THE MOUNTAIN, DOWN THE MOUNTAIN AND EVERYWHERE IN BETWEEN
born with a biting need to get out of my hometown in Ontario,
and seek excitement elsewhere. I yearned for the unpredictable.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
SUNNY SIDE UPS AND DOWNS
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’
AND MONTREAL: SIBLINGS OR TWO SOLITUDES?
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
has tulips; Montreal has ragweed. Don’t pull it; you will
destroy the natural environment.
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.
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.
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
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.
LANGUAGE IS UNFAIR
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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 uniquely great because of its diversity. Legislating culture
and language threatens the most priceless language of all: democracy.