First Christmas in Montreal

December 27th, 2013

My first week in Montreal, coming up on three years ago, I had a number of goals: find a place to live, find a job, find someone to go for a pint with. Practical goals, and all important. Since then I’ve had seven homes, friends have come and gone or remained, and right now I have two jobs. That first week, however, I had another goal that was not so much practical as emotional.

Right smack bang in the middle of the city there is a mountain – Mont Royal. (Mont Royal . . . Montreal . . . get it?). Imagine if instead of Trafalgar Square, The Louvre, or The Empire State Building, there were mountains. Mont Royal is that dominant and important to its host city. Punctuating an otherwise flat topography, it commands an influence that is greater than the sum of its parts — it’s actually just a big hill and, if it was in the Rockies, it probably wouldn’t even have a name. These things are relative, however, so I quite like the fact that it’s referred to as a mountain. The mountain. I decided before I moved here that if I didn’t scale the mountain in my first week, I had failed as an immigrant.

It was Christmas this week. My mother rang me sometime during the summer. ‘Son, I love you and I love Christmas, but the last couple of years has made me tired so your Dad and I are going away for Christmas. And we plan on being pampered instead of doing the pampering.’ Good for you, I said. And with that I knew that this year I’d be spending my first Christmas abroad.

We’re a secular family and religion played no part in my and my brothers’ upbringing, but we have always very much been a Christmas family. Family get together on Christmas Eve; the exchange of presents followed by a swim in the sea in the morning; see the cousins in the afternoon; big dinner; games and drinks until the last one goes to bed. There’s no point in trying to replicate all that when you’re so far removed from the people and places that make it possible.


Merry Christmas!

The plans I made, or that were made for me, were dashed for reasons outside of my control. So I tried to imitate just one of my traditions from home, which is to swim in the sea. Lacking a body of salty water nearby and with the St-Lawrence River nicely frozen over, I determined that the only thing I could to that would match the Christmas swim would be a Christmas run up and over the mountain. The mountain. My mountain.

I didn’t plan on it being -22°C (-8°F).

It’s difficult to get across what those numbers actually mean, but if you release a drop of saliva from your lips it will most likely be frozen to your chin within three seconds. And that’s if there’s no wind.

But this is a hill/mountain on a flat plain, so there was wind. And it was -22°C.

Add to that the fact that the snow gods had deposited a thick and hefty white load on the land over the previous 24 hours, and it soon became apparent that this was going to be much more difficult than the swim. There are thousands of people who go to the swim, with much backslapping, hot whiskies and sausages once you’re done the splash and dash. Mentally and physically, this run was in a different league. I was also hungover after a splendid dinner with friends the night before.

So off I went, wearing as much as I could without sacrificing the ability to move properly. (I’m not wealthy enough to buy those outdoors clothes and items that successful people can afford. You know, the ones that would allow you to play Frisbee in the Arctic North while feeling like you’re on a beach in Aruba. The ones where the selling point of the gloves is that you can boil an egg in them using one’s own heated sweat. “That’ll be $500 please. For one glove. Two gloves are on special for $950.”)

Off I went in my affordable clothing. I was running up a mountain in thick snow in minus twenty-fucking-two degrees of thin air with Aeolus the merry god of Christmas winds deciding that now would be a great time to whip up a breeze. I was alone. I was running as much and as hard as I could. I was confused, and confusion is one of the most malignant of all the emotions. If I could banish one phrase from the human lexicon, it would be “I’m confused” because, by definition, you can’t explain it.

Outside my apartment last week.

Outside my apartment last week.

Off I went to the top, where I stood and admired the city and life below me. I did that for about ten seconds before my feet got a mind of their own and my entire body instantaneously developed a homing instinct. My masochistic pseudo-tradition had to end as soon as possible.

Off I went. Home I went. But this isn’t home. It’s a home for now, but without the people, places and traditions that made me who I am, it is just a substitute. A fun, outrageous, challenging substitute, but a substitute all the same. It’s a place where I had takeaway fish and chips for Christmas dinner before meeting up with a couple of people for evening drinks. It’s different, and I’m OK with that.

Some day. Some morning. Some mountain.

Mount_Royal_Montreal_Lookout (1)

Time to settle

March 21st, 2013

“I showed my appreciation of my native land in the usual Irish way: by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could.” — George Bernard Shaw

On Sunday of next week I will arrive in Montreal. I’ve been here before. I’ve breezed in wide-eyed and with no particular place to go. I’ve clocked in and clocked out in just a couple of days while still working four days the same week in New York. I’ve come by air, bus, train and car, and at every time of day and night, mooring my proverbial boat for a while before casting off again. On each occasion I get all jumpy and on edge like a six-year-old going to the funfair. They see a Ferris wheel pop out of the horizon; I see endless fields of snow from the air or Mount Royal sitting gloriously behind the city, an immense playground puncturing the flat landscape. Nostalgia, that seductive old liar, is yet to deliver the humbling punch to my stomach. I still love this place.

All told, our next meeting will be the thirteenth time in twenty-six months I’ve entered Montreal from an international location – nine times from the US, four from Ireland. In that period beginning January 2011 until now, I’ve had five phone numbers and an equal number of places to call home, as well as six jobs (not including freelance gigs) in three countries on two continents. By this time next month I’ll have another phone number, another job and another home, and by July I will have yet another home again as my next one is a three-month sublet, bringing the total to seven in two-and-a-half years. Lucky number seven will probably be the first time I live alone. I’m growing up, you see. Or at least I’m trying to.

There is an old joke about the Irish boomerang that doesn’t come back, but only sings about coming back. Delving into the archives on this site, I see that in November of 2011 I wrote “Now that I have left Montreal, though probably not forever . . .” Around the same time, I wrote on my Facebook page “Montreal, you’ve been fantastico but I have to run away for a bit. Merci mille fois. I have a distinct feeling that I’ll be back before too long.” The evidence would suggest I’ve been yapping away passively about moving back for about fifteen months. Indeed, I’ve been trying and waiting to get a work permit for almost a year, and eleven days ago I received a letter granting that this precious article will be stamped into my passport next time I land. Charlie got his Golden Ticket to the Chocolate Factory; I got my visa. And not just for a year, but for two

And so after nearly running out of fingers upon which I could count my jobs, homes and phone numbers, and with a sack full of boarding passes and the ability to describe in minute detail the interior design of Albany Greyhound station – I am both leaving home and coming home. I am lucky enough to have two, but only one truly sucks me in. So thank you for having me, Montreal. It’s time to drop anchor.

A Year in the Life: Montreal, Canada and Me

November 12th, 2011

Why Montreal?

Why not? It seems childish to answer a question with another question, but in this case I can’t help it. I had never been to the place before moving there, but it seemed like a place for me. Why Toronto? Why America? Why Australia? Why gap years spent on some pseudo-anthropological quest to see what’s it’s like to spend time in rural Bhutan? Why stay at home? These are all worthy pursuits for certain individuals; Montreal seemed to be a worthy pursuit for me.

Plus, I knew pretty much nobody and if I wanted to I could made up an entire history for myself and give myself a new name. I didn’t, of course, but I could have if I wanted to. Even that thought – the very hypothesis – was liberating. I needed a challenge and initially in Montreal I had a long, harsh winter ahead, no friends, nowhere to stay, no job, limited savings and the need to improve in French and become comfortable with the unique twang of its Quebecois derivative.

I arrived in mid-January. Finding an apartment was theoretically straightforward but practically complicated. I had no friends or acquaintances in the city and so had to trawl through a pile of online classified ads, copying and pasting the same spiel in two languages, amending it for those ads forewarning that obviously copied and pasted spiels would be ignored (you think I’m going to write a different reply a hundred times?). The other problem was that it was Montreal and it was January and on my third day it was -31 degrees Celsius. Minus thirty one. I had to get to these places to view them in that sort of climate. “Oh but it’s a dry cold,” they say . . .

I knew the area in which I wanted to live and started by applying in that neighbourhood. One fellow rang and said I could view a nice room in that area, but when I took the metro to get there it was obviously not in that area but actually a good few miles out. It would be like calling Tallaght “Balinteer” or maybe like calling Mogadishu a suburb of Milan. It really was very far from where the ad said it was. I went anyway, saw the room, shook the man’s hand and said ‘no thanks’.

The second place I saw that same day was in a perfect location but was a little bit . . . how do we put this? It was a little bit shit. The floors were uneven, there was no natural light at any time of day, and the room offered was oddly shaped with a single mattress on the floor. I know this because a lot of the posts on this site were written from that very room. Though I was not a beggar, I was most certainly not a chooser either.

I took the room not only because of its location but also because I was interviewed for it by two lovely, intelligent, outgoing women. What could be more important than good housemates? It turned out that woman A was subletting from woman B, who in turn was planning on moving to New York with another housemate (her boyfriend) who was at that time in New Zealand. I had not yet met the other housemate.

It turned out that the other housemate, a 30-year-old man from Paris, was a coma-inducing mammal who seemed to have undergone a complete personality bypass. I have now lived with him for nine months and as such feel ready to give birth to my true feelings about him. I never got his phone number, our longest conversation was perhaps long enough to go thirty seconds beyond ‘ca va?’ and when we had a mouse issue earlier in the year, his solution was to pick up his excrement-ridden half-eaten bag of rice and utter ‘putan merde!’ That’ll get rid of them. Not. His girlfriend rivaled him for annoyingness. He would bring her home in the afternoon and, even though I may have a friend over or I’d be chatting to the other nice housemate, they would give off the sweet aural flavours of passionate lovemaking. In such situations I feel compelled to perform a little bit of coitus interruptus myself and withdraw from the scene by leaving my own home for a while. I should give this man a name, shouldn’t I? Let’s call him Spanky. Work that one out.

When I arrived, friendless and cold, I worked hard. I had set myself a goal a few weeks prior to my arrival of getting published in The Irish Times. I pitched a few articles to various editors and was eventually commissioned to write one of them. That article was published over two months later.

On a notice board in my parents’ bedroom, there is a piece of paper on which is written something I said during my early-to-mid teens that so amused my mother that she had to pin it on the board. It says ‘the three most important things in my life are newspapers, women and cake.’

From around June of this year I subconsciously switched the first two around to the point where my consumption of news and output of words didn’t just take a back seat, but rather were put in a trailer. I then forgot to attach the trailer and instead drove off without it (though I never forgot to bring cake).

The evidence for this is on this page. I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by how epic the Montreal summer is and, at the same time, a person re-entered this little life of mine and took it over for a while. My output went down, as did my networking and pitching. Now that I have left Montreal, though probably not forever, I do have the very salient sense of ‘if only’ about some aspects of my year. But then I ask myself a question: if you had been offered the year as it panned out, would you have taken it in advance? Yes, I would.

Montreal is the hidden gem of North America. Homer Simpson once said “anyone could miss Canada, all tucked away down there,” and even within Canada Montreal is tucked away. There is no metropolis further north and it’s not really on the way to anywhere. To get to Montreal, it almost has to be your destination.

For many Montrealers, they are Montrealers first and foremost, not Canadian or Quebecois. I was having a sandwich in my favourite cafe (Chez José on Duluth) in around March of this year when the man serving me, a gangly bespectacled Anglophone of about my age, noticed the book I was reading:  A Fair Country by the Canadian author John Ralston Saul. On seeing my reading material, the man flipped out and went on a rant about how much he hated Canada. Of course, he was Canadian, but he gave the impression that he was trying to shake off his Canadianness like a dog trying to pick a tick off its body.

“What do I have in common with some kid in Alberta?” he demanded in a sort of rhetorical way. Canada is perhaps too big to have a uniform culture and it was never really meant to have one – that’s almost the point of its existence. The United States has been more successful in honing a sense of loyalty to one flag than its northern neighbour, but Canadians should not seek to mimic that. Any sentence that begins with ‘Canadians are . . .’ invariably misses the point; A nation of such size will inevitably command secondary loyalty from a large proportion of its citizens or, in the case of the man in the cafe, disdain. So be it. Montreal is worthy of this man’s affection in any case. It is a city worthy of anyone’s affection.


So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair

June 28th, 2011

When does a child become an adult? Opening a bank account. Your first pay cheque. Taking an interest in the news. Dealing with hangovers. Losing your virginity. Instinctively shaking hands with people you don’t know. Some are more obvious, such as moving out of the family home or getting married.

No matter how much we would like to believe that the transition is a smooth, simple affair, it is not. Some people move from childhood to full-blown early-to-bed must-open-a-pension-plan adults in a very short period of time, perhaps just a couple of years. Others drag it out over a decade or longer, afraid of the ceaselessness of ticking clocks, physically developing in one direction while psychologically staying put or even going backwards.

A little under two years ago I came back from a three-month stint working in Ghana for the Ghanaian Times. About a week after I returned, my mother said to me, with a mixture of melancholy and pride, “you’ve come back a man.” I didn’t know whether to say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’, or (as the wise philosopher Ronan Keating said) nothing at all. I had made no effort to consciously act more manly, but three months in West Africa would certainly develop even the most immature being.

It has now become clear to me, however, that the metamorphosis from child to adult ought not to be counted out with weighty actions such as marriage or jobs. Rather, it should be assessed in a more nuanced way by one’s evolving priorities.

It was last week, and a couple of years after my mother’s wistful words, that it occurred to me that yes, I am now a man. It only took 25 years. I did something that only an adult could do: I bought a piece of furniture. I got the sofa-bed not because I needed it, but because I thought my apartment needed a bit of jazzing up. That, and the fact that I can now offer overnight guests somewhere quasi-comfortable to sleep.

I built the flat-pack sofa and parked it in the corner of my room. Sweating after cursing for over an hour at nuts, bolts and pillows, I stepped back to look at my not-so handy work. It was only then, after the process of deciding I needed some more furniture, buying it, and building it, that I realised adulthood is now the only game in town. Next to the new sofa on the floor was a football, so at least I knew I had not rejected my passions from childhood.

Moving from childhood to adult life is therefore not a zero-sum game, where every stone added on one of the scales equally tips the balance on the other side. Instead, it is a process that we as humans don’t really understand until it is done; more importantly, every little gradated step on the one-way road towards proving one’s mortality need not be a rejection of childlike behaviour. I know plenty of more aged adults than me for whom brief, controlled escapades into childlike behaviour are a form of proof of adulthood. It seems that the only way to stay sane in advancing years is to sometimes act slightly insane, and every sofa bought must be balanced by a sofa jumped upon. Otherwise, that one-way road is travelled with tinted windows.

The Fuzzy Logic

May 27th, 2011

Hello. I went to see these gentlemen play some musical goodness last weekend in a place called Café Chaos on St-Denis. They are called The Fuzzy Logic and I would recommend listening to ‘Deep Bass Nine’ right here for starters. I usually can’t listen to bass players who use synth effects that bring the treble up in the instrument. I normally don’t like guitar playing where the guitarist seems to be enjoying himself a bit too much. And generally I don’t like seeing drummers with massive kits that include an array of tom-toms and an enough cymbals to hide behind.

But… these three men were all of those things and it worked for me. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it was one of the best shows I have seen in the last year or two. What might have descended into acts of collective musical masturbation (as some other funky instrumental bands seem to do) turned out to be creative, structured, meaningful and tight. Listen up.

Montreal Four Months In; Ireland Four Months Out

May 5th, 2011

This is a list of 10 things I like about Montreal, Quebec and Canada and 10 things I miss about Dublin and Ireland. They are discussed alternately, beginning with something I like about this place. Let’s go…


Montreal/Canada: Pubs open ‘til 3am, even on a Sunday

“Have you no homes to go to… Can you finish up there please?” The usual GTFO call of barmen at about midnight where I grew up. When my cousin visited here, she left Toronto at about 6pm on a Sunday and set out on the six-hour drive. We still had time to meet up after midnight and get merry. With nobody forced to concentrate their drinking and socialising into narrower time periods, fewer people throw a load of alcohol into their bodies very quickly.


Dublin/Ireland: The Sea

Look, just look! Where I grew up, if I kicked a football from my garden gate it would – after a few hops and a little help from our friend gravity – end up in the salty goodness otherwise known as the sea. Obviously I never did kick a ball into the sea, at least not on purpose. Rivers are a poor substitute, especially when they’re frozen five months of the year. I miss the smell, the sounds and the visual beauty of the sea. And I miss swimming in it. The last time I enjoyed swimming in a river was in Ghana, almost two years ago.


Montreal/Canada: Integrated public transport at less than $3 a day

You have a card that cost $6, once off. You pay $72 per month or $22 per week to use four metro lines and all public municipal buses. That’s under $3 per day or around €2, cheaper than a single journey ticket from Dun Laoghaire to Dublin city on the DART. The LUAS lines in Dublin do not even meet up and you can’t buy integrated bus-rail tickets. The Montreal metro comes every five minutes or so except for the wee hours when it’s about every ten minutes. Did I mention it runs into the wee hours?


Dublin/Ireland: Living in a place where people like football

At the pub in which I work at weekends, the kitchen staff finish their preparation work at around 10.30am, leaving a good hour for us to sit and watch the football from England on the TV in the bar before opening. They don’t have much of a clue though. Say, for example, it’s Bolton versus West Brom, they might ask: “Is this Champions League?” Or maybe it’s Man Utd against some other lot: “So does Rooney score all the goals for Manchester?” I suppose I’m the same when I watch (Ice) Hockey, but I miss watching football with people who know what is going on.


Montreal/Canada: A walk in the country in the city

Montreal, as the name suggests, has a mountain (more like a large hill) smack bang in the middle of the city. My former housemate used to bring her skis on the walk to school in winter, and the walk up the south slope through the snow is a lot of fun. I can’t vouch for summer yet, but it seems like a perfect short hike to walk off a hangover. Few cities have such a wonderful natural amenity in their city centre.


Dublin/Ireland: Taking the piss out of each other

If one stereotype is true about Canada, it’s that people are nice. Frustratingly so. Let me make my point by way of anecdote. About two months ago I went to Quebec City with a friend that I had met for the first time three days previously. We had got along well but we both knew that there was a giant elephant in the room – neither of us actually knew each other much at all. When we got out of the car – a rideshare – my new friend went searching for his money in his bag. A slight panic set in when he could not find the $200 he swore he put in there before leaving. It was a large enough bag packed with loads of things and I had seen him put the money in there earlier, so I was sure he would ultimately find it. “Ha! Man, you are useless!” I said. What I was suggesting here by saying this was that I now felt comfortable enough in his presence to be able to take the micky out of him. It was me saying ‘we’re friends now’. Unfortunately, he took it as me being frustrated and nasty, meaning that I had to explain that in Ireland, friends spend their whole lives telling each other they are useless or fuckin’ eejits. Canadians do not do this.


Montreal/Canada: Respect for cyclists

450km of cycle paths. A public bike system with over 300 stations. Cyclists generally rule to roost here and, as a reluctant driver and four-time driving test failure, I think this is great. Now that the snow has disappeared I can get out and cycle to work and around the mountain.


Dublin/Ireland: Proportional representation

Ireland should not be held up as a beacon of leadership in how to compose a just electoral system, but this first-past-the-post thing over here is slightly ridiculous. Take for example this week’s federal election; a slight national shift to the left has resulted in a more solid right-wing government. How does this happen? The centrist Liberals lost ground to the centre-left NDP as well as some votes moving to the centre-right Tories. With vote splitting occurring between the Liberals and NDP, the Tories won more seats and a majority government without significantly increasing their vote. Counter intuitively, the Tories were delighted with a surge in support for their ideological opposite, and that’s just wrong. In Ireland the makeup of Parliament is proportionally closer to the will of the people.


Montreal/Canada: Classified ads

North America has realised before any part of the world that classified ads are now free to post and offer a new way of getting stuff done. If I need a lift (“ride”) to another city, it’s cheaper at short notice to get a rideshare from someone on craigslist than to get a bus from a bus company. And you can also buy THINGS. So far I have bought a lamp, a microwave and a teapot through classified ads, at a much reduced cost.

Dublin/Ireland: Playing football on grass, outdoors

With snow guaranteed to cover the ground for five or six months of the year (I just watched the weather forecast and there were snow warnings. In May.), football is played on synthetic surfaces, usually indoors. There seem to be no grass fields for football anywhere near the city. I suppose that, with land value being higher, having a piece of land redundant for half the year makes no sense. That said, I really do miss playing on soggy grass fields in Ireland. And old habits are dying hard; I’ve got cuts on my legs from slide tackling on synthetic grass. Indeed, going in for a slide tackle – one of my favourite things to do during a game – is seen as a bold move here that instantly gives the tackler a degree of respect among other players. ‘Watch out lads, this fella is prepared to bleed to get the ball back.’


Montreal/Canada: Tense political atmosphere being played out without violence

In case you did not know, about 40% of Quebecers want to separate from Canada. This is naturally a sensitive area and, unless invited into a conversation on the subject, I generally avoid the issue while in social settings. Comparisons with Ireland are made, and I have been asked how I can explain the perceived double standard of supporting an independent Ireland as well as Quebec’s continued role within Canada. Whatever the case, I’m just glad – if not a little impressed – that this tension is carried out on a political level through democratic means. The number of dead during “The Troubles” in Ireland is measured in the thousands. The last time that a politically-motivated death was directly due to Quebec’s constitutional status was in October, 1970, when a provincial cabinet minister was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ. I find it amazing that extreme violence has not resurfaced since then.


Dublin/Ireland: Dairy products

The butter here is tasteless and white-ish and the fat content of milk is measured in low percentage points, the highest being 3.25%. I miss fatty churned goodness.


Montreal/Canada: Choice of beer in bars

When it comes to booze, the Irish are probably the most unwaveringly loyal and conservative bunch in the world. Walk into a pub and you see Guinness, Smithwick’s, three or four very similar lagers and maybe, if you’re lucky, one other choice. The pub I work in here has something like 22 different beers on draught and the bottles we keep in the fridge are different to those available at the taps, making about 30 in all. This is standard. Most pubs will also stock some local beers as well as imports, and there is a healthy respect for micro-brewing that sadly does not exist back home.


Dublin/Ireland: Being able to use Irishisms with impunity

Ireland is more like a big family, more so than its inhabitants realise. Like the best friends or siblings that have in-jokes that nobody else gets (“we see things they’ll never see” /Live Forever – Noel Gallagher), Ireland is full of euphemisms and lines that cheer us all up from time to time. Towards the end of the winter here I trained with a local rugby team, ostensibly to keep fit, but really to try and make some friends. (The latter mission failed and, after going to a wedding in March, any fitness benefit was soon lost.) The men’s team trained after the women and, as is normal with a group of men, conversation came around to which (if any) of the ladies were attractive. “She has a nice ass,” said one of the Canadian lads and, like an unconscious reflex, I said “they all have lovely bottoms”. Perhaps they hadn’t seen Father Ted, and perhaps it’s no surprise I didn’t make great friends there. Another phrase I use more consistently is to ‘give out’ to someone, meaning to reprimand them. Here, among certain people to ‘give out’ means to pleasure someone orally. Oops.


Montreal/Canada: Gay marriage

I’m not going to get into my argument for gay marriage here because that’s an essay in itself. Suffice to say I support it, and passionately so. It’s not an issue here, because it exists. When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ireland. Take note, however, that this is not a Canada-wide thing. Same-sex marriage is only legal in Yukon, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Vive le Quebec.


Dublin/Ireland: Spring

It just arrives far too late here. Snow all through March and, as I said above, snow warnings for tonight. At least summer is meant to be longer, warmer and more reliable than Ireland.

Montreal/Canada: Music, shows, gigs

Young people go to gigs here en masse. And not to Justin Bieber or Coldplay, but to small gigs in dingy little places. People take each other’s recommendations and check stuff out. And it’s cheap. A lot of the stuff here at the moment seems to be electro and dubstep, a genre I can’t get into despite my best efforts, but there’s other stuff going on too. And lots of it.


Dublin/Ireland: Knowing where to go to get stuff

A haircut, for example. Anyone who has ever hung out with me knows that I like to take care of my hair. It’s my not-so-secret succumbing to vanity. A week before I went to my brother’s wedding in March, I went to get a haircut. Not knowing where to go, I went to a local barber. I asked him to use scissors and he ran a razor over me. I asked him to leave my sideburns and he cut them to the top of my ear. Then he ran a straight line across the back of my neck at the hairline with a raw blade. The cut was all wrong and, when I got home, one of my friends said ‘you need to find yourself a new barber.’ Two things came out of the ordeal: I took to wearing a hat and it was the only time I have not tipped for service since I got here. A few hours before returning to North America, I went to a barber in Limerick and asked for a rescue mission, which was successful (note: Johnny’s in Annacotty). I’m due a haircut very soon and am trying to find a place that won’t fuck it up. (Note #2: the place that DID fuck it up was ‘Athens’ on St Laurent, photo below.)


Montreal/Canada: Proper debate over healthcare

We’re too passive back home about the state of our health system. Canadians and Quebecers demand more and, with healthcare ultimately being a political issue, they usually get it. Fair play to them.


Dublin/Ireland: Tea, being offered tea, and being served tea in an appropriate fashion

I drink a lot of tea because it’s delicious. When you go into someone’s house in Ireland, you’re offered tea. This is one of our strongest and most brilliant national traits, and long may it continue. When I enter a home here, I might be offered juice or water. I want tea! Restaurants and pubs are worse; they serve you a vessel – sometimes a glass – of non-boiling water with a tea bag on the side. Two things: the water should be boiling and it should hit bag, not the other way around. Otherwise you have to squeeze the bag to within an inch of its life (figure of speech, people) for five minutes in order to get a weak cup of tea. When I was in Quebec City, I asked for tea in a cafe and was served green tea. ‘Do you have any black tea?’ I asked in French. ‘Earl Grey? Breakfast? Anything?’ Nope.

First Article in The Irish Times

April 25th, 2011

You may remember that a couple of the earliest posts on this site referred to an article I was asked to write by the Irish Times. Well, that article is in today’s Irish Times and also online here. It’s the first time I have been published in what I would consider to be a mass-selling newspaper or a paper “of record”. Given that it is now two-and-a-half months since submission, I am pleasantly surprised that this article saw light of day. They even used a snazzy photo of downtown Montreal taken from what I think is the south-facing slope of the mountain. Enjoy!

Let me take you down, ’cause we’re going to the Plateau

March 28th, 2011

It’s about time this page showed some of the delights of Plateau-Mont-Royal, mon quartier. There’s some pretty amazing street art and a lot of the cafés and shops have delightful paintwork outside.

The above two photographs are from Patati Patata, a sort of fast food joint with a twist on the corner of Rachel and St Laurent. Apparently it only has 13 seats.

These ones are from Avenue Duluth Est near the corner with St Laurent.

I like this one a lot. It’s from a shop called Utopia on Duluth. The whiff of weed inside is very strong!

A Montreal dépanneur, Plateau style.

I love this one from the corner of Duluth and Ave l’Hotel de Ville. Her hair is like fire flicking around the corner.

This is Chez José, a café on Duluth and l’Hotel de Ville. It does a fine breakfast. I was in here once, reading a book about Canada with a mug of tea, when the young man who worked there ranted at me for a good five minutes about how much he hated Canada. He’s an anglo Montrealer.

Home sweet home.

Couldn’t agree more fella.

Come together right now over me

February 22nd, 2011

After reading a dainty (if not a bit passive agressive) little blog post on midnightpoutine, I have decided to vent slightly here. You see, I come from Ireland, and in Ireland if a boy likes a girl or a girl likes a boy then the girl asks the boy or the boy asks the girl to join him or her for a few drinks. It’s not like in many North American cities where people actually have to drive to get anywhere, so we meet in pubs.

Irish people don’t “date”, they “go for a drink”. They treat the two as meaning the same thing, and there is your problem. Meeting up at a cafe, park or exhibition with the mutual intention of ultimately ending up in bed together (or maybe just holding hands) would be plain weird to most people from the homeland. It can be frustrating for outdoorsy, artsy or sporty types who, though they may enjoy chatting and drinking in a decent pub, are not necessarily addicted to it. It creates a uniform format for going from attraction to doing the bold thing, usually beginning with meeting in a pub and ending with awkward drunken intercourse, if you’re (un?)lucky. I’m only going on second-hand accounts because to be honest I’ve never gone out with an Irish lady.

The midnightpoutine post is refreshing. Assuming that dating sites are at least 99 per cent populated by potential rapists, scam artists and the highly desperate and unattractive, that’s not really an option for most civilised people. Unlike ‘Luc’ who wrote that post, I have not left a trail of wannabe MILFS in my wake as a result of creating some wacky profile on PlentyofFish. But he also recommends St. Denis Street as a good place for single folk to cast an eye around. He has a point; people definitely saunter rather than march along its pretty face. And even for the most feeble-armed of the companionless, it’s a stone’s throw from my apartment where I am writing this post. As Mr. Burns would say, “excellent“.