Monday, December 24, 2007

Joyeux Noel Per Se.....

Here's my little Christmas card, Amigos.


You can see this a little better at

(I wont play the guitar any better though, sorry. )

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas on This Side of the World

In Australia, it is traditional for families to pack a picnic lunch and go to the beach for the day on Christmas. See, it's Summer right now on the bottom curve of the planet.

Here's a little secret: I'm not at the beach this week. It's not Australia here. It's California. For the record, we kinda actually have winter here. I will admit that it was 82 degrees the week I arrived home from Montreal. But this morning it was 48 degrees American under clear skies.

If I look across the city to the north, I can see the San Gabriel mountain range, dusted with snow from this week's rain storm (When it rains in the city, it snows in the mountains).

This was the first clear day in a few of them. This morning when I arose, the sunlight burned hard against the blinds. I got out of bed, got dressed, and walked to the hilltop at the corner of my street.

From this high vantage point looking south, I could see the City skyline over Elysian Park and Dodger Stadium. To the north were the burned-off peaks of Mt. Lee (from a fire last Spring), where the Hollywood sign rises over the city like an altar. Turning around, the canyon was varying shades of green and amber morning light.

I know there's been tons of snow in Montreal these past few weeks, and Winter only began today. And I only wanted to say that it's true the grass is always greener on the other side. When I saw photos of the snow in Montreal, I was envious. My friend in Montreal, meanwhile, made it clear that if she never saw snow again, it would be way too soon. Ah, we all want what we ain't got.

Here's the Christmas weather forecast for this side of the world: It's 49 right now, with winds out of the north northeast at 11 mph. Over the weekend it'll be 61 degrees American Saturday and Sunday, and about 65 on Christmas Day.

Santa will wear earmuffs there, sunglasses here, but it'll still be the same guy.
Joyeux Noel, amigos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rêver de St Louis...

The other night I was on Google Earth, taking its virtual tours from my desk in a little house high on a hill in Los Angeles, to places I've been and never been. I flew over the Forbidden City in China, the former home of the Republican Guard in Iran, my old Tiger Beat office in Cresskill, New Jersey (Yes, that Tiger Beat, where I was an editor for three years in the CultureClubDuranDuranMadonnaSpringsteenU2 WeAreTheWorld 80s, and no, they didn't go out of business after you graduated to SPIN magazine), Mt. Haleakala on the Big Island of Hawaii, Vatican City, Buenos Aires, Argentina.....and then I set the coordinates for Square St. Louis, Montreal.

went the screen, like those TV weather maps, rotating the planet, and then dropping down about to 600 feet high above the square and its fountain in the park. From that slightly blurry angle, I couldn't make out the crazies in the park, or any people for that matter. But it was enough to send a sharp shiver of lonely through me.

March approaches like a zephyr, picking up speed every day. There are plane tickets to buy, arrangements to make, and then, just like that, March will be—over. See, someone else owns this apartment of my dreams, and March is the only month it is available to me until Fall again. I thought about actually swapping apartments to extend my stay through the spring, but I can't imagine living anywhere else in the City. Ah, there are worse dilemmas. (Um, maybe you know someone who wants to live in LA this spring?)

I do know I plan on trying to meet all the people who commented on the blog, and all the strangers who e-mailed me with encouragement and suggestions.

AND I'll play the Sherbrooke station again. Once, maybe twice.

Rencontrez-moi en Mars. Habillez chaudement.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another City, Another Home...

I am back home in a city 2600 miles from Square St. Louis. It was 72 degrees under partly sunny skies this afternoon. Remnant smoke from the Malibu fires blended softly into a gray to cafe au lait haze. I sit by the pool and read the Montreal Gazette online.

I have awakened too many mornings wondering where I'm sleeping. It's like I described to so many people, "Happy to be home, sad to leave home...." Like a guy who sees his ex-girlfriend in every face on the street, the most casual things remind me of my time in Montreal.

A hastily scrawled musician's list for the Sherbrooke Metro station is tossed onto my desk. My Montreal cell phone is on the kitchen counter. There are three leaves posted with magnets to my refrigerator. They were blown in behind me up the stairs and into my lobby on the one snowy afternoon I experienced. I look over at them and I can smell the inside of the 4 Freres Market on St. Laurent. "Pour La Monde" from Crowded House takes me to the narrow streets of Vieux Montreal and the Couche-Tard where I bought a diet Coke for breakfast when it was 38 degrees American outside. In Los Angeles, I hear it in a different car every week, where in Montreal, I heard it on my iPod walking to lunch at Complex Desjardin, or strolling along Laurier to the crazy, non-Mexican Mexican restaurant.

Like a radio station that suddenly changes formats one morning, I left my blog unfinished, incomplete. I think subconsciously I thought that if I finished it, it would be like locking the door behind me. I couldn't quite bring myself to do that, though I never admitted to anyone that that was the reason. During my last week, I could practically see the days like waves racing toward me, ready to send me under. So I kept paddling, boats against the current, as Fitzgerald said.

And then, suddenly, a week after I landed in Los Angeles, strangers found the site. "Guy" said I should be ashamed for not speaking French on my site. Others signed on and weighed in. Strangers were talking about me. My Secret Evil Plan to influence the Montreal Everyday was coming true. Guy, if I could have written in French, believe me, I would have been honored. As it was, I could barely order french fries in the lingua franca. But I'm working on it. And soon enough, someone, I don't know who, told Guy to zip it, and complimented the blog. It was like a kiss blown across a hallway, sweet and unexpected.

You see a lot when you're 2600 miles from wherever home might be. I worked on developing a good short answer for friends and relatives who asked why I went, why Montreal. It still changes every time someone asks. I do know that home can be wherever you are, and you can miss someplace new as hard as you miss your own doorstep.

Like a child who envies his new friend's toys, I spent a lot of time comparing the Canadian experience to the American. And the best description so far is, it's America Lite©. It's an America with purple mountains, vast prairies, deep green meadows and Wal-Mart. It's a funny version of football and a hockey team that's on the front page of the paper every day, win or lose. It's a trapper's diet without a country full of fat people.

It's a country that never invaded anyone, yet gave its young men to wars it never started. It's a land forged by hearty men and women with a huge helping of religion sprinkled on top. As I walked among the statues of explorers and poets throughout the city, I thought one day that this is a country without history. It was Boston without Paul Revere, and America without Viet Nam. But then I realized, unlike America, it's a country without a bloody history, and maybe that's all that historians use as markers.

I am no expert, but it seems to me the history of Canada was only written by families and not by soldiers. From the young women sent from France in the 1700s to help the Montreal colonists populate their new land, to the kids who populate the Pepsi Center on a Friday night, to the new Muslims and the staunch Quebecois, it's the American melting pot with French instead of Spanish. Cook slowly, and keep the flame low, we have learned over here.

The time until I return to Montreal in March will flash by, and I'll leave an LA spring for a Montreal winter. I won't pack as much this time, I'll practice my French, I'll walk the streets like I never went away, and I'll miss it twice as much when home calls me again.

Monday, November 26, 2007


You can see all the photos I took with my little cellphone camera here:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

2007 Montreal Metro Tour: No Sleep Till Sherbrooke


I looked down at my guitar to adjust my capo and re-tune slightly.

"Monsieur! Hey!"

I looked to my left down the long Metro tunnel to the turnstiles. As I did, he bowed slightly, crooked his right arm and sent a dollar rolling in my direction about 25 yards. It rolled steadily, picking up speed, and, just before it reached me, it bounced into the air.

I caught it at the top of its arc, and looked up at him. He smiled and waved and hurried to the stairs down to the Montmorency train, which was just whooshing in to the station a level below me.

Of all the culture I would cover in Montreal, Metro musicians intrigued me the most. ("Hey, I can do that!") Unlike other cities where "busking" is a casual, haphazard thing--You get somewhere, set up and play--Montreal has a system, sort of.

It goes like this: Someone (maybe you) gets to a Metro station at 5 a.m. when it opens. He scribbles out a list with the date, name of the station, and two hour slots from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. He makes two of these lists, tucks the first under the corner of a blue metal sign designating the music station. The other is usually tucked behind a tunnel billboard.

Get there early, and get your name on it. That's it. The trick is just getting there before anyone else because once the list is up, that's it for the day.

I chose the Sherbrooke station for obvious reasons—it's a block from my apartment. I could stagger out, stumble down the street with funny hair at 5 a.m., sign up and then go back home to sleep. Traversing the entire Metro system looking for the music stations (identified by a blue lyre sign) was not something I was keen to do.

The whole singing by yourself with only a guitar thing, this wasn't something I was that familiar with. Back home I have a loud, noisy rock and roll band for protection. Here I would stand alone. Just me and the new/used Takamine guitar I bought at Jack's Musique on St. Antoine. (On sale, Sylvia, OK?)

My friend Jimmy from Glasgow and I once busked on a street corner in Old Town Pasadena, and drew such a large crowd that the cops came and asked them to move along. I could not take credit for the event, though. Jimmy sings like an angel, and his Dad was in town visiting. Once Jimmy sang, his Dad had to dance. The combination was simply too irresistible. In ten minutes and 28 dollars, the moment was sealed forever.

The Metro would be different. I ain't Jimmy. I don't sing like an angel, I sing like a person. Huge difference.

My first day--the mid afternoon slot. I had only come in the hope that there was a slot available later in the day. But the 3:30 people were late. I could start right then and keep the slot for the two hours if they didn't show up.

Oh, OK, that means go! I had sort of a song list in my head and in a notebook. But I began with whatever would come out when I started strumming. Out popped out a really slowed-down version of the Supremes' "Stop in the name of Love," with just enough angst to get people to say, "Um, do I know that song?"

(In exactly 30 minutes the 3:30 people showed up. End of the first day.

I realize now that people going by were wondering where Xie Wie, the Chinese violinist who usually bogarted every available spot here, was. (I would see him every time I walked through the station. I even bought his CD. Now that I understood the system, I wonder how he always managed to be there. You only get one spot a day. There was something just a little moo goo gai pan going on here, if you ask me.)

The Song List

I probably know about 200 songs in my head, all of which leave my same head when its time to write them down, so I jotted down about 25 of them in a notebook, that I could play at the drop of a coin. Then it occurred to me as I was playing: I could play the same song for two hours. People were constantly walking by, in the middle of songs. How could they know? And sadly, the vast majority of them are wearing their iPods.

I learned that there are certain songs that have no effect on people, others that you have to learn to squeeze a little emotion out of. I resisted playing really popular, well-known songs, and never had to play the "The Fucking Eagles," as I have gently referred to them as for so many years.

And then there is the one song will always get them, will always stop someone in his or her tracks, will always make someone smile and look at me, like they know me.
The song? "Somewhere over the Rainbow," of course.

It's problematic, I know. I was telling someone about doing it, and she was appalled. Said no one but Judy could do it. Said she wouldn't even stop to listen to anyone else doing it. Ouch.

But mine is a simple, spare little version. No histrionics, I'm no one I am not, know what I mean? And people like it. Girls smile. Old women look at me kindly. Punk rockers slow down and lip-sync to their friends. And they give me money. What other song can do that?

But How Much Money?

The easy answer is, "I don't know." Money was never the object of the adventure, just the experience. My original goal was to pay for the guitar I bought, but after a few sets, that was seeming more and more unlikely. That first half hour I played? Ten bucks. I think that was the only time I counted.

After that I simply put a little change in my guitar case once I started the set,to give people the idea, and then emptied all the change into a large serving bowl once I got home. The bowl is almost full.

Most Montreal musicians make the bulk of their income from the Metro, though I could not imagine that I could, and am very glad I was not trying to. (I was explaining this to Daniel, one of the musicians, as he was packing up and making room for me, and he just stared at me. "You have a job?," he asked, incredulous. I let him have the next train.)

I didn't get rich, I didn't get famous. I'm okay. My guitar will be packed up and shipped home next week.

What I take home are these snapshots:

--An older gentleman approaches me as I arrive, and hands me money. "Here,"he says. "I meant to give this to you yesterday, but my train was arriving."

--A frenzied mother coaxes her shy young daughter to approach me. When she is unsuccessful, the older daughter hands me the money.

-A young student stops at the turnstile, walks all the way back to me, drops money in the case. "That was nice," she said.

--A couple hands their baby in a stroller money to give me. She puts it in her mouth, of course. They apologetically drop the gooey money in the case.

--A trio of black-shirted metalheads gathers about 25 feet to my right. They huddle seriously, then approach me. Three tattooed fistfuls of coins spill open at once.

Lots of people smiled and some danced. Many ignored me. Plenty of pretty women slowed down.

And that, dear reader, is the point. Every rock and roller from Carl Perkins to John Lennon to Kurt Cobain, who ever joined or started a band, every big hair metal dude who ever cranked it up to 11, every earnest college dork who ever sang "Kumbaya" at a campfire, every 12-year-old who ever begged his mother for a cheap Korean electric guitar, did it for one reason. One reason only. To impress a girl.

And I'm no different. Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Let's Make Like Tomatoes and Catch Up (Ow!)

Once again, I was planning to write this a while ago. That's me and Gary and Jimmy October 14 outside the ScotiaBank Place in Kanata, Ottawa,about two hours west-ish of Montreal. We met when I was still in LA, and I answered an ad for people to travel together to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at one of his only two Canada appearances. (I know, sounds dorky, but it wasn't really.)

Though I'm sure Gary did sort of expect more than two people to respond to the ad. But there we were: a writer from Los Angeles, a Quebecois Chrysler auto parts guy (Bruce would be proud), and an Asian-Canadian computer guy dude, sitting in a Dunkin' Donuts at the Berri-UQAM Station, strategizing about how best to nab seats in "the pit." Like teenagers.

All over Ottawa, other grown-ups were having the same strategy sessions, self-imagined swashbucklers with enough money for tickets and t-shirts. And a serious mortage. And more than one car. Rock and roll grown-ups.

This was gonna be a column about the show, about how in a world where actual product barely exists, where walls and walls and walls full of albums have been replaced by less than a microchip, and where there are no record stores anymore, a middle-aged guy swinging a Fender Esquire guitar can rejuvenate and reinvigorate and reinvent. I've written about Springsteen so many times in so many places that there isn't much I can add to the ouevre. It was a night of rock and roll redemption, and all those kinds of adjectives that he generates. (See inspirational, joyful, jubilant, cathartic, all of those...)

We waited outside all day, we bonded, we stood for five and a half hours straight, and on the way home we left the radio off and we talked about music, about religion, about journalism, sports, about politics American and Canadian, and we talked about home. And we could have talked until the sun came up over Newfoundland.

Somewhere on the Trans-Canada Highway near East Hawkesbury, Gary looked up and out the window and said, "You guys have gotta see this sky. So many stars....."

It was that kind of a night.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Santa Ana Days

Governor Schwarzenegger Proclaims State of Emergency in Southern California Counties Due to Wildfires

"Governor Schwarzenegger tonight proclaimed a State of Emergency in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura due to more than eleven major wildfires. Throughout the region, more than 30,000 acres have already burned, and more areas are threatened. The wildfires have caused the loss of human life and serious injuries. They have burned a number of homes, businesses and other structures. Residents have been evacuated in dangerous areas...."

I know that as I am writing this from so far away, the fires burn out of control ("zero percent contained...") in my home town as the Santa Anas roar down mountain passes like dragon's breath. I read the local news there everyday, and I recognize the familiar shots of stunned homeowners and stoic firefighters. I remember how my heart hurt as I watched the Griffith Park Fire torch a lot of my personal memories last May.

Okay, no one needs my impressions from 3600 miles away. Only that my heart goes out to the families of those lost, and to those who have lost, and to the firefighters and their families.

Photo by LA Times

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hope Springs Eternal

A ray of blue light pierces a rainy sky, and sunshine dawns on Carre St. Louis. Montreal looks better now. A lot better. ;-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Terror on the Metro (Sort Of)

I had been carefully planning my move to the new apartment by moving in bits and pieces. I could actually have packed everything up in one trip, which Im gonna have to do anyway when I leave, but this gave me an excuse to visit the apartment a few times before actually moving in.

OK, remember that 70-pound suitcase, the one with the boots? Well, this is my task: bundle up warm, put on the backpack and roll the suitcase two blocks down Rue Rivard to the Laurier station. Negotiate 100 steps down into Laurier and 200 steps back up at Sherbrooke, out of the station, across the street and down to my new house.

First I gotta get into the station. Easier than it sounds. To enter, you swipe your monthly pass (if you have one) through a machine which opens a set of two heavy, air-powered glass doors to enter the actual station. The open door space is about 2 1/2 feet wide.

So, my hands are full, Im bundled up, so I am wider than usual, and the space is JUST wide enough for the suitcase. I stop outside the station, readjust and take out my card. I walk in to the station lobby, position myself in a straight line facing the doors, swipe my card, and hurry forward.

The doors closed on my suitcase behind me like steel jaws. Pushed into an angle, the suitcase was wedged tight, and nothing was moving. Looking up and out of the station, i caught the eye of a woman leaning against a bike rack smoking a cigarette. She looked at me and nodded, as if to say, "Oh right, thats my cue. Be right there." Like BatGirl spotting the BatSignal. She ground her cigarette into the sidewalk with her boot.

Rushing into the lobby, she whipped out her own Secret Monthly BatPass©, and swiped it quickly. Nothing.

"Pull! You gotta pull!" she yelled at me. Um yeah, like I wasnt? Okay, so I pull, and pull......nothing. Now suddenly there are two women standing there, both with black dyed hair, heavy eye makeup, and cigarettes dangling, like rock stars on rescue patrol; as if Joan Jett and her girlfriend were pulling the night shift that Wednesday.

"OK, Let go!" said Joan as she swiped her card again. and just like that, the doors NEXT to mine, swung open. What the ...?

Joan looked at Baby BatGirl, and KaBoom! the doors were open, and my suitcase was through. Then the doors closed again. Joan Jett and Baby BatGirl were gone behind the heavy smoked glass doors, and I remember thinking, as the doors finally swung open, "This is gonna be a pretty good blog item."

And the 200 stairs? Um, there's an escalator.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Oh Man, Am I Late.....

I kinda forgot that people tune in every day when you have a blog. How sick were they of seeing Patti Smith's aging (not that there's anything wrong with that) mug day after day around the world?

I have been sequested in Le Ghetto Rue Boucher over the past week, realizing that it was affecting how I saw the city, or didnt see the city. I wasn't very motivated to move around the the neighborhood, even though that block was only the worst block in a neighborhood of great blocks.

Actually, over the past week, I did crawl out and discovered more great neighborhoods. The western end of Metro Laurier is a great street of shops and restaurants. You know how giddy everyone gets over three great stores in a row? A block of new shops in Northeast LA would be a National Event (Dont' get me started). Laurier is actually the street pictured in my "Day Un" entry here. That was from my last visit in July. I had been trying to figure out where that street was when I returned here, and "discovered" it again, while strolling up St. Laurent ("The Main") looking for a clothing store.

The point is that Montreal is an amazing collection of fascinating neighborhoods. Imagine Old Town Pasadena, Lake Avenue, Melrose, Sunset in Silver Lake, Montana Avenue, Uptown Whittier, Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia, throw in Old Town Claremont, and all around the corner from each other, separate and distinct, and a tiny part of one city. Then multiply that a few times. Thats Montreal.

Then there is Square St Louis, my new 'hood—Two Metro stops south and a world away from Le Ghetto Rue Boucher. 1870-era homes surround a square with a fountain in the center. (That's it in the pic up there on the left.) The fountain sits directly in front of my picture window--a perfect picture. As my landlords recommended, I've turned the couch around to face the park, and watch the daily parade.

I had been moving my things a little at a time throughout the week (more on that later) and was in the new apartment at dinner time on Tuesday, so I decided to go exploring. Just at the eastern end of the park, the square opens onto a three-block open courtyard/paseo filled with more of those quaint cafes, stores, AND a 24-hour Internet cafe. (Actually what there are none of here are donut shops, and that ain't right.)

It's Prince Arthur Avenue, another of Montreal's revitalized neighborhoods. Actually locals think of it as a tourist trap. Perfect for impressionable journalists like me moving through the Already Known World, thinking they're the first to see everything and tell the world about it.

I'll have more on that when MontrealMontreal returns.

Coming Up: "Our Correspondent Actually Moves" or "Terror on the Metro"

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Pop Goes Montreal

Yesterday, for the first time, I got lost. Walking down Rue Sherbrook in the wrong direction for miles.

Imagine a compass on a piece of paper pointing in four directions, Right. OK, now lay a map of a city right on top of it. Now, tilt the map clockwise about 40 degrees. Thats' Montreal. North is still north, but only if you are going to the North Pole, which I am not planning at this time.

So it was not until I was at the Ukranian Federation Hall last night to see Patti Smith with the Silver Mount Zion Orchestra Thing that this drunk guy explained it to me, along with anything else that popped into his head, from daily life in Verdun to corruption in Quebec to the state of liberal politics. His t-shirt smelled like it was dipped in sweat and whiskey, then worn, then wrung out, then dipped in sweat and whiskey.

Anyway, he said, "If you're on Sherbrooke and you are walking east, the river is on your right; if you're walking west, the river is on your left." Where was this guy when I was lost?

We were both sitting in the balcony waiting for Mademoiselle Smith on the opening night of the Montreal Pop Festival. She was doing an "improv" jam with this respected chamber orchestra, and it was as scary as you might imagine.

Here is the thing about Patti Smith: Her poet laureate/rock and roll priestess credentials aside, she kinda has no talent, really. Her poetry is only OK, and she really does not sing well. She has achieved what she has achieved through the force of her personality and sheer will. And she would probably agree.

Le example: In the second tune, a roadie helps her on with her guitar, and she has to look down at the neck to carefully form the one D chord she will be performing. As the tune begins, she begins to lose the tempo, unable to hold it steady. I'm wondering. "is it just me or is she laming out right now?"

Just before she begins to sing, she stops the band. "Maybe its better without me playing," she offers. It was, really. Seriously.

So it was her poetry, some beautiful orchestral passages, more poetry, some dissonant passages, more beautiful orchestral passages, and then a cardinal sin: as the penultimate song builds to a climax in the chorus, she leads the audience in clapping along. On the wrong beat.

(OK, do this. Count 1-2-3-4 and sing your favorite song in your head. Keeping that count in mind, CLAP on 2 and 4. If you're at work, just do it a little louder. They already think you're nuts. Okay, now start over, and do the same thing, but clap on 1 and 3. That doesnt sound jarring to you? THAT's what YOU do everytime you go see a show! And you always sit near me, so knock it off! This little tip will make you infinitely more attractive to the opposite sex. On the 2 and the 4, is that so difficult?)

So Patti Smith gleefully leads the audience on the wrong beat, the orchestra doesnt seem to mind, the drunk guy near me has already left, and the Montreal Pop Festival is off on the left foot.

Let's review: The river on your left means you are headed WEST, and you clap on the 2 and the 4.

Thank you for choosing, your one-stop source for wisdom, random automotive parts and culinary espionage.

Canadian Money, Ketchup-Flavored Potato Chips, and Other Things You Have Not Considered So Much Lately

In LA, I try not to leave the house without change in my pocket, in case someone asks me. So, in Montreal, the same thing happens. But they ask in French. It feels different, though not to Montrealers, Im sure. Anyway, this guy asked me for money the other day on Rue St. Denis ("Changement disponible, svp, Monsieur?"). So I gave him what I had.

I felt a little guilty, though. It was Canadian money.

LEADING with my best joke of the night! Damn, I should know better.

Okay, so here are some chance and unrelated Canadian observations occuring between September 29 and..........right

• Canadian money doesnt ring and jingle. It mostly clanks. Its made of about 90% steel, as opposed to silver, like US coins. Its also magnetic. US money is not.

• In Canada, there isn't really Canadian cuisine. There is regional cuisine, and there is Quebecois cuisine. It's called "Poutine." Think of it as Turbo Nachos. Take a basket of french fries, and pour gravy all over it. Top off that little HazMat action with cheese curds. Cheese curds are like the stuff they make string cheese out of, but its just big ragged chunks of cheese. You sprinkle those on top of the fries and gravy. It is as scrumptious and vile and as dangerous and beautiful as it sounds. Served in large and extra large in a location near you, I mean, me.

• Speaking of cuisine, Canadians LOVE hot dogs. Everywhere you go, "Hot Dog Special! $3,99!" (Oh, they use a comma instead of a period.) OK, so lets think of some American low points in terms of cuisine....In New Mexico, they slice the tops of Frito bags and pour chili in, and serve it to school children with a spork. It's called Frito Pie. In the South, well, there is nothing they wont deep fry, from cake to salads to Cheerios. But, I think I got them beat. In Canada they sell ketchup-flavored potato chips. Ketchup-flavored potato chips??!! Who thought of that? Give him a raise and make him Marketing Manager for Life. Ketchup?! Dang. Good thinkin' there, Pierre.
(Photographic documentation by yours truly with a cell phone.)

• Don't complain about gas prices. Its over 4 dollars a gallon here. They sell it in liters, so it seems less painful, but it aint, really...

• Don't ask for an ATM machine here. They will look at you wackadoodle. It's a "Guichet Automatique." ( GI-SHAY Auto-ma-TEEK, not GI-SHET, you nimrod.) Impress your date this weekend, and tell him or her, with a straight face, you need to find a "Guichet Automatique." They will look at you wackadoodle.

• My apartment still smells like microwave popcorn.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Possible Permanent Popcornization of the Pad

Movie night at Chez Rue Boucher. I had somehow grown weary of the Three-Channel TV©, and had ventured out to Le BlockBuster for a thin round, shiny disc that would display sound and images when inserted into the side slot of the same machine in which I create these entries for you, dear reader.

And since the dynamic of any character arc requires popcorn, I had also made provisions for that, too.

Here is the thing with popcorn: Some microwave ovens have a "popcorn" button. It regulates the time needed for perfect popcorn. At Chez Rue Boucher there is no such button.

Quick. Close your eyes and try to guess what happened. Visualize....visualize.......visualize...

Only seconds past Too Late, the virulent smell of burnt popcorn gack filled the kitchen like poison ink. Toxic, white-hot chemical butter burst out of the blackened paper bag and sprayed the interior of the microwave like a broken garden sprinkler.

The fumes quickly permeated the wood of the kitchen—the counters, the doors, the ceiling. The window glass smelled like popcorn. Everything was Redenbacher from sea to shining sea.

Less than a minute had passed since ignition, but it was already later than it had ever been. Birds flying overhead dropped like dumbbells out of the sky, stunned and never knowing what had hit them. Cargo ships passing on the St. Lawrence River miles to the southeast were already altering their courses.

Its been three days. Can you guess what the apartment smells like today? Visualize....visualize.......visualize...

Look, we know Saddam Hussein had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. But did anyone think to check his cupboards for microwave popcorn?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Le Abode Nouveau, Part Trois

I meant to write this last week...

I had been thinking that my days in Montreal would be spent in my wiggity, run-down place on Rue Boucher with the fabulous 2007 Three-Channel TV® and the exclusive No-Spatula kitchen©, featuring the Non-Drain Drain© (now, because of Dollar Parity, available in the US).

So I posted that ad on Craigslist, right? The one the landlady saw. and since then, I got a handful of offers. Some just as wack as this place, and some, well, not everyone reads so good, if you know what I mean. One offer was $1500. (Mon dieu!), and another was a houseboat. Do I look like a houseboat guy?

One pattern that emerged was that I would go looking at a place, and I would see an apartment, and think, well, this is not so bad, and realize it was the wrong number. I would find the proper number, and there would be some dismal office/crash pad being paraded as a "renovated loft"!

I was ready to take this place in Outremont ("ooh-trey-mont"), described as a "contemporary second-floor furnished one-bedroom condo." Im sure it was. I never went in. When I finally walked up on it, guess what was on the first floor? A check cashing store and a 99 cent store. SO not going to happen.

And then I found St. Louis Square. Just about a mile and a half towards Downtown (I'm barely learning directions, since the city is tilted, compass-wise.) Just two blocks in from St Denis and a world away from Rue Boucher, a row of 1870-era homes sit surrounding a park with a beautiful fountain.

And once again, I am at the wrong address. Im looking for ---A. I'm stopped in front of ---, and I'm thinking, Hey, this is nice. High ceilings, hardwood floors, tall windows. Realizing I am on the wrong side, I walk across the park to ---A. Louis, the property manager, is standing in the doorway, inviting me in.

OK, this is the place. A remodeled foyer opens in to a grand living room facing the park. There is also a large dining room table, that can double as a desk (a problem at Chez Boucher). Peter, the owner, is an architect, which explains the amount of remodeling and attention to detail.

Built, as I mentioned, around 1870, the building itself was originally a birthing hospital, before being divided into apartments. I would say something at this point about new lives beginning here and all that pure fresh hope for a unmarred future, but that would be kinda obvious. I mean, wouldn't it?

There is a full size murphy bed, two (!) bedrooms, a hallway, and remodeled bathroom. There is something called an open induction oven in the remodeled kitchen, TV, DVD player, full cable and Internet service. All of which leads to the obvious: How can I ever leave?

I'll think of something.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Et Ainsi il Va (And So it Goes)

This is how life should be, sort of:

At 8:26 p.m. on Saturday night, I was dawdling, tying my shoes, looking for my keys. By 8:31, I was ready to "lock up the house, turn out the lights, and step out into the night..." (Sorry, Bruce, it fit.). At 8:45, I was stepping down the stairs to the Cote de Ver train at the Mont Royal station. (No ticket booth at the Laurier station, and I didnt have a ticket,so...).

As I stepped up to the platform, the train arrived. Next stop--Berri-Uqam station, for a transfer to the Arnignon Green Line.

As I stepped up to the platform at Berri-Uquam, the train arrived.

As I emerged from the station and on to the street at St. Laurent, I looked to my left. There was the marquee for Club Soda.

No line outside. Everyone is in already. It's 9:02 p.m. I got a drink at the bar, and found a seat in the balcony stage left. I could literally see down the artists' nose. (How close was I? I took that picture up there from my seat.)

I reached for my notebook, and the lights dimmed. Opening act Teddy Thompson quietly walked on to the stage. A lanky, unassuming sort, he has a voice like Chris Isaak meets the Maverick's Raul Malo, a bit like strong coffee with just enough milk.

One guy, one guitar, a pocketful of modern cowboy country songs. A lot of them, too many of them, in fact, had that slow, loping, Bakersfield-type country shuffle, but Thompson, was assured and confident, and he delivered with style. He closed with George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care," done sober, for perhaps one of the few times. You decide.

Speaking of one guy, one guitar, and a pocketful of songs, the ever dapper and stylish Nick Lowe then also strolled out unassumedly, but with a roar from the loyal and endearing crowd, no members of which, and I mean, no members, were under 40. They were teens and slashed-shirt 20 year-olds then, when Nick and his early bands were filling pubs. Nick is 56 now, with a new child, and lots of grown-up albums.

After an awkward French salutation, Lowe simply settled into a comfortable row of songs, both from his new effort, "At My Age," and his vast catalogue. Nick's always been a quiet touchstone of mine over the years, and not just because we both have that same excellent hair thing going on. His cheeky 1978 elpee, "Pure Pop for Now People," was filled with wit and irony as well as great straight-on rock and roll. Years and years and years went on, and I kept waiting for him to write "And So it Goes" again. But there he was, writing these smooth Ray Charles with a Guitar Songs, and they kept gettting smoother as time went on.

OK, people get older and better at what they do. Im learning that.

He snuck "Cruel to be Kind" in there amidst the new stuff--no buildup, no icky "Thanks for making this my biggest hit ever" noise. Just kinda snuck it in as the applause was waning from his previous tune. He did the same with a slowed-down version of "Whats so Funny (About Peace, Love and Understanding)?" As cool as you wanna be, thankyouverymuch.

There were two encores, he didn't do "And So It Goes," and the Montmorency train arrived in just minutes.

Sometimes life is like that.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Canadians Get Looney; Heat Wave Continues (may be too technical for younger readers)

There were two interesting bits of Canada v. America this week. First, the "looney," which is the Canadian dollar, (There is a picture of a Loon on it.) was suddenly worth as much as an American Dollar. What does this mean? Well, according to ABC News, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said a weak U.S. dollar was the cause of the loonie briefly reaching parity with U.S. currency for the first time in 31 years.

"The real story here is the rather dramatic decline in the U.S. currency in recent days and as a result the Canadian dollar is up significantly," Flaherty told reporters. He said he'd just had a conversation with Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge, to discuss the implications of a Canadian dollar even in value to a U.S. dollar.

At 10:58 a.m. EDT, the loonie rose as high as $1.0004 US before closing at the end of the trading day at 99.87 cents US -- up 1.37 cents US from Wednesday."

I read and read lots of news stories about what this means, (Its a big news story here!) and the basic idea is that Canadian shoppers dont have to head south to US outlet stores anymore, In Canada, I can use American money to buy stuff, but you cannot do that in the US. That could change. A Canadian Looney rising means the US dollar is falling. A lot of Americans who know more about this stuff than you and me, blame George Bush. Personally, I dont give him any credit. He ain't no economist.

Here is the other thing:

Check out the forecast for the weekend in Montreal:

Friday Sep 21: Sunny, 10% chance of precipitation. Winds 5mph from ESE. Humidity 75% Sunrise: 6:39 AM
79 °F; Evening: Clear, 20% chance of precipitation. Winds 9mph from SSE. Humidity 84% Sunset: 6:54 PM

Los Angeles, CA
Tomorrow's Forecast (FRI): Rain, Chance of Precip: 54% Wind: 10 mph
Dewpoint: 54° High 74 with a low of 58.

Here on the shores of the St. Lawrence river, the Montreal area has been experiencing a heat wave with temps in the 80s, and Friday is the first day of Fall. The first question everyone in LA asks me is "How cold is it there now?" I tell 'em, "Walk outside."

So Friday morning, when the rain begins to fall across the LA basin, I'll be wearing a t-shirt and shorts. And some excellent sunglasses I got at Pep Boys.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Hell the French Make the Rock and Roll

There is this joke--several variations of it exist as well—but anyway, this is the gist:

In heaven, you are greeted by the Italians, the Germans organize it, the French make the food, and the English make the rock and roll. In hell, of course, you are greeted by the Germans, everything is organized by the Italians, the English make the food, and the French make the rock and roll.

(You DO know that Quebec is a French-speaking province, right? Montreal is in Quebec.)

I've been listening to "Sur La Route" (On the Road), a French station on XM Radio, and the results have been, well, uneven. The French, for all their superiority, have a wee bit of a problem in le department de originalité. Everything seems to sound like an American song that you recognize, but with different lyrics. ("Hey, that's Elvis Costello, waitaminit....what the eff?...")

Serious rock and roll just sounds a bit silly with a French accent. I dont doubt their sincerity, but a chorus of "Rock and roll! Un! Deux! Trois!" um, sounds, wiggity, and not in a good way. Then you have the usual goofy stuff with banjos and 2 string violins, and what sounds like boots stomping on the hardwood floor. Nothing as cool as Cajun, far goofier. Currently a French version of Suzanne Vega's 1985 "Luka" is in heavy rotation ("Mon nom est Luka..."). There is a lot of fake drama in minor keys from earnest young songwriters railing against life's injustices, like no one didn't ever think of that before.

But what did I expect. In Montreal they dig jazz, man. Jazz. Smooth, sophisticated, stylish wanking to eat a salad to.

And I love Montreal. I love Canada. But O Canada, someday, in a brighter, more just world somewhere, there will be atonement for the sins of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. And Rush. Ca plane pour moi, dude.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Le Abode, Part Deux

Yet another episode of "Arrested Development" on CBC, but before I could settle in, "Ding!," the doorbell.

My landlady is standing there, sheet of paper in her hand.

"Hello, I have your little note," she said, seemingly a little more injured than angry. I had posted a note on Craigslist Montreal, looking for a another place, but as the current frontrunner for the Nobel Prize in Really Not that Smart, I didnt realize that she is on that site regularly. That's how I found this place. ("And the winner is...)

"If you're not happy, you can go," she said. "We can reimburse you, but I am going to Switzerland this weekend, so I need to know right away."

8:30 p.m. I am on the wrong train, headed out to see an apartment (" ..from Los Angeles, California......"). When I finally put 2 and 3 together, I am atop a 22nd floor balcony scoping out the view of Montreal to the east. The tentative new apartment is the polar opposite of this house--a Downtown high-rise. Its complicated, but if this works out, I'll be there next week. She is seriously gonna have to do something about all that Barbie furniture, though.

Hey, the Nobel Prize...isn't that awarded in Switzerland?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Riding on the Metro

I will say this for this city. It shames Los Angeles in terms of public transportation. The Metro, which traverses the island in three directions, is a model of cool eficiency. According to Wikipedia, "The Metro was opened on October 14, 1966, during the tenure of Mayor Jean Drapeau. (It) now incorporates 68 stations on four lines measuring 66.0 kilometres (41.0 miles) in length, serving the north, east, and centre of the Island of Montreal with a connection to Longueuil, via the Yellow Line, and Laval, via the Orange line.

"The metro system is currently Canada's second longest and second in total annual passenger usage (in both respects to Toronto's subway system), serving 286.7 million riders a year; according to the STM website, the metro system has transported over 6 billion passengers as of 2006, which is equivalent to the world's population. The Montreal Metro was inspired by the Paris Metro and in turn is also the inspiration for the Lyon (France) Metro, constructed a few years later, which shares the same rubber-wheel car design and Montreal Metro station architecture."

I read somewhere recently that the ideal public transportation system does not create the class of the car owner and the pedestrian, rather it creates a new community where everyone shares the same ride and the same egalitarianness, if you will.
Certainly that's true in this city by the river.

Its more expensive than riding the bus, which everyone rides as well. It's $2.75 a ride with a six-ticket strip available for $11.75. But that wont get you through the week. An EZ Transit pass in LA County is $70 a month and the Montreal monthly pass is $65. But the LA pass means riding a wickedly uncomfortable bus, or the limited area subway. (Dont get me wrong. I love taking the train in LA, but it doesnt really go everywhere.) With Montreal being one-mcjillionth the size of LA, its transit system shines, as it should.

So far I've ridden from Laurier, which is just around the corner from the crib, to Downtown, but this week, I will be everywhere.

Note to self: Charge iPod.

Le Abode

I am so spoiled.

When I was but a lad growing up in Highland Park, my younger brother once told me that if he was ever rich, the one thing he would always have would be socks.
"I would never go looking for socks," he said. Now as a successful adult, Im sure he has enough socks to miss innumerable wash cycles.

The point is that I never thought that growing up in a small house with six brothers and sisters, I would ever think of myself as privileged. Everything was valuable.

For the last year, I have been fortunate enough to live in a unique apartment with nearly every amenity I could ever consider. When I prepared for this trip, I showed it to a dozen applicants, some of whom I knew would never take it; others I would never sublet it to.

I took the same care in searching for an apartment in Montreal, and I thought I had found it. I was ready to pay what would be considered high rent for this city. The ad had sounded perfect, but then I was realized these nutty Quebequois were not speaking French to me, they were were speaking the far more confusing language--"real estate." The language where "cozy" means "squished," and "adjacent" means "nowhere near." "Character" means "shabby" and "negotiable" means "on their terms, not yours."

We drove though an industrial area with tagged buildings and I got nervous. "We're almost home,eh," my landlady said with some glee. I had visions of what I'd seen previously. The ad said, "We have what was formerly a 3 1/2 (one bedroom) which was converted into an open loft (approx. 700 sq/ft) Hardwood floors, high ceilings, microwave, laundry, nice courtyard with B.B.Q. Double bed. High-speed internet, linens, kitchen cookware, dishes, and utensils. Hydro, heating/electricity all included. Restaurants, boutique et café just around the corner. (Most popular street St-Denis , great location, safe and quiet. Il ne manque que vos baggages !!!"

Au contraire, mon frere.

The courtyard is a dingy porch with recycling, trapped between two buildings; the linens are well, a set of sheets. Kitchen cookware does not include a toaster. I know, I know, spoiled, but can a person be a person who eats toast around here?

And the Internet. Oh yes. that. I set my laptop on a tiny, wobbly dining table, and it instantly picked up a wireless signal. OK, whose signal is that? It's all a very long, confusing story, but there is now a 100-foot ethernet cable extending from outside their balcony on the third floor to my door, and across the floor to my router, so that I can have telephone service.

There is no cable ( they have satellite), and the remote does not work. She looked at me cockeyed when I asked if I would have to get up and change the channel each time. When I asked about cable, she said, "You're gonna want cable, eh?" Not that it matters, though. When I last checked the TV, hidden in a tangled hive of '70s components, speakers and wires, it didnt work at all.

I have placed a new ad on Craigslist Montreal. "Spoiled American Wants Toast."

I'll keep you posted

Friday, September 14, 2007


I was at the airport two hours early, like a good citizen passenger in the Age of the Patriot Act. One suitcase, one guitar, a laptop, coat and a backpack.
The friendly clerk winced as I lifted my wheeled bag on to the scale.
"That might be a little over the limit," she said, nervously. "You might have to pay a charge."
"OK." I'd come this far, and was leaving for two months. Let's move forward, I thought.
"Actually, sir, I can't allow this bag on at all."
"Excuse me?"
"Its' over the weight limit, and the FAA has strict rules about this. You're four pounds over the limit."
"Um well, what can I do?"
"Do you have room in your backpack for anything from your suitcase?"
I had packed every inch of everything, and there was no room for even a paper clip.
"Is there anything you can remove from your suitcase?"
"Well......." I knelt down and opened the suitcase, marveling again at what a freakin' excellent job I had done packing. I was at a loss, though. What could I take out? Where else would it go?
Then, reaching down to the bottom level, I pulled out my favorite cowboy boots--my perfect winter avenue and prairie friends for the last twenty-odd years.
"Weigh those," I said, handing them to the clerk.
She looked over the digital scale, and chuckled, "Four pounds."
I took off my worn sneakers, and began to pull the boots on. Eyeing a trash can across the lobby, I limped over with one boot one and one boot off, and tossed them away. Twenty bucks at a Reebok outlet store, they can be replaced. I limped back and stepped into both boots.
Just a tiny bit taller, I said, "Let's fly."

Day Un

You don't get more LA than me. I can tell you why not to use Fountain Avenue as a Hollywood shortcut, or where exactly to park when you go to Dodger Stadium. I know every shortcut, almost every LA soon-to-be-overdiscovered secret,and can chart the vagaries of LA's economic landscape and forgotten First District.

But now, I am in another country; on an island, in a diverse and cosmopolitan city the size of a council disrict, and I am making my way.

I'll be based in Montreal, Canada until mid-November, and will be filing stories for Foothills Living magazine. You can see a lot of those stories at our I'll be traveling all over the eastern part of Canada and the US. But this blogsite here is a little more personal.

And in a final answer to the countless persons who've asked me "Why?," I would answer only, "Why not?" Life is short. I can do this now. Let's see the world.

Highland Park isn't going anywhere.