I apologize in advance if this post seems a bit too long… it has been a very long and eventful day.
Right after bidding Jonathan goodbye, we proceeded with the estimated 5 hours drive to Montréal, not including stop‐over’s. The weather was sunny and bright, perfect day for a convertible ride.
There is not much to tell about the ride between Toronto and Montréal; highway 401, crossing south‐western Ontario west to east, stretches from the Windsor border crossing (near Detroit) in the west, all the way to the Ontario / Québec “border”, about 850km give or take. Not quite the scenic route.
Driving east of Toronto towards Montréal involves passing through a small city named Kingston. It is a university town, very small; quite the boring downtown area, despite the attractive location (right by the shore of Lake Ontario). Had you been making your way to Montréal, you would probably not find any good reason to stop there.
That is, unless you had talked to me first, in which case I would have told you about Wooden Heads.
Wooden Heads, located downtown right by the water, is a seemingly innocent restaurant. It only happens that it serves the best pizza that I could find so far in my travels in North America—and, believe you me, I am a complete idiot in so many areas (ask my friends) but I did have my share of pizza. Ever since I discovered that place (through an ex‐roommate), there is no way I would drive by Kingston and not visit it. I consider it a crime.
I don’t know what it is they do there to the crust, and where the hell they get those ingredients, but I would sign my life next to their pizza. I am still baffled by the fact that the owner is reluctant to expand his business. The only place I had pizza in, that came as close competition to this pizza, was at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas—and that’s a 5‐star resort that is all about “Italy”.
Today was no exception. We entered Kingston, fought the miserable traffic (the entire city is under construction), did whatever it took to wrap teeth around this magnificent crust. And Lord, was it worth it (I took the Commerciante; see their menu here: http://www.woodenheads.ca/pizzas.php).
Happy, we proceeded with the drive, and took the detour off highway 401 into the Thousand Islands Parkway. Another road I try to not miss, as it offers picturesque views over a myriad of tiny islands with houses on them (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_Islands). Those islands were sold by the Canadian government to residents, a long long time ago, for pennies; try buying one now…
Really nice ride, especially when it’s sunny and you have no roof over your head.
About 50km into Québec, we decided that I do the driving from then on. The reason is that, every year, there’s a study showing that Montréal’s drivers are the worst drivers in Canada, and myself, having been raised in a country full of crazy drivers, is the more suitable individual to deal with such mayhem.
Here is what you have to know about driving in Montréal: Signs and traffic lights often serve as mere recommendations. Don’t take anything for granted; we have seen cars doing impossible things on Montréal’s roads today, and that experience wasn’t much different than my past travels there.
Another thing you need to know about Montréal is that it’s probably the worst place to be in, if you’re in a hurry and don’t know exactly where you’re going. People appear to be very busy here; they are not necessarily rude, don’t get me wrong; but they look so busy that it makes you feel bad to interfere with their lives.
It is a crazy, crazy city. There is so much to say about it but I will suffice with the one thing I like most about Montréal: the food.
Many people travel to Montréal for the sole purpose of eating. Not surprising considering the fact that, after New‐York City, Montréal has the most restaurants per capita in North America. There are thousands of restaurants here, and the standards are significantly higher than average. Other than Québec City, Montréal is the most European‐like city you will find In North America, and it clearly shows in the menus. There is so much food here, in so many tastes, so many varieties, that you could go through a lifetime and still miss some.
And when talking about food in Montréal, there are a few locations that are well worth mentioning. Actually, way more than a few; but I’m already sort‐of tired so I will suffice with one location that no visit to Montréal is complete without (unless you’re a vegetarian). It’s a small deli called Schwartz’s.
Whoever visits restaurants every now and then, is probably familiar with the term “Montréal‐style smoked meat”. Well, here’s the deal: “Montréal‐style” basically means “Schwartz‐style”. That small deli serves the best smoked meat you are ever likely to wrap your tongue around.
The interesting thing about this place is, that it doesn’t look glorious at all. As a matter of fact, if you were to walk up Saint‐Laurent and pass by that deli, you would probably just move on into some other place that more resembles a restaurant.
When going there, there are a few things you need to know (I learned some in the hard way).
First, you would most likely encounter a line‐up outside. Don’t deter; it moves fast. However it is important that you know which line to stand in, because there are two of them—stretches to the right‐hand side of the door, the other to the left. The one stretching to the right‐hand side is for take‐outs only; the other is for sit‐in.
Second, for sit‐ins: an employee of the restaurant will most likely ask you how many people are in your party. As sit‐in space there is scarce, the host is responsible for picking your seats and you are well‐advised to follow his direction otherwise you’re in for some crooked look. Under no circumstances should you assume that you will have your own private space; more often than not, you will be seated next to people you don’t know. People come here to eat, not to socialize; if you’re looking to socialize, go somewhere else. Seriously.
Third, about the menu. These guys serve a lot of things, but going to Schwartz’s and skipping the smoked meat is like travelling all the way to Nova Scotia and eat chicken instead of lobster (I have done that. Yes, I realize how stupid it is); like buying a car from IBM, or a computer from Honda. It may be good, but kind‐of missing the point.
Fourth, there are two types of smoked meat there. The “regular” one is also called “medium”, which refers to the amount of fat in the meat. There’s also “lean”, which has less fat but, take my advice and cut your calories somewhere else. Go for the fatty stuff.
Fifth, order a pickle. They serve dill pickles there, which blends beautifully with the meat.
Sixth: eat, and go. Keep the line moving. Lots of people want to enjoy this heavenly sandwich; be considerate. If you aren’t, then the staff will most likely do whatever they can to convey the message that, come on, just go already.
It is all simple, simple, simple there. A smoked‐meat sandwich costs $5.50—less than most Subway sandwiches. Unless instructed otherwise, an order for a “regular sandwich” consists of:
- Two slices of rye bread;
That’s it. Nothing more is needed. So simple, and so tasty that no wonder this place is open 16–17 hours a day and there are always people eating there, often lining up outside the store. I don’t know what it is that they do to the meat there, and therefore I cannot really explain. You have to taste it to believe it.
OK, I could probably go on and on about food in Montréal but there’s limited time in the universe so I’ll continue with today’s events.
Lots of construction along the way made us arrive to downtown Montréal much later than we expected; staying at the Quality Hotel in downtown, about 600m from the Place des Arts, we barely had 5 minutes to change and rush to the venue.
Arriving at the venue, we found a complete and utter mess. The entire Place des Arts complex is under construction, and the entrance to the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier looks like a subway stop in downtown Manhattan on a really busy and gory day. Millions of people passing by with no mercy. What a huge mess.
The ticket pick‐up instructions (for markknopfler.com buyers) said that there will be a couple of will‐call wickets clearly marked for ticket‐pickup. Well, as everything else in Montréal, a “sign” is not necessarily an “instruction” and you have to be prepared to the possibility that you’re in a situation in which you know nothing. There was no “clear signing”. The words “Mark Knopfler” (which should appear the same in English and French, I would assume) appeared nowhere near the box office.
After waiting about 20 minutes in line with the entire world, we finally picked our seats—the best seats in the house, front row dead‐centre—and went into the reception hall of the venue.
After about 5 minutes, we finally found the entrance to our section. That’s not because we’re idiots; what can you do, when there’s not even one sign in English telling you where you should go. There were quite a few people there, which didn’t help much as everybody appeared to rush somewhere and there we are, in the venue and can’t figure out which door to go through.
I skipped Pieta Brown’s concert due to other commitments. On 8:45pm, Paul Crockford appeared on the stage, escorted by an individual holding a piece of paper. I had no idea who that person was, however once Paul finished his anti‐video speech, it became quite clear… this is Québec here, and someone has to give that speech in French.
On 8:50pm, the show started.
Mark’s ongoing injury (you can read about it in Richard Bennett’s and Guy Fletcher’s diaries, see links to the right) may be improving or may be worsening, that I don’t know for sure (and it goes without saying that I am wishing Mark a quick and safe recovery); it did, however, lead to a few changes in the show’s format.
The stool on which Mark has been sitting during the last few shows has been accompanied by a small tray, hooked up to the microphone’s stage, having a bottle of water and a towel on it. A minor distraction to people sitting in the front rows, but overall I guess this was necessary to keep the show fluid.
Normally, the band leaves the stage area prior to the encore, returning after about five minutes. This time, however, they didn’t leave the stage area; I suppose that was done in order to minimize Mark’s efforts as every step he takes causes him a huge amount of grief. Instead of leaving the stage, the band gathered together while Peter MacKay (assistant tour manager) brought drinks for everybody, which the band consumed along with a “cheers” gesture towards the crowd.
The show went great with a few things worth mentioning.
While in the Toronto concert it wasn’t evident (to me, at least) that Mark is in pain while being seated, in Montréal he did seem to be in pain pretty much the entire show. He still played really well, just didn’t seem so calm and relaxed.
What It Is featured a completely revised work by Tim & Mike playing in concert—a new approach, much different than before and doesn’t sound like anything I heard so far.
Done with Bonaparte has been resurrected; as soon as the song started playing, band started playing it I noticed that something’s different. I sensed that the song is performed in two tones higher than usual; looking at the guitars’ capo position, I’m pretty sure that was the case (capo placed on the National’s 7th fret). Need to verify; regardless, that change made the song sound cheery than usual.
Very interesting twists; I’m all for such changes.
Speedway at Nazareth featured a particularly violent jam, perhaps the loudest so far. Also, the mini jam‐session during Marbletown featured yet another variation of the flute work, courtesy of wonderful Mr. Mike McGoldrick—he makes flute‐playing seem so easy.
The Montréal crowd was extremely happy to welcome the band; looking at the crowd, I noticed quite a few young faces there. It was my first time attending a concert performed in front of a crowd that is predominantly not English, which was interesting… cheering in French sounds so different.
Was a very good concert overall, however I am a bit concerned with regards to Mark’s health. I hope he gets well soon.
Starving as dogs after the concert, we walked towards Schwartz’s for some smoked meat. The streets were swamped with people; Montréal is known for its great night‐life scene. People of all shapes and forms are all over the place, lined‐up for clubs and pubs as if there is no tomorrow; and that was a Friday night with a mildly‐coolish weather. I have been to Montréal once on a weekend during the summer. One big party.
Jeroen appeared pretty damn satisfied with the smoked meat sandwich; we finished three sandwiches between the two of us, and you should know that these sandwiches are not the smallest sandwiches in existence. That’s what happens when you combine a starving stomach with the best smoked meat sandwich in the world.
A quick walk back to the hotel. Passing by a McGill University residence, we noticed a guy pushing a queen‐size bed, a mattress, some linens and some patio furniture, elegantly placed on a huge cart. Twelve midnight, and he’s surrounded by drunk‐looking students emitting a significant amount of noise.
Yes, this is Montréal.
Continued to work on something until about 3:00am, then went to sleep. Long driving day the next day all the way to Mashantucket, CT.