Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hipsters then and now

[This is a speciall cross-promotion post with my other blog Olman's Fifty (where I track and review the books I read), since it was the reading of A Fine Ending by Louis Rastelli that spurred me to write about Mile End hipsters. You can read my full review of the book over there.]

I just finished reading Louis Rastelli's A Fine Ending. It's a great chronicle of Montreal back when rents really were cheap and hipsters were actual poor artists who were mostly making art for the art and being a freak was cool. I apologize for dropping a negative post during this season of cheer, but reading about the 90s really helped crystallize why today's hipsters are so fucking annoying.

Every young, white, educated, first-world cultural movement is annoying in some way (and often many ways), from the hippies onward. Fundamentally what is annoying is that these scenes have a lot of righteousness and political rhetoric, but they are ultimately in existence because of society's wealth and the fortune of the particpants of being born to a certain class. You can't have these movements without leisure time and you can't have leisure time without material success. You can't afford to be poor if there is real poverty in a society. So these poor artists, squatting in their lofts and dumpster-diving can only afford to do so because of the wealth of society around them.

Despite that cynical foundation, there is still a difference between scenes. This difference often gets defined by authenticity, which then devolves into useless arguments of taste and experience (and the "when I was a kid" old guy argument). I'm probably edging dangerously close to that argument here, but since I was also just as critical and contemptuous of my own hipster age (in slacktastic Portland with its lame "grunge" scene and Oakland with annoying post-punks and scruffy white rappers and finally for the worst hipster hell of all which should be just fucking nuked, Williamsburg), I figure I'll have some credibility.

Reading Rastelli's account of the 90s and now having lived in that same neighbourhood the last 6 years, the main difference I see between his scene and today's are three things: the wealth, the conformity and the self-awareness.

The wealth is obvious. The kids in the hipster scene here in Mile End clearly have a lot of disposable income. The two big factors are most likely because they are working in the software industry (Ubisoft is the main engine driving Mile End's gentrification) and because they come from wealthy families. Back in Rastelli's day, there must have been a few trust fund kids, but the world (and urban north america in particular) is a much wealthier place today, thanks to the Clinton boom years. The kids back then seemed to often be drop-outs, whereas today they are post-McGill kids who stick around or other post-university graduates who are drawn to the coolness of Montreal. Logically, given the end of the cheap rents and the greater cost of living, they just have to be wealthier to live here.

With that wealth, which is based on a consumer culture, comes conformity. Today, youth cultures define themselves by what products they buy, what clothes they wear. Back in Louis' day, clothes and goods were less relevant. I passed two guys talking to each other on Laurier who were literally wearing exactly the same outfit. It was clear that they had just ran into each other. They had brown faux old-time logger leather boots, narrow jeans with wide cuffs above the boots, zipped hoodies under plaid jackets, big rounded bushy bears and black elf-toques on the back of their head. I really wanted to take a picture. Oh yeah, they each had store-branded shopping bags of newly purchased stuff (okay, possibly xmas shopping, so I could maybe give them a pass on that, but it just all fit in so perfectly). It looked like a parody of hipsterness.

[One other element of this conformity that is interesting is that it is also a manifestation of the growing feminization of males. Young men are encouraged to enslave themselves to fashion, where it is acceptable even for creative types to dress like everyone else as long as it is in the latest style, which then encourages a higher rate of consumption in order to keep up.]

Well who cares if they all dress the same, you may well ask. The problem with their conformity is that they define themselves as creative types. But they are all operating out of the same pre-defined rule books. Companies hire "cool-hunters" who then codify styles, brand them and sell them to these hipsters. And this is where the self-awareness comes in. These people are actively aware of being part of a scene. They all learn you have to have a track bike and wear a rollerderby shirt because that's what they are doing in New York. They actively create their own little marketing and publicity campaigns and make those things happen here. The existence of the internet is probably the one main reason for this change. When you go to a music show today, it's not to actually experience, but to be able to record it with your digital camera or cellphone (both of which are owned by most hipsters, if not also a videocamera; remember when Sting said "Too many cameras, not enough food) and then put it up on your Facebook page. That is the perfect example of consumerism (the camera) + the internet = what hipsters today consider cultural production.

The one positive outcome of this new rich, conformist and self-aware hipster scene is that they have gotten into actually creating real things, with a push for a more locally-based economy. This is an outgrowth of the more spontaneous musical and cultural events back in the '90s (and the Expozine is a great example of people doing a lot of cool stuff; you'll see a pretty interesting mix of hipster generations there). There is also a nice environmental element to that as well, with local cultural groups pushing for doing good things with green space, setting up composting service and so on.

Other than that, though, it's a pretty depressingly empty scene. Today's hipsters are basically wealthy consumers with a lot of leisure time. Their non-labour energies are almost entirely dedicated to increasing cultural consumption. There is very little political will or social consciousness, besides reflexive lip service. Even the punks are apolitical today and the squeegee kids are more conformist than anyone. I know the hippies were super-annoying and basically a giant sausage-fest, but at least they were yelling for some fucking change. Punk Rock back in the day was about smashing shit up. Today it is about getting a record deal or properly managing your twitter account. Today's hipsters is fundamentally conservative (note the new emphasis on traditional women's domestic labour still being done by women, with hipster chicks baking, knitting and sewing, but now it is "crafting" and sold at a higher price point than the mass-produced equivalents).

They are nice kids on the individual level, these hipsters, I'm sure. But you can't help but want to punch them in the face when you see them. Here's why: it's that they think they are actually doing something positive and different. They believe the lies that go along with the products they sell to each other, as we all do. But their lies make them think they are actually part of a cultural movement, as opposed to being just another marketing demographic. When you see a dufus in an SUV with a trunk full of Ikea products, you can lament his wasteful lifestyle and be resentful of his wealth, but he's not trying to be somehow culturally superior. Same with the gelled guidos waiting in line at the club.

This is all inevitable. I find it hard to believe that Mile End could ever be a truly swanky neighbourhood, but it happened in SOHO (though that took decades) and happened almost right before my eyes in Williamsburg. The U.S. is much, much richer than Canada, so I don't know if we've already got the super-expensive chocolate boutiques on Fairmount, the high-end baby stores, condos going up everywhere and the rising property values and rents. Today's hipsters may well integrate themselves successfully into this evolution and become a new wealthy cultural elite. The big wild card is the language thing, which limits the amount of hipsters who can move here (and thank fucking god and the PQ for that despite some of the annoying side effects). That is one thing that keeps Montreal different. There is also the decline of America as a world empire, but I suspect we'll still see several generations of economic growth before it finally really comes down. And we still have decades of natural resources to plunder before the planet as a whole truly starts to suffer. In the meantime, we can watch Mile End become more and more fancy and the hipsters become more and more insufferable until it finally becomes, gasp, Park Slope.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Booby-trapped House

This is my kind of homeowner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

La bonne bouffe Coréenne

I'm a big fan of all foods coming from Asia, but in recent years I've gotten particularly into the Korean. I think part of it is that there is no good Japanese food here in Montreal and we have only now started to get a nice little wave of interesting Chinese food in the Concordia ghetto (and most welcome that development is!). But there has always been one or two quality Korean restaurants here and we've been favouring them.

But I think another reason that I am favouring Korean food is because of the cold. I'm pulling this theory right out of my ass, but Korea has a real winter climate and many of their dishes are designed to have the best taste and be most comforting in the cold weather. I realized that today while having a hot ramyon soup (basically fancy ramen) at Miga. Korean food is served piping hot, with a special flat sipping spoon. It is also spicy, but not in an overwhelming way. Also, as soon as I walked in, they brought me a hot tea, not too strong. Sitting there, sipping away on my soup, listening to Radio-Classique, looking at the snowy day outside, I felt very warm and comforted.

The ramyon is an easy choice for new palates, but there are several other really delicious hot soups. I also like the little fried tofu balls to start out with at Miga.

Give them a try!

Miga is on Rachel and Rivard, just one block east of St.Denis. It's right across the street from Frite-Alors.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two winter scenes: inside and out

This irresponsible bike owner helps us to see the total snow fall we've had so far this winter. The long term predictions for lots of snow and cold are looking good at this point!

The organization downstairs from us got creative and seasonal with their coffee station!

Monday, December 13, 2010

La chenillette me fait chier!

La famille Chenillette

The french of Québec can be quite elusive. Sometimes it seems that it's better to find out a bunch of words and then ask if they are the correct ones rather than just ask people what the word for something is. The relevant case in point is snow plow. Each winter, I ask people how you say snowplow and I never really get a solid answer. The most solid I've heard is "déneigeuse", but it seemed too literal. People also speak of the "chasse-neiges", but that refers to the entire range of snow-removing vehicles (and possibly non-vehicles as well).

Even more elusive is the word for the little guy that does the sidewalks. These, as my longtime readers will well know, are a favourite of mine. Little diesel smokers that tear up and down the sidewalks, mangling bikes, scaring pedestrians and (as we will see) smashing fences. Well I just learned about the word "Chenillette".

Un chenille is a caterpillar. It's also used to describe any tracked vehicle (like a tank or a snow plow). So you can say "une véhicule à chenille" or even use it as an adjective, "chenillé". So a chenillette is a little tracked vehicle and was used for those small, tracked gun cars in WWII as well as snow plows on mountains in France. I polled the office and only a few of the Québécois referred to the sidewalk plow as a chenillette, but definitely one or two of them did. Also, chenille is not pronounced shuh-nee, it's pronounced schneeyuh. And you can use it to refer to a tractor just like we do in english (though I'm not sure if that is because of the brand name; which may in turn come from their mode of transportation).

In this conversation, I also finally learned the word "la charrue" which means snowplow! Why was this a big secret? How come when I asked how you say snowplow in french, nobody just said charrue? It's so weird. In any case, une charrue is also a big old ugly woman and quite offensive. There is also the very good phrase "placer la charrue devant les boeufs" which is the french equivalent of placing the cart before the horse. Good to know!

La famille Charrue [does this go too far?]

The building I live in has a teeny front yard, which is the right and responsibility of the owner of the Rez-de-chaussée (ground floor). It has a small wooden fence in front of it and every year, because of the closeness of the sidewalk tree, it gets damaged by the chenillette, who has to maneuver closely by it. Last winter, our neighbour moved the fence's rail on the backside of the post to create another 4 inches of maneuvering room. She also put up some orange flags. So this summer, we went for the same. I did the work and also re-attached the missing vertical slats. The downstairs neighbour's daughter's boyfriend re-did her front gate entirely (and did quite a nice job; he was surprisingly handy).

I don't know if there was something exceptionally difficult or if we have a new chenillette driver, but after the very first snowfall, the dude just went absolutely hogwild, took out half the slats and an entire gate. And then last night, he took out half the slats on the other side. And despite that, he still can't seem to properly clear the sidewalk in front of our place. There remains a mound a good 10 inches above the rest of the sidewalk. I respect these guys and their work, but come on! How come we only lost a few slats in the last few winters and now all of a sudden the whole thing is taken out in the first snowfall? I did notice that the chenillette is red and I think the one last year was yellow, so it could be that this model is bigger in some way and harder to maneuver.

I really don't feel like fixing the fence every year. I had suggested just getting rid of it, but the downstairs neighbour said without a fence, you get way more dogs taking a shit and other stuff. Now I'm scheming of perhaps a removable fence, which we can just lift up and store in the backyard for the winter. Might be a cool project.

So to my francophone readers, what do you call the little sidewalk snowplows?

And for your visual pleasure and edification, here are some images of the damage:

Look at our stubbornly proud little reflecting flags, trying to so hard to be helpful and yet looking pretty guilty for their failure at this point. It's not your fault, guys! You did your best.

You can see how the snow rises here. Our fence was destroyed but they still didn't manage to clear the snow.

Well the gate itself is intact, but the entire post holding it in the ground has been sheared off.

It's the fencacolypse!

I tried to capture the mound here, where the plow didn't get down to the sidewalk. You can't really see the different levels, but you can see where the sidewalk is exposed on either side of it. This, combined with the excessive amount of leaves and garbage we accumulate relative to the rest of the block is starting to make me feel kind of paranoid.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Au printemps, mes amis!

I stepped out of my office in the very beginning of the way-too-early evening and heard the haunting cry far above me of a flock of geese heading south for the winter. It always amazes me when I think of those birds just flying together like that for days at a time, traveling such long distances, somehow knowing how to stay in formation.

Have a safe journey!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Get 'er done!

Good work fellas!

Also, saw these dudes through my office window, shoveling around on the roof, trying to find something buried under the snow, maybe another trapdoor or a leak. The snow makes more work for humans!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

4-5 cm of snow

The word according to the meteorologists was that we were expecting 4-5 cm of snow overnight and partly throughout Monday. Instead it snowed and snowed all day Monday and all night and we got a pretty serious dump of over 30 cm. The city (and its citizens) was caught a bit off guard. They are saying the snow should be cleared off in at best 5 days (a tip of the hat to the always reliable Montreal City Weblog for that link). Only problem, we're supposed to be getting another 10+ cm next weekend! Bring it on! Man, the commute must have been a beast this morning!

This is what you see when your toque has blocked your hearing until it's too late while stumbling along the narrow rut of an uncleared sidewalk snow path. It's a stoned and drunk sidewalk snowplow operator barrelling up from behind you and he is stopping for nothing! Quickly find some balcony stairs or dive into the snowpile on the street side!

Phew, you just made it. And you happened to arrive at the foot of my stairs. What a pleasant suprise, a frail, shivering university lad! Why don't you come on in and warm yourself up some, sonny boy? That ferocious snowplow must have given you quite a scare. Here, have some hot chocolate. Go on, drink it up. Yes, that's right. Drink it all down. There's a lad. You're safe now...

I think I saw a dude stealing a bike yesterday

I was riding home for lunch and right on the corner of my block a dude was bent over a bike attached to the pole. When I stopped and looked to see what he was doing, I saw that he had a short piece of rebar and was using it to leverage out the U-lock. He was about 6' tall, with polarized glasses, a beard and a big hooded blue puffy coat. The bike was a newish, standard-quality silver mountain bike and there was a red helmet attached to it. It looked sort of feminine and he definitely did not. So I asked him why he was doing that (in french) and he said "I lost my keys" (in accented english). I stood and watched him and he definitely was watching me. I was maybe 20' away. He succeeded in breaking the lock. He picked up the rear fender he had knocked off and the helmet and quickly rode away. I followed him, but he lost me heading the wrong way on St. Laurent. He rode on to the sidewalk and since I am trying to abide by the law on my bike, I hesitated and got blocked by oncoming traffic.

This whole episode has left me with bad feelings. I really feel like I should have stopped him. The problem and most reasonable people agree with me, is that I had no way of knowing for sure that he was stealing the bike. It could have been his girlfriend's who lost her keys and he was pissed about having to go get it. But now looking back, I'm pretty sure the guy was a thief and I should have just jumped in and beat him with my own u-lock. It doubly bugs me because this was right on my block and it would have been a very good opportunity to send a message about where junkies and thieves should and should not feel comfortable getting up to their shenanigans. And finally, I'm bummed that the guy got away from me. There was a time when I could have stuck with him all the way to hell and back, but I'm getting older and careful and I was aware that I only had 45 minutes left on my lunch hour. If I had followed him to an address and it turned out the bike was stolen, then I could have left a sign on the pole and the police could have tracked the dude down.

So what should I do next time? Get more aggressive and ask more questions? Pretend I know whose bike it is? Just prevent anyone trying to unlock a bike with a piece of rebar as a general rule?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Petition to improve animal welfare services in Montreal

Actually, more specifically, it is a petition to force la Berger-Blanc to improve its services. Le Berger Blanc is a private, for-profit animal shelter and euthanasia center (i.e. "the pound") that has the municipal contract for all stray animals that are found in greater Montreal. For those of you who have never looked for a lost animal, or found one and tried to deal with the system of handling lost pets or their corpses, I tell you now that it is a terrible mess.

My first experience was when I found a dead cat in the gutter right around the corner from my house. I knocked on some doors, but nobody seemed to know whose it was and it didn't have a collar. I spent hours (really, literally hours) on the phone going from service to service, trying to find what you are supposed to do. My hope was that we could find out the owner but at the very least, it had to be taken away as it was the summer. It ended up being a failure, but later that day somebody did recognize it and it was taken care of. I spoke to my vet about it and she said that usually the garbage men just pick up dead animals and they are thrown into the dump. Sentimental issues aside about respectfully treating the body, they should at least have a system to see if there is a collar or an RFID tag (which all animals taken from the SPCA get) and let the owners know the fate of their animal.

My quest did lead me to le Berger-Blanc and I learned that they are basically the pound for all of Montreal. The allegations in the petition are pretty damning and I have heard similar concerns from a past vet. But I do wish the people behind the petition would be more transparent. In any case, it looks fairly thoroughly done, correctly written in both french and english. Some of the items are totally basic and it is insane to me that they don't provide those services. For instance, the petition claims the Berger-Blanc doesn't even have an RFID scanner. It sounds like they have had this contract from the city for a long time with no real strings attached beyond "be a place we can send the animals we don't know what to do with". The result is that it the euthanasia rate is super high and lots of people don't get their pets back.

Ultimately, the problem here is with the city administration. We should be spending money on a better system of licensing and sterilization. We should also have smaller, regional shelters within public transport reach of everyone. In the meantime, putting pressure on le Berger-blanc to start to provide decent services to the public is a good start.

You can find the petition here.

(scroll down to the english details of the petition.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First snow of the 2010-11 winter season

Took a great long walk up on Mont Royal today. Most invigorating!

This is the bath that Charlie jumps into when the weather is warmer.

This did not seem to deter anybody. I guess it's just their way of absolving responsibility if you wipe out, which seems like a fair deal to me.

Charlie grooving out to some stalwart out of season drummers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Parking Anxiety

So the latest freak-out in the saga of Luc Ferrandez' eco-fascist municipal administration is his attempt to take control the parcomètres in the Plateau. Earlier, Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay announced that the administration and revenue from street parking would be turned over to the Boroughs. I am actually ill-informed of the reasoning behind this insane decision (from the mayor's perspective at least) and I can well imagine the boroughs pounced upon it.

Luc Ferrandez, our borough mayor and member of the ecologically-minded and forward thinking Projet Montréal party (with the radical platform of hey guess what urban cores are not giant shopping malls or waypoints for suburbanites to drive to and through), seized on the opportunity and announced an extension of parking meter hours, locations and a price hike. Merchants freaked out about this and put up a bunch of retarded posters. Today, the mayor balked and announced that he wasn't giving up control yet. I suspect the business lobby has a lot more power over Tremblay at the city level than they do over Ferrandez at the borough level. I can only imagine the many levels of pressure the business lobbyists applied to Tremblay and his people.

Emotionally, I can sympathize with drivers to some degree. The few times that I've driven around town and had to pay for parking, I'm shocked at how expensive it has become. You might as well use a credit card, because coins won't do the trick anymore unless you have a pirate-sized bag of loonies and toonies. On the other hand, compared to other North American cities I've parked in (Vancouver, San Francisco-Bay Area and New York; though this last has its own special craziness that isn't all bad), the availability of parking is really good here.

That being said, financially, if you can afford to drive a car, having to pay a bit more for parking should be well within your budget. I'm sure there are a percentage of people who drive for a living or need a car to get to work (though I am very hesitant to say "need" there given the ease with which people who have public transit, bike and foot options use it to justify their owning a car) who have very tight margins and a parking increase will cause them to sacrifice. I suspect that percentage is very low and most people can afford the hike.

I'm a resident here in the Plateau and cars for the most part are not welcome in my world. They are polluting and dangerous (no children play in the street on my residential road) and take up space. More importantly, I pay a lot of municipal taxes to live here. A big chunk of that money goes to road repair and road cleaning and I don't even drive. So if you are driving your car into my borough, then you need to be paying for the costs that creates. My block is full all day with people who work nearby. They pay nothing for that space. I'm glad they have jobs in my neighbourhood or come and do shopping. But they need to throw a little in the piggy bank to pay for the repairs to the road and the snow clearing, just like I do.

It's the reaction of the businesses that I don't quite get. For the shitty, faux-fancy restaurants on St. Laurent south of des Pins, I can see how they are worried about losing their weekend suburban meal tickets, but don't those people usually park in some pay parking lot anyway or take a cab? It was really surprising to see Sakaris have the anti-Ferrandez poster in their store. Most of their clients come on foot for sure and the ones who come in car are usually the older Portugues ladies whose husbands drive around the block while they buy the entire store. I wonder if a lot of these proprietors just got browbeaten by a few vocal leaders of this business group.

It's amazing how profoundly attached people are to their vehicles. It's an ignorance and short-sightedness that goes far beyond any other consumer item (about which we all have our blinders and loyalties to one degree or another). Car owners can seriously equate a parking rate hike to an attack on their freedoms, likening the Plateau administration to "maoist guerrillas". I kid you not, this was a comment over at the Montreal City Weblog. It used to be the left that tended to make those kinds of hyperbolic historic comparisons, but more and more it is the people who fear change who are starting to talk like this. Maybe they should spend a month with some real Maoist guerrillas (if there are any left, maybe in Tibet?) and then make the comparison.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

For those of you who lack confidence about speaking french here

I realized last night during a work discussion around beers that after 5 years on my job, a part of which entails me dealing with a wide range of the public, on the phone or in person, I have only had one person give me shit about not being a true francophone or not speaking french correctly and he was already in a rage about our organization and our phone system (and rightly so on the latter). Quebec is, very broadly speaking, still an insular society and often reverts to a self-defeating defensive stance, but the people are fundamentally generous and accepting. My french can be rough at times and I have to talk about a crazy range of things with some of the calls I respond to (geothermal, cats stuck in trees, taxes, government databases, real estate to name just a few from the last couple weeks). People are always very patient when I am lacking a vocabulary word. Sometimes I can even hear them trying to make me feel like there is nothing wrong with my french, when I know that I have just said something completely incomprehensible. The worst that has ever happened is that sometimes people switch to english, but strangely, this is very rare over the phone. Maybe there are some visual cues that help people determine what your native tongue is?

In any case, if you feel insecure or worried that people are going to laugh at you or be offended when you try and speak french here in Quebec, push those worries aside, go forth and speak your mind. When you slip, the francophones will be ready to grab you and make sure you don't fall.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

FUBAR II - a rare non-Fantasia review

First of all, if you haven't seen FUBAR, then you can just go ahead and turn in your Canada card right now. Go teabag other loser traitors like David Frum. If you aren't Canadian and want to understand this great nation better, go rent FUBAR right now.

It's funny, because when I was a kid I feared and hated headbangers. I lived in a very small world back then and the music you listened to and the clothes you wore seemed much more important than they actually were. As a minority punker freak, I got a lot of shit from the headbangers. But I see now that only a few of those people were real headbangers. The rest were just trendoids listening to what they were told to listen to and thus we got to hear "Cum on Feel the Noize" every fucking day on the bus ride home from junior high. Or fucking Def Leppard. Despite these differences, I realize today that I learned how to giv'er on Vancouver Island, a skill that has served me well in life.

FUBAR is my #2 all-time favourite movie (The Road Warrior being at the top spot). It came out when I was living in New York and spending my summers in the Rockies. I was feeling more and more the call to come back to Canada. Many a late night I would come home and just watch the first half-hour or so of FUBAR before falling asleep on the couch. The rhythm of that first act (culminating in the anti-Tron party night) is near-cinematic perfection, an exquisite blend of character, humour and music. The rest of the movie just builds on that. For my 35th birthday, I rented out this little movie hall on 12th street and screened it. So you can imagine that I was pretty psyched when I heard they were working on a sequel.

I would have gone to the premier, but I was out of town due to work, so I had to wait until the second weekend. We didn't expect too much of a crowd (Canadians not being too good at supporting our own cinema), so I was quite anxious when we got to the Cineplex Scotiabank with 15 minutes until showtime and there was a massive crowd in the lobby. Not too worry, as there were sadly only 4 other people in the audience with us when we finally got through. I guess the youngsters were all lining up to see that latest Ryan Reynolds movie Buried ("Phonebooth underground" as one kid in line behind me said) or maybe The Social Network.

FUBAR II's opening scene, a party to celebrate Dean being cancer free for five years, was sheer chaotic genius, beyond my expectations. I was delirious with laughter and party pleasure. The follow-up was excellent as well, with our heroes heading up to Fort MacMurray ("The Mac") to get jobs promised to them by the new bearded, single and rapping Tron. What makes this part of the movie stand out for me isn't just Dean and Terry up to their regular hijinks (although Terry demonstrates a surprising character development: a work ethic!), but the portrayal of life in this boom town. We hear constantly about the Tar Sands from an environmental and economic perspective. But we really don't get to see what life is really like up there and it is fascinating. I don't know if it was deliberately emphasized, but it seems like the giant refinery stacks are always there in the background, looming like evil castles. The highs and lows of the boom economy underpin the storyline: the easy credit, quick money and high-end but crass consumerism (decked out trucks, jewelry stores, hunting equipment) on the high side and this crazy camp of itinerant workers on the low side.

Seeing this stuff was super engaging, but it's also where the movie starts to lose its way. There are several storylines and they take too long to develop and aren't always resolved satisfactorily. The main storyline is basically a familial soap opera. It's not terrible, but it's not really all that interesting either. What made the first movie so great was that the human drama was snuck in, hiding under the surface for most of the movie so that you don't realize how much you care about the characters until you are totally caught up in their world. I also suspect that this movie really doesn't work well for people who don't know and love Dean and Terry already. Finally, it never really explodes. All that being said, the acting is almost uniformly outstanding and there is some pretty good madness. I left feeling strangely compelled by The Mac. A part of me felt like heading out there, trying to cash in and just party.

So I enjoyed myself and the first five minutes was worth the price of admission alone, but not a great success as a movie. Nevertheless, I'd rather see FUBAR II than any of the other movies that were in the line-up and it saddens me that so few of those young people crowding the lobby even considered it as an option.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fubar II and real craziness

On the way back from Fubar II, we passed a guy kneeling next to a wheelchair, wearing an alien mask. I noticed him but thought nothing more beyond just another panhandler with a gimmick. He picked up a small plastic gas container and poured it over himself. I guess I am so jaded by city living that my reaction was to keep on moving until the people I was with said that it was gasoline and we should call 911. He then walked over to a phone booth, grabbed a sledge hammer and walked across the street (Sherbrooke) to the Loto-Quebec building. I got my phone turned on (ironically, I was the only person of a party of 5 with a working cell phone) and called 911 and told them what I saw. The guy on the other end of the line seriously asked me to describe him. I said "dude, he's covered in gasoline and wearing an alien mask, what more do I need to tell you!" This was after I had given the specific address and there was a crowd of people gathering. During the call, the guy had smashed the glass doors of the Loto-Quebec building and was waiting with the sledge hammer cocked above his head outside the door. The cops came in about 3 or 4 minutes, but it still seemed a bit too long considering we were right downtown. That's the second time I've had attitude from people manning the 911 booth here.

More and more cops came (as one of the people I was with remarked, the cops are quite good at swarming into situations) and eventually they took the guy down, first with the taser and then throwing him down. They demasked him and brought him to one of the cop cars, where they wiped the gasoline off him and treated a cut on his shoulder (I guess from the broken glass he fell into). We stuck around until they put him in the ambulance. A thin guy with a close-cropped head and beard, maybe in his early 30s. On the way home, I got a call back from "station 20" and they asked me exactly what I saw. When I asked them what his deal was they said they didn't know "he's not speaking at all".

I have to say, I've seen a lot of crazy behaviour in my time, but that may well be on the top of my list. It seemed all so well planned, with the wheelchair, the gasoline, the sledgehammer set up in the phone booth, the waiting by the Loto-Quebec building door, but all so useless at the same time. What was his goal? I've seen true madness and there usually is some kind of internal logic that drives the thinking. But there is also usually some kind of external extreme behaviour, often of a performative nature, that helps you identify it as craziness. This guy was so cold and methodical that I didn't even register that he had just poured gasoline on himself.

Oh yeah, a nice coda to the scene was the guy who came up after it was all pretty much over and taped off who started screaming about Montreal corruption, how it was all going down and the damn frogs. Like insanity flies to the crazy light. That's more what I'm used to.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Updates on street, cat and scammer

Work has been very busy and I'm enjoying these beautiful August evenings too much to be blogging, so please excuse the lack of recent posts. I give you a quick update.

First of all, our street is done. They finished all the sidewalks and did a very nice job. They repaved the entire street in two days, all with asphalt. It radiated heat for a day and half. What are the pros and cons of asphalt over concrete? So the work is all done. Sadly, now all the cars are backed, parked up in every possible space when stationary and racing up the street when not. It's really a pleasure riding the bike on the new asphalt, but the cars are having too much fun as well and I worry for the cats and children. I really need to work on getting the municipality to put a speed bump in place here. Personally, I'd rather use caltrops or launch flywheels into the windshield Mad Max style, but the majority of society would frown upon that.

Second, I have some interesting developments on the orange cat. The porch lady, as she has come to be known, told me that there was another guy who lived on the street who was feeding the orange cat and letting him in the house. I finally met this guy as he was standing almost in front of my house where I was locking my bike and he had the cat in his arms. His name is Louis. Turns out that he was going out to catch a bus and the cat was following him. It had done it before, followed him all the way to Mont-Royal and he was worried he would get hit by a car or lost.

We ended up talking and it turns out that the cat does have a home, sort of. The apartment next door to him is inhabited by a lot of Colombian hippy types who are living there for free while they renovate the upper floors. I guess the landlord is a bit of a hippy himself. They somehow got the cat. So we went over there and talked to them. They seemed like nice guys and did say the cat was theirs. The story goes that two cats were dropped off with one of the guys living there (who was sleeping at the time, which was 6:00 in the evening; whatever) and that one had disappeared and the orange guy was the other one. I offered to get him fixed and they were cool with that and the general notion that it had to be done, but wanted to see what the story was with the sleeping guy. So we said we'd come back tomorrow to figure it out.

In the meantime, another woman, who lives in the apartment above the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall, came by. She also has two cats that she only lets out when she is gardening so she can watch them. She said there was a young man from her church who was looking for a cat. That came by and he did indeed seem like a nice guy, but he was going to keep the cat in an apartment. Louis and I were both not feeling that idea. I told the younger guy that he can always get a really nice already indoor cat at the SPCA and he seemed happy with that idea. Actually kind of seemed like he hadn't even thought of it before.

In any case, the cat is not ours to give and if we get a good answer from the Colombians, I think we'll be happy to know he has a place to go inside in the winter. I'll get him snipped for sure as well. He's called Ali by the way, as in ali gato. I'll keep you posted. Not totally resolved yet, but definitely some good news.

After that whole incident, I got to talking to Louis and it turns out he is a Mile End VIP. He runs the art vending machines you see in Casa Del Popolo and Le Divan Orange. He is also the organizer of ExpoZine. Finally, he wrote the book A Fine Ending, which is all about the salad days of anglo hipsters in Mile End in the 90s, back when rents were cheap. My wife had read it a couple of months ago and remarked how cats had played such a thematic role (you can read her review here). So a minor celebrity and one more responsible, mellow-minded cat lover on our block!

Finally, yesterday I went across the street as I saw a woman on the balcony of the apartment where the guy had supposedly been locked out of. I spoke with her and it turns out she lives there alone. So the dude was a scammer. Nice to know.

Sidewalk repair porn pictures coming. Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Plateau Nights

My heart is heavy at 4:00 in the morning on a Monday night.

There has been this very beautiful orange striped young male [edit: cat, I'm talking about a stray cat here!] hanging around the front of the street in the last couple of weeks. He is quite friendly and very vocal. No tags and a magnificent set of furry testicles [NSFW]. I've been trying to avoid him because i'm pretty sure that he is a stray, possibly lost but more likely abandoned after moving day. I spoke with the old woman who lives up the street and she confirmed that he is a stray and that he killed a pigeon and a squirrel in the last couple days. I guess the brazilian student/hippy house has been leaving their door open and possibly feeding him as well. In any case, everybody on this block who might take a stray already has two cats of their own.

So this morning, I was woken up by a furious yowling from the back yard. I went out on the balcony and sure enough there was the orange cat, in the neighbour's backyard in full male cat territorial fighting mode. Wow does this guy have some pipes! Who was his opponent? None other than Tiger White, the reigning stray tom of the back alley. Sadly, this last winter (and it's at least 2 now that he has survived) has weakened TW somewhat and he just isn't as tough as he used to be. We've been feeding him on our back balcony and I do feel a certain attachment to him now.

I'm really torn. I guess the responsible thing would be to get the orange cat and just take him to the SPCA. He really is a nice-looking cat, appears very healthy and is social and friendly. I think he would make a great pet. But he is just past the age of being a kitten and thus has a less likely chance of finding a home. Plus, this is full season at the SPCA thanks to the numerous fucks who get cats without having the responsibility necessary to properly care for them. And the lack of a mandatory neutering program by the city. But I digress.

I just hate to take a living creature and put it in a cage. It might have to be done here, for the best for all involved.

So on the off chance that anybody wants a nice cat, please get in touch with me through the comments or via twitter (olmanfeelyus) and I'll hook you up. I'll pay for the neutering and basic shots as well. If I get a chance to take a picture, I'll put it up here later.

Now that's a fucking nice looking kitty right there!

But what makes this postworthy is that once I chased the cats off, I was quite wide awake. So I went to the front room to work on the computer. It's right next to the front window and as I am watching this awesome classic Kraftwerk video a friend had just referred me to, I see a dude in the light of the streetlamp looking through the doorway of the neighbour's across the street. He does not look anything like the people who live there.

He turns and sees me. I realize that in the dark of night, with my computer monitor on, I am quite visible from the street. He keeps looking and I try to go back to watching the computer. Then he starts waving and comes across the street. So I go out on the front porch.

Here's his story: He got home with Nez Rouge and realized he'd left his keys and wallet and phone in his car. He lives at 4605 (the triplex next to the door I saw him looking in). Nobody is home in any of the apartments (he also said that his parents own the building), but he knows the neighbours next door and was hoping they were home. He asked if there was a garage nearby. He said he worked at Tele-Quebec at Delorimier and Rene-levesque and is working 14-hour shifts ("which is probably why I forgot all my stuff") and that he had got out at 2:00 in the morning.

As I was talking to him, everything seemed on the up and up. He needed a ride, he would pay for gas, he'd gone and talked to the cops at Tim Horton's. The thing was, I am in my underwear, I don't have a car and I had no cash on me. So it would have meant getting dressed and walking to the bank machine with a stranger in the middle of the night. Also, I'd never seen him before and I keep a pretty voyeuristic eye on my street and the neighbours. I don't know any of the people in what he claimed was his place, but I've seen them coming and going many times and I've never seen him.

But the final straw for me was one of competence. If you are not a drug addict or petty scam artist, then how the hell are you going to the bar after work without your keys? He was clearly not drunk in any visible way and said that he had gotten off work at 2:00. It was about 3:45 when I was talking to him. So he is in the bar for an hour and has to take Nez Rouge home? I was also mildly annoyed because he switched into english way early on in the conversation. My french is good enough to have had that same conversation in french and though his english was good, it just rubs me the wrong way when certain francophones switch into english and the way this guy did it was one of those ways.

I finally said "I hate to be cold but I think you are just going to have to walk back to your car and get your keys there." which really is what any real drinker would have done in the first place. It's a beautiful night!

Once I got inside and started to ponder, I am almost certain that he was bullshitting. He may have even seen my light on before he started doing the looking in the window thing. I'll confirm for sure tomorrow, but growing up in the East Bay and catching the tail end of New York's seedy period has kind of set my radar for this kind of thing. It was all too friendly and normal feeling. Made for an interesting night, though. Just various creatures on the mean streets and alleys of the Plateau, trying to survive, doing their thing.

Won't you take me home? I'll be neutered and vaccinated.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Pork, Hungarian Style

The Charcuterie Fairmont on St. Laurent is my favourite butcher. I know it's not good to eat pork, but their pork is just so darn fresh and good! For whatever reason, I had a hankering for a rich pork stew. (It's probably the soups I've been getting over at Bulgogi House.) I went in, waited a bit while they helped another customer and then simply said that I wanted to make a pork stew, enough for 2 and leftovers. The friendly butcher, who has been there for 40 years, trimmed most of the fat ("you like a bit of fat, eh?") off of a piece of pork shoulder for me, chopping it into rough one-inch chunks, perfect for stew. I then subtly asked what was the right way to cook it. I got the recipe I was hoping for.

Heat up some butter or lard (I used olive oil) in a stew pot.

Sauté about a big fistful of chopped onion until it is starting to get transparent (maybe a little longer).

Throw in the pork cubes. Stir them around so they get good and covered by the oil and onion mixture. Grind some pepper over them. Stir and cook at medium heat (you want bubbling, no higher). When the outside of the pork is cooked on all sides, squeeze in a half a tube of Pörkölt and mix it in well.

I wasn't making those umlauts up!  You'll see this stuff and other variants for a buck or two on the shelf to the left or on the counterop. 

Let the whole thing cook, covered or semi-covered (keep enough sauce to keep it bubbling, covering most of the pork) for as long as it takes. Put some paprika in to add flavour or spice. It will be ready to eat in a half-hour at least, but the longer and slower you cook it, the tenderer it gets.

We quite enjoyed it, but next time I'd make it a day ahead of time or at least that morning, as it gets much more tender and flavourful with time. I also found it lacked a bit of bite and I'd either add a lot more paprika or perhaps some other straight hot spice, like stir in some jalapeno with the onions or just some red pepper flakes.

[Update: I went back to the butcher and he recommended the spicy version pictured below, a tablespoon of which I added to the leftovers when I reheated them.  It definitely gave me the kick I was looking for.]

Yes, now that has some kick!

Next time you want some pork chops, faux fillet, pork shoulder (I get half shoulders here for pulled pork) or any kind of meat, come check the Charcuterie Fairmount out. They also have nice dried sausage and fried chunks of fatty bacon in a tray on the counter that you can just snack on.

Out with the old sidewalk

Woke up to some serious noise this morning and saw that the machines had already started on the sidewalk. I have to say, that thing pounding into the concrete so close to the house is kind of freaky. It makes the whole house move and knowing the shaky state of some of these foundations and the ground underneath them, I was very thankful the front part of our foundation was re-done several years ago. You really feel it.

Feeling a bit like Lester Dent right about now

Here is how they left it Monday morning. Very post-apocalyptic. I'd almost like to keep it this way. Makes things that much more challenging for intruders and would cut down on unworthy passers-by.

There was a little circle cut into the sidewalk that I always had to take some time to clean out. I can only guess that it was cut to let an old valve through that is no longer there. It looks like they filled it up with asphalt.

Further up the street, they were already turning the broken pieces over and getting ready to load them into the cart. When I took the picture below, the foreman looked kind of nervous and asked if I was the inspector. I didn't say it, but I was tempted to respond "Dude, do I look like the inspector!" I was wearing flip-flops and camo shorts. Probably due to my job, where I sometimes have to be an officious ass, I have a slightly official air no matter what I'm wearing. Good to know.

They were supposed to be putting the forms in today, but hadn't started when I left for work, perhaps due to the rain.