I’m not some garden variety phallustine

To my chagrin I’ve learned that I’ve gained more family followers over the past few days. Come for the heartfelt Montreal sentiments. Stay for the puns and poop jokes. If anything over the past few weeks, I’ve learned they’re ingrained family traits. Here be dragons, you’ve been warned.

Between the solo/partnered time I’ve had here, it’s also held a higher concentration of familial familiarity. Familialrity? I’ve been noticing/recalling patterns, reinterpreting my past and recalibrating for my future. If we’re talking family traits, food is a big part of it all. My family, extended and all, loves food. Food is love. We cook, share and enjoy. We talk about meals we’ve had, where to check out and, for better or worse, what it does to our waistlines. Our family is obsessed with weight, image and all that jazz. We’re constantly encouraged to eat more and more, but there’s a pervasive fear of gaining weight. An “undue” amount, y’know? We talk about how “good” people are looking, how “bad” we are for eating certain things. Applying a moral compass to inanimate objects like dessert, etc. I swear it’s borderline highschool shit.

Having thought about this stuff on end for years, I know know that at least I come by it honestly. I don’t regret any of my proclivities for bold flavours or experimental cuisine. If you’re thinking about the calories over the taste, I figure you’re doing it wrong. Moderation is a personal endeavour, but there’s no weight as severe as the guilt above your head of taking it too far. With lifelong struggles over weight and body image I know full well that society hates the overweight. HATES us. Despite any well-meaning comments and euphemisms, it’s judgement all the way down. It’s bullshit, and so often the judgement comes from a totally clueless place where you don’t understand the struggles of others. Despite what you think, someone else’s weight is none of your fucking business. You have no concept of what’s going on in their lives or what their relationship with food is. Whatever that relationship is, it’s theirs, not yours. If you’re unsure of your relationship with food, as ghastly as it sounds, please be prepared to exercise self-compassion. Cool it with blaming yourself, deciding what you can and can’t wear or do. Your value has nothing to do with whatever a scale might say. Throw it the fuck out and decide what healthy means for you. There are far more important things.

Au contraire, I have reasserted the kind of love that flows freely throughout my lineage. Despite any of the above, people care and are present. So many interactions have cast my mind back to how we were raised. The boundaries instilled in us from a young age. How we were encouraged to take care of the dishes post meal or try as best as possible to be hospitable to others within their own homes. To be kind and considerate, to listen and actually hear what people were saying. To practice compassion and adoration to our partners. To give love in abundance and reaffirm how lucky we are to have them in our lives. I don’t think I’ve had a relationship that’s lasted five years. I can’t imagine how it feels when you’re homing in on 40 years together. How slight annoyances must become points of contention. Irritation morphing into outright contempt. I’m sure it’s so easy. What’s harder then, is embracing the faults of your beloveds. To be slow to anger and quick to understanding. Letting the heat of the moment take you will leave you stranded in a constant state of frustration. If you’re together until one of you dies, you don’t want to spend another 15-20 years stewing in resentment. It’s a rapid route to a living grave.

It’s something my own partner has taught me unbelivably well. That blame is in abundance and leads you nowhere. Flights of unnecessary fury only build walls higher and displace compassion. Being emotionally earnest is a reward in itself, knowing that openness pays back dividends. Having someone you feel free to be yourself with, to embrace one another with fullness, doubles the warmth of that embrace. Owning one’s feelings, faults and failings is unimaginably freeing, and it’s hard not to bring that authenticity back to the relationship. Fuck posturing, be yourself and love who you’re with. If you’re not, why be with them? Set them free and find your bliss.

Who’d’ve thought that “don’t be a dick” would take 700 words to say?

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Coughing up dough left, right and cêntre-ville

Eat and sleep, lather rinse repeat. The holiday continues.

Today came the family brunch I’d been low key tentative about. I didn’t know who’d be there, who I’d know and how many people I wouldn’t forgotten. Part of me feared discovering that I had a bigoted or racist streak in my extended family. I still may, but it certainly didn’t surface at brunch. Brunch was nice, actually. A love of food permeates our lineage and, as we’re in Montreal and everything here is bread, there was an abundance of delicious bread. I may have eaten my weight in beer bread, flanked by sharp cheeses and preserves. The wild salads had been harvested at their peak, whether bean, potato and bacon, double tuna, egg or… salad (?) salad. Goddamn tasty is what they were. I ate twice my fill, then out came dessert. Baked apple pie, chocolate cake, scroggin muffins (chocolate chip, pumpkin seed, squash and whatever else fits in a trail mix), two ice creams and a baked blueberry scramble that didn’t manage to find purchase amongst the many other bread based dishes. You can only throw so much bread at people before they burst, Montreal.

It was sweet. I got to see my parents catch up with old friends, hear about mountaineering adventures and the local birdlife. I’m not gonna hazard a guess at what you’d call them in relation to me, but my uncle’s grandchildren were nice kids. The younger one showed me all his garbage can (something like that) toys, the older one had just gotten his D&D player’s handbook/DM guide and told me about the campaigns he was planning. Another of my cousins (?) was in his second year at McGill and loving it. I met my uncle’s ex-wife and heard about her theatre experiences. We all got together for family photos at the end, then my girlfriend and I went home to food coma out in bed.

The trip seems to have been defined by a mix of experiences new and familiar. We had an astoundingly good time last night catching up with friends who’d very, very recently (several days ago) moved to the city. We all got cocktails at Bootleggers L’Authentique and shot the shit. We headed off to Le Majestique Montreal for fries and further drinks. I asked the staff what happened to the toy train that used to run along the higher shelves, only to be informed that there had never been a toy train. It was all in my head. “Toy train, eh?” muttered one of the staff, jotting down notes. Look out for a toy train there next time you visit. There SHOULD be a next time, the bar kicks ass. Trendy for all the right reasons, the cocktails are delicious and the food is immaculately presented. Go there and tell the tale.

As always while on vacation, I feel like someone inside of me emerges. Like I give myself tacit permission to be myself. Living outside of routine, the stresses of appointment oriented existence fade into the background and I can breathe in experiences. It feels like it’s a hard but necessary line we tow. We have shit to do to make it through each day, week, year. Driving ourselves like taskmasters keeps us running to schedule, but at what cost? Concurrently, for all the joy that comes with bring unhinged from demands, I’m not sure Vacation Leon could last forever. The glee is in part because if its transitory nature. It’s special because it’s the exception. If it were to become the rule, would that really “rule” in the 90s sense?

Or would it actually be all kinds of phenomenal, but pretending the alternative makes for a tight little coping mechanism?

Diving in face first

Sitting here at Foufounes Électriques, I start to wonder if it’d be my local if I were to live here in Montreal. Then I stop wondering. Of course it would be.

I can see that life all too clearly. I’d be a larger man, on account of all the excellent beer and bread in this town. Hell what’s beer if not mutant, undercooked bread? It’s Montreal. Everything’s bread. I’m drinking a delicious $4 Fin du Monde (wet bread) and nibbling at free pretzels (crunchy bread). Today I had a BBQ brisket taco (floppy corn bread), energy ball (peanut bread? Stretching it a bit) and Creole falafel (spicy chickpea bread? I think I may have broken the metaphor). In short, we’ve been eating our way across town. I’m hashtag blessed with a partner who enjoys eating as much as I do, so it tends to govern our movements (both logistical and bowel). Today we went off in search of the Atwater market. Neither of us knew if it’d be a swell, authentic experience or something gratuitously touristy, but we rolled that die. Thankfully we lucked into the last week of an international food court with a ton of great options.

Satay Boys and their skewers came highly recommended, with good reason. Look, I don’t ghost write for a food blog anymore. I’m not gonna make these entries purely a description of what’s made it down our gullets. But also, eating is almost all we’ve been doing. The BBQ brisket taco we had was awesome, but the coolest thing we saw them do was sandwich preparation. After grilling the buns and loading them up with fixins, they put a singular slice of cheddar atop the brisket. Then they fetched the blowtorch. It was rad to see and I’ve got zero doubt that alongside the wonderfully melted cheese slab they had a crispy bottom bun. Is it unfair to get food envy when you’ve already been served a fantastic meal of your own? If not, too bad. We had it.

Most of our meals have been via recommendation. It’s my favourite way to travel. The interesting thing is that by now I’m becoming reasonably familiar with Montreal, so new experiences seem to have become familiar locales. Like Foufounes Électriques, a dive bar I found way back when I first immigrated to Canada in 2013. I still love it in all its grungy, low class splendour. We’re heading off to Bootleggers L’Authentique afterwards to meet friends. It’s a prohibition themed cocktail bar my girlfriend and I found when we weren’t in the mood for a club. They serve Long Island iced teas in ginormous glass boots. After which we’re off to La Poule Mouillée, a churrasco chicken joint that does the best and most decadent poutine I’ve ever had. I discovered this spot Street a ride share en route to Montreal. My fellow back seat passenger was a chef and raved about their spices, moist chicken and absurd portions. We arrived in the city and went off to have a meal together. Great memories that served as a platform for me to make new memories with others. Fresh nostalgia, it’s one hell of a cocktail.

Which reminds me, shouldn’t we be off to meet our friends now? I could go for a tall, Long Island tout de suite.

In Montreal, bread is what you earn and spend to buy

“Tu parle Anglais?” It’s become my defacto phrase over these past few days.

I’m trying, sometimes. Well, I’m “trying” at the best and blurst of times, but I’ve been putting in a modicum of effort to speak la langue while in Montreal. Today I even attempted to order my mocha entirely en Francais! She greeted me in English and I inverted my go-to. “Tu parle Francais?” “Oui.” “Je voudrais en mocha part a porter sil vous plait.” She laughed “boire a porter. Tres bon.” I *felt* pretty good, especially since we’d ordered from Dispatch, my girlfriend and my favourite coffee shop here in Montreal. A cute minimalist place with stellar coffee. It’s getting to the point where I’ve visited enough that I’m starting to get my bearings. I get to *have* favourite coffee shops now. That also feels great. At least between Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End. They’re both areas crammed with neat little niche stores and established locales. If I lived here I can imagine it’s where I’d hang out most often. I could live here, language and lack of beloved communities notwithstanding. It’s a vibrant city with kick ass aesthetics, awesome food scene and cheap booze. Its classy and seedy areas are mere parallel streets apart. It’s far from perfect; there’s a lot of shitty racism and separatist conservatism. Still, it DOES have a dollar cinema. That has to count for something.

I had a tremendously good meal last night with friends. While I had all the purest intentions of getting day drunk and wandering Montreal’s underground warrens, a friend arrived in town and messaged me mid bar hunt. It’s hard work finding an establishment that caters to degens such as myself. We spent the afternoon eating and hanging out as other friends arrived in town one by one. Once The Gang was assembled, we made a booking for Le Robin Square, an artisan family owned restaurant specialising in high end Quebecois comfort foods. The prices got up there and I balked a little. I dunno, I think I have deep seated class issues. The notion of flagrant spending on extravagant purchases feels kinda wrong on a base level to me. Because food at more affordable price points is easy to come by, paying $25 for an entree or $35-$40 for a main is a hard sell for me. Still, I was with friends and failing anything peer pressure may have helped me to expand my boundaries. Thankfully. I feel like if I’m unlikely to still be thinking about what I spent on a meal two months later, but the meal is still a salient memory, then that’s a fine purchase. This meal was a fine purchase.

We ordered four dishes to share and they arrived one by one. Testament to the kind of dining experience we had was the waiter replacing our plates and cutlery after each dish. First up was a fois gras croque monsieur. A beautifully crispy shell shaped like an eclair. The inside was rich and smooth. The expansive fatty taste lingered on the tongue, topped by a thin but dense layer of melted cheese. The calamari was soft and buttery, draped with onions and peppers that seemed almost caramelised. It was drenched in a creamy sauce that begged sopping up with crisp toast, which the waiter helpfully provided. Our two mains arrived. First, a pulled pork macaroni and cheese. Truffle butter permeated the cheesy concoction. Gloriously decadent, the epitome of comfort food. But like, comfort food for people who bleed money. Lastly came the gnocchi poutine. A blanket of gooey mozzarella covered soft mounds of flavour. The best part was the candied pear tying the whole dish together. That in itself was emblematic of haute cuisine. Dashing and unexpected tastes all drawn together by skilled chefs. There’s no way I could ever hope to stumble upon such concoctions in the kitchen and y’know, I feel like that like of experience is worth the price. It was not a meal I’m soon to forget.

I mean, we’re in Montreal. It was basically the only meal we’ve had that wasn’t just some variant on bread.

Here in Montreal they call me Jean Reno

It’s only 9am, so I can’t be sure, but I think I’ve decided what I’m gonna do today. A variation on yesterday’s “going into town” plan. I’ve resolved to get day drunk and wander the underground.

I tend not to enjoy writing drunk, unlike some of the greats, so here I am in the kitchen with a mediocre cup o’ joe and a dream: to put something remotely legible and entertaining down on a page. Ready to embark on that quest with me? Let’s go go go with a recap. My plans yesterday were ostensibly to “go into town”. I was gonna get coffee and some jeans, then see where my mercurial proclivities would take me. Thinking of coffee, I looked up my friends’ suggestions for thing to see and do to find a great cafe. Caffe In Gamba, was my well learned Montreal friend’s recommendation. I looked upfrom Facebook and it was across the road. A beautiful little cafe with an assortment of highly regarded beans for sale. I ordered a mocha and came away with a beautifully smooth, warm beverage. Parfait!

With a newly warmed belly, it was time to get my booty into some denim. Onwards to my destination: Jeans Jeans Jeans. As I’d remembered it, walls upon walls of cascading pants. As I’d forgotten, half of their stock was half price. High quality post season jeans costed to move. I started fishing through the racks, looking for some green and burgundy replacements for my lacklustre fast fashion. After a frustrating 15 or so minutes trying to work out how to find my size in this warren, a staff member helpfully pointed out their colour based sizing system. The coat hangers were different colours for each size. I asked about length and he informed me that it didn’t matter, they altered to any length free of charge. WIth renewed vigour, I hustled together seven or so pairs of assorted colours then headed to the changing rooms.

As I sat and waited for a room to open up, I saw a scene unfold. Unlike most any other changing room I’ve been to, there was an emploee confidently calling the shots as his little dog circled around his feet. A woman walked out of her room and looked in the mirror, unsure. The guy stepped over. “We can find you something better. I’ll be back in a minute.” True to his word he returned shortly thereafter with a couple of pairs in hand. She went back into the room and came out wearing one of the new pairs. She looked into the mirror and smiled. “I love how they sit on the hips”, he smiled back “of course you do, honey. It’s not my first day.” A room opened up. He took the jeans in my hand and dumped them on the floor. “Go wild. I’ll be here”.

I tried each pair on, walked out and looked in the mirror but only one of them took. To be fair, I really liked the fit. I came out and told him I’d be back with some more pairs. He looked at the pair I’d chosen and those I’d discarded. “You wait right there. What colours do you like?” I told him I liked bright and bold stuff. True to form he came back a few minutes later with an armful of jeans. He was absurdly on point. Like some kind of Jean Genie, he’d made my wishes come true. Nice slim fits, comfortable and stretchy. Some burgundies, blues and an outlier tan pair. It wasn’t like he’d just gone for the most expensive pairs either. He’d included a bunch of the 50% off ones too. They were all snug and looked pretty great. In and out, in and out, I narrowed down which ones i really loved by looking in the mirror and gauging how they looked/felt. I separated them into two piles, and in the definitely yes pile I had identical green/burgundy pairs, a deep blue pair and the tan ones. One by one I put them back on and he pinned them for alterations. I got four numbered tickets to pick up my order and I looked at belts while I waited. Last time I visited I picked up a black belt with a blue trim. This time I picked up its sister, with a yellow trim. Plus I figured I was an adult. I needed to finally own a quality brown belt for fancy dress ups. By the time I’d picked out the belts, my alterations were all done. I went up to the counter and racked up a $300 bill for four tailored pairs and two belts. It wasn’t the cheapest purchase I’d made, but y’know what? Fast fashion can get fucked. I’ll keep these for a few years.

With that out of the way, is it time for day drinking yet?

Oh, my bad. Think I can make the phrase “mon mal” catch on?

Well, I’m on the road again. I guess that’s the way this trip’s gonna be.

More accurately, my bus will take 50 minutes to get into town, so here I am. Not in town. That’s where I’m going, by the way, to town. I didn’t know if you realised when I mentioned it the past few times, but that’s the direction in which I’m heading. Do I sound certain? I’m not. I kind of don’t have the foggiest notion of where I’m setting forth to. In the general vicinity of coffee, bars, bagleries and vintage stores. To wander the streets in search of anything that piques my interest. Today’s a free-roll, with zero responsibilities or obligation. I’m on holiday. My time is mine to do with what I will. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Sure, I’ve got vague ideas of what today’s “town” adventure could hold. It’s not my first journey to Montreal. I have a few favourite coffee joints I could visit. I know I want to hit up Jeans Jeans Jeans, for whatever inscrutable product it sells. Pointedly, to replace my own lackluster trouser situation. Look. I keep buying post season H&M pants on sale. I usually don’t pay more than $15 for a pair of jeans. Consequently I get about $15 worth of a pair of jeans. Except for this pair I’m currently wear, whose crotch split within maybe a week or two. So I’ve maybe got about $4 worth of them. That’s not great value, even on sale. Jeans Jeans Jeans sells three things and sells them well. If you needed a hint, it’s in the establishment name. Multiple times. I’ve written about them before, but they’re a curious location. Walls and walls of denim of all cuts and colours. They sold me my blue tinged leather belt (which I entirely forgot to wear on my way out of the house. So not only am I wearing subpar fast fashion, but I’m barely holding them tight. In short, I’m a total shit show). My girlfriend, ever the voice of reason, convinced me to maybe stop buying shitty temporary clothes. I hate having to continually replace pants. Buy it once and hopefully not for years, I always think-but-don’t-speak-aloud. I’ll spend some time and money to actually equip myself with some damn fine denim. Then work off all that shopping with some baked goods and a beer. That’s what holidaying is all about, n’est ce pas?

Oui!

It’s also just a goddamn delight to be in Montreal again. The bus route is taking me past rows upon rows of stately brick houses, all manner of stone work. People speak French here on the regular. It’s refreshing. I get to use my clumsy high school French class vocab to try and goad people into speaking English out of frustration. “Je suis desole, mes Francais est tre mal” I say, laying the Kiwi accent on extra thick like Marmite. I works like a charm every time, locals practically bowing over backwards to speak English for me and further prevent my bastardisation of their native tongue. It’s also fun to try sometimes, see what I can remember. If I can pass through a shop interaction undetected “ce combien? Oui. Merci, a bientot!” Then I feel like a motherfucking spy hiding in plain sight. Even better, the accent is ever social lubricant and invites conversation. Maybe I’ll be able to find strangers at some bar to chat to and make new friends. It’s one of my favourite things about travelling, meeting randos and having spontaneous experiences. Of course, with my backpack full of meds, water, tissues, spare orthotics, a poncho/umbrella and bluetooth keyboard, I’m not totally sure how spontaneous things can get. Calculated risks only?

Oh well, I’m almost in town. Let’s roll that die.

Mile like you mean it

Mediocre dispatches from the road.

We just arrived in Quebec. What tipped me off? Was it the assortments of signs en Francais? The general air of je ne sais pas? Or the fact that the gas station sold alcohol? I’ll take all of the above for 300, Pierre. The road has been long, but not altogether too hard. It’s been a good excuse to dig deep and find out more about my parents’ history, upbringing, families and journeys to meet. What was it like for my father to venture from small town New Zealand to the cosmopolitan environs of Montreal? Certainly a more intense route than we took on the 401 from Toronto. Filling in the gaps has definitely given me a wider sense of how my parents’ marriage (and consequently, I) came to be. To think, my Dad bought a ticket to London and stopped off in Canada along the way. If he didn’t, none of us would be in a car to Montreal in 2018. If he didn’t then invite my uncle up to his place for a barbecue, ditto. Little ripples.

We stopped off at one of the aggressively genetic On Route stops. More than a little surprised they don’t just call them En Route in Quebec. I had something I’ve been intrigued to try for some time: The A&W Beyond Meat burger. My vegetarian friends have been raving about it. My batting average with imitation meat isn’t amazing. Most of them are fine, if not unremarkable. I’d heard some buzz, however, about the Beyond Meat patty. I’ve always said that if synthetic meat gets to a point where it’s affordable and basically indistinguishable from the real thing, I’d be happy to jump on board. I ordered one bunless, wrapped in a copse of crunchy lettuce. The verdict? It was decent. I mean, knowing that it wasn’t real meat, I wasn’t fooled. It didn’t quite have the density or succulence of a cow burger, but it wasn’t terribly far off. I’m not a huge fan of fast food in general, but it more than sufficed. It was tasty enough to give me hope that we’re heading in the right direction with lab grown meat. Too bad it wasn’t more average. I could’ve called it meatiocre.

I’m ready to be out of a car. After 5 hours of an Australian GPS trying to pronounce French roads, it’ll be good to trust my own two feet again. Driving has been fun. Dad and I swapped around, with cruise control as our co-pilot. It’s been wet the entire way, our windscreen covered in the backwash of freight trucks. Honestly, it’s been a pretty straightforward (en) route, with a couple of musical interludes. Still, I’ve been on the journey for long enough, I’m ready for the adventure.

Wait, we’re in Quebec now. Let l’aventure commence!