Smoke But No Mirrors

Early morning of 31 May 2010 in MontrealThis was Montréal early this morning.

Québec has received only half its normal rainfall for May, and that’s following a winter with far lower than normal precipitation. As a result, the Saint Lawrence River is already at late-summer levels and the forests are bone dry …and burning, with the worst, out-of-control blazes raging in the upper Mauricie area, hundreds of kilometres northeast of Montréal.

Sitting watching TV around midnight last night, I started smelling the smoke. I hate to say it, but it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant smell although certainly distressing as the smell of burning anything always is. However, having seen on the news earlier that Québec City and Trois-Rivières had been veiled under smoke pushed down by strong winds from the northeast earlier in the day, I quickly realized what it was. And this morning I learned that the smoke from these fires has drifted as far south as upstate New York, Vermont, Maine, and even Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

I went around the apartment to close all the windows and then stepped out on the balcony to stare at the moon, nearly full and orange red, pungent smoke hanging heavily in the air from those far-away burning trees. It reminded me of similar smoke cloud that drifted all the way to Halifax from Québec forest fires one summer morning in the early 1990s. The only difference that time and the above picture is that orange-coloured cloud stayed higher in the sky, but the smell and eery lighting was similar.

There’s not much rain is in the forecast in the coming days. I long wished for a warm, dry summer, but such a consequence is not what I had in mind.

Just Not Meant To Be

Oka BeachThe thing about living in large inland city is that the nearest getaways get really crowded really quickly. Such was the case today with Oka Beach — and, being from the Maritimes, I use the term “beach” very loosely.

I’ve known this for a while about Oka. My first two summers here weren’t the best weatherwise, so whenever the sun and warm temperatures happened to coincide with a weekend, the lineups to get in were extremely long. Today, however, surpassed those days by a magnitude of at least 3 or 4. When I realized it would probably take at least an hour to reach the toll booth and there probably wouldn’t be any parking once beyond that point, I said fuck it and just came back home.

This was not my best laid out plan, I concede. I expected a lineup, but not this. What’s more, about two-thirds of the way there, I realized that I hadn’t turned on the slow cooker that would have prepared my supper while I was at the beach.

Lesson learned. If I want to beat the lineup, I have to leave the apartment no later than 9 am — in other words, go about it as if I were getting up and ready for a work day.

But as I said earlier, attaching the word “beach” to Oka is a bit much for a Maritimer. You can see highway bridges and tall concrete buildings on the other side, plus the many motorized pleasure craft not only make a lot of noise but also leave a lingering smell of gasoline in the air. You really have to want to be by some body of water.

On the other hand, the other bodies there present make the eye candy absolutely incroyable! Many say that the guys and gals of Montréal are, on average, much hotter than anywhere else in the country. That fact — because it IS a fact — is always amply on display at Oka. And that, I would say, makes up for the place’s other deficiencies in terms of a beach.

Life in a Hockey Crazy City

HabsI’ve never been a fan of hockey. Or of any sport, for that matter. Ever. But in Sin City North, if you don’t even pretend to be interested, especially about the Habs (i.e., the Montréal Canadiens), you’re definitely seen as an oddity.

I can’t even feign interest when clients at my day job find out I’m in Montréal and ask me what I think of the Habs’ performance. It surprises them, because everybody knows that hockey here is akin to a religion everybody follows as intensely as Europeans follow football (soccer). And with the Habs surprising everyone for coming this far in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Montréal has gone totally hockey mad. Or, should I say, more hockey mad than usual.

Whenever a game is being played, as it is right now as I’m writing this post, you don’t have to be near a TV set to know what’s going on. You just have to listen to the city. For instance, right now the young, barking neanderthals upstairs  neighbour upstairs and his testosterone-laden friends holler at every move. If the Habs score, I’ll hear about it in real time and I can just turn on the TV for a minute to see a replay of the score, then turn off the TV and wait until the next hollerfest.

Thursday, the night of the last game, Cleopatrick and I were taking advantage of the mild evening and were out eating at an outside terrace in the Village. There again, we only had to monitor the hollering coming out of the bars or the cacophony of cars honking their horn in all corners of the city or the fans walking down the street barking some incomprehensible gibberish that leaves no doubt of their approval of what had just happened at the rink just a few blocks to our west.

I don’t really understand how people can get so excited about a bunch of grown men on skates pushing a puck around with a stick. But certainly more incomprehensible to me is how, whether the Habs win or lose the current series, there will be riots in the streets downtown. If they’re happy, they’ll destroy property. If they’re upset, they’ll destroy property. It’s total madness.

Meanwhile, between noon and 3:00 pm, the temperature outside spiked from a mere 18C to 27C, which marks the beginning of a predicted week of sunshine with temps hovering near either side of the 30C mark. And yet, the interminable season of that most wintry of sports still has a few weeks to go, Habs or no Habs in the final match up.

Disclosure: Okay, I’ve been cheating. Instead of waiting for the hollering, I’ve had the TV on with the volume very, very low and just saw the Philadelphia Flyers score the first two goals of today’s game. And not a peep came from upstairs either time, not even disapproving groans or booing. But, from what I’ve observed so far in the last few weeks, I know the proverbial fat lady hasn’t sung yet, although something tells me she might in two days …for the Flyers.

Le Big Bazar and a Bit Bizarre

If you grew up as I did as a francophone in the 1970s, you would remember Michel Fugain et le Big Bazar. I certainly remember songs like “Une Belle Histoire,” as it would often play on the morning show on CBAF radio as we’d be getting up and ready for school or work.

For increased laugh factor, I just HAD to pick the cheesiest possible video of this song on YouTube. I mean, today, I doubt even a gay man would be caught wearing shorts as short as those the guy on this video was wearing. Oye!

Fugain still deserves praise and respect in francophone pop culture in that he had a style and sound of his own. Is it pop? Is it rock? No, it’s Michel Fugain et le Big Bazar. Period. And although highly sentimental for the most part, the catchy melodies served as a vehicle for poetic lyrics. Too bad the English translation on this video is so poor.

Meanwhile, one Sunday in mid-September of last year, I drove to Hudson, just off the western tip of the Island of Montréal, to take advantage of one of the last warm days of summer. And here in Montréal, while I drive around in Junior, I alternate between two radio stations: CJPX — Radio-Classique Montréal and CFZZ — BoomFM (St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu).

The former station is remarkably good. I remember that initially, when I would come to Montréal and listen to it, it often had B-class recordings of major works, but it has improved a great deal since then. And I have to say that the morning show on CJPX is far more becoming than its counterpart on the Toronto classical station, which nearly drove me to pull my hair out when I was listening to it while in TO last October. Imagine the pump-pump-pump tone of morning DJs on a rock station combined with the most inappropriate classical music for the morning: that was my experience of the Toronto classical station. But that’s not surprising to me, though; compared to Montréal, Toronto has no class.***

The latter station is a delightful morsel of cheese ideally suited for driving. Dubbing itself “The Radio of Legends” (in reference to the fact it plays “classic hits”), BoomFM features songs mostly in French from the ’60s to the ’80s and even names its evening show “Amour Libre” (“Free Love”), which ought to give you a good indication of its high cheese factor.

Anyway, when I was driving back from Hudson that beautiful September afternoon, they played this one song that I remembered hearing from Moncton on some Montréal station — either the now-defunct CKLM or the now-all-sports CKAC — one night while falling asleep at age …oh …maybe 10 or 11. It wouldn’t play that often but, for some reason, it got me all excited and I just LOVED that melody. Now? Not so much, but the nostalgia brought on by hearing it again drew a huge smile on my face.

So, I got home and I found it on YouTube. I also looked up the singer in Wikipedia: his stage name was C. Jérôme (his real name being Claude Dhotel) and he died of cancer in 2000. But he had been a madly successful French singer, especially in the 1970s.

Then I continued poking around YouTube and Wikipedia for the next hour or so — you know how you can get lost for hours following link after link on such sites — until I stumbled upon the most bizarre and hilarious videos by Colette and Odette, a couple of European drag queens. I can’t decide on just one video, so I’m linking to the three that nearly made me piss myself laughing.

For those of you who understand French and perhaps remember this 1975 hit by Michèle Torr, brace yourselves! For those of you who don’t understand French, you’re bound to have at least a good chuckle.

As for the following medley, well, I just hope Jeff is reading this post, because I think it’s totally up his alley of twisted humour.

And then there’s this one! What to say, what to say, what to say? Well, I’m certainly impressed with the production value. And I’m choosing to call this one “drag queens’ design (miss)adventures.”

So, there you have it: From the Bazar to the bizarre. I hope you enjoyed.

*** I’m sure I’m going to get lambasted for that remark!