(September 10, 2012) MONTREAL — It sometimes amazes me that I’m still standing.
Take tonight, for example. Here’s the scene: I’m in Montreal (I’ll fill in the rest of the day later), and I left my host’s place to find a bite to eat before meeting a Twitter friend to go see music. I knew the surroundings of one subway station a tiny bit, so I got off there and walked a block or two. I’ve mostly been eating pizza for the past week cuz it’s cheap, but I was feeling like it was time for a break from what my friend Jack Mindy calls “nature’s most perfect food.” There was a sushi place down the block. I had $5 in my wallet but I was pretty sure there was a decent (for me) amount of money in my bank account. So I went in and ordered.
I ate my small amount of veggie sushi, drank my tea and asked for the check. It came and I took out my bank card. In this restaurant, the server brings a little card reader over to the table. She slid my card through, then handed me the machine so I could put in the tip. I handed it back. Then the lottery began. Round and round it goes, where it stops … DENIED. Oy.
I’ve had difficulty with my card at other places in Canada, so I was hoping it was just that. I went to the ATM in the front of the restaurant and tried to take out enough money to pay for the meal. I tried $40. Nope. I tried $20. Miracle of miracles, $20 came out of the ATM. The bill was $28 and change. (Much more than I expected, fool that I am.) I had $5 in my wallet and I remembered that I had two $2 coins and a $1 coin in my pocket. So I paid in cash, left a tiny tip, apologized for the tip, and exited into the Montreal night with $0. There was some chance a PayPal transfer would be in my bank in the morning, and I have a Starbucks card with some money on it, too, so one way or the other I knew I could eat in the morning.
And there you have it. That’s how I travel. The thing is, I’ve been in this exact situation — far from home, completely broke — so many times in the past two to three years that I’m just used to it. That’s probably not good, but it’s better than panicking.
After the sushi fiasco, I met my Twitter pal David Ryshpan and we went to Diese Onze, a club that has jazz seven nights a week. David is part of the Kalmunity collective, a large and impressive group of musicians of all kinds who collectively improvise music together. On the bill were David on piano, Jahsun on drums, Eric Hove on saxophone, Mark Haynes on bass, and Malika Tirolien on vocals. Their set was totally improvised, but completely melodic and funky and danceable and fun. Like a great R&B band with no set list and tons of creativity. I was impressed. And Malika? Damn. She had an incredible voice and an equally good ear.
I stayed for a set before fatigue got to me. I went back to the place where I’m staying and chatted for a while with my very talented host, the singer and songwriter Sarah MK.
/ / /
And now, back into the past a bit…
Ottawa is nice. I walked eight miles the first day from their house to downtown and back. Lots of lovely architecture downtown, although for some reason I took no photos at all. I also did two interviews while I was there, one with journalist and pianist Peter Hum and the other with bassist and educator John Geggie. You’ll hear both of those in the next couple weeks.
While I was in Ottawa, I desperately needed a book of poetry. I can’t quite say why — it was just one of those things. I went to several small bookstores but they had almost no poetry books, so I went to Chapters, which is like Barnes and Noble. I spent a looooong time deciding before eventually buying a paperback copy of the collected poems of Philip Larkin (not the huge new one that just came out). It’s a book I already own at least one copy of, but sometimes you just need some Larkin to carry around.
One other smart thing I did in Ottawa was to lock myself out of the house with no shoes, wallet or phone. I went on the porch to read and to write a poem and forgot that the door locked automatically. Luckily Renee and Craig came home between gigs and let me in.
I took a Via Rail train from Ottawa to Montreal. It was a two-hour trip through very lovely countryside. An attendant came down the aisle with a refreshment cart, too, just like on Amtrak. Cough.
Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. I came here once before in 2000 with a fellow union organizer. We had a day or two off from our campaign and we were in Concord, NH, so we hopped in a car and drove up to the city. I remember how much I loved it then and I feel the same way now. It’s like going to Europe without flying. I’ll write more about the city in a later installment.
When I arrived, David Ryshpan met me at the station and I interviewed him right there. Then I went to a coffee shop and mixed my Sonny Rollins interview, which you can listen to here. I took the subway to my host’s neighborhood, turned the wrong way and took a 40-minute walk around a very big block. As I later learned, if I’d turned the right way I would have been to her front door in three minutes. Well, at least I wasn’t carrying a 40-pound backpack. Oh wait.
Three Montreal observations: When the subway doors close, they play the first three notes of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” The subway doors open and close before the train has stopped. School crossing guards are called by the awesome name “brigadier scolaire.”
French tip: In French, all the letters are silent. (Thus the title of this post.)
Today is my 39th birthday. I think I’m going to go walk around the old part of the city.