Montreal: Rumble on St. Laurent

Wikipedia describes the Montreal neighbourhood of Mile-End as follows:

In 2005, Mile End was described in several music magazines, notably Spin and Pitchfork, as the heart of the independent music scene in Montreal. Several venues on Saint-Laurent Boulevard have contributed to the development of the local scene, including Casa del Popolo, the Sala Rossa, El Salon (now closed), and The Green Room (Le Salon Vert).

In the past year, local residents – who basically moved into the newly renovated apartments and condos knowing they were moving into a hip, cultural hotbed – have been complaining about the culture. One resident who lives near a new (now closed) venue called Main Hall on St. Laurent basically had it shut down by the city because the muffled noise of bands playing shows bothered him. Now others are trying to take away and challenge liquor licenses of places on St. Laurent Blvd that have become staples to the city’s music, art and literary scene. I’ve heard stories of Le Caigibi’s liquor license being challenged because the city was somehow convinced that vegetarian food was not “substantial” and therefore not a real restaurant. Absurd!

And now Casa de Popolo, one of the pioneering venues that brought attention to the area, the house that Godspeed built, is fighting to keep it’s doors open. A letter from the owners:

” This is Kiva and Mauro from Casa del Popolo, we just wanted to officially tell you all what’s going on. We have suspended all shows pending a court case with the Régie des alcools des courses et des jeux. So here’s the story: we currently have a restaurant liquor license which allows us to sell alcohol only when someone is eating (the quantity of food is determined arbitrarily by the inspector’s judgement, which varies with each inspector). We also currently have a bar certificat d’occupation from the Ville de Montreal, this allows us to operate a bar but still does not allow us to sell alcohol without someone eating. In order to sell alcohol we need to obtain a bar liquor permit from the RACJ. This is one of the things we are waiting to be determined at our court case.
Most importantly for us though is the issue regarding Spectacles. In order to have live music performances with a cover charge in a venue which sells alcohol you must obtain a Spectacle liquor liscense from the RACJ. We do not currently have this and up until recently there was no way for us to get one. In order to obtain this the casa cannot touch any residential property, which the casa still legally does. In the next few months we will be making the necessary renovations to transform our new offices to commercially zoned property as well as a few other minor changes.
We have been attempting in the past few months to make these transformations without stopping shows but this is just not possible. We are VERY SORRY for this but we will be following the law. Things have worked for us for 9 years now but the recent crackdown on restaurant liquor licenses has seriously affected us and we are attempting to do the right thing. Please bear with us. There is no reason to panic or storm city hall.
WE ARE NOT CLOSING. We will still be open for food with drinks and will be upgrading our menu to hopefully entice you to come in for some swell veggie eats…daytime…nighttime…latetime too…
We will continue to have our weekly free dj nights as well as some other fun events which aren’t spectacles….check out our website for more info in the upcoming weeks…
Suffice it to say, the casa will remain and return stronger than ever…it will just take a little time…If you have any questions feel free to call the office at 514-284-0122 or email us at info@casadelpopolo.com ….

Love…kiva & mauro”

Sometimes the bureaucracy is maddening. It is so arbitrary and selective, city officials can choose to care or not, randomly decide whether or not to enforce the law. It’s borderline gangsterism. And all it takes is one busybody, some loser with too much time on their hands, to rock the foundation of an entire sub-culture. Never mind the small businesses and economy it supports.

I know there are bigger problems in the world, and more pressing human / life-or-death issues even in this very city. But our culture makes us human, defines who we are, and informs our existence. This whole rumble on St. Laurent is depressing. And maybe the slow beginning to the end of the Montreal era. But it wouldn’t be the first time…Montreal’s music “scene” has an 8-year cycle, it seems. The city will peak and crest again…in 2013.

Potato Surprise

We are home and have totally plugged right back in to domestic vibes. Today was a super domestic day for me: I did yard work. I donned this navy blue 3/4 length pea coat that I used to wear when I was like 21 that I now only use when I have to work outside in the fall. I think I got it at the Salvation Army on St-Antoine and Guy. Anyhow, I put it on and was like: “This coat isn’t actually that bad,” just before handing my work gloves and grabbing a garbage bag. I collected all the trash that accumulates in our yard, cut back the dead iris leaves and tidied up some leaves. In the back yard I put away all Neptune’s outside toys. I also decided to pull the rogue potato plants that will likely die during our next overnight freeze. Point being I was very pleasantly surprised by the haul of new, little cute potatoes:

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I mean, it’s November and – according to Jamie Oliver’s Jamie At Home cookbook – way too late for potatoes. In fact, when I followed his instruction for planting potatoes I got nothing except a bunch of rotted, mushy post-potatoes. Canada certainly does have it’s own rule on the agriculture side and no matter how much I’d like to try, I can’t pretend that our growing season resembles that of the UK in any way possible.

Anyhow, Murray’s gonna roast the potatoes today or tomorrow for dinner. On the domestic side I installed a couple light fixtures today, too. Renaissance woman. I also booked flights for the band to get us home from the Metric tour, and next I’m gonna add a bunch of archival images (we’re talking 1999-2002 styles, courtesy of former-Dear Jonathan Cohen) to our tour history on thedears.org. Boom.

From The Airplane

Since we left California its been raining non-stop. My jacket is perpetually soaked – things just don’t dry out on the bus, even though when I wake up every morning in my bunk I am completely parched. The humidity doesn’t reconcile for whatever reason. Our shows in Portland and Seattle had good turnouts and Murray and I met some super nice bloggers and blog readers afterwards. Even though I caught cold (probably due to perpetual alternations between sogginess and dehydration), my voice barely made it through the last gig, yet am truly grateful to everyone who came out and to the general success of the tour; to the graciousness of Secret Machines, the awesomeness of my band mates, and to the support of our label, friends and families.

I’m on the plane now, flying Seattle to Montreal: in 4 hours travelling what took us 18 days to complete. Additionally, I am writing this the old-fashioned way: paper, scribbly unpracticed letters with a hotel room pen. Surprised there are no gadgets involved? Neptune’s watching the Emperor’s New Groove on my laptop and the Blackberry is nearly dead. So to paper these thoughts are recorded – a reminder that I remain manually literate in a disgracefully digitally-dependent world.

Oh, and it was still raining when we got back to Montreal. We never should have left California.

Only Interesting to Canadians: Federal Election Blog

This headline warranted a double eye roll: Pro-soverignty Protesters Target Justin Trudeau. Why the double eye roll, you ask? Because that’s the proper way a Canadian is to react to political activism. Papineau is our riding, so I met the young Trudeau at a neighbourhood picnic a few months ago. Well, I kind of just shook his hand since it caught me a little off guard. I was thinking about how many chips Neptune was eating and the suddenly I’m shaking hands with Canada’s “rock star” candidate. Most Americans know very, very little about Canada, let alone Canada’s politicians. But they know about Pierre Trudeau. I grew up with Chretien in office, and even though his spoken English was thickly accented, he still owned it. Fierce. Charming. Laughable. Quintessentially Canadian.

We can only hope that Stephane Dion gets drunk in public sometime soon, or, as I heard Grant Lawrence note on the CBC radio today, “gets contact lenses.” Anything to spice things up. Canadian politics is just so boring. Stephen Harper is Mr. Snoozeville himself. He also hates the environment AND loathes the arts. It’s embarrassing.

So only a few days after turning down playing at an NDP rally (because why should non-political music be aligned politically?), Dan Seligman of Pop Montreal fame emails us the following poster for our show:

I rolled my eyes (appropriately) but was perplexed: what should I think of this? The irony works on so many levels, and the posters would go up near the venue which falls in Stephane Dion’s home riding. Dan’s logic was: “Maybe we’ll get sued.” Classically hilarious.

So let’s bring it down a little, and close it out with a something educational: Oldest Rocks in the World are in Quebec. ‘Nuff said.

New Look, No Reason

You may not have even noticed, but I changed the look of my blog today. There was no particular reason: changing of the seasons, boredom, procrastination. Any of these could apply. I’ve recently written a bunch of blog entries that I just don’t want to post. They are either too revealing, too spicy, too personal. So I just save them and do other things like re-skinning my blog.

Speaking of spicy, revealing and personal, Murray did an interview recently with a local bloggers on Square Quotes. I was listening to the podcast yesterday and it’s pretty real. Murray also does an intimate acoustic performance of “Money Babies.” It is also very Montreal, attitude-wise: so catch a glimpse of what makes this city tick. Please don’t hold it against us.

Humidity, Weather, Mushrooms, Boring

When it’s really hot for days in a row, we can hear the house expanding in pops and creaks: the wood floor bloating in the humidity, rubbing up sweaty against the nails. I could handle the hottest day ever but the humidity makes me want to pass out and sleep until it’s over. I swear it’s been making me foggy-headed. Lately I’ve been a little socially demented, and either saying the wrong thing or blurting out something that is, well, lame. So I apologise to anyone to whom I’ve expressed something lame…though in my experience, people don’t generally notice these social gaffes, the ones that we agonize over internally. It would be nice if it would stop raining, and therefore be less humid, and as a result the gauze could be lifted from my brain. But it’s one of those summers, and it’s been raining steadily since April. Towns in Quebec are being flooded and washed away by rising waters. The only plus side for me is that I don’t have to water my garden. The plants love it: we already had a zucchini harvest and I see more on their way. And there are a lot of mushrooms sprouting up. Neptune and I like to point out mushrooms to each other when we go on walks to the park, though I enforce a strict “don’t ever touch them” policy. Mycologists must be ecstatic. Did you know that in Montreal, if you have a mushroom in your garden, you can bring it to the Botanical Gardens and they will identify it for you? I haven’t done it but I have this turd-like fungus growing in the front that I’ve been tempted to bring over. Fascinating, I know.

Park Ex in Savfaire

I am definitely a busy-body when it comes to my neighbourhood. It is a super-populated multi-culti rectangle that, in my opinion, is constantly changing shape. So today I delighted in reading this observational piece in new culture zine Savfaire:

Park Ex: I May Never Leave

Obviously, I have my own interpretations of Park-Ex, though I do agree with the “respectful crackhead” notion. There are drugs and drug dealers in every neighbourhood, and at least in Park-Ex there are no panhandlers or squeegee kids feigning poverty. And also I take great, GREAT solace in knowing that I do not have to contend with neighbours blasting The National or Radiohead: here it’s either modernised Greek folk songs, Bollywood favourites or Nigerian Afro-pop. And I adore that.

The main omission, I think, is the family aspect here. There is an abundance of kids, which is a good thing for the future of any neighbourhood. Additionally, as a home owner in this part of town, I am finding a turnover in development: that most single family homes and duplexes are being bought by young families. Most grupsters avoid buying into the “landlord” role, so many buildings with several apartments stay on sale for a long time. But on my street alone, I’ve seen young couples buy and move in to at least four duplexes: basically in every one that goes on sale.

And in the late summer, local indie promoters are opening a new venue on Jean-Talon and Alexandria. Bringing the kids up to our neck of the woods will be interesting…but I see them moving up out of Mile-End already. It’s getting too expensive there, and in Montreal tradition, when your rent is too expensive, go up: McGill Ghetto to the Plateau. Plateau to Mile-End. Mile-End to Little Italy. Little Italy to…Park Ex! All roads lead here.

Memory Associations to Making Coffee

I think I’ve heard of this before: that our brains link certain events, and that sometimes doing one thing will remind us of doing another. Every time I make a coffee in the morning, I always think of two separate things. We use this mini Krups espresso maker that was a housewarming a gift from Roberto, whose coffee opinion I respect. It’s like a Gaggia-ultra-light with all the same bits but smaller and thousands of dollars less.

Memory Association 1: When I foam the milk, I think of my friend Amy, who used to work as a barista and gave us tips on how to achieve the ultimate milk foam. So as I dip the steam-spewing nozzle just below the surface of the milk, I think of Amy frothing milk, checking the pre-steam temperature (cold) and the post-steam temperature (baby bottle warm).

Memory Association 2: After my first taste of my perfectly frothed, discreetly sugared coffee, I think of the Montreal Trudeau Airport US departures lounge; of stopping for a latte at the Second Cup just after customs before heading down that long, glass walkway off to the right towards that last handful of departure gates.

The first memory is obvious: it links directly to the event at hand. The second is almost random: I’ve had much more memorable coffees in much more memorable places, so why do I link my morning coffee experience to something as banal as the Montreal airport? The thought is involuntary, but does it speak of something else, something hidden in my subconscious? We’ve been home for so long, maybe it’s the travel bug nagging me? Urging me to seek out a better coffee somewhere? Or reminding me how small, daily tasks (like getting a coffee) make foreign places more comfortable? Does the déjà vu play into this mechanism: linking seemingly random events that may never have even occurred before?

Learn about how memory works or, more bizarrely, how déjà vu works.

Lonely Planet: Montreal

Bored? Thinking of visiting Canada? Don’t leave before purchasing your copy of Lonely Planet’s Canada guide (10th edition printed April 2008). I know not everyone likes to travel by tour book, but at least pop in to your local bookseller (if you still have one) to peek at the mildly entertaining interview with myself as the “Local Voice” for Montreal (page 286).

On a slight aside, I recently received the following message via The Dears’ general email:

subject: poutine
hi there. my girlfriend and i will be in montreal soon and we forget the name of the place where murray said on cbc that they had the best poutine around. i think they bake the poutine or something. please help us so we can go check it out! thanks. (name withheld)

I felt it my civil duty to reply promtply: I know that if I were planning a trip I probably would leave details like: “find best poutine” to pretty much the last minute. My reply:

subject: Re: poutine
The best late night poutine is at Fameux on the North West corner of St. Denis and Mont Royal. Ask for the “poutine gratinée.” Don’t go to Rapido across the street. It’s gross.

This sentiment is a point of contention among the local hipsters and indie rockers: Fameux vs. Rapido. Fameux has the gratinée, point finale. I find Rapido’s gravy way too salty and their waitresses are a little on the crazy side. I mean, when you’re trying to wind down a night of drinking, anything with too much salt is going to kill you in the morning. The poutine is meant to soak up the booze, not exacerbate it.

What’s Going On: April Calendar

So there are some dates to remember in April…mainly for Montrealers:

April 3rd: Ibi Kaslik‘s book launch for “The Angel Riots.” Though I’ve yet to read it, from what I gather it’s a spicy, fictionalised account of hipsters from Toronto mingling with Montrealers. Indie rock just got a whole lot sexier. The word on the street: “I hope I’m not in it.” At Caigibi, and maybe there will be a top secret, solo set from Murray.

April 16th22nd: Production on The Dears album will be finished (mastering is the day before). Rejoice and jubilation.

April 26th: Krief names his band and officially releases the album he’s been slaving over for the past few months. I heard the mixes and it’s really frigging amazing – it embodies the ferocity that is Krief. Musically and emotionally. It’s a huge, dynamic album and his launch show should be rad with additional musicians. At Lion D’Or but check his MySpace for details. I’ve already booked babysitting.