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