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.