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Sophistication is the ability to approach culture
with the minimum amount of anxiety.
Northrop Frye.



music/press conferences/concerts



I was born with a biting need to get out of my hometown in Ontario, and seek excitement elsewhere. I yearned for the unpredictable. By immersing myself in different lands, my peripatetic nature, along with my lust for getting lost in often dangerous terrain, fulfilled me. After leaving home at the age of 17, I began to realize traveling is a type of addiction: I confess that I am an incurable travel junkie.

For me, settling down in one place – home – grass to cut and house repairs, or battling landlords who never fix anything in Montreal, is just not for me.

Truth is, there’s a paradox in staying in one place. Stress begins to seep in. People begin to irritate you, same old urban landscape burrows into your belly like an unwelcome hunk of bacteria.

So, I discovered, if you keep moving, you never suffer from monotony or acute stress. Fatigue . . .maybe, but then there’s nothing to tie you down, or force you into a routine that demands all kinds of numbing automatic responses.

I’ve rambled into remote regions. Here’s a peek: I’ve endured two robberies in Mexico, been car kidnapped by a maniac in Manchester (my first day in the city as a university student), wandered the mountains of northern Spain, and gotten tangled up in a jungle in Columbia (my guide took off like a cheetah when he spotted a huge yellow snake, screaming “la amarilla.” True, it was a pretty sickeningly thick long creature that slowly slithered in front of us, but being abandoned by him was even more scary. Still, I made to make my way to the top of a mountain, found a bus stop to stand at, until a taxi driver yelled at me, “Get in. You’re being approached by bandits.”

I’ve been in a forest fire in Chios, Greece, gotten lost on a mountain in Crete with no water left in my bottle, and felt terribly lonely on a journalist trip in France. Ended up with my Cuba, living in the bush on a dirt floor with a well of good water to keep me company, until I nearly died from sun stroke, and thought I had better walk to some hotel in Holguin – even if the food was a cooked bull testicle.

Still, the incredible experiences I’ve had in so many parts of the world, the stunning vistas that have hypnotized me, and the shockingly kind and giving people I’ve met – I wouldn’t change any of this to sit bored in some room staring at TV, and counting the few bucks I have left in the bank. No, I’d prefer to walk miles, and then stop and stare at a one-of-a kind-scene before me – such as I did in Tangiers, when a bullfighter escorted me to his mansion where I was treated to a tour of looking at decapitated bull heads hanging on his wall of fame.

The only time to stand still is when you stumble upon moment of beauty or unique absurdity – human or otherwise – in your adventure – when you have found a piece of paradise that you can open your front door to it every day, and discover that what you saw yesterday is not there today; something new is there instead. And it’s another breathtaking moment to file in your memory when old age obliges you to stand still, and hang up the backpack.




Less than 40 minutes by car from Montreal, the popular ski resort of Saint-Sauveur beckons. I used to go there, but I got fed up with the long lines at the chair lifts, the expense, and the condition of the ski hills; the hills are short, but steep. The ice on many parts is so prevalent, I used to call the site the slippery slopes of The Laurentians.

Saint-Sauveur is one of many villages dotting this resort region of Quebec – the most famous being Mont Tremblant – a huge ski resort. But Saint-Sauveur has its own charm. What many folks don’t know is Saint-Sauveur has a sunny but hidden side to it. Forget about winter.

Move beyond the shops and restaurants: one eatery tip: avoid “Bagel & Benedict.;” though the waiters are affable, the service is too slow. There aren’t enough shade umbrellas, and it’s hit-and-miss on hamburger taste appeal, and priced beyond value. Despite mango sauce on mine, it was pretty tasteless and the non-speaking English nasty manager, Nicole was so rude, I wanted to get up and leave. Go for La Brûlerie, instead – one street past the church.

Speaking of leaving: get off of shop cluttered rue Principale, and head southwards to get onto Lac Milette Road. The clamber of the village is soon is out of ear-reach. Drive uphill until you hit the dead end of that road, you’ll come to the stunning privately-owned Lac Moran. Here is where lovely silence and peaceful views of its sweet waters send your senses into a Zen state. Listen to the bullfrogs; look at all the little wild flowers and ground-grasping delicate grasses. I love this place and it’s a site that should be treasured by true trekkers who take nature seriously.

Another place I love is right off rue Pincipale -- a major park that offers beautiful flat trails. Parking is free and dogs are welcome on leash. No one ever seems go on these trails, despite the inviting paths to explore either on a bicycle or on foot. Perhaps, folks are all busy shopping and drinking beer at the various tourist hotspots. At his park there is a lovely flower garden at the entrance and fountain pool playground for kids.

So, this culture trek girl advises you to actually go to Saint-Sauveur – not ski, but to climb its slopes in summer, be enchanted by Lac Morin, and immerse yourself in the beauty of its noble tree-shaded park off rue Principale. Remember though, no outsider really knows about these hidden nooks, so ‘mum’s’ the word.



Having lived in the capital and its flamboyant fleur-de-lis neighbour to the east, I’ve formed judgments about these two old timers. Warning: I will generalize and get many of you angry, for the love of a city is like love itself -- irrational. Allow me to be tongue-in-cheekish. I’ll start by using the bread analogy to describe the mentality of each. Ottawa is white bread, tender, sweet to taste, uniform in style and presentation -- neatly packaged and pretty. It’s saturated with visual appeal. Montreal is baguette: irregular in shape, and hard to chew. It sprawls like an overcooked croissant with irregular corners. Bite into it and you get a ton of crumbs. Ottawa is stuffy; Montreal is crusty.

Ottawa is correct, courteous and considerate. People think they are always bothering one another; their favourite greeting is: “I’m sorry; I thought you were so and so.” Or “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know where such and such a place is?” Or, “I’m sorry to ask for your help, but my house is burning down.” People even apologize on the phone for no reason whatsoever. “I’m sorry, but I’m having a heart attack. Could you please send an ambulance -- if it isn’t too much trouble?”

It’s enjoyable to enter Ottawa stores and restaurants. Everyone is wearing Wal-Mart smiles. In Montreal, I’ve had encounters with hosts hailing from hell. Some waiters bear a false pleasance, but that’s because they tell you straight off they are about to close their shift, and that they need to get paid mid-way into the meal. The job application for waiting on tables requires the applicant to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10 in snootiness and arrogance (the higher the score the better). I was once told that it was not the restaurant’s fault that the soup was cold and a fly was basking in it. In a city where the waiter is always right -- not the customer -- it’s not surprising that many Americans turn tail, upset by the lack of friendly service.

One tourist told me she thought Montreal was a mean, mad town hiding beneath French pretension. So much for that je ne sais quoi flare.

As for language, I am always surprised that francophones in Ottawa switch into English, if they know the language -- when they hear you parlez with them. In Montreal, you are expected to speak French; don’t expect others to speak English, even though many can.

Still, for a capital city, I find an embarrassing lack of bilingual signs in Ottawa. So much for representing the two official languages. But Montreal is devoid of the English language on any sign, altogether (Bill 101). If there is English, it has to be much smaller than the French, and it must be inside the store. Watch out for L’office québécois de la langue française.

Ottawa’s gorgeous green belt makes Montreal’s Mont Royal look like a diamond in the rough – so rough in fact, it’s annoyingly muddy in spring, and there’s litter everywhere. It’s hazardous in winter. Those cross-country ski trails are badly marked. You can get lost or end up hitting a fellow skier zooming down a hill when others are climbing it.

Ottawa has tulips; Montreal has ragweed. Don’t pull it; you will destroy the natural environment.

Speaking of the unnatural: Ottawa’s drivers are snails disguised as humans. In Montreal, the driving motto is: kill or be killed. Soon, red lights will serve no purpose. Do you know why you can turn right on a red light in Ottawa? Because there is a respec for humankind. There is dignity. In Montreal, every driver wants to prove they once raced in the Grand Prix. Montreal drivers love a heavy rainfall. They also take pride in splashing pedestrians, as wheels swirl around a curb. La belle ville could win the prize for having the most and deepest potholes in the entire country. I’ve driven in Ottawa winter and summer, and the streets are pretty smooth. You can always tell when you hit Quebec; the highway gets really bumpy. Bienvenue. And be prepared to pay 10 cents more on the litre.

Montreal beats Ottawa hands down when it comes to the cool factor. Montrealers don’t flaunt their tattoos and their multiple piercings. It’s a given that you will be decked out with such things as soon as you turn 18. In Ottawa, I see a lot of teens showing off their over-the-top tattoos, new bright blue hair colour and belly button rings. Montrealers are just plain cool about it all. There’s a plethora of tattoo shops on Rideau Street; not so on Montreal’s Ste Catherine Street, the main drag. And while we’re on the subject of colour, let’s face it. Montreal offers festivals every week of the year. In fact, there are over 200.

Ottawa does hold it own though for the size of city. But a city that boasts it has a buskers festival, well – that’s weird. Montreal has buskers performing on streets year-round as well as in the Metro System. It doesn’t need a festival for that. In Montreal you can drink as much as you like till 3:00 am. In Ottawa, the government knows this could be a dangerous thing.

All that said, I think Montreal and Ottawa are two siblings – completely different, so thankfully there is no rivalry between them. I just wish the bigger one – Montreal (the one with the chaotic personality) loved its smaller sister more (the one with the anal retentive personality). Vive la difference.


A while back, you may have seen those lovely looking people on the bus panels, faces smiling over this message: “La langue française, c’est la langue Quebécoise” – something like that, with a ‘vrai’ in there. Or, on French classroom walls saying, Le francais, c’est la meilleure langue.”

It also appears on local French TV stations using a seductive voice-over in an haut-art ad, showing contented, successful people in several professions and trades (note that very few ‘Quebecois blacks or Asians are presented). Both of these ‘enlightened’ ads are sponsored by l’Office de la langue française. I find it all deceptive. Everyone looks so happy and carefree. The ad with its soft, diffuse lighting looks like it was created by a cinematic art director. But what lies beneath the glow? The Office is actually sending a succinct message, telling all native-born Anglophones and thousands of immigrants that French is the magic bullet. It’s clever subliminal advertising.

We all know that French is the operative language in the province. Isn’t this a platitude, so why did ‘le Grand Frère’ spend lots of money on such an ad campaign? You don’t see in Argentina -- where there is a massive mix of languages and cultures --– an ad saying: “Espanol, es la lengua de la Argentina; nor in Germany, Greece, Spain, France or Turkey do you see ads reminding all inhabitants speaking the respective languages means you ‘belong.’ So what’s up? I believe the ad is a highly visible attempt to remind all ‘outsiders’ that the ‘acceptable’ language is French. Unfortunately, this inference contains a subtext of exclusion: the ad devalues and even debases all other languages and their speakers.

What I find appalling is the fact that this is the same kind of insidious knee-jerk reaction we get in racism. I say we ought never to judge a person by the colour of his/her skin or the language he or she speaks. This is not the way to go. It’s time we went past this. Intolerance is as easy to promote as lighting a match. Clearly, the intrinsic message in the ad is insensitive, and a tad incendiary, since it subliminally and subtly encourages us to think that we ought to disdain those who don’t use French every day in their lives here. It’s high time we begin to use our brains and a tempered heart to seize and appreciate every individual’s uniqueness. This is what defines humanity’s progress. Why can’t we have this message: "Le Québec, c’est la province ou chaque culture et chaque langue sont célébrées: un québécois traverse le monde ici; utilsant le français, ça va plus vite. "(The last part of this line is my conciliation to Bill 101).

When I was 16, I roomed with a francophone while studying Québecois French at Laval University one summer – a great experience. The following summer, I went to Glendon College to study ‘Continental French.’ I learned French varies - not just the accent, but expressions here and overseas. My Haitian friend Marie from Snowdon claims that her French is the ‘real’ one; she’s a vraie Quebecer.

I was nominated for a Mr. Christie award for my children’s book, Les Cinq Sens en Folie. Bilingual, even degreed to teach, I taught French in Ontario. My first job was in French here. I even taught drama and ESL at the French School, École Mont Royale, many years ago. But an incident taught me that exclusion is not based on language. I was invited by the Quebecois publisher to celebrate at a party. I made a comment (in French) that this is the way it should be: Anglophones and francophones having fun together, though I seemed to be the only anglaise there. The cute fellow I was talking to yelled at me I would never be a Quebecer, I wasn’t wanted here. I persisted as I laid into a litany of my ‘French’ accomplishments, including my education, employment and Ottawa friends who were francophone. But I was a tête carrée according to this fellow. He had also written a kid’s book so I thought we had something in common – something to share. I felt rejected and discouraged, and left the party as an outcast. Maybe this incident was an anomaly, but this chap was refined and educated --- Quebec’s pride.

Maybe l’Office needs a second ad that states: "La langue française, on vous admire de l’apprendre, mais d’être accepté, ça c’est autre chose."                 

Please Quebec, it’s time you started educating your own about tolerance, since you do have a generous immigration policy here (though the agenda smacks of francisization: in numbers there is strength. 

Quebec is uniquely great because of its diversity. Legislating culture and language threatens the most priceless language of all: democracy.




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