I went out of town this past weekend to celebrate Quebec's Canada Day: St. Jean Baptiste Day. Got in touch with the songs of birds and open fields and small town folk again. Felt good. The air was definitely heavier. Denser. Nearly as dense as I felt at work on Monday after living 'the guh lyfe' - like my man Razor Ramon would say - for the past four days.
- Before the trip, on the Wednesday afternoon, the kid experienced his first earthquake. It wasn't anything major, but at the coal mine, on the 11th floor, we definitely felt the building shake. At first we thought it was construction, but we saw the people in the building across looking a little flustered, as they peered out their windows down at the street. A couple fellow coal miners got word from friends of theirs that they'd felt it elsewhere around the city. From what I read, it measured a 5.5 on the good old Richter scale and was centred about 300 km North of Ottawa, meaning it was definitely something we could feel in Montreal, but we shouldn't be expecting Bono to team up with whoever the biggest name in record-slinging is today to put out a 'Sending our love to MTL' Song, where the proceeds would go to the survivors of the quake. I thought the experience was sort of neat, to be honest, although I won't lie and say that I didn't feel a little bit dizzy about 30 minutes after the 'eight seconds of shaking' when I thought about what had happened. Maybe I can blame my rum-drinking over the weekend on my fragile emotional state in dealing with the natural disaster.
- We started at Baie St. Paul, which is about an hour's drive into the hills Northeast of Quebec City. When we arrived, there was a gigantic fire in the middle of town, visible from the top of the valley hill we had to descend. It seemed like it was three storeys high and I couldn't tell if there was anyone around it. It looked like it was raging out of control, in the middle of this idyllic little town plunked down in between the hills and, surrounded by fields and the St. Laurent. Turns out there were quite a few folks down there. We didn't stop because we wanted to get our own fire going up on the hill at the hostel we were staying at.
Quickly we found out when we got there that there would be no fire. There was 'une interdiction de feu' due to the busier than average forest fire season. I would be missing the biggest tradition of the St. Jean Baptiste, my bud told me: the fire. (Gotta love any celebration where the most important accessory is a raging, nearly-out-of-control fire.)
- That didn't stop us from sitting around the fire pit though as we polished beers and dipped into the Appeltons. We sat for hours around the 'feu pas feu' with people from across the province. A group of guys from Montreal took control and started belting out songs on guitar. While it was a little boring and cliched at first (I find it hard to believe guitar circles existed before Sublime) once the liquor started to flow, the energy picked up and I got the most authentic and well-versed glimpse into the mind of the modern Quebecois I've has since moving nine (damn! nine, already?) months ago. A shorter guy with a chinstrap beard started improvising lyrics over his friends' strumming. It was a revelation. The first song was about how the French (in Quebec, French means 'from France. ' Quebecois are Quebecois or Francophones) were invading Montreal and particularly la Rue Laurier. I apologize that I can't remember any of the lyrics, but it was late, I was tired, half in the bag and still adjusting to communicating entirely in French. The guy was sharp as hell though and had us cracking. The next few songs were dedicated to Gilles Duceppe and the fact that nothing much had changed for the better for Quebec under his leadership (Fun Fact: I am a resident in Gilles Duceppe's riding.) There were a whole let of 'esti' and 'tabernac' and 'colis' littered whenever a rhyme was hard to come by. The guy hit up Jean Chretien and Paul Martin and pretty much anyone who has had any say in Quebec or Canada recently. Anyways, I came away with the sense that this guy feels that Quebec's interests are being eroded by status quo politicians, but their culture and language is being threatened not only by English-speakers, but also the French. I couldn't tell you what I think, because really, this was my first visit outside of Montreal for any substantial period of time (I spent 14 hours in Quebec City last October, on a rooftop drilling in cable trays and running wire and driving around lost) in Quebec and I'm woefully ignorant about a lot of the issues outside the bilingual city I currently inhabit.
- Being true rebel rousers, we did light up a fire at about 3:30 a.m. She was meek, but immediately, it filled the void it made us all feel a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, as it got bigger, and us louder, we awoke a tiny forest dweller with a big beard and ponytail who also just happened to work at the hostel. He dumped a massive cauldron of water on it and freaked out at us. I went to bed laughing.
- I'm thinking a good 70 percent of the towns in Quebec begin with Sainte. And that's a safe estimate.
- Went to a St. Jean Baptiste parade in Baie St. Paul, where they had a 14-foot paper mache statue of Jacques Cartier lead the show. I guess it was the 475th anniversary of his arriving on Canadian soil. Loved the likeness. J.C., as I called him, had his arms folded over his stomach and his eyes were glazed. He looked like he was seasick. It was great and I'm now officially referring to 2010 as year 475 in honour of the homemade statue. Parade was small town. Everyone had a family member in the parade. Kids dressed up as clowns and ran around a school float at the start and, at the tail end of the procession, in the back of a flat-bed, a bunch of old dudes grudgingly drank beer, looking a little hung-over, humiliating a friend about to get married. After touring through town, 30 minutes later, a friend had the observation of the weekend: the kids were tired, slumping around beside the truck, while the guys were just waking up, yelling and offering beer to people.
- My favourite thing to say now is "oopeli," followed by "les boys."
- I found pretty much everyone that I met over the weekend to be exceptionally nice. I say pretty much because the only people who I found to be a little salty were the ladies who run the hot dog, ice cream and poutine stands. We must have visited a half-dozen of them and I really felt like the same person was working them. She was some cloned character. The stereotype is an overweight, impatient, early 40s ladies, who wears her hair slicked back in a pony tail, and has stains all over her apron. She doesn't hear all too well and her beacon-like speech reinforces that belief.
- I spoke French the entire four days. I realized I still have a ways to go. Living in Montreal, you can pass by being able to order food or hold a very brief conversation. When I was in the country, I was constantly meeting people and trying to make a good first impression. I'm guessing most people I came across probably thought I was recovering from a stroke. At one point, I called a meteor show a 'douche de meteor,' which is a severely literal translation. It was brought up more than once over the course of the trip.
It was bizarre though. I realized how many of the conversations you have in the city each day are just short, trite bits of formality and how, in the small town, where things are slower, where there are less people and where there is less of a premium put on time, the conversations turn serious or less superficial quickly. And that's where I noticed my inability to adequately express myself in French. And I found it very frustrating. Many times, I was asked a question, I would say a couple words, stumble, search for the word, and then just say 'bon.' I felt like a simpleton. Often, they would nod and smile politely and then lose interest and start talking to someone else.
Another thing I noticed was how important being funny or making people laugh is to me. Many times I said something funny - or something I thought was funny, which is frequently not the same thing- and nobody laughed either because I was not understood or because I just wasn't funny and I felt like I wasn't clicking or myself and I didn't feel right. I felt like I was starting to disintegrate... or at least my idea of who I was was.
- We visited a town called Trois Pistoles for the weekend. National Geographic, someone said, had called the sunsets at Trois Pistoles the second best in the world, behind some vista in an African country. I can't say I disagree, after catching one on the ferry ride across the St. Laurent, which at that point was half-fresh, half-saltwater and was three kilometres wide. We ate lobsters and smoked fish and swam in a creek and I watched Avatar for the first time (in French, no less.)
Moral of Avatar: playing video games will redeem you and make you a better person. And if you wrap the game, you'll get real legs and get to bang an alien.
- The highlight of Trois Pistoles: Petanque. Boy, did we play petanque. We had to jimmy rig some lights to keep the game going past dark. The couple we were staying with - in their 50s - kept up with us (and even out did us.) The man of the house walked by the petanque pit, dumped a bunch of gas on some old cupboard and dresser drawers stacked up so they spilled out of the fire pit and lit a match and we finally had our St. Jean Baptiste fire, three days late. Under those lights, at a cottage five minutes from the St. Laurent river, on a cloudless, brittle night, we were petanque pros. Each shot bettered the game. I played the Mad Bomber and the Submariner. We were addicts. We played until our hands went numb with cold. We played until we were out of beer and were half done the whiskey. I lost, but I played as well as I could.
- Another feature of Quebecois: they can talk and talk about food at any age. I felt like food was a conversation reserved for middle-aged people. Not here. This is the land of the palette. The arguments over what area, what region, what town, what grocer has the best strawberries, poutine, cheese. We stopped at least five times to have the best 'cheese curds' or 'barbecue cheese' or 'chocolate-covered blueberries.' And they were all damn freekin good every time.
- So we drove back and two of my good friends were leaving town and having a go away party at the weekly summer event where the MDMA heads congregate and we call Picnique Electronik. I'd been putting off visiting the party because it's just a giant techno dance floor outdoors. I'm not much of a techno guy and I feel like I've become a little overexposed to it here in Montreal. But I went down and after being surrounded for four days by the sweet heavy air of the country and the stars and the sounds of birds and empty fields, I was crowded with sweaty techno junkies in the middle of the city listening to the deafening boom of techno bass and drums. It was an exercise in opposites. But, to be honest, it was fun and I think I'll go back.
We spent about four hours there and then scooted back to my place for a quick drink before scooting off to the Jazz Festival, where the Planet Smashers were playing. But as we got to Berri-UQAM, my station, we found another festival - International Drum Festival or something. I bring it up only for two reasons: 1) I know I've already mentioned this, but you seriously can't avoid festivals here. You stumble into them. I won't say it again. But it's uncanny. 2) the performing group we came across was 20-deep, with some guys younger than me with dyed orange hair, spiked belts and lip studs and some other members as old as their grandparents. No joke, there were three ladies in that group that looked like Old Town Grandmas. Like one of those ladies you'd see running a craft sale table or selling tickets for the Rotary in Yellowknife. Wall white hair, jeans pulled up high, they played alongside the youngsters and I just shook my head in awe. What a city!
Planet Smashers weren't bad themselves.
Look familiar, gents?
- And then Monday hit like an atom bomb.
Random observations and trivial thoughts:
- I've decided I want to come up with a piece of punctuation for the rimshot drum that is used after someone says a joke. You know, badum-CHING? Ideas? How about "-_*" No, that actually looks like the punctuation mark for spousal abuse.
- Having to walk to work the past two days, since I was super late, I realized my favourite part about riding my bike to work. No, it's not that I get to work faster, or that I get some added exercise, or that I get to beat some sad-sack car drivers to work in the morning. Nope. The reason I love it so much is that I don't get accosted every five steps by homeless people - the same homeless people - asking me for change. For the record, some of these people are in better shape and are dressed nicer than I am. In a bike, I can just drive right by.
- I was WALKING to meet some friends for a baseball practice in the park the other day and I saw the most bizarre dog walker. Imagine a guy in his 50s, who kind of looks like Lucien Bouchard wearing a hockey-dad track suit coat, caring around a nine-iron. This in Jeanne-Mance park, at the foot of Mont Royal, keep in mind. He lines up his shot as his dog waits patiently and dutifully behind him. The man rears back and uncorks a 40-yard loping shot with a tennis ball, which his dog chases down and brings back to him, as he walks contentedly a few dozen feet.
- I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for Sean Kingston for this four-minute piece of plastic.
I hear this once and it's stuck in my fucking head for two weeks. "Shorty fire burnin ponne dancefloor."
Everyone seems to hate that Justin Beiber kid. How does Sean Kingston get away without any residual hatred? This guy has a lyric that goes "She's as cool as fire." We wonder why we're all so stupid. I hope Sean Kingston has to spend eternity in a 10-foot-by-10-foot cell with a kleenex-less chronic masturbator.
- I missed the whole G8 and G20 fiasco. I'm sort of glad. I don't know what to think about anything anymore. Really. Bankers make me sick. Politicians make me sick. Police officers make me sick.
This thing cost anywhere from $1 billion to $4 billion, according to what media outlet you believe. And we're going to be fitting the bill. $4 billion to put on a three-day meeting? And we just take it up the pooper, no questions asked. Surely, there were some people that pocketed some cash from this whole thing. There is no way anyone is going to be able to account for every penny from this thing, particularly when so much of where the money was spent is shrouded under 'national security.'
That $4 billion could have bought us a lot. A Mackenzie Valley Highway. Hey, maybe if some of that came this way, I could get a family doctor or even see a doctor and get a long overdue check-up and not have to go to a walk-in clinic, which turns people away if they aren't there by 9:30 a.m.
The thing that scares me worse is that the whole security and money spending and protestation and police brutality was all a distraction. These were the things that kept people talking, kept people arguing, kept getting reported by media outlets and kept us from knowing what was actually going on inside. And let's face it, burning police cars are a lot more attention-grabbing than a bunch of comatose, white guys spouting cliches. Like I said, I haven't read up much on it, but I read a Naomi Klein editorial that said many countries agreed to cut their debts in half by 2013, which will affect spending on social programs, including health care. (Hope I can get an appointment by 2013.)
I got the feeling that a lot of people didn't even know what they were protesting. Or they probably did, but everyone had a different cause and the fuck do politicians even care any more about what the electorate thinks when they'll keep getting voted in due to the dearth of anyone real who wants to challenge any of the old thinking. Protests don't work anymore. Not when they can decide where you protest and can cordon you so far away that the insulated Industry Minister Tony Clement can tweet: "Wow, what a successful #G8 + #G20! Lots of substance on economic, security & devt issues. I'm proud of Muskoka, Toronto & Canada" after Canadians were getting their asses beaten for simply assembling downtown. Hey douche, you give me $4 billion and I'll throw a pretty good party too.
That's probably what makes me the sickest: how far away we are from our leaders and how they are able to escape any meaningful discourse about what is going on in the country. It's just an old, boring, played out game they play and these old guys play. They don't ever say anything engaging. They are machines.
I don't think I'll celebrate Canada Day this year.