Thursday, November 24, 2005

Comme j'ai prévu

Comme je vous ai dit,
le bonhomme est ici.

5-10 centimetres aujourd'hui. Un bon début, mais je veux des mètres, 'sti!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Posters are already up! @%#%$

This is not a regular posting, but I just wanted to alert Montrealers that there are already Federal election posters up on Parc avenue north of St. Joseph. What the hell? Has an election been called? Do they know something we don't? Are they just jumping the gun to ensure that their candidates' annoying will be stuck in our minds for as long as possible?

We still have the majority of posters from the mayoral election still up (though this election isn't actually over thanks to the problems with new voting software). One wonders if there will be enough room on the telephone poles.

It's amazing to see these posters. You can tell which party is which simply by their size and quality. The NDP have little two-tone placards. The PQ posters are big, but just 4 colors (lots of blue of course), with a large full-on headshot. The Liberals are hilarious, the biggest of all, with a beautiful range of colours and completely professional vanity shots, their candidates at 3/4, subtly made up, hair perfect. In the background is a lovely ochre to off-white gradient, suggesting a glowing future. I see those high-quality posters and I think of the lucky printing and design companies that got that contract and I just can't help but think of the Sponsorship scandal.

I haven't come to an intellectual conclusion about whether or not we should have an election right now, but my gut is hoping that those signs up on Parc are a mistake and they'll be coming down quietly next week.

[edit 11/18/05: oops. The signs on Parc are for a provincial bi-election to fill the seat of the PQ Minister of Finance who stepped down last year. I should have known, seeing the PQ rather than Bloc posters, but I always get them confused.]

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"J'ai peur, j'ai tellement peur!"

I saw these words posted in the window of the local artisanal ice cream shop on St. Denis. It was under their regular announcement that they would be closing for the winter. People love their ice cream in Quebec and there are ice cream shops open only in the warm months in most neighbourhoods. I guess they get enough business that the store can be closed all winter. The words mean, I'm scared, I'm so scared. It made me laugh when I saw it, but it was one of those hollow laughs that are used to mask one's own fear.

For the winter is coming. The temperature has dropped significantly in the last two weeks. No snow yet, but hard cold rain and some overnight freezing. Snow is threatening in Quebec City. I heard the clicking of snow tires as I rode my bike on St. Urbain yesterday and there was a huge crowd outside the Kanuk outlet store. Kanuk is a quebec made brand of winter clothes, especially jackets. They are insanely popular among the french, almost like a uniform. I find their designs look kind of '80s and cheap, but they are quite expensive and I imagine quite effective. You don't see as much of the MEC, North Face gore-tex look here as you do in the west coast, though there is a bit of it among the outdoor set.

To be cool in Montreal, you have to dress as if you're not cold. So you see lots of guys in jeans and thin leather jackets in freezing weather. People go without gloves and toques way late into the season. You can always tell an anglo or an out-of-towner because they are rocking the huge down coat, toque and gloves in December. It really gets insane when you're on St. Laurent in mid-February and it's mad brick out (in the -20s and -30s) and you see women in mini-skirts, their knees dangerously red, walking to clubs.

Definitely some of it is trendiness, but I think that like the Inuit, the people of Quebec have some either genetic or developed ability to withstand cold. You can tell that some of them aren't trying to be cool. They are just comfortable in 0 degrees without gloves. Their hands aren't red and they don't seem to feel the need to stuff them in their pockets. Many of them love the cold weather, even prefer it. This is just a mindset that I don't have. I'm getting into it, though. I love the big snow dumps, all the plowing and I've taken up cross-country skiing (since I'm blessed to have Parc Mont-Royal two blocks from our apartment).

I think it is the end of summer that is truly difficult. I felt kind of frightened, oppressed and a little depressed when the weather first turned cold in October. Than we had another nice week and it felt so ephemeral, fleeting. I was already planning vacation ideas, desperate escapes to the west coast. But now that we've had a couple of weeks of the grey and wet, I'm starting to look forward to winter. Summer is behind me and I've let go.

The word from all my québécois friends is that it is going to be a brutal winter. When pressed, they say that you get a tough winter after a really hot summer, or you get a tough winter after a mild winter. Though they all agree that the general trend has been winters getting mellower and mellower. The science of this prediction model is clearly sketchy. But that doesn't make me doubt it it. I think that their common prediction is a result of some kind of cultural osmosis. They just know. We shall see. I hope that we get tons and tons of snow and not too many really cold days.

And just to put this all in perspective. The rest of Quebec thinks Montreal winters are mild and that we are all a bunch of wimps.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Les éco-quartiers and the mayoral election

I volunteer once a week at the Jeanne-Mance composting center. It's a little plot of land in Jeanne-Mance park that has been separated by a short chain-link fence. Inside are two giant tubes sitting on machinery that allows them to turn slowly, a big pile of compost separated by a fence of pallets tied together with innertubes and a bunch of garbage bins. People from the neighbourhood come by 3 times a week and drop off their organic waste (onion peels, apple cores, clippings, etc.) which gets mixed with straw pellets in the big tubes. It sits there for a few weeks until the heat, oxygen and bacteria have broken it down at which point it is moved to the pile. This goes on all summer. The pile sits there over the winter and next spring the members can use the compost for their gardens.

That process is elementary to anyone who is familiar with compost (except perhaps for the big tubes, which are the brainchild of the McGill Environmental Engineering department and speed up the process significantly but require a lot more planning and care). The composting center is a project of the Jeanne-Mance Mile-End Éco-Quartier, an environmental community center serving the needs of the arrondisement. They provide many other services, such as collecting batteries, providing les bacs verts (the green recycling boxes), cleaning up the alleys, distributing bulbs, etc. There is an éco-quartier in every quartier in Montréal.

They were created 10 years ago, when Borque was the mayor of Montreal. Their initial raison d'être was to be the distribution points of the bacs verts when Montreal first started its recycling program. They were overseen by an office in City Hall, but were basically left to develop other programs on their own. The bacs verts program was a big success. They got them to something like 98% of households in Montreal in their first year.

Since then, each éco-quartier has developed on their own. They receive their funding from the city, but they are run by a local board and the people who work there. So different éco-quartiers have different agendas. Some tend to lean more towards beautification while others have a stronger environmental bent.

Recently, their funding was decentralized, going to the arrondisement (district, basically). I don't know how this affected the other éco-quartiers, but it forced the three under the arrondisement of Plateau/Mont-Royal to compete for funds and only one remains. The other two became smaller, semi-private organizations under different names and there is some bitterness there. The relationship between the remaining éco-quartier and the administration of the arrondisement is not very good anymore either. I haven't heard anything from the politician's side, so recognize that my position is biased, but what I hear is that the current mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal, Helen Fotopolous is really not very interested in environmental issues. The only time she communicates with the éco-quartier is when there is a chance the media will be involved. This is all hearsay, but there has been little recognition of the fact that the composting centre took in 5 tonnes of organic waste that otherwise would have gone into the dump and planted a beautiful, producing garden that made the bike route to McGill significantly more appealling.

I present you this information because it is the only way I could think of to make interesting what is generally agreed to be a very boring mayoral race. The voting will be this Saturday and the candidates are Gerald Tremblay, the current mayor, Pierre Borque, two-time mayor before him, Richard Bergeron, the head of Projet Montreal who are a platform for pushing public transportation and Michel Bédard who represents the Parti éléphant blanc of Montréal (intriguing, but the first time I heard of him was when I looked at the sample ballot). I was quite liking Tremblay, though I have no real reason other than that Montreal seems on a general upswing and a bunch of new bike paths have been created. But I think I'll be voting for Projet Montreal, as they are the most overtly environmental. As a matter of fact, the most environmental the two front-runners got was arguing about who was going to plant more flowers.

I apologize if I don't have a more general overview of the mayoral race here in Montreal. I do think it is a city on the rise that still has a lot of problems (the famous potholes, litter, bad development, gradual racial segregation), but is generally working to fix them. It is traditionally the case that most mayors of Montreal win a second term and if I didn't have such a strong environmental agenda, I'd probably vote for him as well.

There is one extremely obnoxious thing about the mayoral race and it is all the placards that are put up all over the streets. It's a waste of money and an eyesore. They did this during the federal election as well and they didn't take the signs down until months after it was over. Fortunately, at least in the Plateau, many got creatively defaced quite quickly. Mayor Tremblay's campaign slogan is "Go!" and somebody wrote "fuck yourself" after it on a bunch of signs on the Main. Good stuff.