High Time to Write

Even Esposo has remarked on how I haven’t blogged since I finally got an Internet connection at home! I started this entry a while back, but let me add to it and complete it at last.

Last Thoughts on Ma Bell
I’ve given this some thought, and I think that maybe Ma Bell’s problem is that she’s on the corporate equivalent of crack. Or perhaps more astutely, it’s just that she’s bloated — corporately bloated, that is — and, as a result, she’s has bad cramps that renders her seriously “organizationally challenged.”

Whatever it is, though, given how everyone I’ve spoken to (including several of the fine people at the branch down the street where I had to work for my first 7 business days in Montréal) rolled their eyes and moaned at the mere mention of “Bell,” I’m wondering what it’ll take for her to realize she’s a corporate Britney Spears — that is, a train wreck except not nearly as dramatic, even though I actually don’t give a rat’s ass about Brit having a big problem and needing to check herself into rehab every other forthnight.

Anyway, Videotron did deliver on its promise: I had Internet access by midday after calling them the night before. But to put the nail on Bell’s coffin: Twenty minutes after the cable guy left, someone rang at my door; it was Canada Post …delivering a SECOND modem from Bell! Oh no, I couldn’t just get one at a store while I waited for mine to arrive, but then they go ahead and send me two! Then, late last week, I get a call from Bell Sympatico asking me how I’m liking their service!

Words fail…

Now I Can Settle In
I woke up very late last Saturday morning. It was bright and sunny. I laid in bed, looked around me and thought, “What a lovely apartment!” Moreover, it’s not just the apartment of a friend I’m visiting in Montréal; it’s Esposo’s and mine. Now that I’m settled in, though, when I get up in the morning to “go to work” — scare quotes because I can now work at home as before — I don’t have time to sit in bed and smell the roses, so to speak, like I did that morning. But it was nice to finally realize that Montréal is no longer just an ideal. It’s my city; it’s where I live.

I’m really taking a liking to the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood, to the point where I’m already becoming quite the promoter of its virtues. (For those of you who don’t speak French, “côte des neiges” could be literally translated to “hill of snows” or perhaps “snow hill.”) When I step out on the balcony and look to my left, I can see the dome of the Oratoire Saint-Joseph, which is just a five-minute walk up the hill on Queen Mary Road and is the emblem of this arrondissement (borough). A few minutes further up, at the corner of Queen Mary and Côte-des-Neiges, there’s a 24-hour drugstore, a 24-hour grocery store (that’s not extraordinary but does the trick in a pinch), several coffeeshops, restaurants, and so on. Meanwhile, five minutes down the hill from the apartment, there’s the subway, my bank, and a better grocery store, not to forget several pastry shops (one of which has croissants that are so heavenly that they sell out early each morning), a real Montréal-style bagel shop and deli (complete with the wood-burning oven, of course), a Subway, and countless services and boutiques including a dollar store which will prove convenient for Esposo who loves dollar stores.

“Côte-des-Neiges is often considered the most multi-cultural neighbourhood of Montreal,” according to that Wikipedia article above. There’s no mistaking that it is. As a French Canadian — an Acadien d’âme but with undeniable Québécois/Catholic roots going back to the 17th century — I am enjoying being a slight anomaly within this neighbourhood. The Jewish community is the most predominant, although not as much as parts of Outremont or the enclave town of Hampstead where “4% of the population is Protestant compared with a Canadian average of 38%, whereas 84% is Jewish compared with a Canadian average of 1.2%.” Also represented in the Snowdon area of CDN are West Indians, southeast Asians, and some Arabs/Muslims, to name only a few. And east and north of Snowdon, on the other side of Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges, the proximity to the Université de Montréal dictates that there are many students, who themselves come from all over the globe.

But perhaps one of my favorite Montréal scene so far is seeing the young Muslim woman working at the Tim Horton’s next to the Snowdon métro. Which is only a few doors over from several kosher pastry shops. And three short blocks in the other direction from Hampstead. This is not the land of creton and pâté chinois — not that there’s anything wrong with those Québécois dishes. In fact, I think I’ve made Esposo an unconditional fan of pâté chinois (provided I chop the onions finely enough!).

Urban Wildlife
Squirrel in the CityI still remember the first time I came to Montréal. I was 7 years old. We stayed with one of my uncles who lived in the northeast, in a huge brick house I refound the other day. Indeed, I have an uncanny memory for places, addresses, and how to return to them after I’ve been there once, even that “once” was when I was a child. Getting to my uncle’s involved taking the orange-line métro from the train station at Bonaventure, which was then the western terminus, to what was then the eastern terminus (Henri-Bourassa) and walking a city block from there.

One detail that impressed me as the child was how many squirrels there were in Montréal. There weren’t any in my hometown of Moncton. In my child’s mind, I associated squirrels to nature (as in, the woods), so it impressed me that this huge city which was the antithesis of wilderness was filled with these cute but wild beasts. In other words, I didn’t understand that they’re essentially cute rats with a bushy tail.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve observed many squirrels in the trees in my neighbourhood. Particularly entertaining was the one who, while minding his business in a tree outside the kitchen window, was driving the cat ladies’ feline companions crazy.

The Crazy Cat Lady
I don’t think she’s certifiably crazy, but it makes for a good monicker. The Crazy Cat Lady lives in the building across, and while I can’t confirm the number yet, I have counted seven distinct cats roaming in her apartment. Among them, there’s a grey tabby that looks a lot like BeeGoddessM‘s Tifman, a big white cat, and …well, just about every type of cats one could imagine, given there are seven of them!

The other day, I walked into the kitchen to pour myself another cup of coffee and I could hear some very ’70s tunes coming from the CCL’s apartment — some Streisand and Donna Summer. She was sitting in front of her sound system and occasionally would sign along, clearly serenading her cats. It was quite cute and funny, actually.

Spring in Montréal
After living through its snowiest winter since 1971, Montréal has been enjoying a remarkably premature spring for the last 10 days or so. The average for this time of year here in 14C, but it’s been in the high teens or low twenties every day. As Tornwordo noted in his post today, the magnolias are peaking and there are “little buds coming out of branches, tulips poking through the earth (they’ll start blooming this week) and billions of tiny leaves that seem to tint the air green.”

One thing I think impressed Esposo when he was here in February is that life continues despite the snow and cold weather. The sidewalks continue to be filled with pedestrians. But when spring comes, people don’t just go from Point A to Point B; they linger and hang out. I swinged by Le Village a few times this week on my way back from other errands just to witness this altered behaviour.

Well okay, I should come clean. “On the way back” is stretching the truth. They were deliberate detours inspired by curiosity of seeing the natives coming to life and enjoying the early coming of spring.

I am and always have been — probably will always be — an incorrigible people watcher. When smoking was allowed in coffeeshops and other venues, I loved just sitting in a place like that to write or read and just watch and listen. Now, one has to seek clement weather and a public outdoor space to do that. For me it’s a cheap, low-brow form of entertainment, and there’s plenty of it in a city like Montréal. While going in clubs in the Village can be fun, I don’t feel much of a need to frequent those establishments. Just seeing other people going to those places is enough for me.

Not All Low-Brow
I don’t expect, however, that living in Montréal will all be this kind of cheap thrill or exclusively in the Village. For instance, two weeks ago, I got to go the season’s final concert of I Musici de Montréal, which invited Cleopatrick‘s long-time friend and internationally renowned pianist Alexandre Tharaud to perform Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. It was an excellent concert and, in case you’re interested, it will be broadcast on Espace Musique on Monday, 12 May at 8 p.m. Eastern time. You might need a special plug-in or be forced to use Internet Explorer to listen to the live feed, but…

And Then, There’s Just Life
But while Montréal is a fantastic city to live in, I still have a shitload of things to do. The day job has been extremely busy, even requiring considerable overtime evenings and weekends. My car registration and driver’s license are the only things that haven’t been transferred to Québec yet. But much remains to be done to get Esposo to Canada, and I still have much outstanding work for the side job.

Compounding the problem of scheduling everything that has to be done is that I do need to sleep. The last eight months have been so incredibly intense! And lately I’ve been finding that the accumulated fatigue feels like I can never get enough sleep. There have been a few times in recent days when I’ve been in bed as early as 8:30, yet I often still wake up feeling like I could sleep many more hours. I suspect that because I have so many things on the go, my sleep hasn’t been as restful as one would expect. That, combined with a sense of guilt for not getting everything done more quickly.

A true Catch 22.

While I’m Being Cranky, …

Since I’m in a sufficiently pissed off mood right now, here’s another quick rant: Windows Vista totally SUCKS. That’s the OS that came with this laptop I’m using, but I don’t care: at the first opportunity, I’m going to find a version of XP for it. Vista is bloated and slow and doesn’t significantly improve XP. I don’t care that any kind of support of XP by Microsoft ends in June; I’ve not found a single compelling reason to stick to Vista. So, since there’s nothing major installed or saved on this laptop, I’m getting the whole thing reformatted down to XP. And I’m sure that will make operating this laptop a much happier experience.

Finally Cracking

When I heard Esposo’s sad, sad voice on the voice-mail — two messages left via Skype Out to the home landline — my heart just melted. Except for a regular Skype call from a café last Saturday — and even that free connection was unstable — it’s been over two weeks we haven’t spoken. I missed all of his other Skype Out calls — once because my landline was dead, once because I couldn’t run across the apartment face enough before voice mail picked up, and then again last night. But as much as I like the new apartment, I feel disconnected there right now and can’t stand being unable to turn to the computer for anything. Who would have thought that by 2008, a computer that is not ‘Net-connected would be next to useless.

I came back from the broom closet work today to find that the DSL light is still flashing in glorious futility and no technician from Bell called to make an appointment to visit. Last night I was told it could take 24 to 72 hours, and sitting there on the sofa, I thought, “They might call Monday, to make an appointment for the next day, and arrive to determine that something highly unusual (although probably usual for Bell) is going on with the line and, no, they can’t fix it today but in 48 hours” …which would take us to next Friday. So, I called to nudge things along, only to find that, indeed, the status of service starting was changed from 2 April to 14 April, and no sign of an appointment coming soon. The gentleman at the end of the line suggested I call first thing in the morning in the hope of catching a cancellation tomorrow.

But, earlier as I came home, I had found the perfect piece of mail in my box: a pamphlet from Videotron. So, I called the number and asked it my question. “If you answer ‘yes’ to my first question, we’ll keep talking, and if you answer ‘no,’ I’ll stick to the devil I know,” I started. “I’m sick of the comedy of errors from Bell, and all I want is high-speed Internet. So, yes or no: could you have it installed tomorrow.” The lady at the end of the line didn’t miss a beat. “Give me your address, I’ll look it up and I’ll give you a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”

She came back with a “yes.” Between 7:30 and noon tomorrow. And the first month will be free.

I went with it. Placed an order and a deposit, and set the alarm in case they really arrive at 7:30. It’s more expensive than Bell and Bell was going to give the first two months free, but as my mother would say, “Un ‘le voici’ vaut plus que deux ‘tu l’auras'” (“One ‘there you are’ is worth more than two ‘you’ll have it'”). Then, I called back Bell technical to cancel whatever technician might be coming this century or next, and while I’ll wait for Videotron tomorrow, I’ll be calling Bell to cancel the Internet service. I’m prepared for an argument, but where they did not deliver the goods in what anyone would consider a timely manner, any Internet-related fees or deposits I paid them I expect back. As for Videotron, I didn’t look into cable TV or cell phone just yet; being connected to the ‘Net from home tomorrow is my ONLY priority right now.

A part of me regrets not having called Videotron earlier, but then, by the time I called, I had the perfect sob story and it gave someone else the opportunity to tell Ma Bell to go piss up a rope.

Week One of the New Montréalais

If it hadn’t been for Bell, I could declare that my transition from Halifax to Montréal has been remarkably smooth. Except that Bell’s screw-ups have caused two big anomalies — the inability to speak with Esposo regularly, and the necessity to go to a gawd-awful office (read “broom closet”) — anomalies that prevent me from feeling settled in.

The latest horror story from Bell, in case you’re wondering? Despite assurances to the contrary, there was NO modem coming my way as of suppertime Monday night because everything was placed on hold for lack of a deposit. When I heard that, I lost it! I mean, if someone calls on March 19 to order services starting April 1 and insists that everything must be in place by that date, and if there are deposits to be made, why don’t they fucking ask for them when you’re placing the order? I don’t like the idea if the deposits, but if I have to put them down, then so be it. Anyway, once the SECOND deposit was down — the first came last Thursday to take a block off long distance calling — the hapless chick at the end of the line had the audacity to say that it would take 5 to 10 business days before my modem would arrive. After a talk with her supervisor, I got that down to tonight. And as I expected (feared?), it arrived, I installed it, and it doesn’t work. So, the saga continues.

But on to more pleasant things……

I think a good sign about having made the right move is that, setting aside Bell’s bullshit, I already feel at home in this town. I don’t know everything there is to know and everywhere there is to go, but I like the energy of this city. Plus, with spring springing, I’m getting glimpses of the comfortable “at home” feeling that’s yet to come. And I love both my neighbourhood and my apartment. While there are some Canadiens français like me in my area, we’re a minority and I like that after so much of the “same old, same old” in Halifax. The apartment is so close to everything, it’s insane — great croissant and bagel shops, stores and restaurants, the bank, a nice supermarket and metro access …all 5 minutes from my doorstep — and it’s actually bigger than my old place in Halifax.

I can’t wait to have friends visiting me! But, of course, more than that, I can’t wait for Esposo to be living there, too.

Now What?!

This morning I picked up the phone receiver and it’s dead. No dial tone. Switched phone, but still dead. Cleopatrick’s theory, which I think is plausible, is that a squirrel may have nibbled on the new line. But it’s an external problem that can’t be blamed on Ma Bell this time.

A repair person is coming Monday evening. The saga of having a personal phone line and Internet connection continues……