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ReportsTuesday, 15 April 2003
Montreal East End --> Montreal Hampstead, Quebec, Canada This morning I woke up on the couch in the house of Stephanie, the downstairs neighbour of my actual hosts Loulou and Hubert. It was actually Hubert that called up by phone to tell that breakfast "was being served upstairs". Yahoo, breakfast is ready!
So I grabbed the sheets off the couch that gave me a much better sleep than the six separate pillows from the upstairs living room couch on the floor, and got to the upper apartment. Stephanie woke up too and followed me up later.
As it was already late in the morning, Loulou had already left to her work when I joined Hubert at the kitchen table.
And believe me, after last night's talks and drinks I have had enough Canadian Whisky for the rest of the month! I had a bloody hangover with headache and all! I could barely eat the croissant with jam or drink a cup of coffee. To all joy of Hubert and Stephanie, of course.
Hubert works part time at the chicken restaurant St. Hubert ("Hi I am your waiter Hubert") and had to start this morning at 11.30am. Instead of him taking me along and dropping me downtown, Stephanie offered to take Hubert and me downtown with her car and then give me a tour around the city for the rest of the time. Around 2.30pm I would meet up my next hostess there.
I thanked Hubert for being part of my two hosts when we dropped him off at the St Hubert restaurant at the central station. Stephanie offered to be my driver for the coming three hours.
"I work 5 days in a row and then I get four days off," she explained me. And most of the time her working days are long and depend on flights coming in at the airport.
I proposed to go up Mont Royal again. Earlier this week I jogged up the mountain of Montreal but did not have my camera with me. Today it was cloudy and raining softly, but whatever the weather, I did manage to take some good shots that the panorama outlook on the mountain gave me.
One other thing I had not seen in this city yet, was the Montreal Underground City. Place Ville-Marie (the original name of Montreal) marks the beginning of the famous underground city, planned as a refuge from weather that is outrageously cold in the winter and humid in the summer.
The underground network began with the construction of the cruciform Place Ville-Marie in the 1960s. Montréalers flooded into the first climate-controlled shopping arcade, and the Underground City duly spread. Today its 31km of passages provide access to the Métro, major hotels, shopping malls, transport termini, thousands of offices, apartments and restaurants and a good smattering of cinemas and theatres!
Stephanie told me that there are many people that live in the Underground City for most of the year and because the spent most of the day in it, they don't wear warm clothing in the wintertime. "It will just look like they really live here."
Around 2.30pm she dropped me off at the Mont Royal metro station (which is on Rue Mont Royal and not on the mountain). I thanked her for her being a private tour guide to me and awaited my next hostess on the corner of La Rue St Denis.
And there pulled over this small European car, blowing the horn, with the driver waving at me. That must be my next hostess, Sandy Wolofsky.
I got my stuff into her car and introduced each other. She immediately started talking about this part of town, also known as the Quartier Latin of Montreal. In the late 19th century a lot of Latin studying students lived here and – you know how students can be – their livelihood created the face for the area, therefore called the Latin Quarter.
Sandy Wolofsky is a journalist and not just one that writes for the local newspaper. In 1991 the graduated in history and political science at the Hampshire College in Massachusetts (USA) and then she decided to move to Moscow (Russia).
"Just because I saw no possibility of getting a job anywhere in North America. And what was supposed to be a three weeks visit with a friend became six years."
In the meantime she showed me the around on the so-called Plateau of Mont-Royal and drove up the Boulevard St-Laurent.
Montreal's immigrants, first Russian Jews, then Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, East Europeans and, more recently, South Americans, settled themselves along this road. With the Chinese in Chinatown at the beginning of the boulevard, at the river banks, it was actually possible to see the cultural change in the street. There was really a Portuguese part and a Jewish part as I could see of all the different light commercial shops along the street.
"You haven't had smoked meat yet?" Sandy asked me. "I'll have to let you eat smoked meat, I know exactly the right place." And we ended up at Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, a traditional Montreal steak house on the boulevard where she introduced me to the famous smoked meat.
It was a chaotic place, so it immediately gave me typical Mediterranean comfort. The waiters would scream out loud and tell people where to sit. And in a place like this, you just sit next to somebody you don't know.
Of course I had to ask her why she ended up in Moscow in 1991, of all places!
"Moscow just had unbelievable, really unbelievable opportunities, so I first became a radio host on the first English radio station in Moscow and started doing all the other things I enjoyed doing. I always wanted to become a journalist and I started making documentaries for Canadian television – without any experience and with a simple camera - and afterwards travelled all around the world as a correspondent."
There somebody was intriguing me now!
From the Schwartz's place we later drove to her apartment, located all the way on the other side of the city, in a city district called Hampstead. "That's what I like so much about Montreal, it has all these different businesses that gives the city it's cultural identity. Just by looking at the shops and the people in the streets, you can see where they all originate from."
Sandy herself is Jewish and she told me about her family and the upcoming Eastern celebrations. When she invited me, she let me know it was no problem to stay a few days, so I might be able to come along to the Passover Seder celebration.
Jewish people all around the world sit down to a Seder, the ritual dinner that begins the eighth day Passover celebration. Amid song and ceremony, family and friends recite a story told for thousands of years about the Jews' Exodus from slavery in Egypt. And eat a lot too, of course. "But I'll have to ask my parents about taking you along," she told me.
Sandy heard about my website only a week ago. Her brother heard me being interviewed on CBC Ottawa one morning and mentioned the site address to Sandy. She immediately invited me over because she just laughed the challenging idea behind this whole project. "You have guts, man!"
She lives in a spacey loft in a big concrete but luxurious apartment complex. The inside of the complex looked like a six-stars hotel! "My dear grandmother used to live here and when she passed away, my parents decided to give it to me. Basically so I would be living close to them in Montreal again, of course. The only bad thing about this place is that I am the only person living in this complex who is below 95-years-old!"
When I entered her apartment I noticed I did not enter some elderly person's place. This was a genuine playground for a journalist. A lot of space, and books in shelves everywhere. Walls were covered by flags, world maps, paper clippings, cartoons, etcetera. "My friends call this place the United Nations; I guess they are pretty right."
On the floor were toys. "I sometimes have my little cousins and nieces visiting over." Of course. "But as being a journalist living between projects at the moment, I have to have something to keep me away from the computer all the time." And then she started a demonstration in hey-I-can-really-spin-a-ball-on-my-finger-really-hold-on-I-will-try-it-again-look!….
That's what journalism is all about. "Journalists live from project to project with limited amount of money and living a very low profile life." And that summed it up pretty recognizable for me, a traveller who has covered seven years of journalism studies before quitting that whole game.
For tonight she was asked to help out a journalism friend of her. "She got this assignment from the CBC last week and she asked me to help her out with it tonight. If you don't mind just helping yourself tonight, you can stay here – or come along and get bored there." I decided to stay at her place. She told me I could eat anything I would find in her fridge, explained me her 108 channels television and connected my laptop to her high speed cable. I would be set for the night, don't worry.
I watched some television, found a easy-to-make pasta meal in the kitchen and did some work on my laptop.
When Sandy returned around 11pm she sat down tired, but however ready to fire all her questions at me about my project and my travels as she just discovered the existence of it last week.
As she is a journalist with experiences in video documentaries I asked her if she wanted to see my video productions I have been creating since my trip started in Canada. She was a bit cynical about them, because how could I ever get something good out of that simply camera I am carrying with me. But when she saw some of the movies with the loud speakers on almost full volume, she was amazed. "I can't believe that the technology is going that well nowadays! That such a camera and easy software can create something like this! I really like it!"
There can be nothing worse than to be crushed by somebody who has so much more experience than me. Her compliments really relieved me. But then again, I can be too much of a perfectionist too.
She folded out a couch that became my living room bed and as I got ready to head to bed I had to ask her some questions in return. She had asked me what my favourite place is so far. I explained her it is so difficult to say because I only get short glimps of every place and with the speed I travel everything is just so overwhelming.
"My favourite place is North Korea," she told me. North-Korea? You mean one of the last communist countries in the world North Korea? "Yes. I once got in there, of course with a lot of hassles and smooth talk and was amazed! Imagine yourself having this babysitter with you all the time, or three of them always around you. And they show you what you have to see in the country. As a tourist they show you what you have to see and they tell you exactly what you need to know, no further questions. And that just soooo fascinated me."
She showed me some of the stories she had published about her trip to this country and even I got intrigued. "You wrote it so I want to go there now too," I said. "Well, anybody can try, but it won't be easy." And how did you get in then? "I had to lie a bit, and told them I was an school gym teacher. This was true, at that time I did some volunteer work at a local school."
It was already clear to me that nothing seems to be a big problem anymore for Sandy. She has been around and knows how different systems work and how to get around or involved in it for a good story.
She is one of those journalists that root themselves into a society and then dig even deeper to understand the lifestyles of the people that live there. I wished she could be my private mentor!
Sandy just had to add a little fact about North Korea. "It is absolutely impossible that North Korea has nuclear weapons. I have been there! They can barely make shoes for themselves! And even if they have these weapons, they will push a button and the rocket will go up and fall straight down again. It's just impossible!" I think there could be truth in her story.
Good night Hampstead!