Man In A Suitcase

Here's a rather provincial approach to indexing my Canadian content:

(With profuse apologies for the preceding pun. I'm so ashamed.)

Montréal, Québec

I never seem to visit Montréal in good weather. Either it's the rainy season or, more likely, the dead of winter when I'm invited to come. It's fortunate that the city is such a pretty place, with plenty of interesting neighborhoods to wander around and architecture to admire while my feet freeze. I particularly like the look of the row houses, although I'd think those long exposed stairways would be awfully unpleasant when the wind blows and the ice makes walking such a challenge. (Yes, I am a wimp. A couple of decades in California will do that to a person.)

The building on the right looks particularly forbidding with the snow and the gray sky, very Addams familyish. It's on the way up to Mount Royal, the mountain from which the city takes its name. Funny that it never occurred to me that Montréal comes from Mont Réal; even I remember that much from French class!

Schwartz's deli is a local landmark, a source for Montréal's deservedly famous smoked meat sandwiches (kind of halfway between corned beef and pastrami) and a regular hangout for a late and lamented local author, GQ columnist and general troublemaker by the name of Mordecai Richler. The place is tiny, the menu limited, the ambience completely absent. But the prices are low, the food is good (and so good for you) and it is a worthwhile cultural experience. One can't have too many of those.

Schwartz's was immortalized recently in a 60 Minutes report about the battles over French vs. English in Québec; they're in trouble with the official language police over their signs. The problem isn't the sign outside, which is appropriately lacking in English, but with the menu posted inside. You're allowed to have English, it seems. You just can't have English that's more than half the size of the French. Which is, I assume, what led to the Francification of the restaurant on the right. Chez la Mère Tucker just doesn't have the same zing as the English version. Mother Tucker's is just so much easier on the ear, even if it does sound a lot like one of the Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.

This modern building near the old port houses part of the Museum of Archeology and History. The structure was built to preserve the remains of the early settlement of the city and is linked via the old sewer system to the old customs house. As impressive as the facility is, I have a little trouble applying the term archeology to such recent history. After all, we're talking about the arrival of the 17th century French, not the 10th century Vikings. But it is a great place to develop an understanding of the city's beginnings.

The museum moves from the foundations of early buildings to multimedia displays of the city's more recent history. And it concludes by offering visitors a chance to leave their own mementos. What people choose to leave says a lot about them, don't you think? Pictures, stamps, a locket; these are to be expected. But what about the local who left a (presumably unused) condom? Or the woman who dropped off her wedding ring, with a note announcing her divorce? I'm guessing that it wasn't the most pleasant of partings...

Toronto, Ontario

Canada was my first exposure to a foreign country, and Toronto was my first exposure to Canada. A four hour drive from the RIT campus in upstate New York, Toronto was the closest thing to a real city we could find. (Buffalo didn't qualify.) Here we had access to real bookstores, restaurants, museums (the Ontario Science Center was a particular favorite) and other amusements. And after growing up in New York, Toronto was a bit of a revelation: an big and exciting city that has somehow found a way to be both clean and friendly.

These days I have a whole new appreciation for the city, with its juxtaposition of historical and modern architecture in a variety of styles. Every block downtown seems to have this crazy combination of contrasting styles, like the sight of that old brick government building reflected in the mirrored glass of an office tower across the street. Or Queen Street just a couple of blocks to the west, where a building can have a trendy restaurant downstairs and a tattoo and body piercing parlor above.

Toronto is also a city with a sense of humor, even if I'm not always sure whether I'm supposed to laugh. I walk down Queen Street, doing my best to notice all of the interesting detail of the funky shops and restaurants. I'm fascinated by the City TV building, with its unique approach to wall decoration. And then I'm stopped in my tracks by the bistro on the right. Formerly Jimmy's Barbershop, the sign reads. Is this a joke? Was it really a barbershop before? Why would they bother memorializing that fact on the sign? Are they still cutting hair in a back room? Or was the bistro formerly called Jimmy's Barbershop? Which makes even less sense. Don't you hate it when they play games with your head like that?

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California