Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Toronto - Eastern Provinces.

We blew out of Toronto once again by train, this time to Montreal. I loved Montreal because it was this really cool neo-French city sitting on a continent best known for Big Macs and calling French people “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Everything about Montreal seemed cool. The brasseries, cafes, boulangeries and hell, it even had a French style Metro system. The youth hostel was cool, the pool was cool, even the baseball players were cool when they’d belly up to the bar and order beers in French.

Jerry and I spent an afternoon wandering around, adapting to this mini-France and found a brasserie which did really good and cheap “dinner and drink” bargains. You got a decent feed with a vin de jour or a beer for something like two-fiddy.. Step up to the podium and receive your medal Mr Brasserie. We used that bar a lot over the next few days. The first time we walked in we found it to be a cross between an American style bar, a French café and a pub. It had pool tables, sport on TV and a French menu. Okay Mr Brasserie, make that gold, silver and bronze. That night we found that we didn’t even have to break into the hostel because they didn’t give a toss what time we turned up. Shwivilzed.

The morning after we found a café which did both Euro and Canadian breakfasts. Being messy, hungover pissheads we opted for the full strength Canadian option involving a mountain of pancakes, a gallon of maple syrup and more bacon than was produced during the counter revolution on Animal Farm. After that we headed off to the old part of town to the Fine Arts Museum which was exhibiting a truckload of gear by Joan Miro, a Spanish dauber of the (surprise! surprise!) surreal variety. It seems that anyone in Spain who wielded a paintbrush or slung a chisel was tagged Surrealist. Must have been one of Franco’s pet projects. He would have had the Guardia Civil (blokes who wore Devo hats and toted machine guns) scouring the pueblos and cities looking for people with paint stains on their clothes, then whoosh!, off to Surrealist Camp for you!

On the way down there we were talking about how old school European the place looked when in the distance we saw the golden arches. A few seconds later we heard a non-golden mid-western drawl ask a mid-western set of ears ring out the immortal phrase;

“Do ya wanna go to McDonald’s?”. This became a signature reference for us for the future, for those times we heard;

a) something really obvious,

b) something really dumb,

c) something really, really annoying.

The exhibition was fine as far as art goes and I recognised the style from a few pieces I’d seen in Europe. I did notice however how a lot of his sculptures had holes in the middle, and were called things like “man with hole”, or “dog with hole and, oh, I guess another hole”. If you like Kandinsky, give Miro a try. If you don’t like either of them, don’t sweat it, its no big deal. Right, that’s enough of the art stuff, back to basics.
Another feature of Montreal were some really cool bars, themed up in all the (1986) latest fads from post-punk angst to electro-bop Euro disco, jazz fusion (a great catch all for anything which remotely sniffs of jazz) to hard core rock. After an afternoon kip, a swim and a cheap meal at the brasserie we hit the bars. A lot of them had outside seating and it was good, sitting outside on a balmy night downing a few sharpies before hitting on the local wildlife. I must have had a good time because my journal of the time is very hazy, as is my memory. Its basically a blur of bars, dancing, girls, more bars, groping in the dark, cab rides and a late finish. I do remember a Goth bar and being very, very amused and horrified at the same time. There’s only so much of “The Forest”, “M” and “Boys Don’t Cry” which a bloke can stand while mascara runs down sweaty goth faces, thence forming a black, tar-like pool , ready to trap any careless gothosaurs in its unyielding, morbid embrace. Fuck that for a joke, I was outta there!

Two more nights we spent in Montreal before we lit out to Quebec City. This was sort of cool, particularly down in the old city with its rampart walls a legacy of the Frog-Pom wars of the 18th Century. Those ramparts were bugger-all use to keep us ratsackers out so we had a fine old time exploring the bars, cafes and brasseries. The hostel was a bit weird; it was all at once a dictatorship and an anarcho-syndicalist collective. We lasted two nights before ceding victory to the Napoleonists and ventured on to Ottawa, the capital of Canadia Land. Yeah, it was okay but mainly because we lucked into some guy’s 40th birthday and this mob was well cashed up. Beers and whisky all night long and we had to fend off the advances of older, cougarish women. We didn’t want their Mountie-type husbands pummelling the bejaysus out of us so we repelled their drunken advances (well, sort of). The next day we toured the city, checked out the parliament and other buildings of national import then did a night run north east, doubling back on our tracks and ending up in Edmunston.

Edmunston had nothing to go for it. The pub was crap, the town was crap, the chicken for dinner was crap and there was fuck all to do. We got a cheap motel room, ate our chicken, drank a six pack and watched crap TV on a crap TV set before crashing out for a crap night’s sleep. What a waste of time that place was and would definitely be a front runner entry for “Let’s Go Home – The Finalists”.

Next day saw hit a 7.30 bus for Fredericton. We checked out the town, talked a girl from Prince Edward Island, went for a pizza dinner (recurring them, I know) and then hit a couple of bars before getting an early night, around 11.30.

From Fredericton we bussed into St John, the launch pad for Prince Edward Island. (PEI). St John is a port town which had a reasonably clean YMCA where we stayed, making use of the gym and the pool. Naturally this had the desired effect of m aking us thirsty so it was off to the waterfront and a local pizza joint and then into the bars.

After a bacon based breakfast we took the bus to PEI, part of the trip being on a ferry, given that PEI is an island. This place is mainly famous for some kiddies’ book called “Anne of Green Gables”. The Toronto crew had recommended PEI as a great place to potato out, and called it Potato Island. What it did have was a couple of good bars, a cheap hire car place and some nice beaches. We booked into an overcrowded hostel where I had to sleep on a couch. That was okay ‘cos it wasn’t in the dorm room which was full of, I dunno who they were but I’m glad I didn’t have to share sleeping quarters that night. I think they must have been fans of that kiddies’ novel. I also didn’t mind because we’d been well fed and watered at the Dublin Pub and a bar called Avenues until about two in the morning. For breakfast there was no Fruhstuck Express so we hit a local café for the pancake stack and then went and rented a car. It was some sort of Dodge two-door coupe but it went fine along the country roads. It got us to the beach, a few bars on the way back and then into town again for another night at the pubs and bars. Sure, I drove under the influence but I figured that if I was driving on the wrong side of the road, alcohol could only improve my driving. So it did. We checked out the next day, returned the car and then hitched a lift to the ferry. The ferry took us to the mainland where we hitched another ride down to Halifax. This city was an important port during WW2 for convoys going to the UK. A lot of maritime history was on display so we spent some time down at the waterfront, checking it out. We stayed at the local YMCA and ate at a nearby pizza joint. The YMCA had its own gym which we made use of, feeling a bit turgid after not enough physical activity over the past week. Obviously this also built up our thirsts so it was bar hopping time again.

We found one great pub down near the water and played at being drunken ratsacker yobbos with funny accents. The local lasses were a bit wary, not succumbing to my manly wiles. Ah yes, that’s right. I was a gibbering mess after experimenting with shots of Canadian club. Didn’t help by asking if it was the same club which was used to whomp down on fur seals. Poor joke which got the appropriate response. After beating a churlish retreat we figured our invasion of America. We decided to slip in on its north eastern flank and pillage forth from there. But that was a day or so away, we had to get to Yarmouth first for a ferry to Maine..

We hit the hitching trail, bumming rides. We got a ride in the back of a small car filled with fishing gear to some highway junction where we were let off and waited for the next. And waited. There was not a lot of interest in two soapy looking backpackers with their thumbs hanging out trying to bludge a ride. Eventually some preacher guy pulled up and took us in tow, to his manse in Caledonia. He was a single guy in his forties, an honest to God, Holy Rolling preacherman. One of his flock was at his house cooking up a feed of which we were invited to partake. All good and bountiful and we ended up laying Trivial Pursuit (Canadian version) with a few of the Rev’s extended family. We promptly got whupped in the game but as we were also offered lodgings for the night we enjoyed a couple of post prandial libations and things were going well. All in all a good, homey evening. I was fine, I had a nice comfy bed, clean sheets and a wonderful breakfast in the morning. I even made a ten buck donation to the church to show my thanks and as I did so I looked up and said “Thanks Big Fella.” The Rev then gave us a lift to the nearest main highway at Digby and waved us a cheery good-bye. While we were hitchhiking again I remarked that it had been a brilliant piece of hitchhiking, what with being housed, fed and watered ‘n all but Jerry begged to differ. Apparently the preacher guy went into Jerry’s room in the small hours of the morning, sat on the end of his bed and asked if he would like some company. Yon Jerry politely rejected the preacher guy’s advances and spent the next hour or so expecting a more forceful visit, which didn’t eventuate. He asked me if I’d received a similar advance,

“Nup. But then I don’t look like a poof.”

Whilst we were waiting for our next ride we went through the lyrics of PIL’s “Rise”.

Anger is an energy was a theme for Jerry as I continued my remorseless attack on his lack of grace in rejecting the advances of the pastor the previous evening.

This theme was broken when our next ride pulled up. It took a couple of more rides before our final one to Yarmouth swooped us up. It was a sheriff of the court going to St John to serve some legal documents on some miscreant. He was an interesting fella, had a badge, a gun and everything but he was no Boss Hog. He dropped us off at the ferry wharf for the boat to Bar Harbor, Maine, USA. At 4.00 p.m. it took us on, promising a six hour trip to Bar Harbour.

Fuck, did I have any of Uncle Sam’s currency on me? A lonely looking twenty but that’d be enough for a beer in Bar Harbor any town which has a name starting with Bar was always going to be an odds on favourite in my book. And so it turned out to be.