heard a single siren yet, and it would be an odd evening in downtown Toronto if a whole hour passed between multi-car police responses passing by my window with lights and sirens blazing. Does Puritanism actually cause the problems we're used to?

Oh, yes — the food. If you happen to venture to Montréal in your jouneys, don't waste a lot of time looking for a good restaurant. As long as you stay out of the major fast food chains and mall food courts, you can eat well. The average greasy-spoon-looking hole in the wall will surprise you. These people take their food seriously, although they seem to have lost the concept of the single-serving portion somewhere along the line. If you eat all of your meals at restaurants and finish everything on your plate ("platter", "serving tray" or even "shipping palette" would be more accurate terms), you will need a complete new wardrobe every week.

There is one other small hitch. I've found that my French has completely atrophied. I can understand what people are saying (to a point — there's a lot that's new in the last twenty-odd years, so my childhood French didn't include any of it, the "in" slang has changed, and the patterns of speech here are a bit different from the Northern Ontario version of the language), and I can read well enough, but I'm having a devil of a time trying to talk. I can't think in French anymore, and it seems that my thought-formulation and translation routines can't multithread. And if you see my writing, you'd think that I had a random-number generator throwing accents and word endings in, but I never was much good at writing in French. It's been a long time since I spoke French on a daily basis (my mother's family is French, and a large part of the area I grew up in was francophone). Even then, my grandparents preferred that we "spoke white", and that if we wanted to learn French, we should learn proper French and not their slangue. That's all well and good, but the Elvis Gratton patois is invaluable in real life, and French is no longer a ghetto language in Canada (there was a time when you absolutely had to speak English in order to be promoted to any decent-paying job, even in a sawmill town where the nearest English community might be hundreds of miles away). It would be a pity to live life here in English. Not that it can't be done — at least downtown, you would have a hard time finding a place that won't serve you in English if that's what you need, and there are a lot of unilingual Anglos in the city. So far, I've had store clerks manage the transition for me, and only a couple have actually let me finish what I started. That's a bit frustrating; I'd have been better off in Chicoutimi as far as French immersion goes. I just think that I'd be missing out on a lot if I can't get my tongue in gear. And I would always be a tête-carré (literally, "blockhead" or "square head"; a derisive term for Anglos when there are no Germans around).

I don't know for sure when I'll be able to start posting more regularly; there's a lot to do before I can say I'm properly set up here. I'll try to keep you all as up-to-date as I can, but it may be a while before I can start posting at leisure. I have a couple of tech articles brewing, but they're not quite ready for bottling yet. To any of you who haven't removed me from your bookmarks and aggregators, I thank you for your patience and hope to reward you with something a bit more substantial soon.


jonvon said...

great post stan... fwiw i love this kind of thing. the tech stuff is cool, but god there is enough of that around. reading about your struggles with french in a town that mostly speaks that language while living under a bridge a block away from a strip club, now that is good stuff. kinda reminds me of my old digs in atlanta, minus the language barrier.

you rock sir.

Stan Rogers said...

Thanks. I'm sure you're right -- the language barrier in Atlanta would be something fierce ;o) I just have a new language to deal with here; in Atlanta, I'd have to make sense of people who use words that I thought I knew in a whole new way down there.

Kevin said...


Welcome to Montreal!

I originally moved here from Toronto as a teen... so I had lots of time to get my French up to par.

Also, doing Notes consulting for French clients really is a great "trial by fire" to get better at it



Sophie-Marie said...

Fear not for your patois loss in childhood- it would be no use in Mtl anyway. I grew up in a minuscule town in the north of Qc, and moving to Mtl to go to school was like learning a new language- all of my slang was useless.