O Canada

Friday, November 30, 2007

Crisis? What crisis?

Quebec is currently suffering from a little identity crisis, which has resulted in a government commission (the Bouchard-Taylor commission) roaming around the backwaters of Quebec "listening" (in a formal governmental way - i.e. "not listening") to people's fears and woes regarding immigration and "reasonable accommodation of minorities" (buzz-phrase of the year). The first few months were spent in rural areas (where there aren't any nasty black people or muslims) and were full of bullshit about how the Franco identity is under threat and mosques should be regulated and hijabs shouldn't be worn, and kids should be educated in French and all schools should be Catholic, etc. In other words, its all been fun and games with fuming Franco nationalists frothing over nothing much.

Since the commission came to Montreal (where we actually HAVE black people and muslims, etc), the attitudes expressed have, on the whole, been far more tolerant (and there have been protests against the very idea of having a commission - good). Last night, however, was the best one yet! Last nights meeting was the first one to be conducted almost entirely in English, reflecting the fact that (guess what?) lots of Quebecers are Anglophone or Allophone! Secondly, a woman stood up halfway through, greeted the assembly in Mohawk - which confused the chairperson no end because (ironically) nobody knew what language she was speaking - and said basically: Montreal island is Mohawk territory and you're ALL squatters.

Brilliant! And true. Louis XXIV "gave away" what the *real* locals called Turtle Island when he had no claim to it whatsoever. The Mohawk claim has been roundly ignored for 350 years. Which all puts a few people whinging about girls being allowed to wear hijabs in soccer matches in context, doesn't it? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Rural Quebec.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Saint Patrick's Day (allegedly)

At the pub on St Patricks Day they were playing some fiddly-widdly gaelic nonsense on the stereo, and after a couple of hours (and pints) I was getting mighty pissed off with it. "Do you have any Pogues?" I asked the waitress, who admittedly probably didn't remember the 80's. "Who?" came the predictable, but still soul-crushing reply. Eventually, I asked the barman, who, in addition to being closer to me in age, seemed by his attire and general demeanour to like The Punk Music. No Pogues, he answered with a sigh. I felt for the guy, as obviously displeased with the Celtic buffoonery as I was. No Pogues? What kind of St Patrick's Day was this?

Now, I can't feckin' stand St Patrick's Day - it's just a brazen attempt to use heritage to sell beer - but it's one redeeming feature in the past has been the joyful sound of the ubiquitous Pogues blaring out of every pub you pass. As far as I'm concerned St Paddy's Day without the Pogues is like International Women's Day without women.

The following Sunday, they had a traditionally enormous parade in Downtown Montreal. And as float after float, politician after politician, passed us by, the missus and I came to a startling, but liberating conclusion: Saint Patrick's Day in North America has absolutely nothing to do with Ireland... or being Irish... or being able to point to Ireland on a map...

The float of the United Jewish Societies of Montreal passed us by, followed (due to an unfortunate lapse on behalf of the planners) by some Buddhist organisation bearing banners with swastikas. In a parade alleging to celebrate a Catholic Saint. You know, Catholicism. That religion that isn't Buddhism or Judaism.

Thankfully, most of the floats seemed to simply be cheap advertisements for downtown clubs and bars - and so we come to the heart of it: St Patrick's Day in North America (as in the UK and, shock, horror, Ireland itself) is about drinking, making merry and having a good time. And no matter how tempted we are to sneer at the ensuing historical inaccuracies and religious contradictions, that can't be such a bad thing.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mwa ha ha haaaa!

It's been a bit quiet here recently, things have really slowed down over the Autumn (sorry, Fall). I've been concentrating on getting a paper published and an abstract submitted for a conference in Florida next Spring and collecting data for my colleagues, who are also frantically submitting. Anna is still recovering from International Education Week, which proved a very stressful, but thankfully short-lived experience. This weekend we had our first freezing rain which coated everything with a thick sheet of solid ice, leading many branches to break off under the extra weight and our fir tree in the front garden to fall over completely. The tree was reinstated (see Figure 1) and secured with ropes to the porch, so next time it falls over it will take the front of the house with it! That was followed by the first decent fall of snow, which nicely coincided with our putting up the Christmas decorations. Hurrah! Nice to be in a country that actually gets a White Christmas (Norway excluded). I'm sure a trip to Florida will be most welcome after several months of this...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Quebec City visit and parents

We are now almost at the end of the visit of the in-laws and we have been quite lucky with the weather. Craig and I have sent Alison and Malcolm off to some places we have already visited, and gone with them to some places that were new to us. Most memorable was the Botanical Gardens and Insectariums. The Gardens are the second largest Botanical Gardens in the world (after Kew Gardens, or so we were told) and is truly amazing. The selection of plants in the greenhouse was brilliant, the bonsai exhibition in the Tree House impressive and all the creepy crawlies in the Insectariums were creepy and crawly.

Alison and Malcolm went off for a few days to Ottawa , which they really enjoyed and then we all went together to Quebec City . I really liked Quebec city, it is pretty and has lovely little street with baskets of flowers and street side cafes, however it does look a little to perfect, as if no-one actually lived there. There is an Upper and Lower section of the city, connected by a steep staircase and a funicular (the men took the stairs and the women the funicular in our case) and has a castle on top (see photo below). The castle was actually built as a hotel, but looks rather nice. We also visited the Montmorency Falls (our hotel was close to the falls) and took a cable car up and walked down a rather long wooden staircase. It was interesting that we walked so much up and down, as on the three hour drive to Quebec from Montreal is absolutely flat, flat, flat!

We have been able to go to several of our favourite places to eat and try a few new ones, both around Little Italy where we live and in downtown. Alison and Malcolm are now in Brighton, Ontrario for a few days visiting a school friend of Alison and we will have a few more days together next week before they go back home and we start preparing for the next visitors, my parents!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

News coverage

Can I just add something that Craig mentioned this morning, but did not add to his post.
The reaction of the Canadian media is different to the US in some respects. The reporters and pundits were very quick to start talking about gun control, something that would not happen in the US (I think!). Also there has been no reference to religion, no ministers talking about 'sticking together in this difficult time' and no 'our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends...'.
Just a little note from me.

Dawson College Shooting

In the days to come, the terrible events that unfolded just down the road from my office in Montreal will be picked over by countless commentators with multifarious agendas. The North American news media are already tying themselves up in knots trying to "explain" why "disaffected youth" might perpetrate such "senseless acts", interviewing any student they can get their hands on, endlessly looping library footage of 1989's Ecole Polytechnique shootings and replaying invasive clips of distraught parents being reunited with their bemused, and vulnerable, offspring. It seems that school shootings bring out the very worst that The Networks have to offer. I'd like to comment on just one, seemingly minor, aspect of the reporting of this tragedy: The stupid and insensitive graphics used to lead TV coverage of the event.

In the aftermath of the shootings at Dawson College, Canadian channel CTV distinguished their coverage of the shootings with a logo of a school-crossing sign riddled with bullet holes. State broadcaster CBC produced a graphic of the Dawson College logo with a sniper's crosshairs targetted upon it. Not to be outdone, local Quebec channel Global splashed across our screens a graphic of the Dawson College logo riddled with bullet holes and a sniper's crosshairs!

Were this behaviour not so outraging, it would be funny. It reminded me, above all things, of British news-satire The Day Today, which, in an all-too-realistic manner, punctuated its ludicrous fake news reports with ridiculous computer animations produced by a graphics department that had long since disappeared up its own backside. It gives the students of the college and the population of Montreal the impression that Dawson College is still, somehow, under seige. It instills a sense of ongoing danger in the mind of the viewer, whilst the man responsible for such callous violence lies dead. When, in fact, the world has one less lunatic in it.

Most importantly, for the Networks at least, cool graphics keep people watching.

This sensationalist and wildly insensitive behaviour on the part of Canadian news channels is matched by only one other tasteless and insensitive executive decision in my memory: The production, on the first day of the invasion of Iraq (that's the recent one, not the first one) of a backdrop for the BBC's Breakfast programme that featured paintings of British soldiers caught in various dynamic Action Man poses. Anybody familiar with it could not help but be reminded of The Day Today's War! Special. It was an unfortunate blip in the BBC's (un)usually factual reporting.

As a Brit Abroad, my favourite pastime is watching the dumbed-down sensationalist tripe that passes for current affairs reporting in North America and quietly chuckling along (in that superior British manner that is responsible for a G-list Brit like Peirs Morgan being hired to be a judge on a US talent show). Yesterday I was not laughing - I was planning this post.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Eastern Townships

We had a lovely weekend in the Eastern Townships, it was like one of those perfectly planned, yet very relaxed weekends away. We drove out of Montreal on Saturday morning, heading first for Granby, one of the larger of the villages, and here we had a lovely French coffee break (meaning large bowls of coffee with warm, crispy and fluffy croissants), in the building on the left.

From there we went to Bromont and visited the Museum of Chocolate (which as you can imagine I was excited about, and Craig appreciated the information board of Fairtrade chocolate). This was essentially a weekend dedicated to good food and wine so we started off well.

We visited Knowlton on Lac Brome, with its atmospheric local history museum, complete with the only still fully orginal Fokker from WWI (which, after the war, ended up in Canada for research as it was seen as so superior to Allied planes). It also housed a great selection of local historic pieces, like radios, bibles and farm tools and had a well-stocked General Store, which included this 'priceless' poster.

We stayed the night in Sutton at a B&B run by a lovely lady (from Islington, it turned out) and ate a wonderful 5 course meal at a recommended local resturant. This is the winemaking region of Quebec, so the local plonk was really very good. Craig ate snails for the first time and found that he liked them (!) and I discovered how well goats cheese goes with carraway seeds (as well as the fact that I actually like duck, when it is prepared in lovely French style and not the horrible Peking crispy stuff). Lac Brome duck is famous in the region, however we discovered later that they were not the healthy free range ducks waddling about on the shore, but farmed instead - which made it less palatable in retrospect.

Sunday morning started with a proper English fry-up (how could we turn down such an offer from a proper English landlady?) and we drove further south towards the US border before travelling north up Lac Memphremagog to Magog (the town). They claim the lake has its own 'Nessie' style monster, but that seems to be a PR-stunt if you ask me.

So to end the weekend on a high, we visited a vineyard near Mont Orford and brought home a nice selection (there were tastings too, but Craig was driving), and ate another 5 course meal, this time Craig had the other French cliche, frogslegs, and found that he liked that as well (although he says they don't taste of much, which is why they come deepfried). The highlight of my meal was at the end, when I was not even sure I could take any dessert so I opted for the fruit, which was the most gorgeous blueberries bursting with flavour, served with a small amount of good quality 'creme anglaise'.

All in all the perfect weekend away (or anywhere for that matter).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bye to L&M - hello work

Said goodbye to Lindsay and Matt after a lovely week of being tourists and not cooking for ourselves. While Anna and I were at work, L&M disappeared off to Niagra and Toronto (producing some impressive photos [not shown] in the process). When they got back to Montreal, we spent a weekend with them in town.

My recommendations? The Flora festival in Montreal is pretty cool and we spent several sunburnt hours there wandering up and down a strip of the old port that has been decontaminated and landscaped in multifarious imaginative ways. We joined the rest of the tourists on Place Jaques Cartier and ate at the Jardin Nelson (still good, still reasonably priced). Anna and me took the Monday off, which was their last day and we all drove up to Val David and Mont Tremblant to reconnoitre for our Xmas skiing trip. Amazing views from the mountain top - should look quite different under a metre of snow.

The weirdest thing we did was definitely going to the Glengarry Highland Games with my ex-colleague Aaron and his wife Pascale. 'More Scottish than Scotland' should be the slogan. I saw tartans and witnessed "traditions" that I've never seen in 6 years of living in Scotland. High point was the Caber Toss. I bought a Cranston tartan tie and the chap in the shop said that he ahd never before met a Cranston - my sister was there too, so like buses, I guess Cranstons come along in pairs. Och aye the noo ya bampot.