montreal by night (2): earlier this summer

august 14, 2010

the „farine five roses” red sign, visible from a lot of points at night, if one knows to look for it. but i saw it close, from next to the river, on top of the flour factory it belongs to. i’d had no idea what it was before, just that i’d seen it printed on montreal t-shirts. it looks pretty surreal anywhere.

top of mont-royal at midnight: full of people on the lit terrace. taking in the centre ville, spotting the important buildings by their lights. yes there’s the farine five roses. and then, further on from the terrace, there’s the forest. dark and real, like only the forests in bucovina had been when i was on holiday in a cabin in another lifetime. but then how often does one get to wander in the woods at night? close to the big cross, and sitting on the grass, and it’s absolutely full of mosquitoes. it’s also the hottest day/night of the year, so they’re going crazy. oh-kay, chalk this down to experience. and catch the last bus back, cause otherwise. the bus, 11 montagne, really has one of the greatest routes ever. moving side by side with the shining lights. and it’s empty. i put my head out through the open window,in the breeze, but i didn’t sing – just smiled.

animals – apart from the raton laveur on top of mont-royal, who showed his pretty bandit face for a full 10 seconds there – curious? unconcerned?. here’s a truth that i feel the people on my street (who sleep at night) are happier not knowing: we have a skunk living somewhere around. he moves under different porches every night, edging closer to my house i’m afraid. a flash of black, or white, and look – this cute beast just scrounging for a living like the rest of us. the aura of his reputation making us rush to cross.

the night before july 1st, moving day, people are up hunting for abandoned furniture. my roommate hired a car and got two friends and they were driving around the plateau with stops in key points. from outside this bustle, it still seems frantic, exciting, young. she came back about midnight with two chairs and left again. on our walk back along marie-anne, then messier, me and d. just ogled clutters of desks, mirrors, shelves, lamps – not very many , but enough to mark the day as out of the usual. the city playing musical chairs.

one night i read some poems under a streetlamp, for my audience of 1. it had been raining, there was fresh smell of flowers. the spot was pretty secluded, by a wall, a passage between two not even big streets. three kids passed by with a ball, stopped a little and kicked it then went on. i heard my reading voice, with the quiver of anger in it, wondered whether it would translate, and went on. one of my poems i still liked.

dark by the river close to metro stop henri bourassa, i.e. ‘as far away as possible’. it looks like a different city, with different-styled houses, lawns, privacy. i’m told it looks like west montreal. but the park is still good, water swirling below the branches. that’s what i love about parks: the trees are trees, the alleys are alleys, the grass is neither anglo nor franco.

more festivals: the „juste pour rire” show downtown, with its giant puppets and its cinderella story: the love between a huge pink balloon (princess rose – the size of a house, floating majestically through the crowd) and a smaller green ballon (prince victor, who arrives on stage in a carriage the shape of a very pretty and colorful high-heeled shoe). all assorted with indian dancing, skeletons, michael jackson and an impressive acrobatic number – angels unfurling our of UFO-looking pods, and raining confetti and feathers on people’s heads. plus there was a full moon that night.

soccer games in parks. ok, so i watched only 2, but this is 2 more than i’ve ever watched in my entire adult life before, so there. also: during the first game, in park mont-royal a ways before midnight, i might have been smoking up – under a tree, in the rain, close to the soccer field. everything seemed hilarious, of course: the ants climbing my hand,my new umbrella, the focus of the players and the fact that there were people watching them on the sidelines. the second game, two weeks later, felt like another lifetime: sober, late, a bit hardened – i was cheering for the hometeam. they won.

watching the stars in parc jarry. i know no constellations. to me they all shine very distant, cold but kindly. in the middle of an open field, the grass is wet with dew and i shiver lying back on a coat and not wanting to leave ever. it’s like a mix between my childhood and a cult indie movie, i think, in this tumble of dirt and brightness and invisible grass stains. some things stay with me like a remembered shiver – some things were always there, and come out now,twinkling.

more dayshift lore

iunie 21, 2010


„what is the difference between admiration and inspiration?”

„it’s a sin to be able to do more, and be satisfied with doing less.”

[i am actually not quoting, but paraphrasing, of course]: „a lot of immigrants come to canada for an escape, and then, instead of starting to live in reality they go on living inside their heads.why did you come here for, then, if not to be a real person in this country?”

we are eastern europeans

iunie 21, 2010

we carry pictures of orthodox icons in the photo slot of our wallets. we cheer when serbia beats germany in soccer. we are fonder of our grandparents than our parents. in montreal we strive for good french, with a vengeance. we see the contradiction in making a case against kosovo but pro quebec (and the other way round). we tell jokes, we tell stories. our childhoods feel like a different planet. we want to ‘go back’ and know there’s no going back. we miss rhymes in poetry. when something really happens that affects us directly, we talk around it first, for a long long while (like me now).

the complaints choir of our household

iunie 14, 2010

on the approximate model of complaints choirs, but obvs without an actual melody, so sorry. i was just missing making silly rhymes.


a rainy monday morning can spoil the whole week

my perruche keeps screaming while i’m  trying to sleep

my roommate makes the coffee too weak (too strong)

whatever can go wrong today probably will  [i think this is the chorus, or can serve as such]


the landlords are trying to sell our place

the quiche takes two hours to bake, it’s a disgrace

my umbrella is too big to open in the street

we’ve got too many projects, but nothing concrete


i drink just one beer then i act like i’m high

seeing a hockey stick  still makes me cry

all the date squares got stuck to the pan

i always get sunburnt but don’t get a tan


my french class is useless, my job is a joke

the month’s barely started and my phone bill left me broke

the grocery has fancy chocolate i can’t afford to buy

hot chicks always go out with ugly short guys


my dream was so awesome, why did i wake up

i’m always afraid to look at price tags for stuff

i wish my period would just come and go away

my roommate talks even when she’s got nothing to say


my bones ache like hell, i feel 50 years old

i can’t show off my cute dress without catching a cold

i keep keeping myself away from my goals

why do guys ask for my number if then they don’t call?


time goes by so fast we’re doing things but still

whatever can go wrong today probably will

work keeps me sane

iunie 13, 2010

…relatively. considering the degree of sanity you need in order to work there in the first place.


kitchen help, leaning on wall that separates kitchen and dishwashing area: „busy night, eh? i looove to see people hard at work!”

carmen, scrubbing pans: „i take it that you haven’t been hit with a pan by an eastern-european woman before?”


erik: „carmen, could you please pass me one of those containers?”

carmen: „sure” [hands him container]

erik: „thank you for your cooperation on this small but very important matter.”


carmen, at midnight/kitchen closing time, to a. [my personal favourite cook]: „you speak french just like me! your words just go into the air like they were suspended in a bubble…you know? like in cartoons?”(demonstrates with hands)

a. : „uh, so you did get that beer pitcher [the manager] sent to the back.”


carmen : „a., about your dirty shoes, just so you know: i’ve timed myself, and the nights when you’re not working it takes me 20 minutes less to sweep and mop the place.”

a., making sad face: „how can you say that to me, i thought you were my friend.”

carmen: „i am your friend, but definitely not a friend of your shoes.


carmen, to dishwasher/shiftmate: „so you want to take the trash up at the same time as the [used] oil? hmmm, and how exactly will you manage that in one go?”

d.: ” well, if we put the oil in a separate trolley and you come with me. come on, i’ll race you to the garbage bins!”


isaac: „so have you guys decided who’s doing the mopping tonight?”

d.: „i say let’s play rock- paper- scissors!”


our manager n. is greek ( „carmen! that faucet is dripping and in my country they don’t have enough water!”). so, he’s passing along the back of the kitchen, and someone drops/breaks a plate. noise, scramble to get the broom and dustpan etc.

n., completely deadpan: „this is an italian restaurant, not a greek restaurant!”


and n. is really awesome. he can do any kind of work in the restaurant better than the actual worker. talk about old school approach. he has the shiniest shoes ever – how do i know this? because he keeps climbing on stuff, i.e. broken dishwashing machine , to identify the leaking spot. also: he got up on the kitchen stove with me to demonstrate the cleaning of the stove with easy-off – he sat down on a milk crate, with an apron over his suit and a clean towel on his head, and got down to work. i am continually in awe of him.


erik and i sing all through the daytime shift. sometimes just humming, other times the situation requires for top-of-your voice bellowing. there’s the noise of the dishwashing machine, then the mixing of the various soups and sauces, blah. so we sing. we have diverging repertoires, but finally hit upon songs we both love ,and with lots of lyrics, so by now we can duet „ironic” and „torn” beginning to end. it’s a blast.

also erik has these quiz-type questions that he asks everybody who’s in sight at that moment – busspeople, hostesses, me. example of question: ” how do you accomplish greatness when nothing else will do?”

back of the kitchen

iunie 1, 2010

carmen, surveying kitchen disaster: „when you said i could take out the big tray, i thought that was the end of dirty dishes.”

cook : „my friend, there is no end to dirty dishes.”


girl cook, bringing out a bunch of pots and pans: „watch out, hot stuff here!”

carmen : ” oh, stop bragging!”


bussboy, filling up the tray with dirty glasses: „please, i need glasses!”

carmen: „i need world peace, and i need it right now!”


kitchen help, bringing out a sizzling pan: „watch out, this is very hot!”

carmen: „oh okay then, i’ll let isaac [my shift partner] pick it up”


carmen, after doing a slow, lousy job of cleaning kitchen walls: „i feel so bad, i kept you waiting and it looks like hell now.”

erik, one of the cooks: ” i don’t have the time to feel bad. feeling bad is luxury. have a nice day, merry christmas!”


isaac, about one of the other dishwashers, m., who left 2 weeks ago: „he saw hunger.” i keep remembering this when i think of m, and what he’s doing there where he moved. he worked like a demon but/and yes, he was famished all the time. chewing on bread, taking his lunch break before us. going back home at night to cook rice with his roommate. „he saw hunger”, i imagine it like he had seen a tiger laying in the grass one step away. like he can never unsee it now.

niveau cinq, here we are

mai 29, 2010

1. i’ve vaguely planned to skip class one night. but i find myself heading there from work, by inertia – even this thursday, when i was running late (one of the cooks had an accident, it was a slightly hectic afternoon even for a thursday, people running around like headless chicken) i got out of the forum after 5.30, and…where was i gonna go? i had obvious answers, less obvious ones, i had a bit of a pressure to write at the back of my mind…could have walked in the park, or got a sorbet/coffee in a cafe and tried to write…but then i went to the metro stop. oblivious. book in hand.

2. things i do/have done during class: writing cards. reading the newspaper/book. rereading a draft. looking up words in the dictionary. drinking coffee – i can’t go through 4 hours without coffee. i can’t go through a thick 4hour wall of ANYTHING without a coffee probably. but mostly, when i come to think of it, in all honesty, i primarily do this: speak french with people. do exercises in french. i think the goals are being met. i’ve been a member of the school system for so long, it’s with relief that i plunge into the slavery – there’s this class to go to. things will add up in time. i’m going.

3. and yes, i am the best in my class, at least technically. one explanation for this might be that i asked to be placed one level below? maybe but who cares. as long as i don’t score 100% on grammar and dictation for this level, and especially speaking-wise, as long as there are people in my class more fluent and more at ease with the language than me, even with erreurs – i am in the right place. of course i have to be aware of, and try to get amusedly detached from, my competitive obsession. it’s… never come in useful, except for massaging my ego for 2,5 seconds and then immediately awakening me to shame. nobody cares that you can spell almost correctly, carmen.

4. on niveau 5 we still have textbooks, and my classmates mostly know eachother already because some have been together through levels 1-4. so it’s a classic ‘new kid in class’ scenario. except they’re not kids. and this is not school-school. it’s the, honestly, hard school of living, etc. people come to classes from work. people work making shoes, making blinds for windows, cooking, making wrappings for presents, driving moving vans. people yell at each other in spanish over desks. people complain, ask and answer basic questions, are kind to each other, help you change your banknote, keep you a spot in the coffee line. offer you popcorn. save handouts for you. i’ve never felt unwelcome or uneasy here – i’ve felt at points overwhelmingly sad.

5. before april ’10, i hadn’t felt an immigrant in canada. go figure, i actually, legally, am not : i’m an immigrant wannabe, at most. but the wannabe part is important.

6. my french school is not everything i’d wanted, not what i’d dreamed. the first two days i was choked with fury against the anglos…for being so blatantly absent. componence of my class: 90% hispanic. one russian girl. one neo-zeelander who came here to be with her quebecois boyfriend. (after one month of classes, and walking home with her because we live close, i’ve still NEVER heard this girl, caro, speak english. in this sense, maybe my french school IS  what i’d dreamed.) somebody suggested that maybe francization is only for non-canadians, but it can’t be true, because my friend sonia z. took these classes 4?5? ys ago. it’s that they can’t be bothered. honestly.

7. we speak french at breaks. and after classes. if i met one of them in the street, hell if i met one of them in calgary, we’d speak french. it’s like swimming and then realizing if you tried to touch the ground now you’d drown. the conversational things i found out about these people, i got them through our mutually imperfect french. some of them don’t even have the english as a possible crutch. THAT is brave. working as a dishwasher when you have a whole load of degrees is not brave. i repeat myself.

8. so, no love and gushing passion, but maybe i am past that age after all. i respect my francization course, admire how it’s helping people, like and admire and respect my classmates, and try to work with it in my way. boring, i know. my prof said in about one year , if i get the pesky equivalences solved, i could teach french in a centre like this. they need teachers – and i can understand why.