The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, May 21, 2007


By Tamara Lee

As some CWC readers know, or have figured out, I’ve transposed myself from an apartment in Vancouver to one in Montreal for the spring.

I’m living at my friend D’s again, this time house- and cat-sitting while she’s in India. I also happen to work for a company based in Montreal, so I am able to mix business with pleasure; the best kind of trip, I think.

Last time here, I was full of the romance and excitement of living short-term in la belle ville. This time around, the inevitable comparisons between my hometown and my semi-adopted city (as well as Toronto and NYC, should I make my way there) will elicit more balanced (I hope) observations and cross-references, maybe even exciting interest in readers to visit.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve done the very anglophone low-brow thing: Quebec microbrews at a dank, old downtown Irish pub with some co-workers; and the francophone low-brow thing: drinks at a French karaoke bar on Ste-Catherine, near Bleury metro.

Karaoke, in general, is not something I do, the cheese quality being so inconsistent and all, but this is Montreal, where cheese tends to be better than the average Canadian sort. French karaoke was especially foreign to me; I was grateful for the several screens displaying lyrics. My reading comprehension is superior to my aural comprehension, as I was reminded when directions the bartender gave me to the bank sent me on a 20-minute trek through Friday night crowds in the Gay Village: it was the Couche Tard (the name of a corner store) across the street she was directing me to, not plus tarde (meaning ‘later’), which I interpreted as a variation of ‘further’ down the street. Aye aye. Jetlag and poor second language skills often get me into trouble in Montreal.

The French karaoke experience was both informative and adventurous, but it was also highly entertaining. Hearing (and reading) songs that the packed-out bar sang with anthem-like jubilation--songs I’d never heard before but everyone hollered out with glee--was a hoot. But one song, somehow retained from a Trois-Rivieres French course 15 years past, I could sing en complete with the rest of the crowd: Patricia Kaas’s ‘80s hit ‘Mon mec a moi” (That guy of mine), with that great line: ‘Il parle d’amour comme il parle des voitures’ (roughly translated as: ‘He talks love like he talks cars’). Classic. And then there were the semi-sardonic versions of the French Celine Dion songs (which she should have stuck to, in my opinion). There were a few English songs sung, too: a cover of the disco-soul and gay-club standard ‘Don’t Leave me this Way’ that was so good, people got up to dance; and a fantastic sexy-bluesy female rendition of one of my favourite francophone singers, Jean LeLoup’s bi-lingual “I lost my baby”.

But the biggest surprise of all was when the decidedly oldest man in the bar, easily nearing 70, dressed all in black, sauntered up and belted out the most amazing performance of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ I’ve ever heard. I never expected that in the middle of francophone Montreal, in an anonymous karaoke bar in the Gay Village, I’d hear the ghost of Johnny Cash. He was given a standing ovation. And after a shy ‘Merci beaucoup’, he was gone.


(postcard image of Ste-Catherine of old, courtesy of Mike Rivest)


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

What a fun read, Tamara. You're such a good writer. I enjoyed sharing your adventures in parts of Montreal I've never seen. Your two-month house-sit sounds like a great opportunity, as good as a vacation, I'd say.

btw, the Rivest link brought me to a list of movie theatres. Is that what you intended?

Mon May 21, 01:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I was born in Montreal (St. Laurent) but spent little time there as an adult.

A few years back (okay, it was twenty years ago, okay?) a bunch of friends and I took a little weekend trip to Montreal. My friend Ken was in charge of accommodations. Big mistake. We ended up in an old hostel with peeling wallpaper, squeaky beds and shared bathroom. Oh, well, charming at the most. My husband was NOT impressed.

We ventured into a little basement bistro on St. Catherine Street and my sister borrowed a guitar and belted out "Summertime" in fine fashion. She got a standing O.

I loved that weekend. I should write about it someday.

Mon May 21, 02:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Yay! People are reading :) I didn't expect anyone to read until the end of the long weekend. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words.

The Rivest link is the one where the postcard comes from eventually, I think. (He posted it on a Montreal discussion forum with that link). It is a cool site about old movie theatres.

Chumplet, you should write something about that experience. It sounds like a great time. Do you remember the name of club? Was it a sort of gypsy jazz bar near Sherbrooke? I can't remember the name of the club I'm thinking of but I remember having a great time there.

Mon May 21, 05:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

It was sooooo long ago, but I should ask my sister - I'll be seeing her next week for her 50th birthday party.

Mon May 21, 05:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Looks like we're going to have to find you a karaoke bar here in Toronto, Tamara. :-)

Tue May 22, 02:11:00 pm GMT-4  

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