So, I don’t watch or read the news for a few days while I’m out of the country (ok, just Montreal) and the first item I’m hit with is the Crocodile Hunter getting stabbed to death by a stingray? Jesus, I really need to be more plugged-in while on mini vacations. This aquatic mishap only reinforces what I’ve always suspected, that sea creatures, especially rays (The other night I got sucked into a fluffy HD show [you know, hour-long nothings created to simply show off high definition images] about giant manta rays and got the crap scared out of me) are up to no good.
The past week has been shocking and pleasing with the weather bizarrely going down to morning 60s (unfortunately, it’s still humid enough to induce mild sweating). It’s what September should bring. Of course I somehow forgot that September also brings screaming schoolchildren feet from the open window next to my bed. The kids are so damn rowdy they make me nervous and I’m not the one with back to school jitters. There appeared to be two groups this morning: comfortable horse playing types who seemed to show up alone and the skittish kids with parents in tow, trying to convince them that school is going to be fun.
I still can’t figure out what grades attend the public school across the street. There are little little kids being handheld by grownups and then there are girls who have enormous butts and boobs barely contained by their ill fitting jeans and tee shirts. (I know girls mature faster and that supposedly puberty is striking earlier as kids ingest more hormones and crap in their food, but I still don’t think seven-year-olds look that outré yet.) Seeing the chaos and tumult of the Brooklyn public school almost taps into my distrustful NW roots and makes me see the beauty of home schooling.
Last night we made the mistake of stopping at a Friendly’s (I knew we should’ve gone to Bennigan’s instead) in Latham, NY (a few miles north of Albany where our favorite Wal-Mart ever resides). We were trying to get back to NYC by midnight and being made to wait nearly an hour for nothing special sandwiches was agonizing (and then to add insult to injury, James was given the Alpine Chicken Sandwich instead of the Grilled Smokehouse BBQ Chicken Sandwich. It sucked that the service was so slow because I was horrified/fascinated by the purple and brown Awesome PBJ Sundae but there was no time for ice cream). I kind of felt bad for our waitress because she seemed genuinely sweet but dangerously un-smart. And then I overheard her talking to an elderly couple about her two-year-old and the girl looked about 15, 16 tops, so then I didn’t have the heart to be harsh about the atrocious service that she was subjecting our entire half of the restaurant to). Our only entertainment was the freak show family taking up two booths in the back. The boys were emotionally damaged and pounding on each other and crawling around on the floor despite being at least six years beyond the rug rat stage. One daughter was troublingly larger than the rest of the children. Her arms were as big as my thighs and I don’t have lean legs. But it wasn’t their physicality that weirded me out, it was their peculiar use of the English language.
My back was to this family so I could only hear, not see what was going on, but I heard a little girl’s voice yelling in a wavering tone, “you’d better shut your pie hole.” Pie hole?! I’ve been known to use the endearing phrase, but I wasn’t aware of its popularity with the under-12 set. Later, one of the boys started calling one of his siblings a “scallywag” and I was like what sort of rift in time did I just fall through? When the older boy was chasing the younger one who’d stolen his hat, he was threatening, “You're going to pay, punk!” I’ll admit that’s not as strange, but I was convinced “dirty rat” or “fink” were the next insults coming. I swear these were home schooled kids, there was no other explanation.
So, we drove up to Montreal first thing Saturday morning and came back last night. It’s a long drive in the best of circumstances, maybe 7.5 hours, but yesterday we were completely traumatized waiting over two hours in line to cross the border back into the U.S. I could’ve dealt with the sitting still in traffic for 15 minutes at a time, five miles back from the check point, but we hadn’t predicted such a long wait and our ¼ tank of gas began depleting. The gas light came on while we were in a deadlocked jam. I was totally panicking because there wasn’t a shoulder and you couldn’t turn around. People were already going nuts and getting out of their vehicles and just wandering or sitting on the side of the road from boredom. If our car stalled and we blocked one of the two lanes that were already crammed with cars, someone would kill us. I’d be pissed if someone was so retarded as to not fuel up before getting into such a situation. All I could think was how we might have to push the car five miles, which could work because it was flat terrain and autos were only moving inches at a time anyway. After an hour or so, I saw an Esso sign in the distance and we were able to putt to the last exit before customs. Uh, but it was a diesel-only station so we were screwed.
Luckily, from taking this side detour we were actually able to circumvent like 30 minutes of traffic and popped back on the road way ahead of the game (we accidentally figured this out, but a lot of NJ drivers were pissing off the stuck cars by doing this aggressive pull around trick). We stopped at the Duty Free and put a shot glass full of accelerant we’d bought at Wal-Mart on the way up, hoping that it would boost the gas fumes we had left (rather than dilute the precious remaining drops) to get us over the border where there were real gas stations.
I almost started crying when I realized the guy manning our line was checking everyone’s trunks in front of us. This farcical war on terror is too much, like this was helping anything. I was exasperated with spending 2.5 hours trying to go a few kilometers and more wound up that they were going to confiscate our raw milk cheese and horsemeat (don’t cry, the Quebecois don’t—they sell it at mainstream grocery stores) we’d purchased. Through some miracle, we were believed when we said we only bought clothes and chocolate. I also bought K-Tel disc High Voltage at Village de Valeurs (I couldn’t believe Montreal had the Value Village chain, which I thought only existed in the Pacific NW) to replace an unreturned copy I lent years ago, but didn’t feel the need to disclose that C$1.49 acquisition.
Anyway, Montreal was fun, though I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Food-wise I hit the biggies like St-Viateur Bagel and Schwartz’s for viande fume/smoked meat. We tried Canadian chain St. Hubert in the suburbs (I still can’t figure out how they can call gravy bbq sauce) and had a dating anniversary dinner at Anise. It’s very strange that Montreal’s flavors seem to be anise and cardamom, at least on this visit. At the restaurant, a namesake anise pod is nestled in each place setting and cardamom played a strong role in a few dishes. I was convinced that our hotel soap was also cardamom scented (though I can find no substantial evidence on the Roger & Gallet site) and wanted to do an interactive tasting where you’d wash your hands and then eat the little almond cookie laced with cardamom presented at the end of Anise’s tasting menu. Yesterday, I went to Genevieve Grandbois to buy fancy chocolates for my mom’s birthday and cardamom was the flavor of the week. I also just noticed they have a star anise graphic on their webpage. What gives with all the spices?