1.08.2012

more montreal, vermont, and homeward bound

Our second full day in Montreal was simply lovely. In the morning we headed up to the Marché Jean-Talon, the largest of Montreal's four public markets. I felt as if we had wandered into Europe. The gorgeous produce carefully displayed, the charcuteries, the boulangeries, patisseries. Snack bars selling cassoulet, pasties and tartes aux pommes. Almost all the stands offered samples - of tomatoes, mangoes, oranges, cucumbers - all kinds of produce. (Where were those tomatoes from? They were explosively delicious.) I love markets. All the colours, textures, sounds - I really find them so sensual and enticing. In summer, Jean-Talon has outdoor stalls as well, and although the indoor market wasn't huge, it was great.

After the market, we went back on the subway and found Schwartz's the famous "charcuterie Hebraique", or Hebrew deli, as it is called. After a short wait (apparently there is always a line at Schwartz's), we were seated at a table with a group of foodies from Toronto. So it's true what we've heard: smoked meat is delicious. Smoky, salty, flavourful, it falls apart in your mouth. I've heard people say it's pastrami, but it's not. It's related to both pastrami and corned beef, but it's neither of those. You can order it lean, medium or fatty, either on sandwiches on rye with yellow mustard, or on a plate in giant slabs served with a pile of sliced bread.

I was expecting a cavernous restaurant similar to Carnegie Deli or Stage Deli, but Schwartz's is a tiny slice of a restaurant, customers shoehorned into shared tables. It's a relic, and although it's packed with out-of-towners, it's not kitschy - it's the real thing.

After scarfing down our smoked meat sandwiches, we took advantage of our metro day passes and instead of trudging back to the subway in the wet snow, took buses back to the metro stop. The bus drivers were friendly, polite, and bilingual. Are you tired of hearing this? Because this is the standard: friendly, polite, and bilingual.

We took the subway back to Vieux Montreal, and did a bit of a walking tour of the old city. There's some terrific architecture - old bank buildings, early skyscrapers, Notre Dame de Montreal - along with tiny alleys (or laneways), cobblestone streets, and "ghost ads". The storefronts are mostly expensive, chic boutiques, stylish restaurants, and art galleries.

After this, we hung out in our room for a while before heading out for our evening plans. The room is so comfortable and stylish - very conducive to relaxing at home. Eventually we got ourselves together, for a very short drive from Old Montreal to Pointe-St-Charles to visit friends. We don't know these folks very well, but really like them a lot, have very similar worldviews and politics, and have had great times whenever we see them. They now have a three-week-old baby! We ordered Indian food. Fun.

A bit later I will write more about one of these folks, an interesting story. For now, one tidbit: one half of this couple is originally from New York, and is anglophone. He works in IT, and apparently that industry in Montreal is anglophone. But they are both very encouraging of the possibilities to live and work in Montreal with limited French. Not sure if or how that could work for a librarian, but they encourage me to not rule out the possibility.

* * * *

This morning we packed up early and bid a fond farewell to Le Petit Hotel. We drove back to the Plateau, to the Mile End neighbourhood, first to Fairmount Bagels, and then, because there was no traffic, to St. Viateur. This way we were able to get both the onion and garlic varieties, and the bagels Allan preferred, and the lighter, airier St. Viateur bagels that I preferred. We bought several dozen, for Vermont folks, dogsitting friends, and of course for us. We bought a couple of tubs of cream cheese, dunking and dipping our breakfast as we left the city.

Every time I'm in Montreal, I like it more. It's cosmopolitan and sophisticated, but friendly and earthy. People call Toronto the New York of Canada, but Toronto never feels anything like New York to me. Montreal feels like New York - a cross between New York and somewhere in France. C'est bon. C'est très bon.

* * * *

It's about two hours from Montreal to Jeffersonville, Vermont. We had no problem at the border, and by now we've had enough hassle-free crossings that I think our border troubles may be over. We spent a few hours with relatives there - spanning three generations - which was really nice. Great Aunt Betty is recovering from cataract surgery, so we're not staying at her place like we usually would. After a few hours, we headed to a hotel in South Burlington, not far from where Allan lived when we first met. We met our friend Ray (JoSers may know him as accudart) for dinner and drinks, and are now spending one last night in a hotel.

Tomorrow we drive back, and the following day, Tuesday, classes resume. I have a monster week ahead - classes, meetings, and shifts at the library. It's a good thing we miss our dogs so much, or I really wouldn't want to go home.

3 comments:

James said...

I've always liked Ustinov's comment that Toronto is "New York run by the Swiss" -- though it's important to remember that he didn't mean that as a compliment. The fact that many Torontonians take it as one, however, reinforces its accuracy.

John F said...

I'm glad you liked Schwartz's! I took one of their placemats away with me the last time I was there. Every so often I get it out and stare longingly...

laura k said...

I once blogged about that Peter Ustinov quote, long ago, and people are forever finding wmtc with "new york run by the swiss" as a search string.

I am so hungry for Schwartz's. We had some of our bagels when we got home tonight, and we were thinking how good they'd taste with smoked meat piled on top.