28 Jul 2009

Surprise!


We Swiss are famous for keeping secrets, and the past weekend offered an opportunity for me to put that quality to a test. My good friends Mark and Ric came up to Montreal from their home in Vermont on Saturday, to meet two other friends of theirs from Texas for the weekend. They all came round to my place (almost finished, by the way) for apéro, and we then went out to dinner together. Mark was apologetic for not being able to meet again on Sunday, but unfortunately the four of them headed back across the border early on in the day.

Of course, everybody but Mark knew that there was still going to be another encounter very soon: Soon after they left, I got in a rental car, fired up my brand new GPS and started heading south. Some two hours later, I walked into Mark's favorite restaurant in downtown Burlington, and found it already brimming with a very international crowd: People from near and far had made the journey, all ready for this surprise birthday bash. And everybody had kept the secret - which meant that Mark was really overwhelmed when he arrived and eventually noticed that the bar was full of his best friends! It was a wonderful night out, and a welcome opportunity for me to see some joint friends again, and to get to know many people Mark had spoken of in the past.

My only regret came the next morning, when a sugary-sweet girl at the hotel called my room for my requested wake-up call, at a time that felt waaaaaay to early. The reason for this early start into the day: One more, hopefully final visit to IKEA while I had the rental car. There now remains a single, albeit big cardbord box in my living room. Better turn that into a sofa bed real soon!




23 Jul 2009

Cine-parc


For Europeans, it must rank as one of the quintessential symbols of America. Right up there with the Statue of Liberty, the hamburger and the blue jeans. With its crude practicality, wasteful use of space, and effortless coolness, it exudes the very essence of Americana, which Europeans love, and love to hate. Last night, I made first contact with the drive-in movie theater.

When my local friends invited me to join them for "le cine-parc", it took me a fair bit of Google research to even decode to what I had just agreed. But when I found out that a trip out to the banlieue of the south shore would be in the books, I was for once thrilled. It was one of the rare warm summer nights as we pulled up to the gigantic parking lot facing industrial wasteland in Boucherville, and the last rays of sunlight shone from behind Montreal's skyline in the distance as we found our spot in front of the massive screen. The obligatory stop at the concession stop followed, and soon we sat back in our cheap communauto seats snacking on popcorn and an approximated gallon of iced tea. We tuned our radio to the frequency of the soundtrack, lowered the windows... and let the magic begin.

19 Jul 2009

Crystal clear


If I had needed proof of my blog being read, my post a while ago about relaxing with a bottle of beer would have provided it. Several friends expressed their concern about erratic changes in my behaviour: Had I suddenly become a beer drinker? Had uncivilized America already eradicated my preference for sophisticated things such as wine? Whassup?

Not to worry, my dear friends. Don't forget that this is Québec, where things are done à la française and food is habitually accompanied by a good glass of wine. Which brings us to the cause for my short flirt with hops & malt: I simply did not own any wine glasses yet - something I corrected this weekend.

I had previously spotted a household goods store advertising a vente de faillite, and decided to check it out. Indeed there was a section where lots and lots of glassware cartons were piled up. A closer look was revealing though: Given their penchant for gigantic wine goblets, the Québecois seem to be much more like their neighbors south of the border than they care to admit. These "oversized" receptacles were admittedly cheap, but they would have been appropriate for the knights of the round table, at best. Clearly, I wanted something smaller and more subtile.

The young shop assistant was very happy to show me to a different section, where to my relief the selection looked much nicer. However, it reminded me a bit of what my Italian teacher in high school had once poignantly labled "the lingerie paradox": The less material you buy, the more you pay. Thank god it was still a closing down sale. The shop assistant kindly tried to explain the various glasses and brands available to me, but I felt sorry for her. Try pronouncing words like "Schott Zwiesel" or "Spiegelau" as a francophone! Instead, I happily perused the labels on the boxes, ranging from tell-tale ones such as "Rotweinkelch extragr. Nordamerika" to more appealing ones such as "Sherryglas hochstiel. fino", and made my pick. On my way home, credit card receipt in hand, I started wondering about whom exactly the faillite part on the sales posters referred to... ;-)

But 'tis done now, and today I stopped by the SAQ Sélection store around the corner (conveniently open on Sundays too, for that late afternoon buzz) and shopped for a first few bottles. And now, as soon as I click on the "publish" button below this post, I'll go and uncork the first bottle. Santé!

17 Jul 2009

Freddie Jr.


Before I am even able to offer decent guest quarters, not to mention a guestbook to sign for visitors to my new apartment, I was already honored by the arrival of a distinguished, and very well travelled gentleman this week. Fortunately, despite his celebrity and habit of being pampered, he is really not demanding at all, and has happily accepted his vantage point in the corner of my living room.

The visitor in question is Freddie Jr. , the challenge cup and icon of Flyertalk , a global online community of frequent flyers, of which I am a member for almost 10 years now. Freddie Jr. is named after the Freddie Awards awarded annually to the world's best frequent flyer programs, and has been the treasured possession of the Flyertalk community for many years now. The little statue is supposed to be travelling as much as possible, and is therefore being handed from one Flyertalk member to the next in a never-ending relay, having already logged more than 1.2 million km. Freddie Jr. makes frequent appearances at gatherings called "Do", where Flyertalkers mix and mingle.

I have first met Freddie Jr. at Chicago's Wrigley Field baseball stadium in 2002, and carried it to New York from there as part of the relay. We then crossed paths again on numerous occasions, and in January 2007 Freddie Jr. spent some time with me in Switzerland, visiting Ticino, the CORD Estate in Winterthur and even one of his "siblings", a Freddie Award given to the now defunct Qualiflyer program. Freddie also made an appearance at the Zurich Yodeldee-Do, which I co-hosted.

The fact that Freddie Jr. is now in Montreal is reassuring - it's a symbol for the fact that even here, the friendship and camaraderie of Flyertalk will stay with me. In fact, prior to the Austrian Flyertalker who handed Freddie Jr. over to me this week, another three good friends that I met through this network have already visited me last month. And on Sunday, I'll go out to brunch with yet another one - and likely send Freddie Jr. on to his next destination!

12 Jul 2009

Jean-Drapeau


No, this post will not be about the politician. But on this pleasant Sunday, I was in desperate need of getting away from it all. In the morning, I had gotten up at some ungoodly hour, expecting my domestic helper to join me at 9am for the hopefully last round of cleaning somebody else's dirt. Of course, she called me 15min before she was supposed to be here, and told me that she couldn't make it. So I rolled up my sleeves and gave it another go on my own. Four hours later, I knew that when properly maintained, skylights actually do allow you to see the sky. ;-)

Given the blue skies, I definitely needed to get out of my - now reasonably clean - four walls. I decided to take a walk along the Lachine Canal, and across the pedestrian bridge crossing the mighty St. Lawrence River to the two islands in its middle, Ile Notre Dame and Ile Ste Hélène. These two islands, largely built with the earth dug out for the metro network, hosted the '67 World Fair and are today a massive park with versatile facilities. They reach from a nice, clean, heated 50m outdoor pool, which I have already used twice, to stages, freshwater beaches, and various sporting grounds. Uniquely, you can cycle or skate on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montréal's Formula One racetrack.

Parc Jean-Drapeau also has lush landscapes, where squirrels behave as if humans would routinely yield to them (which indeed, they do!), and I found it to be a very enjoyable gettaway. And just a quick metro ride later, I was back in the heart of town, where people were gathering for the closing night of the Jazz Festival, with a free show by Ben Harper. I preferred two scoops of Ben & Jerry's finest, before heading home - and into a new week.

10 Jul 2009

Settling in

It's nearly a week now since I have moved into my new appartment, and it gradually starts feeling a bit like home. Every night this week, I have made some progress, from additional cleaning to emptying boxes, wiring things up or buying little accessories. Yes, it's still a long way to go and the shopping list for my next visit to Ikea is already long. But at least the unsightly dirt has gone.

So we are getting there. Today, on a sunny and warm Friday evening, I walked home from work (first time since primary school that I am actually able to do that), stopped for a few groceries at a posh épicerie on the way, tuned into the radio's live coverage of the Montreal Jazz Festival , leaned back on my lounge chair and, yes, opened a bottle of beer. (I still have neither wine nor the corresponding glasses, so there). And trust me, it felt good!

I'll still have errands to run this weekend, but I am confident that it will leave me some time to take in a bit of the rich cultural life the city has to offer at this time of the year, with festivals and outdoor activites in full swing. I'd say the best is yet to come....

7 Jul 2009

Dégoûtant


The good news first: This is the first post I am typing in my new flat, where I sleep well in my own bed, and the internet connection obviously works.

Getting this far was not so easy however, and the last week was very intensive indeed. Some of the effort was expected, such as Monday's treck to Ikea, Zellers and Canadian Tire in order to buy half a household worth of furniture and accessories in one and the same day. I had also prepared myself for Saturday's mad assembly rush, and had cajoled four very dear friends into spending the day helping me. They did, and thanks to it I now own furniture instead of cardboard boxes!

What I did not anticipate though, and was both disgusted and upset about, was the appalling dirtiness in which the apartment was handed over to me. Yes, the landlord did repaint every wall, but that was all he did. The floors being covered in paint and plaster stains were a minor complaint compared to the dark-grey windows and screens and the stains in the bathroom.

Worst of all however was the kitchen. When I had visited the flat, I saw that it was both old and dirty, but I expected it to be cleaned to reasonable (if not Swiss) standards before handover. Unfortunately, nothing at all happened, which meant that I encountered a fridge with a grease-vegetable-goo crust at its bottom, closets and cupboards covered in solid layers of grease and dust, and appliances filled with someone else's hair & dirt. It was really, really icky!
The landlord, who otherwise seems a nice enough guy, just shrugged and said that here in Quebec, that's just how it is. (Consultations with local friends revealed that this is not true, and I'll take the issue up). In the end, I spent a full two days cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen, with a professional cleaner recommended by my new neighbor adding another full day in between. It was not pleasant at all. Still, to end this post on a bright note, now that it's done I take great joy in gradually unpacking and arranging my stuff, and really building myself a new home. Soon, I'll be able to share "after" pictures!

1 Jul 2009

Canada Day

On July 1st, the Great White North traditionally celebrates Canada Day from coast to coast. From coast to coast? Not quite, for one small province of indomitable Québecois still holds out against the Federalist invaders....

Of course, July 1st is a national holiday and therefore also a day off here in Québec, where the day is used by everyone and their dog to move. Move out, move in, move together, move apart... you name it, it happens today. Which obviously means no vans / U-Hauls / boxes / empty parking spots at Ikea can be found at all. This ingenious concentration of action obviously sees me in the middle of it, as today is the day the lease for my new home starts. But more on this in the next few posts.


For now, I'd like to share a few thoughts on the values that this country, True North Strong and Free, has so far displayed. I was and continue to be very much impressed by and grateful for the openness and welcoming attitude towards new arrivals. From the treatment of my work permit application (once it was submitted to the right places), to the friendly welcome by immigration officials at the airport, to government officials on both provincial and federal level that I had to deal with - everybody seemed open and upbeat about new arrivals, and was kind and helpful. Although lacking first-hand experience, I'd think that this attitude would be somewhat different in Switzerland.

But it was not just the government (dial 1-800-o-canada), but bankers, mobile phone operators, landlords etc. as well who seemed to follow a "trust over doubt" attitude. I had been quite concerned about being able to sign up to essential services here without a residence history, but everybody just said "New arrival, eh? No problem. Welcome to Canada."

Finally, there is another attitude that somebody nicely described in our merry drinking round yesterday night: Canada very much sees itself as a "mosaic of cultures", where many pieces of different colors fit together to form a bigger picture. This is in striking contrast to the "melting pot" mentality famously attributed to the United States - where everyboddy seems to pursue the same American Dream. I must say, I like it up north.

Happy Canada Day!

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