Montreal: Baby It's (still) Cold Ootside

Saying Montreal is often very cold is like saying airplane food is often very bad. It's stating the obvious. But it's true. Right now, the end of April, it's about 6 degrees Celsius in Montreal.

Last Christmas it was -55C one afternoon, with the wind chill. That's - 67 in Fahrenheit, but Fahrenheit sounds like Nazi talk.

To combat California's frigid nights, I have a fireplace and a purple mink bedspread. That spread looks amazing there, but it makes more sense to me to have the mink in Montreal. I asked Bob if we should bring it there.

"Not only do I not want it, I don't want you to have it, " he said. Besides, he went on, "Even if you weren't disturbed for buying that thing, people don't bring fur into Canada."

On any cold day in Montreal, which is most days, when I need food, I wrap myself up in a winter traveling costume to walk the four blocks to the store. Even on that -55C day. My walking ensemble is comprised of long johns, jeans, a thick shirt, a sweater, a scarf, a floor-length down coat, an Elmer Fudd hat, and the usual dark glasses. To protect the face, some locals who have lived here for many generations have developed and sport a thick, black facial scruff. Even the men.

This is a costume to me because I wear it only a couple weeks at a time, so it is like I'm dressing up for a part in a movie. When I encounter mink-lined women squeezing cantaloupes in the market I realize that they're appearing in a long-running show. They dress like this for the whole run of winter, with bitterness and regret, like Elaine Stritch doing bus-and-truck Sondheim at this point in her career, thinking, "Really? Is that all there is?"

I once forgot underwear on this freezing four block walk. One of my balls retreated so far inside me I had to use the Dyson vacuum to suck it back out. I think that violates the warranty.

I've seen some weird things on this walk, like a door in the snow, and once an empty snow-covered stroller chained to a pole. At night. Today I saw a seemingly educated and almost-dressed woman walking barefoot in my hood in Montreal.


Since it is 6 degrees Celsius ootside, I figure she'll say to one of her cats later tonight, after her third glass of boxed Merlot, "Fuck off, I might be crazy but I have nationalized health care."

She's brandishes her imperviousness to cold around like Canada's pretty money and legal gay marriage. All America really has to brag about, that Canadians lack, is our unlimited wi-fi and free coast-to-coast long distance. And warm weather.

Later this article ran in our neighborhood newspaper.


Pedestrians don't have the right of way in Montreal like they do in Los Angeles, where it is a ticket-able offense to even creep your car into an occupied crosswalk until it is completely void of people. I'm constantly reminded that in Canada, drivers are cold and angry. I once was almost mowed down by a city truck, eager to splash me with dirty, melted snow before running me over, just to leave a messier corpse.

In Montreal, we live in a high-rise. The doormen are not overly enthusiastic about opening the door, as it causes this weird arctic blast combined with extreme pressure to rush violently into the foyer. So while the doormen may seem lazy, they are just trying not to get hurt. We once had a one-armed doorman (which causes one to think that "doorman" might not be the best career choice for a one-armed man). We never knew how he lost that arm. Maybe he had both arms when he started and it got slashed off by the razor-sharp cold air blast when he opened the door.

This is me struggling to my building's door last week (April. And once again, it's handy that I am amazingly limber and freakishly strong).


On my freezing Spring jaunt yesterday, I was inspired by daffodils forcing their way up through the cold, frozen tundra. If I'd been walking with Taylor Negron, he's say something like, "Look at those defiant little jonquils! Let's celebrate their optimism with lamb stew."

It's become my life's work to warm people up in Montreal enough to get them to smile. Ice runs through their streets as well as their veins. Yesterday, I passed a couple walking, single file, their heads lowered to deflect the cold. They were probably lawyers, or bankers, but everyone is so bundled up here that they all look like Russian peasants headed for a bread line. My eyes met the man's first, and he almost smiled in reaction to my foie gras eating grin. I said "bonjour" to the woman, and she sort of smiled, but hurried to catch up to her husband in case I was a KGB officer and would arrest her for friendliness.

Sometimes saying "Bonjour!" or "What's Up?" freaks the locals out, sending them scurrying into their maisons. They wear mostly black clothing in Montreal, so to cheer them up, I brazenly go out in pink, blue and red. As I pass by, locals recoil in horreur. Mother's grab their young ones by the collar and pull them to safety.

If Canadians were a violent people or got cable,  they'd lynch me. These non-gun toting, cold-hearted citizens would string me up. Bustling home, passers-by would notice movement above, pause and look up. It's just me, dead and swinging from a tree in Westmount Park, wearing an orange shirt.

"We're not having any of that, eh?" they'd mutter and shuffle on.

The local cuisine here is poutine, which is french fries topped with curd cheese (the fattiest part of cheese) and slathered in brown gravy. I wanted to try this local fare; but local Bob is horrified by the very concept and won't eat his own country's native food. But he took me to sample it, appropriately at Nickel's, the restaurant owned by Celine Dion.

Our waitress didn't smile. Who could blame her, with a boss that was a former pop star who married a chronic gambler, and randomly cancelled Vegas dates all willy-nilly, last minute even, on people who had flown in on a non-refundable red-eye to see her sing the theme from Titanic on that slanted stage at Caesar's with those half-witted backup dancers? I'd be grumpy too. 

But I wanted to make the waitress smile. I charmed her with the thrilling news that this was my first poutine, and that is was my full intent to try every variety of poutine across the land, much like I try chicken fried steak for breakfast every place it is offered - which is a lot of places, yet never different.

She was not amused. She used her Quebec-qois accent and attitude and slammed my food down like she was ending British rule in Canada and therefore now a national hero. Unfazed, I regaled her with unexaggerated tales from my past, in English, nonetheless. Nothing worked, and I had too many layers of clothes on to show her that I could put my legs behind my head, my show stopper and always funny.

You remember the scene in Dr. Zhivago where Omar Sharif walks in that house and everything inside is frozen over - the furniture, the dishes, even his moustache? That's how cold the Montrealians are.

One New Year's eve, there wasn't any space in the freezer for my humongous Baked Alaska that I had thrown a fit for in the pattisserie, Gascogne. So I just kept it on the terrace until I was ready to serve it. If I spent more time in Montreal, I could keep a side of elk out there, next to the grill.

Montreal weather warms up slowly, like frozen chicken. You take the chicken out of the freezer, it's rock hard, frozen and mean -- that's January in Montreal. The chicken sits in the fride and get's a little softer - that's February. When the chicken gets soft enough to poke your finger in halfway -- that's like March.

And just when you're ready to eat, you take the chicken out and are ready to throw it on the grill but you discover that it's still frozen a little inside - that's April.

The people, like the weather, will warm up, eventually. Just lower their taxes and open a J. Crew. 

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