Finally I’m comfortable with the day to day of work – mainly thanks to an “in at the deep end” Easter weekend of sun-madness that I recognised all too well from many Aprils in the UK. Just imagine that in extremis as people see their first sun after 4 months of sub-zero hibernation. Thus, I can remind myself that I’m not here to be a pub manager again, but to embark on this new broader business of consultancy, and so my exploration of the city’s bars continues, along with making the jump in converting the abundance of friendly faces into the much rarer phenomenon of friendship. This, regardless of the better cost of living here, is pretty expensive, and trust me, when that first pay cheque hits with a tax deduction of 50% - “welcome to Canada” smirks my boss – no amount of preparation can stop that from stinging a little. I’m happy to pay though, given how much I’ve gushed about the country so far. I’ve not encountered as many of the negatives that, for example, I felt in Copenhagen where up to 68% tax seemed to drive what I perceived as a nanny state, bereft of any migration/multiculturalism beyond tourists. This feels altogether a more inclusive city, and a more humanist form of taxation, when I observe all the government sponsored social initiatives (less the homelessness discussed in the previous article).
I’m doing my best to reign in my natural desire to be busy and avoid falling into a work-hard play-hard pattern I’ve been happy to escape, but it’s been a jam-packed fortnight when I look back. Fitting in one day skiing in Vermont before the end of the season was a real bonus; a one day cross-border road trip where we had the slopes almost entirely to ourselves, with more than enough snow to work with. I’ve been out of the winter sports game for a decade now, save for one day in the alps during my 4 months in Besancon, so my two bruised hips are testament to a rocky road back to competence. What I did observe through all the falling down and getting up again was surely a benefit of the life change I’m undergoing, in a new-found patience with failure and willingness to just be bad at stuff. Until now in my life I’ve always hated activities which I’m not instantly good at (golf, guitar and meditation all come to mind) but having spent 6 weeks as a newby at most things here, rediscovering my language and starting a life from scratch, a newly burgeoning calm helped me to gamely re-practice my skiing fundamentals without getting frustrated, and I enjoyed the process of de-rusting, reaping the rewards in the afternoon with something of a return to form. I’d advise we all try being a beginner at something again around this time of life, it’s seemingly great for the mind and definitely the ego.
I was lucky enough in timing my arrival here to witness Canada’s first legal 4/20 celebration, as thousands headed to Parc Mont Royal in a plume of smoke, and my new housemates Mo & Mike kindly invited me in on their hang with some home-made hip-hop. It’s only now becoming normal for me to see people busting out grinders at restaurant tables, and to see weed branded like beer or artisanal chocolate. There’s a lot of issues to overcome still, so check out Netflix’s The Grass is Greener for some enlightenment on the whitewashing of the legal cannabis economy, stealing deserved representation and profits from those ethnic groups previously persecuted by the drug’s legislation.
As other viewing habits go, to balance out some of my art-housey viewing of the past month, I treated myself to an opening night trip to watch Avengers: Endgame at the multiplex around the corner from me. While I won’t discuss the plot, I have to say that watching it with a more Americanised audience who whooped, cheered and applauded throughout really heightened my enjoyment of this finale to 10 years’ worth of films which Marvel impossibly managed to make live up to the hype. I wolf-whistled Chris’s Evans, Hemsworth & Pratt with the best of them, and bizarrely choked up at a clunky but undeniably awesome feminist hero set piece.
My incessantly chatting my way around the city paid dividends this week in the form of some actual parties. A very familiar pub “leaving party” piss-up let off some steam, but earlier that night I attended an informal birthday dinner for a friend of a friend, during which the main event of the party would be ‘story telling’…My vicious teenage cynicism having only been enhanced by half a decade living in what must be the judgement capital of the world, I would have rolled my eyes hard two months ago, but my new adventure mindset paid off as I was warmly welcomed into a room of the most charming, engaging people (on whom I road-tested an IPA and carrot cake pairing I intend to use later) and when it came to the Graham Norton big red chair style anecdotes, every one was impossibly hilarious and often had a potent message at the denouement. I’m very glad I went. At the other end of the spectrum, I also engaged in a fairly grimy post-work night out at a bar with an actual skate park in it – a cash-and-cans-of-Coors-Lite-only kind of dive club, where I had fun, but since having been explained the venue’s atrocious sexual assault history, I won’t be going back.
As far as crafty beer venues go, I’m continuing to work my way around the ‘cinq a sept’ busy post work slots across the neighbourhoods. Boswell at the north end of Ave. Mont Royal had a pleasant family-friendly atmosphere given the chic, modern décor, and their ‘Binette XXX’ Funky Tripel was probably to pick of my flight, following some middle of the road IPAs. Espace Public came highly recommended and while the entertaining, borderline too cool for school barman (I realise the hypocrisy as I’ve gone all curly mopped, hoop-earringed craft beer ‘connoisseur’, but it was time for a change) liberally dished out tasters some fairly whacky product, - ‘Dreamsicle Sour Farmhouse Orange IPA’ doing way to much in my mouth for comfort - their ‘P’tit Dej Oatmeal Breakfast Stout’ hit the spot and kept me there beyond happy hour.
Bier Markt downtown on the other hand was fairly disappointing, a super generic set of taps and impersonal service I’ve not been accustomed to here, but then again in a central area of the city crawling with stags and hens I don’t know what I was expecting, and I did get a merciful break from the hockey playoffs to watch some NBA. Bar Waverly in Mile End was much better however, giving me the chance to try a few hot cans on the market, including ‘Noctem Catnip’ exploitatively merchandised with kitten pictures. It also gave me another taste of delicious failure as I more than once failed to move the waitress with any sort of flirtatious banter…can’t win them all…or indeed many. I’ve also fallen predictably hard, given my fervent fermentation fanship, for Kombucha, which is in plentiful supply around town; shout out the beautifully sunlit bunker Café Osmo, a ‘Sangria Kombucha’ on keg at work, and Quebec’s own Rise producer. Having always avoided it – despite many acclaimed health benefits – as an overly niche new trend back home, I trusted something about its abundance here in all my favourite venues and would heartily recommend non-believers jump on the bandwagon to mix up your softy-drink schedj. Finally, foodwise, when a couple of customers told me gleefully they’d be grabbing “awesome Japanese hot-dogs” for dinner, I had to check out Hotto Doggu which is definitely a must-visit for food on the go. My ‘Volcano’ spicy sausage topped with Yakuniku ramen was a quirkily excellent reverse-dessert following a Ben & Jerry’s sundae binge spawned from the aforementioned 4/20 hang.
I’ve really got to thank people for reading at this stage, and their kind feedback. Having spent most of my English degree loosely imagining a career in journalism I proceeded not to write a word or read even a page of fiction in my 5 years of hardcore hospitality. This warm-up blogging has been a great rediscovery - despite the hand-cramp - and worthwhile tool in mentally processing my experience. Now I’ve got the bug, I’m embarking on the industry-focussed journalism aspect of my business, for which I’ll be writing more disciplined commentary, think-pieces and reviews on the Food & Drink sector, for the benefit locals and tourists alike. Much as each of these articles contains a Netflix recommendation, my goal is always to get people out and about tasting new things and talking about it. I’m looking forward to doing that myself on a daily basis for the foreseeable future! Did anyone notice the over-abundance of alliteration in this one? It just happened.