Good morning, Mr. Harper!
Well, I'm back from Montreal, after spending three days cut off from the Internet. I ended up sunburned, my feet walked off, and a reinforced appreciation for this great city. I swear to you, my French gets better every time I visit, though my strongest phrase remains "je m'excuse, mais je ne pas parle francais tres bien." Every stranger I met on the street was kind to me.
I also fulfilled a lifelong desire to eat at a real Montreal deli. I was about to go down to Ben's, but was talked out of it by my local relatives, who suggested to me that Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen on "the Main" was far better. Since I never tried Ben's, I can't tell for sure, but Schwartz's certainly puts Toronto's current batch of delicatessens to shame.
I know that Toronto and Montreal have a great rivalry, especially when it comes to hockey and deli, but I know when we're beat. And the fact is, while Toronto may have had something comparable to Schwartz's, it doesn't anymore. Schwartz's had everything: the ambiance of an I-don't-care-about-ambiance deli, dill pickles and good meat.
However, judging from what my local relatives told me about Ben's and Dunn's, Montreal's deli tradition may be getting as commercialized and sanitized as Toronto's Switzer's deli. I remember the old deli on Spadina Avenue and, sad to say, the one at Front and Yonge is not the same.
Would anybody out there like to join me as I mourn the loss of the great Toronto and Montreal delicatessens? At least Montreal has Schwartz's, but unless Toronto has a few neighbourhood gems that it's keeping hidden, we've got nothing to match. And I think all Torontonians and Montrealers should find this sad, as true rivals do when they realize that their longtime nemeses won't be around to battle anymore. What good is it that the Leafs do well when the Canadiens aren't around to face them for the Stanley Cup?
This visit was also my first time I visited Montreal while there was an election campaign on, and I noticed one significant difference: lawn signs, or the lack thereof. Nobody seems to have lawn signs in this town. All the signs I saw were on public utility poles. All had pictures of the candidates prominently placed (compare that to our text-based ads here in Kitchener), and all parties, including the Conservatives and the NDP, were represented. I guess when you don't rely on property owners to put up your signs for you, it all comes down to the number of campaign workers you have. There seems to be no shortage of volunteers, for all the parties.
And perhaps because no sign is on private property, people seem more willing to deface these signs. I saw a Conservative candidate in Laurier tagged with anti-rich slogans. I saw faces and lips cut out of pictures of Gilles Ducieppe and other Bloc candidates. Every single sign of Liberal candidate (and former BQ founder) Jean Lapierre had the phrase "Vendre!" scrawled on it (which, when translated into English, I believe means "Sell out!"). The only signs that weren't defaced belonged to the NDP. And somehow I don't think that bodes well for the party.
I'm also impressed by how many cabinet minister's ridings I just happened to walk and/or drive through while in Montreal. I took the Metro to Agrignon, stepped outside and saw Paul Martin for "L'Equipe Martin". Really, a fair chunk of the cabinet is housed in the west island of Montreal. I've never seen such a concentration of power anywhere else in Canada or the States outside of the capitals.
I took loads of pictures on this trip, including walks up the mountain, and a side-trip through Montreal's Metro. I'll upload them as soon as I get the chance.