Saturday, October 31, 2015

fair mount

Nudged by my friend Joel to compare rivals Fairmount and St. Viateur, I grudgingly left the serene and empty guesthouse for a last walk on Laurier. 
The line was out the door, always a good sign. 
Sure, they've added unconventional flavors, a crime against bagels. But they sell reasonably priced smoked salmon and homemade matzoh. (I skipped this because I was down to my last $10.)

They proudly proclaim they were the first bagels in Space (sic), Mission STD-124. 
Look at that slab of dough! The man in front of me was getting six of everything to take back to Alberta. He even bought a bag of sesame seeds. 
Outside I bit into my tout garni, not warm but with a hefty chew, to see what the fuss was about. And as I've said about so many things on this trip, I would return just for another Fairmount bagel covered in seeds. 
This picture is on the back of their business cards. The only part it gets wrong is all the white faces. Part of what gives Montreal its spirit is immigrants: the Moroccan man who insisted on helping with my suitcase to the metro station, the French owner of my guesthouse, the taxi driver who told me I would love it here, and feel at home. And I did. The people who live in Montreal call it a village. It's also not an accident that the most authentic bagel shop in NYC today is Thai owned. 
Tonight I will sleep in my own bed, in a country not so far from Mile End and Le Plateau Mont-Royal. And dream of excuses to come back to charming Quebec. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quebec cuisine

Warning: this will make you hungry!

I met my friend Chris for a snacking adventure through Montreal's Jewish and Breton heritage. First stop: St. Viateur, one of two famous purveyors of Montreal bagels. 
Sesame bagels warm from the oven after a bath with a trace of honey. Try topping that. 
Okay, we did. Our next stop was Bleu et Persillé,  a new cheese shop. We sampled five or six Quebec cheeses and discovered that Antoine used to work at La Fromagerie in San Francisco. 
They had a whole row of fondue and another of fresh yogurt. 
You can bet I'm bringing home fromage
We had an exemplary quiche (dairy in Quebec rivals France or Ireland) at Trois M and then stopped in at another patisserie for buttery, crunchy Kouign amann. 
I don't know how people in Montreal don't all weigh 300 pounds. 
Chris had to go back to her real life. After dropping off my cheese at the guesthouse, I took a bus up the mountain (Mont Royal is more of a big hill) and then strolled down through the forest to Schwartz's deli. 
Schwartz's is famous for smoked meat, Montreal's version of pastrami. 
These people are serious about meat. Service is a lot friendlier than at Katz's though on par with Langer's in LA, my favorite pastrami on rye anywhere. 
And the sandwich? Succulent. Small enough to fit in your mouth. Under CAD$10. Cash only, which cleaned out nearly all my Canadian dollars. And worth every cent. 

Epilogue: on my way home from Schwartz's a poster caught my eye. It was the history of garment workers 100 years ago. The Yiddish word shmata  (rags) made me think of Aunt Ruthie, my grandfather's sister who used to shop in Hallandale on "shmata row."
As I stepped back to get a better shot, I lost my balance and tumbled backward, knocking over a store sign. A man came to check on me and then a woman who saw my puffy pink coat from up the block. Fortunately I wasn't even scratched. Didn't break my wrist or the sign I landed on or my iPhone. Moral: sometimes it pays to have a little extra padding. 
Training starts Monday. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stairway to heaven

One of the first things you notice in Montreal neighborhoods is the staircases. 
At least in lovely Plateau Mont-Royal, they're everywhere. 
They look so pretty when there are two next to each other, like a theater set. 
I half-expected dancers or Blanche DuBois to come out. 
But even the single staircases are elegant. 
Here's a spiral out the kitchen door of my guesthouse. 
And a triple spiral covering all three floors: architectural DNA. I'm not so sure about the laundry lines. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quebec culture

Aside from maple syrup and cider and the stylish Trudeaus, Quebec is quite famous for Loi 101, the law requiring businesses to be conducted in French. Canada is bilingual but in Quebec, you speak Québécois (or pretend to). 
I bring this up because Quebec is a prime example of preserving culture. Today I'm at the Musee de la Civilisation learning about Quebec history including its First Nations and the French and British colonization. 
Every corner is exquisite. 17th and 18th century townhouses have been preserved and restored. 
That charm isn't accidental. It's been carefully cultivated, and legislated. Old Quebec is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. 
Nor is it uniform. 
Why not sell futons in a building like this if it means preserving history?

I'll have to return soon. Always the best compliment from a traveler. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I keep on falling

O Canada! Takes your breath away, doesn't it? 
Today I took bus 800 from Quebec City to Montmorency Falls. It might be the nicest public transit I've ever taken. I waited less than two minutes, paid <$5 round trip, and got a cushy seat. A screen announced upcoming stops, and the friendly driver gave me directions. 
There's a fabulous bridge over the falls, which are taller than Niagara. 
When you're on it, you can see your shadow. 
Did I mention the fall leaves? Because they weren't bad either. 
Tres magnifique. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

peak experience

I arrived in New York today for a week of work and family fun, and mentioned to my hostess in Harlem that I love discovering new museums. 
She promptly dispatched me to the Nicholas Roerich Museum in an elegant, airy townhouse near Riverside Drive and the city's best bagels (made by Thai immigrants). 
Roerich was a set designer, born in St Petersburg, and in his landscape paintings, he expresses divinity. 
He drew on various religious traditions including Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist, unifying them in landscapes. 
And he drew on his travels in Asia with his wife, travels that took them to India, Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan in the 1920s and 1930s. 
None of this seems unusual today, but it's hard to imagine the challenges of traveling in remote areas of Asia between world wars without airplanes or high-speed rail or smartphones.
I was also struck by the casual materials: mostly acrylic, often tempera paint on cardboard. 

Roerich did well for himself, well enough to acquire this exquisite townhouse where free concerts and poetry readings are held. 
Stop by, and visit this home of a true traveler. Maybe you'll discover what's sacred in the world around us.