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Reports

Saturday, 12 April 2003
Montreal --> Longueuil, Quebec, Canada

Understandable everybody in the building had a generous sleep in today. Mark went out to check on a few things on his boat, and left me a note that I should feel at home and find myself some breakfast, there would be enough. I had a cereal breakfast and enjoyed Mark’s girlfriend with her +200 satellite television channels.
Around noon Sascha came down and emptied my coffee. “Are you ready for a run?” she asked. Oh yeah, I remember saying something like going for a run last night between all these shooters. I got changed into my running suit and got on my sporting shoes.

The weather was fantastic again. The sun was shining warm and we ran up north on Park street. “Do you see that mountain?” Sascha asked and pointed at this huge mass up the road. “We’ll go up there.” Oh. My. God. I had not run that much lately, so when we reached the bottom of Mont Royal in Montreal, I was already out of breath! Sascha was already climbing the stairs with her huge dog Riley.

Mont Royal reaches some 233 metres high and holds a special place in the history of the city – it was here that the Iroquois natives established their settlement and that French Maisonneuve declared the island of Montreal to be French – but for centuries the mountain was privately owned. Then, during an especially bitter winter, one of the inhabitants cut down his trees for extra firewood. Montréalers were outraged at the desecration and in 1875 the land was bought by the city for the impressive sum of $1 million. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, was hired to landscape this hill, which now provides 56km of jogging paths and 20km of skiing trails to keep city inhabitants happy year round.

And I was jogging up that hill. It was a good run (did not take my camera with me this time) and Sascha and the dog would always be a few paces ahead of me, screaming encouraging words that I would make it. Halfway I took a short cut, in stead of running all around the mountain to end up on the top, I took the over 300 steps stairs going to that top.

And up there at the summit I had to fantastic lookout onto the city centre of Montreal. I should have taken my camera along. I saw the river, the bridges, the Old Port, the McGill University campus and all the suburbs around the city. What a place to hang around and catch the breath again.

The whole run took us just over an hour and back down again and back in Mark’s apartment I first almost drank all the available water of Montreal. After having a rinsing shower, I actually felt quite reborn. What a good feeling some exercise gives!

Mark had returned from his boat maintenance and in the afternoon he offered to take me to my next hosts’s, who live in a southern suburb on the other side of the river.

Some history…
The island of Montreal was first occupied by the St Lawrence Iroquois natives. European presence began in October 1535 (that’s pretty early!) when Jacques-Cartier was led here while searching for a northwest route to Asia. However, even after the arrival of Samuel de Champlain, the French settlement was little more than a small garrison; at it wasn’t until 1642 that the colony of Ville-Marie was founded by the soldiers of Paul de Chomedey.

They were on orders from Paris to “bring about the Glory of God and the salvation of the Indians”, a mission that predictably enough found little response from the aboriginal peoples. Bloody conflict with the Iroquois, fanned by the European fur-trade alliances with the Algonquins and Hurons native tribes, was constant until a treaty signed in 1701 prompted the growth of Ville-Marie into the main embarkation point for the fur and lumber trade.

With the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, Montreal emerged as the new nation’s premier port, railroad nexus, banking centre and industrial producer. It was in the first decades of the 20th century when Montreal acquired its reputation as the ‘sin city’. During Prohibition in the USA, Quebec became the main alcohol supplier to the entire continent and prostitution and gambling thrived under the protection of the authorities.

The most glamorous episode of the city was in 1967 when land reclaimed from the St Lawrence River was used as the site of Expo ’67, the World Fair that attracted fifty million visitors to Montreal in the course of a year. However it was Montreal’s anglophones who were benefiting from the prosperity and beneath the smooth surface francophones frustration were reaching dangerous levels.

Heck – there is so much to tell about this city!

Around 5pm I was packed and ready to get going again. Mark drove me through downtown Montreal and we crossed the river on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. I had to end up at my next address in the suburb of Longueuil.

It took a while to find the place and Mark even had to call a friend to go online and to a map quest on the exact street. “I think I have crossed the bridge some four times in my life now.” Not that he was being negative about the south shore; he hadn’t had many reasons to go there. But as we drove through the suburb centre we were both very amazed by the historic old wooden buildings along the road. “Now this is a place I would like to end up living,” Mark said.

Mark drove me to the front door of the house where my next hosts Jean-Francois Parent and his girlfriend Joya lives. I thanked Mark for his support and met up with my next hosts, who were just working away their dirty dishes in the kitchen.

Jean-Francois ("say J.F.") and Joya are my first francophone hosts in Quebec. This means that their first language is French and English is the second. I have always found it funny how francophones talk English, hehe.

"We don't do the dishes that often," excused Joya. In the meantime I was asked all kind of questions about myself. What have I seen of Canada? ("oh wow") and Which countries have I visited? ("oh wow"), questions most people will ask when a world traveller comes to visit for a day.

J.F. had invited me over long before I ever left home, somewhere in April 2001. And he really meant to be friendly and offered me a place to stay. "Oh, is it an Internet project? I did not know about any reports you write or photos you made, I just felt like inviting you over then – and when you called last week I remembered you."

J.F. calls himself a freelance journalist. "I have actually done something similar that you are doing now. Together with a friend of mine I have been touring around Canada while we were teaching about journalism at schools. And we stayed with people all the time."

My host is currently an Internet producer for a famous Quebecois television show, but I am not allowed to mention which one. Joya on the other hand works as a programme officer for the international development department concerning haemophilia, as it was told to me.

J.F. and Joya live in a traditionally Quebecois wooden house. I was given a bed room in the basement. "I actually advertise in Europe," he told me. "We offer this extra room also to people who want to stay for a while in Montreal or who are looking for a job or a place to live."

It was very cosy and colourful and it all fitted in so well: there was even French music played on the stereo. Do you hear those violins?

As it was already the end of the afternoon, and dinner was not prepared here, but somewhere else. "We are having dinner at my aunts' place," Joya told me, "and you are invited too!"

Therefore we had to go for a drive down the south shore and that's when I figured out that the stories I have heard so far about Quebecois driving are true. From the second we left the curb, J.F. pushed the gas so we were racing with 60 km/hr through the little streets of Longueuil. "Wow," I said when I braced myself in the back. "You are going pretty fast."
"Yes, but I am French."
Ah, that explained.

Joya's aunt, Suzanne Snyder, welcomed us in her house. It certainly smelled like somebody was cooking around here. Inside the house I met up with Joya's mother and a few friends of Suzanne. While dinner is still in the final stage of preparation I am offered wine and we talk in the living room.

I had already noticed that I was totally surrounded by francophones, so their conversations were mostly in French. Joya would jump in as my translator, so I could join in a bit.

When I later asked what they were talking about, they were talking about a movie that was playing in the theatres at the moment. It was a Spanish movie named "Hablo Con Ella" and most of the people looked at me as I wouldn't know that movie anyway.

But hold on! Habla Con Ella (Talk To Her) tells the story of a male nurse in a Spanish hospital who talks to this beautiful patient of his, who is in a deep coma. He actually has been having a huge crush on her and the movie explains how this all got started and where it finally ends up to. It's a fascinating deep-thinking cult house flick and another reason why I am proud of the fact that it is European.

Well, they were impressed by the fact that I knew about that movie, as it just opened in Canada. I had seen it somewhere last year already in The Netherlands. But then again, it also takes some three months before a North American movie hits Europe (and than unfortunately mostly the commercial blockbusters).

Dinner with the family and their friends was very formal and I was impressed by the four courses that aunt Suzanne had prepared. I talked to Pierre, who actually works just outside Pembroke and he agreed about the fact it is a very small town where not much happens and much more could be happening.

With full pride Suzanne talked about her daughter. Her daughter bought the rights of Star Academie from the developers group in The Netherlands and currently hosts the most famous television show that Quebec has even experienced in its history. Out of 7 million Quebecois, some 2 million people watch Star Academie (where kids who want to become a pop star get trained for it and the best one gets chosen by the public). So, that daughter, Julie Snyder, is actually quite popular in Quebec too.

After dinner Suzanne gave me the latest product of Star Academie: the compilation album on CD. Of course it's all in French, but I can always listen to some music when I type my stories.

It was about 10.30 in the evening when we finally pulled back from the dining table. My stomach was full and so was everybody else's. I said goodbye to all the others and thanked Suzanne when J.F. and Joya took me back to their house again.

It might have been the wine I had because I was gone in seconds when I crashed on the bed in the basement bed room.

Good night Longueuil!

Ramon.