Friday, September 29, 2006

FWG's deliciously more excellent all-week adventure - Thursday

Day 6

Another poor sleep. From 3AM to 5 I'm awake reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman while waiting for the latest Tylenols to kick in. The book utterly sucks but I'm determined to get through it for the following reasons - each one stupider than the last:

1. I always seem to expect some badge of honor to be bestowed upon me for surviving such an experience so heroically. (Obviously the badge-of-honor issuing people have quite a backlog to fill because I'm owed quite a few.)

2. It's useful learning (reinforcing really) exactly how not to write a fantasy novel.

3. There are forty or fifty books in the series (seriously) and I've already acquired close to thirty of them prior to reading a single sorry word from book one so I'm praying for some kind of miracle to happen to get me digging it.


11:00 AM

I go for a nice walk and do lunch at the Tribune Cafe where the poulet miel dijon resembles a Cuban sandwich but is much nicer. A sampling of two salads - both lovely - and a coffee and I'm rockin' and rolling. The music here is enchanting. I love it. Some kind of Euro-Parisian-retro-jazz-piano- okay - who the hell am I kidding? I have no vocabulary for music. Sorry. But I really dig it. So I struggle to explain to the cashier that I must learn what CD is playing. I must find me a copy. She struggles to explain to me that this is no CD but Muzak. Each song a different artist.

"Oh."

So much for that.

I hit the street asking strangers for change - quarters actually. I buy them with dimes and looneys until I have enough to do some laundry at the hotel.

I grab a shower and hit the street. Ah hah! The Librarie next door to the hotel is not a library after all but a book store! Ooh la la! Formidable! The English section is small but yields some Atwood and Jack Chalker for me.

I hop in the beast of burden and cruise on down to beautiful Old Montreal and go for a long walk - looking out for a drug store and for a restaurant named Gibby's where I'll later be meeting a most excellent man by the name of Jean-Francois who recently retired from the company I work for. He was a big shot at our Laval office and was much-loved by all. He retired to pursue another ambition.

We'd chummed around at our annual company meetings because we're both cigar smokers and both great fans of the Montreal Canadiens. He'd given me his number with the instructions to look him up if ever in Montreal. I did so and true to his word he arranged for dinner at a primo steakhouse.

But my congestion and runny nose are becoming a nuisance. I need Dristan. Must... find... Dristan. But oh - what a chore.

I try three depanneurs. No luck. I ask various merchants who shrug their shoulders.

"Drug store?" I beg.

"Not around here," they say. "You must go uptown." I find it bizarre that with all the office buildings around there is nowhere for an employee to go on his lunch hour to pick up a cold remedy.

I walk vaguely north. I ask a pedestrian for help.

"Drug store?" I say. "Dristan? Decongestant?" I make sniffing sounds as I point up my nose. In hindsight this was not the best choice of charades strategies.

The man frowns at me deeply. "Drugs?" he says.

I'm suddenly horrified. Does he think I've mistaken him for a drug dealer because he's black?

"No no!" I say. "Drug store!" I'm thinking wildly. "Pharmacie! Pharmacie!"

"Ah, oui. Drug store." He gestures forward - way forward - as if indicating Greenland.

"Thank you," I say. "Merci."

I eventually find myself at Place d'Armes, the historic square, site of the Notre Dame Basilica. I'd been in there once before and found it absolutely magnificent. Huge and dark and creepy and as welcoming as Dracula's castle. Religon and I do not mix well.

There's a taxi stand here. I approach the lead driver and repeat my Dristan/pharmacie/sniffle/snort routine but with more care this time.

"Ah!" he says finally. "Jean Coutu."

"Yes! Oui. Jean Coutu." And we're off.

He drives me all over hell's ten acres. Half way across the city it seems.

"I can't believe the closest drug store is this far away!" I finally complain. "Do French people never get sick!"

He responds with monosyllabic grunts and broad hand-gestures which serves me right. I already know he doesn't speak English."

Cutting to the chase - it's $9.00 for the Sinutab and $22.00 for the lift there and back.

My first drink at Gibby's - a vodka and grapefruit juice with salted rim - is $10.20. I sense I'm in for an expensive night. The restaurant is huge and gorgeous with broad wooden beams and columns, mammoth stone walls and coach lanterns. I'm almost an hour early. I sit in the bar-lounge area that easily seats eighty comfortably. The smoked almonds are delicious and very fresh. I say so and am informed that they roast them themselves in their own smokehouse on the property!

Wow. This will definitely be an expensive night. The service is lightning-fast and the drinks are meticulous. The salt is spread sparsely over a deep surface area of the glass allowing just the right salt-per-sip ratio. Wow. Do I sound like a twit or what? But the place truly rocks. It's gonna suck going back to being poor next week.

I ask the server here if he knows of a decent cigar bar for later.

"Of course," he says and returns promptly with the name, address and phone number of the place written on a card for me. Sweet! I so want a butler when I grow up.

The sinutab has kicked in and I'm feeling good. Jean-Francois arrives a tad late due to traffic and is gracious, apologetic, exuberant and dressed all spiffy-like in checkered sport coat. A nice one, that is. Don't go picturing Don Cherry on me. A lot of men wear suit jackets casually here - with jeans for instance - which is common in France too as far as I know.

There are other European flavored cultural phenomena immediately apparent in Montreal. The language of course but also the high quotient of bicycles and compact cars and of restaurants and clubs. And of smaller independant business.

"Quebeccers work to live," Says JF. "We don't live to work as Ontarians do. That's why we have small houses. We prefer to eat well and drink good wine."

"I know," I say."Me too. I'm more like a Quebeccer that way."

"But all this small business - it doesn't stimulate the economy. Montreal is dying, my friend."

"Dying? But there's such vibrancy here! I sense more life here than in Toronto."

"Economically it is dying," he says. "There is no growth of big business. It's all been scared away to English Canada because of Cretien and all his separatist talk - scaring everyone. It would have died away if he would shut up about it but he keep warning everyone and provoking separatists so they don't go away. We voted. Quebeccers said no! Twice! That's enough! Shut up about it and let's work together for Canada!"

The waitress is mature and prim-looking in floor-length apron. She knows immediately to speak to me in English and JF in French. She leaves us with delicious fresh bread, a big stick of butter and a bucket of pickles. A bucket! My eyes saucerize. JF laughs.

"It's a French tradition," he explains. This is a French restaurant - as in France - not French Canada.

I order one of the two rib steaks on the menu - medium rare. The waitress shakes her head and explains that I want the other rib steak - the superior one. I take her advice.

"Double baked potato or rice pilaf?"

"The rice please."

She shakes her head ruefully. "No," she says. "You want the potato. It is best potato in Montreal."

I sense I'm not so much ordering dinner as taking an oral quiz - and failing miserably obviously. I accept the potato.

"Do you want salad?"

"I don't know. Do I?"

"Yes. The salad is good."

I shrug.

It doesn't look like much upon arrival. Mixed greens and typical garden vegetables. But the dressing is magical as are the mounds of fresh crutons - no doubt baked in their own crutonnery - that she continued to shovel onto my salad long after I said 'when'. But mm-mmm. She proves my judgement wrong again.

Dinner arrives. The steak is massive and seasoned brilliantly with a delightful crust and a perfect pink interior. Finally, without initial enthusiasm I sample the potato and am blown away. It's almost like a mash in consistency and oh so tasty. Even the unassuming tomato slice is a treat - dressed in some crumbly topping. I leave the unnadorned branches of broccoli the hell alone. I'm not gonna risk ruining such a spectacular triple with a failed play for home plate.

That's a baseball metaphor by the way. Get it? No? That's okay. Metaphors aren't my strong suit. I'm working on it.

The wine was my choice unfortunately. Silver Creek or something like that. Previously untried, I figured you could never go wrong with an Australian 2002 Shiraz/Cabernet. Surprise. You can.

JF and I have a marvelous time. We talk about all the special people we know - who bring us such joy. We're fortunate men. Very happy with our lives but still looking up. I suppose that's what has brought us together really - more so than cigars or the Habs.

He has raved about Gibby's signature dessert. I have only the vaguest recollection of the name but we shall call it 'chocolat chaucer' for now. (A thousand apologies to all keepers of the French language for that mutilation.) But tonight the dish is suspiciously absent from the dessert menu. JF is troubled.

"It has been replaced by the chocolat chausette!" (a million apologies) our apron-garbed waitress explains, "Which is even better!" This prompts a flurry of rapid French.

"Blah blah blah chaucer!" JF excaims.

"Blah blah blah chausette!" she retorts.

"Blah blah blah chaucer blah blah blah!" JF insists but gives in and orders the 'chocolat chausette'.

"I'll have the same," I declare.

"The same?" she says, aghast.

"Oui. The same." I'm not giving in this time. Not on your life.

"But you spoke of the creme brulet!" JF exclaims.

"You will have creme brulet!" she says.

"No no!" I say.

"It is best creme brulet in Montreal! I will give you two spoons. And two forks for the chausette. You will share."

I give in of course. Both dishes are outstanding.

Jean-Francois drives me back to my hotel, stopping at Modavie to fetch my jacket. He crushes my hand with his powerful handshake.

"Farewell my friend. I know we will meet again."


I certainly hope so.

FWG

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