Sunday, October 15, 2006

Feasting in the East 3- Montreal

First time I've come to Montreal by train, previous trips here by thumb (71, 73) and plane (67). The short ride from Ottawa is brief and pleasent. It's sort of raining when I arrive. Although provided with instructions on how to get to Huddart's bldg, I ask someone in the train station info centre, who gives me a map, and then several people on the street. I first go to the wrong bank building but eventually find his. As I enter his office with a commanding view of McGill (where I stayed the last time I was here), Huddart tells me he asked around for the best restaurant in a city known for great restaurants, and was told to check out which we then proceed to do. We're off for the Verdun district. I hope we don't lose a few million soldiers on the way.
Huddart not only speaks but reads French, and I learn the French words for "swordfish" and "scallops," or more accurately, I learn that Huddart knows those words. Our bouches are amused with some salmon tartare in a nice mayonaisey sort of sauce. Light and delightful. My sparkling wine shows up just in time. Our swordfish with parsely and lemon is ridiculously good, best swordfish I've had since Portugal 4 years ago. My appetiser had been the scallops, with mushrooms and what may be apples or pears, in kind of a heavy sauce. I'm delighted the entree is lighter.The swordfish is light in the sense that lazers are
This will be last restaurant meal until Monday back in Toronto. The weekend will be spent dining on the Huddarts' supurb cooking. They are also superlative tour guides to their intriguing city. I get a tour of the city's farmer's market on Saturday morning as well as the National Theatre School where Katherine had worked until recently. These young actor-wannabees have more energy in a fingernail than I do in several decades. We debate the various cidre possibilties, before deciding to stock up on Mystic Cidre from the Farmer's Empire (or whatever it's called, to big too be merely a "market.") In the afternoon we drive off to see the Botanical Garden. On the way, we pass La Ronde which I remember from Expo 67. When I arrived in Montreal by plane with my relatives, including my uncle Gib who designed the Western Provinces pavillion at that world's fair, what first struck me on the drive from the airport to their friends' house in the deep suburbs was the fact that all the signs were in French. Now it's a kinda of tease. I understand some of the words, as about a third of the words in French and English are the same words, but not enough to actually function in a Francophone environment. When I try and speak French, Japanese words come out (this happened in 73 too). But no one seems to mind, as long as I have a Francophone "handler." Montreal is a large European city transported to North America. Our own private Basques. A leisurely drive up Mt Royal reminds me of the last and only time I'd been there, staying with a friend who lived there in 71. When I walked up to the top, I was amazed to find two men reciting How Can You Be In 2 Places at Once, the 2nd Firesign album which I also knew by heart. It remains a city of wonders. I expect Leonard Cohen to fall out of a tree as we drive the streets, and Genevieve Bujold to emerge from behind a curtain in a window, revealing some profound secret. The fact that most of the leaves havent turned colour yet works out because the green they still possess contrasts pleasingly with the ubiquitous red brick of the houses.
The gardens are extensive and World's Fair-like in their endless new things to see.
The Chinese gardens remind me of the Sun Yat Sen gardens in Vancouver, which I've only visited once. The aesthetic here is well-integrated from every vista. It has the feel of a very large World's Fair pavillion. The garish displays are well-mitigated by the subtle vistas through tall grass, glowing in the late afternoon sun, at least until I turn my head and view cartoony penguin pinata-like creations.
The First Nations gardens are a visual palate cleanser(ok, weak metaphor there) after all the architecture-meets-cartoonery of the Chinese. We learn about local, lovable plants and how they've nourished the people who've lived here for millennia. Enough with the toy animals, let's learn about the tracks made my Real animals. Huddart and son Kaj are taught to chew bark into interesting patterns, while my camcorder rolls.
At the Japanese garden, we are met by a pond big enough to hide Commodore Perry. Little kids say "wow" or the French version there-of at the colourful carp that swim about in search of photographers. Aged bonsais stretch their limbs to delude us.
Back on the road, we drive off to the Old Town and the Old Port. Mile after mile of visual interest. In what other North American city can you make that statement? The Old Town is Europe with slightly fewer tourists. The Huddarts actually buy something.
The following day Huddart takes me out to their country house. On the way we stop at a couple of cideries(even the word makes me thirsty, but in a good way) and try their wares. The cidre here is different from BC cidres, maybe different apples or different processing, but excellent none the less.
For dinner back in the city, Katherine makes two soups, one yellow-tomato based, the other appley and perfect with cidre. I enjoy playing with their dog Lupe. I remember when they got the dog when they lived in Vancouver 4 years ago, Lupe seemed huge. Now he appears diminutive compared to our vast beast Icy. The two Huddart cats are as small as kittens but are 15 years old. Very deceptive, as cats are fond of being.
The following day I have an excellent spinache quiche (is quiche an english word? It's called something else at the station cafe) and a cup of chamomile tea awaiting my train to Toronto, and then an edible tuna sandwich on the 5 hour train ride.


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