30 November 2006

Things They Don't Got Here

Over the past few years, as I've extolled the virtues of Montreal while languishing in Winnipeg, exasperated interlocutors have often exlaimed 'what don't they have in Montreal?!'. Now that I've been here for a few months, I can start to answer that question. Rapid transit, film festivals, bike lanes and a general European feel are all well and good, but there are a few things missing:

  1. Old Dutch Potato Chips. This is the obvious one. It's fairly well-known on the Prairies that when you move out East, you sacrifice easy access to perhaps the world's best crisps, made with loving care in Winnipeg and Calgary. When I was a lad my cousin moved to Ottawa and would always stock up on Old Dutch whenever she was back in Winnipeg, and I suspect I'll be no different. In all Canadian cities, especially in the big ones like Montreal, there are specialty food shops catering to ethnic groups from almost every country in the world, but nothing for us folks from the West. I can easily find obscure brands of Caribbean hot sauce, but no potato chips made two provinces over. Just another Canadian paradox.

  2. Mandarin Oranges, a.k.a. Christmas Oranges. I don't what it's like in the rest country, but in Winnipeg, between November and January, the shops are full of those tasty little oranges imported from China, Japan and (possibly) Korea. Here, all you find are Clementine Oranges from Morocco, or clementines as they are known. Whenever I ask about mandarines, people either haven't heard of them or tell me they only come canned, not fresh. Clementines are apparently a variant of the Mandarin Orange, and people have told me that they're exactly the same and that my preference for Mandarins is purely psychological, but I'm not convinced. Although Mandarins are everywhere in Winnipeg at this time of year, you can still find Clementines here and there. I remember trying some a few years back and it just wasn't the same. My local open air fruit market has temporarily turned into a Christmas tree stand for a few weeks, and my local specialty fruit vendor has no Manadrins, so I'll be out at the giant, year-round open air market at Jean-Talon to see if I can find some Mandarins. If they don't got'em, no one does, and I'll have to give in to this Clementine business. Until then, there's still hope.

  3. 4-litre jugs of milk. You simply cannot purchase them here. It might even be an environmental regulation. You can get one and two litre cartons like everywhere else in North America, but no plastic 4-litre jugs. Instead, you buy your four litres of milk in bags. I seem to recall there being bags of milk in Winnipeg when I was really young, but they have not been around since I've been old enough to buy milk (what is the legal age for that here, by the way?). For a while I was buying two-litre cartons while wondering what one would do with one of these bags, but I've since figured out that you have to buy a separate jug for the bag. Except the bags are huge and the jugs are tiny. It turns out that each bag contains three smaller bags, each one containing 1 1/3 litres of milk. Anyway, it's been a journey of dairy discovery, but everything is now under control.

  4. Winter. They don't seem to have that here. Everyone's telling me that it's not usually like this, but I think they're having me on. There is simply no winter here. The first of December is only a few hours away, and today's high temperature at noon was 17°C. Contrast that with Winnipeg where it was -17°C at the same hour. Most people in this country, suffering as they do from the Northern Latitudes, Southern Attitudes syndrome, would be thrilled to move to a winter climate that is a full 34 degrees celsius warmer, but I am one of the few Canadians who actually like winter. What I can't deal with is the constant rain that has accompanied this mild weather. Worse than bloody Vancouver! I need sunshine. It can be 30°C or -30°C (as it often is over the course of the year in Winnipeg), I don't care as long as the sun is shining. Since I moved here I've heard that Winnipeg has more sunny days than most, if not all, other Canadian cities. Now you tell me...
Notwithstanding, I am still thrilled to be here; all of the postive aspects of life here more than counterbalance the few lacunes outlined above.

28 November 2006

From Winnipeg to Montreal in Three Months Flat

Well, here we are once again. After an absence of almost four months, I've decided to come back and do some blogging again. While I wasn't blogging I was moving my life 2000km east, and am now comfortably installed in Montreal, the land of film festivals, bike lanes, bookshops and rapid transit. Having been born and raised in Winnipeg, it was not an easy decision to leave, but after nearly 25 years I was ready to try something new. Since my first visit in 1999, I always thought in the back of my mind that I might want to try and make a go of it out here, and now seemed as good a time as any. Better to have a go now while I'm still young. If I don't like it after five years, I can always go back (or move on), and I still won't even be 30 years old.

In the coming days, weeks and months I'll be writing quite a bit about what it's like living here, especially about how it differs from life back home (as I still refer to it... for now). At this point, it's officially the longest time in my life that I have ever spent away from Winnipeg. In 2001 I did a 13-week internship with the Government of Quebec in Quebec City, but it's now over 14 weeks since I moved here.

Another young Winnipegger flees the city of his birth. It's that same, depressing, oft-repeated scenario, but at least I didn't move to Calgary or Toronto...