Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Snow Rage!

This winter is kicking ass! We have been getting so much snow, it's just awesome. I have to admit that I got caught up in being a bit down last week, but now I see that it was just the flu attacking my morale. Because today I'm psyched! The sidewalk in front of my house is a windy snow trail and you have to climb up over big banks to get to the intersection. I cross a small park diagonally on my way to work and yesterday on the way home, I noticed these boards lying flat in the snow. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were the tops of the park's picnic tables!

So officially, we are at 317 cm total for this winter. The record in Montreal is 383 cm in 1970-71. I just read that generally about 25% of the snow falls in March, so we have a good chance of breaking the record. I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Last week was a huge boost as we had a big storm of 25 cm on Wednesday and then another one right after it on the weekend that dropped 35 cm easy. It was most excellent.

So the news now is about the increase of snow rage in the province. Some guy outside Quebec city went into his house and got a rifle to threaten a neighbour who was blowing snow into his yard. And yesterday two dudes in Montreal got into an altercation over a parking spot. One guy pulled out a gun. The cops came. Turned out the gun was fake, but fake or real, the crime is the same here so he got collared. Awesome. The quotes from the authorities say that these kinds of things tend to happen but that they are on the increase because everyone is so fed up with the quantity and duration.

What they fail to mention is the real reason for all the anger and frustration. Cars. Every single problem with the snow, every ounce of frustration is because people can't easily get into their precious cars and easily push the buttons that take them to where they have to go. For people who don't drive, the snow is a minor hassle at worse and generally a good thing. A few minutes of shoveling out your walkway and sweeping your stairs compared to all the losers on the block spending hours digging out their cars on Sunday night so they can drive to work. To get a car out takes way more work than clearing a driveway or walkway because there is so much detail work to do.

The municipalities are all way past their budget for snow removal for the year. The Cols Bleus' union has granted them the right to work double their normal shifts, but we are already seeing accidents due to exhaustion. A woman pedestrian was killed the other night by a dump truck making an illegal left on a red. All this effort? So the cars can drive.

I did see one ray of hope in the news media. Almost all of the coverage is about the problems and how fed up everyone is. Happened to catch an on-the-street interview with a guy from Charlottetown (are the Maritimers the last true Canadians?) who was shovelling his driveway. He said "I'm really enjoying it actually. After you get warmed up, you get kind of exhilarated. You look back and see how much you've cleared and you really get a sense of accomplishment. We're Canadian, right? This is what we should be doing!" Hell yes! That's the spirit!

Bring it on, weather gods. My shovel is ready!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Luge contre Diable (sled vs. handtruck)

Just an update to let everyone know that the hand-powered move is complete. I can no longer call it carbon neutral, though, as I hired a truck and some guys to do all the big stuff. There really were some things that I could not have done on my own. They took 3 hours, cost $250 and did a kickass job. If anybody in Montreal needs a recommendation for a good mover, and one that you can book with a phone call and not a lot of bullshit (some of the bigger moving companies are very bureaucratic), let me know and I'll give you his phone number. I was very happy with the work and I am a very picky mover.

Still, the hand-hauling was a lot of work. To summarize for those who may not have read my previous post on this move, we moved one block north and I attempted (and mostly succeeded) to do the job with a handtruck. I got two good snowstorms during the weeks of back and forth. I had to do a lot of rolling in the street where the car tracks had made flat trails through the snow. But when I went to clear out our little storage space in the basement, I found our sled. It's a cheap plastic job, big enough for two people and it turns out to be perfect for hauling boxes and furniture in the snow. I was able to get close to 400 lbs on that thing and when the snow was good it was quite easy to drag. It was always a little hairy crossing Mont-Royal (the single street I had to cross, but a busy one), because that was sometimes down to the tar and I was worried about spilling everything on some of the more precarious loads.

Overall, the sled really kicked ass. A very impressive tool for hauling stuff over snow-covered terrain. The diable was still not bad, but it is much more limited to the shape of things you can carry. The sled can take a wider range of weird shaped items. I recommend having both for your next winter hand-move.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

La Nuit Blanche

My god does Montreal rock!

I'm pushing 40 and my days of really going out are getting fewer and farther between, so I haven't really been paying attention to the night life scene as much as I used to. Plus, we were in the middle of moving. But a featured event in The Hour mentioned an organ performance downtown in an anglican church that would feature some improvisations on classic horror themes like The Exorcist, Jaws and Halloween. It ran from 10pm to 3am and I'm familiar with the outside of the church because they just tore down this horrific shopping mall that had been built in front of it to allow passers by to see the beautiful front.

So surrounded by boxes, we decided to go and check out the organ show. Montreal downtown on a Saturday night is usually somewhat busy, but I was taken aback by how many people were out. It was packed! And there was a long stream of people filing into the church. I'm talking like hundreds. It turns out (and everybody in Quebec probably knew this but me) that La Nuit Blanche is a major party and it has gotten bigger and bigger. There are all kinds of performances, all the art galleries are open until 5 am and free and just general partying. It was fantastic. The organ show was really cool, but we also checked out the Musée d'Art Contemporaine, the Belgo building and a really amazing installation in the hallway of the Place Des Arts, basically the fuddy-duddy tour. We skipped all the dance clubs and dj shows and got home before 3. But it was really cool to be checking out the museum at 2 in the morning with a huge crowd and drinks.

Some details:

The Organ Show

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

The organ show was called Orgue et Couleurs and it took place in the St. James United Church right downtown on St. Catherines. It's just a beautiful building, with a curved balcony and pews that match the curves. It also has these crazy hanging arches (I don't know the architectural term) that look impossible, but I suspect play a crucial support role. It lacks the detail and iconography that dominates the catholic churchs in Quebec and I sort of preferred that (most of my church time as a youth took place in an anglican chapel).

The show was awesome! The organ really gets me in a hynotic state. I felt like I was capable of turning around and insanely strangling the person to my left (who happened to be my girlfriend so thank goodness 39 years of social conditioning held me in check). The horror movie themes were improvisations, so they would start off with the theme and then go off into all kinds of crazy directions. It must be a very specific path in life to become a master organist and it must be a weird existence, controlling such a clearly satanic instrument (and being a little insane yourself) while always doing it in holy places. I watched the entire performance of Mélanie Barney who did Jaws and Psycho (the great Bernard Herrmann). But what really kicked ass was her rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in Ré mineur (I think that means R minor, I have no idea). That's the classic horror movie sound (you know when you see the castle on the hill in lightning silhouette) but it was the really Bachian parts where there is such a complex rhythm and interchanging of melodies that blew my mind. I'd definitely pay to see her perform. My only regret was that I didn't get to hear Halloween.

The Belgo
This is a large, old industrial building right downtown that is filled with art galleries from top to bottom. It's fun for a visit because you can just pop into one art gallery after another and often see some engaging stuff. But on the night of Nuit Blanche, this place was clearly young hipster artist scene central. It made Mile End look like a quaint old portuguese neighborhood and brought out the fascist in me (when I see all those kids running around in their little outfits and scarves, forced public service Mao-style starts to seem like a very good idea to me). We saw something that was cool, which I can't remember, and we got out fast. Some guy was writing bad poetry on the wall with chocolate sauce.

Musée d'Art Contemporain

Gary Gygax picture

This place is a favorite of ours anyways. They had a dj at the central point between the galleries on the 2nd floor with dry ice making a cool atmosphere. There was a québécois artist who did amazing things with antique chairs. There was a tape boundary around the giant round chair that everyone was ignoring. You just had to lean over to see inside and the poor, beleagured security guard who had to keep asking people to "respetez les lignes, s'il vous plait!" must have had the worst Nuit Blanche of anyone. There also was a really cool world of tiny cut out pictures from magazines, really large and detailed. I bumped into the tallest tower (like 11') and it wobbled and almost fell! It would have been a serious disaster. Man, that was a close one. My girlfriend saw me come out from behind it, looking guiltily and nervously at it as it wobbled back and forth and knew immediately that it was my clumsy ass that had bumped it.

Place des Arts, Hall des Pas Perdus

Gary Gygax picture

Finally, in the extensive guidebook, I saw this piece which intrigued me, a sculpture installation in the hallway of the Place des Arts. I'm so glad I made the effort to find it because it was the coolest piece of art I have seen in a long time. It's called All You Can Eat by Karine Giboulo. It's an interlocking series of pillars with windows looking into a little world where little people in jumpsuits live and raise pigs, which are then used in the production of fake chicken foods which are then consumed by these obese squirrels, the whole thing overseen by wealthy people receiving plate loads of cash. It was inspired by her visit to one of those massive factories in China where the workers live. I found it an amazingly detailed little world, where everything is connected. You get lost trying to put it all together and then too late you realize what a powerful message about consumption and our modern industrial capitalist society it is delivering. Absolutely fantastic. She's a local artist and I guess just starting out on her career (she's working on her bachelor's!?). Keep an eye out for Karine Giboulo because she kicks ass.

For those of you who live in Montreal, I strongly recommend you check it out. I heard it was there on Tuesday but I don't know how long it will last. It's in the Place des Arts, just outside the entrance to the concert hall.

One final thought about Montreal
As we came out of the church the first time, I passed a group of young people (probably high school, maybe CEGEP) sharing a bottle of wine. No bag, no effort at hiding it, drinking from the bottle and being a bit party-hardy. There were families all around. It surprised me pleasantly to see that because you would never see that in Vancouver. Not just the choice of libation, but young people drinking publicly without the cops showing up with a righteous attitude. We in the west really need to take a lesson from Quebec. Having fun is good!

I'm putting the rest of the All You Can Eat photos here, but you really do have to see it in person:

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture

Gary Gygax picture