Thursday, December 16, 2004

La neige est arrivée

Winter has come (and allowed me to procrastinate on my writing). I am very excited. I was a little worried and I know I still haven't seen the worst of it yet. But we've had some pretty good examples of shitty weather. Three days of freezing rain so that the sidewalk outside my house was like a skating rink. I'm really not kidding. It was about 2 inches of rough ice which you could have skated on for quite a while. It was hard to walk to the métro. You have to leave your bike lock upside down so that it doesn't get sealed with ice. When you do get your bike unlocked you have to bang it on the ground and roll it around to break all the ice off. The first time, I forgot about my brakes until I was rolling towards busy St. Joseph and found they were frozen open!

We had 4 or 5 days of -10 and a good 30+ cm of snow as well. So far, I'm handling it okay. Actually, I'm loving the snow! It's beautiful and fun to play in (I bought a complete used cross-country ski set for $135). But for me, it's the removal that is so exciting. You can really tell the slackers from the copers here in Montréal. You just walk down the street and see which house has the really clean driveway and walkway. These old guys bust out their sets of snow shovels and slowly and methodically go to work. It's beautiful to watch. Clean, symmetrical lines along the edges. When they finish shovelling, they take out the broom and sweep it all down so you can see the concrete. Awesome work, monsieur! At the hardware store, they have so many different snow shovels for sale. All kinds of lengths, widths and materials, even little plastic ones with fancy decorations to get the kids started early.

But even cooler is the city's response. Now that is awesome. If there's a decent amount of snow, the plows ("les deneigeuses") come out right away. They've got the big ones for the roads and these special sidewalk sized ones just for the sidewalks! They come barrelling down at you, their lights spinning, and you better get out of the way. I find it all very exhilirating. After the snow has accumulated to a certain amount, they go around and put up all these signs that don't allow parking from 9 at night to 7 in the morning. All the regular signs have special metal clips on them so that these special red snow removing signs can be put up in the winter when they are needed. They do this on one side of the street for a while and then when that side is cleaned, they put them on the other side. I'm sure it's a hassle for all those car drivers, but in the end, they get their parking spaces back from the snow.

So here's how they do it. Once a side of the street is cleared of all cars, a big angled plow comes down, dragging the snow from the midddle of the street and pushing it up against the curb. At the same time, or sometimes a little later, the sidewalk plows beetle up and down the sidewalk, pushing the sidewalk snow onto the curb pile. They have to get between trees, fire hydrants, bus stops, etc. so they go back and forth a lot. The fire hydrants also have this special red pole with a red octagon fixed to the top so the plowdrivers can see them sticking out of the snow.

Once all the snow is out in the street, piled along the curb, the best part happens. This massive yellow snow-eating machine comes barrelling down the street. It has a giant maw with spinning, spiral blades that suck the snow up. On top, it has a giant blower that spits it out. Driving parrallel to this snow-eater is a massive dump truck. They drive down the street in tandem, with the blower filling up the dump trunk. Behind the recipient dump truck, is a convoy of many other dump trucks, so as soon as one is filled, it speeds off and the one behind it catches up to the blower and starts getting filled, with barely a pause in between the operation. The whole thing is really loud and impressive. I'm sure little boys get pretty excited about those trucks. I know I'm cheering when they go by.

The filled trucks drive to one of 18 snow dumps in the city. I don't know what those places are or how they work, but that will be next in my field of research. Sorry, I strayed off-topic, but I'm sure there is some deep, cultural connection between the snow and the french language in Québec, but I just haven't quite discovered it yet. In the meantime, bring on more snow!


Anonymous said...

That one really made me laugh, I don't know why. Just the image of all the dump trucks lined up and little kids watching, all thrilled. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I just arrived back to NYC from Boston where I had the same seminal experience of shoveling out my Mom's driveway. A beautifuly crisp Winter morning, blue sky, and air so clean, the inside of nose burned with the warmth reserved for ammonia tablets!

WeSailFurther said...

is this the last of breek-ez du neej?