Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Une intersection fuckée

I got hit by a car last week. I ride through the Ville de Mont-Royal, which cuts a perfect diagonal from Parc-Extension to Ville St. Laurent, where the school I teach at is located. The Ville de Mont-Royal is a city within a city, a rectangle of upper middle-class houses that is independent politically from the City of Montreal. It was built in the middle of the century specifically to house the executives and upper management of CN Rail, who were mostly anglophones (I believe entirely anglophones) and it was specifically designed so that it would be very difficult to for non-residents to find their way around. It's a rectangle divided diagonally by an X of two major thoroughfares. But in between the arms of the X, the streets are all loopy and random. (You can see it here.) It's kind of elegant to look at on a map, but you really can get lost here. I spent about half an hour trying to find my way out and the only thing that saved me was the top of Mount Royal (the mountain, not the town I was lost in!) poking out above the houses.

Montreal, especially outside of the Plateau is one of the most car-oriented cities I've ever been in. It's heinous. The whole north side of the city is divided by the Autoroute 40, which is the ugliest piece of 60's inspired pro-car architecture. Worse, when you drive on it, it's constantly under repair and jammed. It should be torn down tomorrow. They destroyed swathes of beautiful old working class neighbourhoods to build it and created an "across the tracks" situation where the rougher neighborhoods are all north of the freeway.

I give you these details because I blame my getting hit on the way Montreal is designed. I was crossing the street at Graham Boulevard (the southeast corner of Ville Mont-Royal) and Jean-Talon. I was riding slowly on the crosswalk. The light was mine and there was a pedestrian coming towards. All of a sudden, the front grill of a van was coming right at me. I had one of those, "it's going to stop moments" then a "it's not stopping!" moment and the next thing I knew I'm on the ground. The impact was pretty solid, but he was only going around 15 km or so and basically knocked me down. My bike is low to the ground and quite heavy.

I got up, checked myself and started yelling at the driver. He looked pretty shocked. People started honking! This really angered me, but I pulled my bike to the sidewalk and he pulled over. A very nice woman on a bike who was behind me came up and said she'd seen everything. The guy had just made a right turn right into me. He came out of his van and looked so upset that I lost all my anger. He apologized and said that he was occupied with paying attention to the oncoming traffic. He definitely fucked up and should have been looking to his right, but I had to agree with him when he said "cette intersection, c'est fuckée" because it has at least 7 lanes feeding into it and the lights are bizarre. Both of them kept asking if I was okay. I was jittery but fine, except for a slight pain in my ankle.

We took names and numbers and parted. My bike turned out to be kind of busted. The rear wheel rubbed and the gears were all wonky. I made it home and took it to the shop. It turned out the chain stay and the seat stay on the side where I got hit were bent in. The whole repairs were estimated around $100. I came home and called the guy who hit me. He again asked if I was okay and said that he would be glad to reimburse me for the repair cost. He came by the next day, gave me $100 cash and said that he was happy to pay it and would have done the same thing I did if our roles were reversed. He turns out to be a biker as well (and an electrician professionally). We shook hands.

I am physically fine and my bike should be out of the shop soon. I feel that the sum result of this whole accident has been a positive one. The guy who hit me showed himself to be an honorable and civic-minded individual. There was no need for any lawyers or bs like damages and loss of work time. Shit happens and good people respond to it. When he left, he said that if I ever needed an electrician, I should call him. And I would.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Que SIS?

This blog was supposed to be a commentary on the general life of a west-coaster in Quebec, but everywhere I turn are big political issues and I can't seem to keep myself from spouting on about the election or the environment. To try and keep things on track somewhat, I'm going to talk about my ever-evolving position on Quebec independence.

From what I can gather in the media, the Bloc Québécois is using this election primarily to push for sovereignity. The big news (and I suspect this is only a small part of a much more holistic platform) is that the Bloc are calling for a separate intelligence service and separate Quebec teams in the olympics (where they'd probably win more medals than Canada). As I say, I'm sure those ideas have been exaggerated a bit, but when I hear them, I can't help but react negatively to the Bloc.

The thing is, when it comes to individuals, I can sympathize with the movement for Quebec to become a separate country. This sympathy has grown stronger now that I've taught a half-semester of 10th grade Quebec history. At best, French Canada has been an afterthought to the english leaders of the country. Now that it has gained power, it's become an annoyance. Culturally speaking, this creates a very strong feeling of separation among the Québécois. For many of them, they don't understand why they should be part of this thing called Canada when it doesn't really recognize that they exist. These feelings have been exacerbated and strengthened with the success of Bill 101. I think, at this point, that a cultural move towards isolation and a single french language may be a necessary development, a reaction to over 100 years of inequality.

However, I think it is a failure and a loss for Canada and Quebec, to let this trend continue. Despite the powerful cultural differences of language, French-Canadians in Quebec are deeply Canadian, far more than they realize. I've lived for 11 years in the states and I spent a lot of that time noting differences between American and Canadian culture. I can tell you that if we had some language machine and sat down some hoser from Merritt with some tabernaco bonhomme from Chicoutimi and a redneck from Mendocino, CA in the same basement with a case of beer and a hockey game, the two Canadians would bond a lot quicker with each other than with the American.

Politically speaking the hoser doesn't really care about the french situation, though he'd certanly gripe about the taxes he's paying the feds. The bougon probably doesn't care too much about the language situation either, except that he's paying taxes to some english government out in Toronto. I guess there must be some working class people in Quebec who feel strongly about the protection of the french culture, but most of the noise seems to come from the educated classes, as far as I can tell.

I feel like the Bloc and the Parti are both hitting the separationist card really hard right now because they know it appeals to the emotional side of a lot of older, voting quebecois. I suspect that a lot of them (Boisclair in particular) don't really believe that strongly in true independence for Quebec. They just want to get as much power as possible, as do most of the other provincial leaders, and they just happen to have a very significant cultural and historical reason to fight for it.

I think it's a shame. I think it's the same as the Conservatives still harping on and on about gay marriage. There are real problems in Canada and the federal government needs to be addressing them. The environment, our education system and our health care are crucial and all three are seriously jeopardizing the future of the country. Why can't the Bloc use their power to make some changes for all of Canada. Fight for their platform of social welfare and a clean environment? Ally themselves with the NDP to push for those kinds of changes. Hell, they could even ally with the tories to push for some of this anti-corruption legislation (like the tories even give a shit about that other than as an election issue with which to attack the Liberals). Build up some capital with the rest of the country. Do something!

Then they can turn around and start pushing for independence. When the rest of Canada sees that the Bloc is not just a bunch of whiners whose only position is to gain power in the House so they can leave it, they may be that much more cooperative. They may even get some votes.

Instead, they keep pushing to become a separate nation. They don't even know if their own populace is behind them. And in pushing, they further the divide between cultures of a great country. It's destructive and irresponsible and hurts themselves worse than anybody. I offer myself, an anglophone resident of Quebec who a month ago was seriously considering supporting a sovereign Quebec, simply because they have the right to it. But I'm certainly not going to vote for independence if the leaders of that movement can't demonstrate that they actually care about anything other than independence. Or their own power.