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Day 6: Radiohead and paper notebooks | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

It’s Radiohead Day. It’s Radiohead Day. IT’S RADIOHEAD DAY. I think about wearing my EEEEEEEEEEEED t-shirt all day and see who recognizes it.

This T-shirt is dedicated to the irreplaceable (no matter how hard they try) Ed O’Brien. Ed was one of three guitarists in #Radiohead until Kid A came around with hardly a guitar in sight. Ed has since been assigned to the important role of “atmosphere,” which includes shaking a tambourine occasionally, playing some really long sustained notes on the guitar, and singing his own name as background vocals. So here’s to you, Mr. O’Brien: you remind us all that even the most conventionally attractive member of a band can still be ignored and forgotten by everyone but your most ardent fans. We love you dearly. Where’s your solo album. We have been waiting for years, buddy. You keep saying it’s coming out but it never comes out.

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It’s such a geeky T-shirt that even big Radiohead fans may not understand it. (If you’re in any of the Radiohead meme groups online, though, you’ll know.) I also think about how sweaty AF it is outside and rethink whether I also want to wear this shirt tomorrow for night 2 AND THESE ARE THE DECISIONS THAT DEFINE MY LIFE.

One thing: I don’t want to spend much more money today. Only real goal today is to eat poutine and see Radiohead, everything else should be free. Well parks are free and so are libraries. I spend time in a library. Most of the books are in French. There is an interesting English-only newspaper I read. I can’t help but feel, though, that the news through the eyes of the English-speaking community is also slanted towards its own point of view and I can’t help but wonder all of the in-depth discussions and deep knowledge bases that are locked away from my brain because I only know one language. So many people at the hostel speak more than two languages. I can’t wrap my head around it.

Anyway. I’m looking for a place with ambience so I can write, but this little neighborhood library isn’t quite doing it like I thought it would. Lights are too fluorescent, chairs not really suitable for my back.

I head out down the street and get iced rooibos tea i don’t like much. There’s a relatively new public park or urban space or whatever you call it with chairs and tables. A university student asks me about the sound environment. She gives me a survey. I pay attention to the city sounds of traffic, the sounds of feet rummaging through the gravel of the park, the chit-chat I can’t understand, the loud trucks, the laughing baby, the air conditioning unit on top of the apartment. It’s nothing special which makes it special. I put all that in the survey.

Down the street is a proper park. I go there. There’s a lake. The weather is nice. It’s supposed to be really hot and it isn’t. I find the ambience and inspiration to write. I pull out my little Bluetooth keyboard I carry in my bag, connect it to my phone, and write a blog post. I’m a day or so behind. Whatever, I want to write. I also have my paper notebook in my purse but I have lots to say and my fingers can keep up with my thoughts when I type.

I think a lot about physical notebooks. I pull mine out when it’s too clunky to pull out my keyboard. Or when I want to project in public as being a creative instead of just being a nerd. The medium really is a message, isn’t it. And there’s something different in the creative act when handwriting.

I’m going to try poutine at the place just next to this park. La Banquise. It’s quite good, and I’m even excited to know the poutine I had the other night at the other not-La-Banquise spot is just as good. Taste is different but both excellent poutine experiences. I’m laughing to myself as I type the phrase “excellent poutine experiences.”

I overhear the table next to me talk about “opening band” and “show at 7:30” and I’m like YOU’RE SEEING RADIOHEAD AREN’T YOU. They are. Half this fucking town is seeing Radiohead tonight. One guy flew from Vancouver just for the show. That’s just about as long as I flew.

I can’t finish the poutine, so I take the rest home and attempt a shower and a nap before the show. I go downstairs to the common room in the hostel and meet other people who are headed to the show, some who have also traveled far distances just for the show. The venue is just a ten-minute walk from the hostel. My new friend from Mexico City is walking with me. We are confused by all the lines but we eventually figure it out. There’s a merch tent. $50 FOR A T-SHIRT. I CAN’T DO THAT. I love Radiohead but I can’t do that. Even though it’s $50 Canadian. Can’t do it. But… I can do a keychain. As I lean over to get the keychain, I notice there’s a small white book on the merch table. It doesn’t have a price tag. I open it up and see handwriting in it. Someone must have left their notebook on the table. No. No they didn’t. This was a small replica of Thom Yorke’s songwriting notebook. I cry inside. I have to get it. It’s only $10. I get it. I now am carrying two songwriting notebooks in my bag, mine and his.

The show.

Is.

Amazing.

I take a lot of video clips. I’m going to put them all here in my Facebook photo album.

I will have to find the words later. Because I’m seeing both nights, and the story is incomplete with just one night. Just know I’m not the same person when I emerge from the Bell Centre.

Day 5: Meeting friends + the Grand Tour | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

Taking a chance to meet random strangers on the internet. There’s always a chance it will be awkward but thankfully Sam and Maxim are awesome.  I know Sam through a mutual internet friend in the marketing world. I know Maxim through a Radiohead fan group. He can’t come to the shows but he can come and hang out today. Explore Atwater Market, have a killer brisket sandwich, walk the canal. A restaurant on a boat, swan paddles, a guy in all-Quebecois garb, and the infamous construction in Montreal reaches even the water. i learn that “moi” was pronounced “moy” here, instead of “mwah” that I had been saying. ‘Scuse MOY.”

Feet were OK until they weren’t. I need a rest and Sam had to take off to get ready before rehearsal. She plays drums in a metal band, which is so kickass it hurts.

Maxim has a bit more time so after we rest in some water misters and Sam takes off we head back to the Metro and wander around downtown. We plan to see the Beaux-arts but then decide tickets were too expensive. Remember how I said I’m tired of pulling out my credit card every time I want to “do” something? I mean it. We walk instead down to the underground city – a network of malls located underground that also connect Metro stations, high-rise office buildings and universities. That way, in the winter, you can stay indoors on your commute. I mean, you still have to travel to get to a Metro station, but it’s a nice respite from the snow and bitter cold. I’ve got to sit and grab a drink. We sit and nerd out over Radiohead. Who doesn’t like Backdrift?! Stupid people. But Maxim and I differ on The Gloaming. I love it, he does not. It is agreed though that staring at a full moon enhances your Radiohead experience no matter what the song is. My feet are OK now. We emerge at Place des Artes and see a street performer and Maxim tells me about his upbringing in the more rural, closed -minded parts of Quebec, I tell him about my Mormon upbringing. He tells me about how music met him at his worst and allowed him to feel, to remind himself to be himself. Music is so fucking powerful. We go to his old university just down the street. We stop and rest some more and talk some more until we have to go. I’m just having the loveliest time and i’m not pulling out a credit card.

back at the hostel to take a nap before a guided bus tour. I enjoy the living shit out of it. I see all the sights without walking and someone smart tells me the history behind them all. I take lots of pictures of lots of buildings and I can’t possibly remember the names of them all for later but they are pretty and so I take the photos that i will likely not upload 98% of them. My dad takes pictures of sunsets. I take pictures of buildings. Between us two there’s nary a human in our vacation photos. I try to throw in a selfie here and there to balance it out.

Things I learn:
John Lennon’s bed-in was in Montreal
Adam Sandler’s Netflix movie is being filmed in Old Montreal which is what I may have run across earlier
The crabapple tree is representative of Montreal because it blooms in May, just like Montrealers
Five major nations helped found Montreal, says the tour guide: Ireland, Scotland, England, France and the indigenous First Nations.
There’s 200,000 bodies buried at the foot of Mont Royal in the cemeteries and I hear Leonard Cohen is one of them
Same guy who designed Mont Royal Park also did Central Park, amongst others
The law says you must have a full meal if you want to drink alcohol in the park, so needless to say, picnics are very popular
The tour guide is native to Montreal and gets ridiculously affordable higher education so she says she’s now a professional student
Montreal has a “forced equality” for English and French. When they built a French language hospital, they were also building an English hospital at the same time. In Old Montreal there was a statue of an Englishman who killed a bunch of French people in one war. Across the street there’s a statue of a Frenchman who killed a ton of English people in another war. They now face each other.
French speaking tour guide says she never once had a beer on Crescent Street. That’s the English neighborhood, she said in perfect English. The French and English love each other here, she says, but pretty much stick to their own neighborhoods.

There’s a bunch more but those were the things I remember. Also we get a face full of bugs on the open top deck of the bus. I am so spoiled in the Bay Area, we hardly get any bugs. But it’s warm and muggy out and we eat bugs and one splats on my glasses. There’s other points of the tour that aren’t so buggy. Thankfully.

It’s an amazing warm evening and I’m hungry and the bus tour ends and I’ve been trying to save my poutine experience for La Banquise, a place more than one friend who don’t know each other have recommended highly. But I’m feeling like cheating. I mean what I really feel like is comparing and contrasting. I find a spot just down the street from where the bus stops. It’s called Dunn’s and it feels a bit touristy and chain-restauranty and that’s OK, I’m going to be comparing their poutine to the higher rated restaurant later. Good god, I never thought that fries, gravy and squeaky cheese curds would work so well together but they do. When I first had poutine, it was back in Berkeley when Smoke’s Poutine opened up their first US shop. It was OK but I’m not the biggest fan of fries, or anything super starchy and potato-ey. So poutine didn’t sound appealing but I knew I would need to give it a try here. I can’t stop eating the massive bowl they gave me. I stuff myself silly. I make sure I order a side of something vegetable-like and the coleslaw just isn’t as good as the poutine.

I overhear restaurant workers make small talk about science. About we’re not getting enough salt in our diets, which I beg to differ, they don’t have my freezer meal diet. Also poutine and smoked meat are practically bathed in salt so montréal folks should be fine. The workers also talk about the medical composition of burning fat. The kid at the table by me repeats the conversation in his own words and sounds like he nailed the chemical composition. I wouldn’t know because it’s all Latin to me.

Except the big reason i can recognize so many French words is because we share a common Latin ancestor and deep down i know more Latin than i let on, or realize.

I finish. I pay. I’m on my way back, but before I continue, I want you to imagine you’re a bug and you fly into a sweaty girl’s face in the Metro. Imagine you’re small enough to stick to the sweat and you’re watching a hand come swat you from above. The hand wipes your small, lifeless carcass and flicks it on the floor and there’s no one to memorialize your passing except for some random sweaty girl who blogs. imagine you have 50,000 friends who also meet the same fate but without the blog part. Imagine how sad.

I’m back at the hostel and I sleep for days, figuratively speaking.

Day 4: Hurdles all the way down | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

Woke up and everything hurts a little less. Today is take it easy day and I do. I don’t know why my Sprint data decided to stop working. I connect to wifi. I don’t know why my Instagram stories aren’t uploading and haven’t been for days. Turns out it’s a separate bug with Instagram.

Don’t know how i’m going to navigate through the city without my cell data but ok we shall see. Lots of screen shots of Google maps while i’m still connected to wifi. I know i can download maps for offline viewing but transit directions are not available offline. I’ve got two hurting feet so i really need to know where i’m going so i’m not needlessly walking the wrong way.

I don’t leave the hostel until noon. By then housekeeping arrives and I tell them I’m switching bunks. I tell the front desk too. This is an important detail for you, the reader, to remember for later.

Another important detail: I don’t have any socks. I left California too quickly and planned to walk around in my slip-on flats that don’t require socks. Thankfully I also packed my sneakers, because I knew I would be walking a lot but… well crap now I need socks. I then ask the front desk where I can get socks. They say everywhere. That’s not true. I was just at a cafe that clearly does not sell socks. Then they tell me a department store on St. Catherine’s Street. I look to catch a bus but the entirety of St. Catherine’s Street is closed down for a festival and the bus didn’t post rerouting options.

One thing I’m learning: Montreal streets are often closed during the summer, either for festivals or for the massive construction projects they have to do when it’s not snowing.

I take the subway. I get to the department store. It’s called The Bay. It’s been around since 1670. It was a fur trading company back then, and now they sell socks. Amongst other things. I need socks and I leave with socks and a bunch more souvenirs. That’s French for souvenier. Also some more French words: restaurant entrepreneur concierge menu café petite silhouette boutique cliché résumé RSVP.

I’m feeling scattered and plan-less. I wanted to check out St. Catherine’s festival but it’s a long-ass street and what I see of it so far looks… boring. Merchants selling shirts and pants and shoes and jewelry and more clothes and more clothes that are probably not my size and I don’t ever buy clothes without trying them on. There’s an occasional item of interest but not enough to warrant walking the entire street. The entire street is, like, miles long.

Instead I camp out in a cafe, connect to wifi, do some writing. Decide to go to Old Montreal and buy tickets for this show:

I see a tourist kiosk and they say the show sells out fast. It sure did. But I’m able to get tickets for Wednesday night. I also grab a map because my fucking phone isn’t working. Remember paper maps? I do. I don’t want to pull one out in public, but I’ve got one. I wander. I had practice of wandering without my phone and I didn’t like it. I wander again this time. I like it. This city has something breathtaking around every corner. Also, all the shop signs are labeled exactly what they are. Cafe. Indian food. Ice cream. Not in sf, where it’s just the restaurant name and it’s up to you to yelp that shit. I camp out yet again to siphon off Wi-Fi. There’s a public municipal open wifi network. it helps. SF needs one.

I am overspending money and I’m also over spending money. i just want to be in a city and just be there without buying all the food and buying all the tickets and buying all the rental jet boats on the St. Lawrence River and random shit i’m sure you can buy. My happy place is writing and music. Can i just spend 10 days writing songs in the shadow of the basilica and call it a successful vacation? There should be a piano nearby.

There is but there isn’t. It’s another public piano they have scattered through the city. It’s wrapped tightly around with a tarp. it’s supposedly supposed to rain tonight. I don’t think it ever does.

My feet hurt enough to consider doing the hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tour. They’re my touristy guilty pleasure. i once did one in SF. i learned some stuff! i also did one in New Orleans and learned even more stuff. But without internet I don’t know where to go to get on one. Feet prevent me from chasing one down, but I can go back to the Basilica square to that one tourist kiosk. Except it’s gone. It’s packed up and left. So does tourism stops around 4pm around here or am I missing something? I’m confused.

I walk into a hotel lobby and ask a concierge, which is French for concierge. He says the busses stop around 4pm but he is nice and gives me a map and a place where I can buy tickets. He didn’t say the tickets were $50 which would have been nicer to know. I can do like $30. Not $50.

I thought about watching the fireworks that night. There’s a fireworks festival going on. That’s on top of an African festival, a circus festival, a metal festival and a comedy festival and an electronic festival. I believe the myth that it was supposed to rain, and I also believe I should be taking it easy, so I do. I head back. I can see the fireworks on Wednesday, when I’m meeting up with a friend who also happens to be in town the same time as me. we’re going to see the show at the basilica.

back to the hostel. i need to rest my body. my back is starting to hurt. remember when i told the front desk i needed to switch to the bottom bunk bed for health purposes? i walk into the room to see a new person’s stuff all over the bottom bed. uuuugh. i just need to lay down. i complain at the front desk again. they say they’ll change the beds now. i ask where i can get some ibuprofen around here. they say the pharmacy two blocks down. i have to walk? i have to walk.

i walk. i get ibuprofen and something to drink it with. i go and get food because ibuprofen can be rough on my stomach without it. i sit. i eat. i drink. i medicate. i walk another block out of the way and go to the open piano. i need to heal, the piano is healing. i play my songs. i play butterflies and hurricanes. a stranger approaches me and says “can i play after you?” and before i can say “sure,” he says “I can play better than that. You’re missing accents. I studied at” whatever fancy college this fucker studied at. then he just sits right down besides me and takes over the piano and i’m so jaw-droppingly offended and say “that was so incredibly rude!” he pounds the piano with random ass notes that sound terrible and he is openly mocking me and i just fucking walk away screaming “so rude!” it’s been a WHILE since i felt so directly insulted like that. So much for healing.

coming down from one rage to another. I walk back to the hostel and the front desk DID NOT switch my bed like they said and i’m really upset by this time. I am in pain and i have to lie down and i have no place to lie down. i go to the common room to find a couch and it’s bastille day and there’s $5 glasses of wine. i take one and lie down. I put my feet on the couch i don’t give a fuck i’m lying down and wineing down and i conk out for a few minutes there.

I wake up and see an empty wine glass that needs to be returned to the bar. I’m used to washing my own dishes here and in a moment of confusion i ask the bartender if i was supposed to wash my own wine glass. He said no i’ll take it. Some guy at the bar laughed at me incredulously and said when do you ever wash your own glass? I say i’m in a hostel, you wash your own dishes. He says never at a hostel bar and i don’t feel like telling him i rarely drink and his comment was 100 percent not necessary and thanks for making me feel like an idiot, but i can only muster a nasty stare that i hope translated. I’m done with men insulting me today. Done.

The bed is done. It’s ready for me finally. My new upstairs neighbor moves into the bunk. We say hi, i say thanks for switching beds with me. Lights go out. One of the women starts snoring. My upstairs neighbor whispers “shit shit shit shit” to herself and goes to her locker for what i assume are earplugs. I don’t know why i’m fine with the snoring. Possibly because i’m about to pass out.

Bed.

Day 3: “Go make art.” | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

Slept in. Got some work done before I had to rush out the door to Startupfest. Got a last-minute steeply discounted ticket because they want more queer women in attendance. Hell. Yes. I go to Old Port. It’s old and there’s a port, and someone is filming there. I’m on a boat! To the conference. I see something that looks like Epcot Center in the distance. Turns out it was the original inspiration for Epcot Center, built for the Expo 67 (“till they stepped on my hair / and told me I was fat”), and is now called the Biodome. Speaking of Epcot, my family went when I was a kid and the Canada pavillion was by far the lamest. We sang this song for years afterward and laughed and laughed and laughed because who the F thinks to rhyme Canada with “planet earth” and fun fact, this song was the first that popped in my mind when I landed here.

I’m off the boat. There is a park and a temporary village built on a small island to host this thing. It’s a diverse startup conference. One of the most diverse I’ve been to. There is food and a video feed of the keynote speaker. She’s talking about ads. That’s my primary form of income, so I pay attention. She pleads for morality and examining unintended consequences of our algorithms. The next guy talks about augmented reality and, speaking of unintended consequences, I am fucking terrified. The future he spoke of was like a bizarre cross between Minority Report and the totally warped last act of Sorry to Bother You. I’m sure people 200 years ago would be just as afraid of today. Still left me with such a massive WTF hangover that I pay scant attention to the following speakers. The pitch competition starts and I’m back in the lounge to write. I’m interrupted by someone who wants to network. We network, I guess. I just wanted to write but you know, I did pay something for this conference so I should probably make the most of it.

I go do some businessy things and attend businessy lectures and feel smart. I talk to a few people who could use Facebook ads. I hope it turns into something. I go to a Q&A about social impact businesses. There’s a woman on the panel, her name is Marika. She used to be in this little band called Arcade Fire. She started a business called Plus1 where major touring acts add a dollar to the ticket price to raise funds for charities. I ask her a question to kill three birds with one stone: 1) talk to a fellow musician who has had successes, 2) tell everyone in the room I do Facebook ads because they’re my ideal client, and 3) ask the actual question. I have a lot of clients who have to choose between bottom line and doing good in the world, and if anyone on the panel had examples of how they navigated that. She said they turned down a Coca-Cola sponsorship because they bottle and commodotize water in areas where water is scarce. That was interesting to hear. Some other people asked and answered questions but whatever it’s all about me. The panel was good. I went up afterward and asked if her team works with smaller musicians or if that would make any sense. She said she really only works with the bigger acts whose tickets are $30+. For smaller musicians, they should use that dollar for gas. She looks me in the eye. She says “go make art.” It’s ok, go make art. The phrase replays as an echo in the just-emptied chamber inside my skull. Go make art. I look around. I’m stuck on an island in the middle of St. Lawrence River and i can’t exactly sit down at a piano right now. I can write, though. Go make art. i choose to make art later.

I sit through another lecture, not making art. I walk to a food truck and get a $15 fish taco that was $5 worth of food, still not making art. I meet up with someone interested in advertising online. I feel creative in helping solve his marketing needs but I’m not making art. I get on the ferry. I’m on a boat. I pull out my journal. Waves prevent me from writing straight. I go back to not making art. I land. Old Montreal is beautiful and someone made the buildings into art years ago that I can now enjoy and remind myself that I’m not making art and I’m likely never having kids so if a Montreal autobus smacks into me today all the songs that remain in my head unrecorded will not be my legacy and I won’t be making any more art. I should download everything in my head to a hard drive for preservation.

Except I think about that terrifying augmented reality talk again. There was a point in his presentation where he asked us to imagine living life with all blank walls and AR puts the pictures on the wall, the chairs in front of us. Imagine a world where we become less materialistic because all objects are augmented reality (which I laughed out-the-fuck-out loud when he said that, because bro, NOT GOING TO HAPPEN BECAUSE OF AR, MY FRIEND, SOMEONE’S GONNA COMMODOTIZE THAT SHIT). Then he gave this example: Imagine a world where women could put on makeup with a magic mirror and everyone would perceive her face with the exact makeup design she wanted to project. He really gave that example. It took everything in me to not stand up and say HOW ABOUT WOMEN JUST DON’T NEED TO WEAR MAKEUP IN THIS UTOPIA OF OURS.

What made the talk terrifying was just how rosy he was painting this scenario that will clearly turn on us. I felt like he was selling us on eugenics or something even more horrifying by asking us to imagine a superhuman race of the future that can do whatever we want as long as the electricity never goes out.

My feet hurt again. I start to be actually concerned. Why are my feet swelling up like this? This was happening here and there a few weeks before the trip but it wasn’t a big deal. I walk to a food truck, the third food truck meal so far in Montreal. It’s a smoked meat sandwich. It reminds me of spam and bologna cured in salt. I wonder if it’s the food truck. I look up possible reasons why feet swell that are apart from walking a lot. The internet says I could have achilles tendonitis, or heart disease, or could be pregnant. The internet tells me to stop eating salt. Too late. It also says to not drink so much water, except another site says to drink more water.

Tomorrow I’m taking it easy. Was planning on checking out St. Catherines street festival but that is one long-ass street and a lot of walking, so I decide tomorrow I’m buying new socks and watching the fireworks. Easy.

I need to head back to Mile End to pick up the records I bought but couldn’t carry, then to see Meklit as part of an African festival in town. So many festivals. I get my records, grab a pizza because the smoked meat didn’t fill me, and realize I left my records behind. I’m going to start labeling all my spare bags and boxes I’m carrying around with “If lost call this number” because i know me and i know it’s a matter of time until this happens.

it’s time for Meklit’s show, and it was a fascinating study on how a multilingual country works. The emcee spoke only in French. The opening act spoke both French and English in her on-stage banter, I couldn’t tell if she was saying the same thing twice in each language, or if she was telling more to one language than another. She also sang in her native African tongue (which I unfortunately forget which language). Meklit spoke only in English and sang mostly in English and Amharic. In every language, it was a fabulous show. Meklit is a friend of a friend, as well as a former TED fellow. She played the pot lid song she mentions here.

It was an excellent night and now my back started to catch up with the pain from my feet so both were crying by the time I got home and had to lay down in the common room on top of a towel so I could properly stretch my back out enough to climb the ladder to my bed. I got home too late to officially switch the beds but my bottom-bunk roomie is checking out tomorrow so that fixes that tomorrow. In the meantime strangers are letting me do whatever I’m doing on the floor which is both relieving that there’s no judgement and concerning because shouldn’t someone ask me if I’m OK? someone eventually asks if I’m ok. i say no but i’m working on it. i work on it. i’m fine. i climb up the ladder. i’m switching tomorrow. i’m taking it easy tomorrow. i’m going to go make art tomorrow. I can’t make art if I don’t have a functioning body. I need to put this as a priority.

Bed.

Day 2: “The first step to being Canadian” | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

I’m on the top bunk and I toss and turn too much. I get up. It’s early. I go downstairs and get some writing done. I’m working on a song. I can plunk out an idea for it on the public piano. I’m excited about this prospect.

I’m also doing a little bit of work, just an hour a day to keep the bills paid. This is the reason I work remotely.

There’s no one in the kitchen until everyone is in the kitchen. Free breakfast every morning here consists of bagels, toast, boiled eggs, cereal. Everyone is here and everyone wants food and then everyone leaves and I want to take a picture of milk in a bag because Canada does that and I find my phone is missing. Panic. Tear apart my purse, backpack, retrace steps, ask the lost and found. Turns out it was in my bed. Whew.

Strange how I have wrapped my identity and functionality around a few key physical objects.

I take the picture.

I get back to writing. I overhear someone talking about the Bay Area. I stop writing. He’s from San Diego, family is in the Bay. He’s a black man that wants out of the US. Montreal is his happy place. People talk to you here. People help you here. He says he could probably make a strong case for asylum here, if he had the energy to do it.

I have to wrap up my work and take a phone call with a client. I then wander to Crescent Street again, hit up a place called Warehouse where everything on the menu is $5.95 Canadian. On top of that the CAD is in my favor. It was a decent and filling BBQ sandwich. The credit card readers here ask you what percentage you’d like to tip before you finalize your payment, unlike the US where we’re rarely prompted to tip, we must do the math percentage ourselves and we’re never given a receipt with the actual total we spent, we have to write it on the receipt ourselves. It’s like we don’t… care… about… tipping…. workers. Or actively making it very difficult. Hmmmm. (I also hate how the insititution of tipping creates jobs that pay lower than minimum wage, and the people who are most rewarded with tipping tend to be pretty white girls who smile lots. I digress.)

I stop at a cafe to take the time and coordinate with friends. I overhear phrases I know like excuse moi and bon appetit and remind myself oh yeah I can say those words for real now.

I’m told to go walking about in the Mile End neighborhood. Outside of a couple of must-dos, like the legendary bagel place and a hip record store, I have no agenda but wander. I give myself a challenge: Can I wander without Yelp? Answer: Nope. Not really. I don’t know how people traveled before smartphones, which is funny because I actually do know how, and it involved going into your local automobile insurance club like AAA and asking for people to highlight your routes and suggest hotels for you and give you free guidebooks with coupons. I know this, because my aunts on both sides were coworkers doing this very job, and that is how my parents met and how I exist now and why I’m here.

Here. Mile End. I arrive and see Orthodox Jewish men walking amongst the other pedestrians, with their long curls of hair, wearing all black. I see signs in Hebrew. That’s the fourth language on sign’s I’ve seen so far, after French, English and Arabic. I will eventually see Greek and Chinese.

I have a Montreal bagel and read news articles framed on the wall about how the staples of Montreal cuisine are rooted in Jewish communities that only made up 2% of the population. They were still not treated well, but bagels and smoked meat was cheap and filling and conveniently located between the lower and upper class neighborhoods. I have a significant percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish background, according to my sister’s DNA test. I feel it.

I unsucessfully wander in a wrong direction until I gave into the yelping from my phone. Back on a street. Oh, wait, this is called Saint Laurent now? Is this still Mile End? Slightly confused but not worried. I go to my other must-do in the area, a record shop where I carefully weigh the amount of records I want to buy with the amount of room I can safely transport them in my suitcase. I’ve done it before, transported vinyl in a suitcase on my plane. I’ll do it again.

I know I want a Leonard Cohen record, seeing we’re talking about the Jewish community in Montreal. I also know I want a Radiohead-y record but that isn’t a main album release because I can get those anywhere. I also consider this my Montreal souvenirs. I overhear a woman singing the name “Suzanne” through the store speakers and it’s not a Cohen or a Weezer cover. I ask the clerk who’s playing. He says her name is Jennifer Castle.

It’s a lovely song, and her other songs are lovely. The clerk says I have many lovely songs with my name and I concur. I tell him about the myth my mom tellls me that I’m named after the Cohen song, and I know it’s not true, mom knows it’s not true, dad named me because it was his favorite name and had nothing to do with the song but it’s a better story and so the myth persists. It’s a better story of why I’m here, which is a question everyone is fucking asking me and the word “vacation” isn’t enough. The clerk asks me the question. Vacation isn’t enough, so I tell him the story of Leonard Cohen first and how I’ve always wanted to come ever since I learned he wrote the song here. He’s why I’m here and, according to myth, why I exist in my Suzanne-y form. Then he rings up a copy of my Thom Yorke solo album and says “oh hey do you know they’re playing here next week?” And that’s when I admit my real intention for this vacation and he lights up and tells me he has tickets too and we talk Radiohead and I’m allowed to be a superfan for a hot minute. After we chat he walks across the store and says “Here, while we’re at it, let me throw in this.” It’s a vinyl of his band’s album. He says he thinks I’ll like it. So now I’ve got 4 albums: Leonard Cohen, Thom Yorke, Jennifer Castle and That Dude’s Band. I leave the records at the store for picking up later since I can’t carry it around right now. But they’re my most pure souveniers of this moment and place.

Oh shit souveniers!!! I have a hella big family and should buy some trinkets or something which is where wandering actually paid off, because if I was busy thinking of destinations I would have missed the gift shops and vintage stores. No other spoilers here.

After that, I cave in and check Yelp because I crave ice cream and I’m about to walk to the Mont Royal park and the weather is nice and I want ice cream. It leads me to a closed shop. Poop. Wander again. Feet are hurting. I don’t want to venture too far, I have a show to attend later. I go into a cafe instead and get an iced green tea with cherry flavor. Turns out IT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED WHEN I THOUGHT I WANTED ICE CREAM. YES FOR WANDERING.

I walk to the park but my feet hurt like hell so I don’t venture too far, I just walk up to a place with a pretty church and an apartment complex attached WAIT IS THIS A CONVENT. THIS IS A CONVENT ISN’T IT. No shit, that song I was writing about this morning was all about giving up this life and joining a convent for shits and giggles. Tongue in cheek. But here I was outtside a complex clearly labeled with the French word “couvent.” I look it up. It was a former convent, some sisters still live there, the rest has been converted to multigenerational family apartments. One is available for rent. The option is still in my mind.

Ugh. Walking. My feet feel swollen. Was planning on smoked meat at Main Deli tonight but it’s an extra 10 minute walk and I’d rather eat closer to the venue. Had a vegetarian burger made of sweet potatoes and beets and tzaziki. They called it a latke burger. Again with the Jewish food. It was delicious.

I hear someone in the restaurant call “Suzanne!” In the US it’s not a common name but I figure I’m in francophone country now, so it must be someone else. I have this thing where when I visit other countries, I always think I see someone I know. I never do. I look up. It’s someone I know. It’s Naghmeh, my friend who is playing a show tonight across the street. We chat a bit, she’s nervous about the show, I understand because I’m always nervous before my show. She’s got to go and set up, I sit finishing the dinner, and finish about an hour before the opening act is set to start. I’ve got time to kill.

I kill it in the best way. I walk down the street to a music instrument store. There’s a shit ton of pianos. I hop on a digital one. I play with the voices on it. One sounds like a Radiohead song. I play Everything In Its Right Place. I mess around a bit more, and then from across the store, an employee hops on the piano and also plays Everything In Its Right Place. We. GEEEEEEEK. OUT. Between customers walking in, he breaks out his guitar and plays note for note renditions of his favorite Radiohead songs, I join him on piano, he tells me seeing them in 98 on the OKC tour changed his life, his voice sounds 85% LIKE THOM YORKE’S, we jam, another employee joins in a bit (but he makes it clear he’s nowhere as into them as we are). Yes, they’ve got tickets. I will likely see him around again. Particularly because I’ve been looking for a place to play piano and do rough recordings of songs that are emerging on this trip. I had been planning on an hourly rental music rehearsal venue… but I may be able to negotiate for this place. I give him my card. It’s got my music on it. They immediately look me up on Spotify and start rocking @ Little Spiral @ in the store. WHAT IS LIFE.

The show is starting. I say goodbye. I kinda don’t want to. But turns out the opener is also from SF and recognizes me from the music community there. He’s pretty entertaining. Then it’s Naghmeh and she rocks it with some modern Americana. Then the last band of the night blew everyone’s freaking brains with some 5-piece rock and roll that was so good it was an insult to remain seated so I stood, sore feet and all, and dance-wiggled around until I couldn’t dance-wiggle no more. Two bands have never played in Montreal before. The opener apologized for the shit going on in the US. Someone in the crowd says “Being sorry is the first step to being Canadian.”

On to way to the Metro back to the hostel. Things are open 24 hours here. 24 HOURS. WHY SF NO 24 HOURS. Grabbed a slice of pizza at a 24 hour pace. That was fucking good pizza. There’s a 24-hour flower kiosk. Why. Who needs flowers at 3am. My feet hurt. There’s lots of stairs. The city as a whole is not handicap accessible. Oh that’s right, most underground stations don’t charge when you exit, there just turnstiles. Fucking BART. I could have sworn that were the tourist whistling Frere Jaques because how stereotypical is that, but now I’m not sure.

Hostel. Bed. I’m on the top bunk. My feet and now back hurts. I have to stretch on the floor for 20 minutes before I climb up the ladder. I will need to switch to a bottom bunk and I’ll do that in the morning.

Bed.

Intro: Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

#latergram #montreal

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I am in Montreal for 10 days. I want to keep a journal about it. I miss writing and I always have something to write about when I travel. I started a “Disjointed Dispatches” stream-of-consciousness travelogue a few years ago when I took a road trip through the South. It was fun. I want to do it again, but this time I’m going to use littlespiral.com to host said travelogues. Hope that’s OK with you.

Or you can keep up with me live in the moment through Instagram Stories (which I’ll also cross-post to Facebook Stories). And check in on this blog daily.

I get back to the States on the 20th.

Day 1.5: Around every corner | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

It’s midday and Croatia won semifinals. I can tell from screams of joy in the street as I was writing from the cafe. (Turns out France wanted Croatia to win because it means they have a chance at winning it even more.) I walked around the corner to investigate where the gathering of loud people were. I came across Crescent Street and was totally swept up in its charms. Pubs and restaurants and clubs in beautiful Euro-style architecture. This wasn’t even on the list of places my friends recommended to visit. If this didn’t even make the top 40 recommendations, I can’t wait to see what did.
 

I walk up the street and look back to see Leonard Cohen staring back at me. I’ve been hit in the face and I’m asking for more. (I have more to say about this, and Leonard, later.)
 

That man is a major reason I am here. #leonardcohen

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Then I walk around the corner and discover the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I have a feeling I could spend two days there. There’s an optical illusion pavement painted to look like the ground has been warped.
 

something surprising around every goddamn corner I swear

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It’s beautiful and I’m in awe, but it’s running late into the afternoon, I’m running out of battery literally and figuratively, my feet are starting to hurt, I grab some food and head back to the hostel to recharge. Instead… I run into an outdoor piano. I play it. I sing along with strangers.
 

I meet a guy named Mitchell, the guy in the white shirt, who has been a musician in this city for 40, 50 years. I ask him about open mics with a piano. He can’t think of any. I only know of one, at Cafe Mariposa. I’ll be going to that one next Thursday.
 
Mitchell tells me last year he played 350 gigs. Mostly at old folks’ homes. He used to play drums nearly every night at clubs up and down Crescent Street and could earn a pretty good living. But kids these days, they don’t like live music, they just like DJs. Work dried up, so he taught himself the 12-string guitar. Now he plays Sinatra and Tin Pan Alley songs to small elderly audiences that are half the time asleep. He says it pays, he’s got no ego anymore. He gives me his contact information. It’s a phone number. I don’t think he uses text. What do I do with a phone number.
 
I head back to the hostel and feel like I need to not do much of anything for a bit. My back isn’t being nice and I have to be careful. I sign up for a pub quiz at the hostel. Met a guy from the UK, a girl from the Caribbean, and sisters from Ireland. The quiz is hard but the people are fun. One round was Game of Thrones themed, and to my surprise the majority of us have never seen an episode, including me. I thought I was the only one.
 
Bed.

Day 1: Arriving | Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal

First thing I did when I had the spare cash was book a vacation. Clearly I needed one. It’s been something like 4 or 5 years since I had a proper one. Passports are a tool of the resistance. I renewed mine as soon as i knew I was going to have the time and money to take one. Not going to lie: the main reason I chose Montreal is because Radiohead is in town. I mean yeah, I have friends here, I always wanted to go ever since I learned Leonard Cohen wrote the song Suzanne here, and I’d like to experience non-States living for a hot second. But ok it’s mostly Radiohead. I got to declare my undying love for Radiohead at customs where they asked detailed questions about my vacation. WHY YES OFFICER I HAVE SOMETHING TO DECLARE.

Baby steps to more international travel. I miss living in England and having access to so many countries. I loved Greece. I think Southeast Asia is my next big trip. When I have the money of course. I plan on using that passport more. That is, should I not lose it. A few hours before I was planning on leaving for the airport, I realized my current passport was not where I swore to Jesus Christ Himself I left it. I spent a few hours tearing up my room, tearing up myself, losing it over losing it, bawling like a baby at the prospect of missing this flight, needing to get a replacement passport AND a birth certificate to replace it with. I know it’s not life or death. But I would have lost several days and several hundred dollars if I didn’t find it. Dear Roommate helped me rip my room apart, until I saw the chances of it being in my room were getting dimmer and dimmer and I got a weird notion that I should check the car. Lo and behold, it was in the glove compartment. WHY WAS IT IN THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT.

SUZANNE.

WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING, PUTTING IT THERE.

I spent the rest of the evening singing a cold and broken hallelujah. Grateful. Grateful. Over-pouring with gratitude.

My red-eye went off without a hitch, other than the fact it was a red-eye and my eyes were a little red from the panic-crying I was doing earlier. But I like red-eye flights. You save money on a flight, save money on an extra hotel night, plus you land and you have the whole day at your destination ahead of you instead of wasting a day in transit. I got enough napping in to make it work, on the plane and at the hostel when I arrived. Canadian dollars are slightly in my favor. I like budget travel. I don’t know how to travel any other way.

I arrived armed with a list of recommendations from Facebook friends and not much more. I forgot about practical things like telling my bank and cell phone provider that I was going out of the country. Whoops. Fixed. I arrived after figuring out the airport and shuttle system. We rolled through the flat spare parts between the airport and the city, amongst stone churches abutted against concrete apartment complexes, through the centre-ville, past my stop but whatever, I hit the button on the bus and they let me out at the Place du Canada, a beautiful park with a live cumbia band playing, food trucks lining the street, damn-near perfect weather, business folks eating al fresco, church bells ringing. Looks like it was my stop after all.

Walk back to the hostel and check in. World Cup is going on in their basement hangout space and there’s a nice couch upon which i take a nap until my room is ready. I want England to win, but not enough to be glued to the TV, so I explore Rue McKay, get a stunningly good bagel and tea and commence writing on the outside patio. When I’m exploring cities, my favorite habit is to wake up early in the morning and find a cafe where I can write about the day before and plan for the upcoming day. I did this when I took 3 weeks and drove all through the Southern states. I called it Disjointed Dispatches from the South. I’ll call this, creatively, Disjointed Dispatches from Montreal. I hope it gets me back into writing. Cuz when I travel, I feel like I have something to write about.

An amazing creative surprise from a fan…

“So I ‘covered’ three of your songs today.”

The message was from one of my fans and fellow songwriters, George Kelly, who sometimes performs as Saint and Kings. We’ve played shows together and he bought my lyrics + poetry book the very same hour it was posted.

He took some of the lyrics in the book and wrote his own music to accompany them. Then he sat down at GarageBand and whipped out a few demos in a day.

I was floored.

I’ve never had someone do this for my songs before. It’s so amazing how someone’s completely fresh perspective can then influence my own perspective on my songs.

The delightful thing is, of the three songs he ‘covered’ (listen to them below), there’s one song he chose, “The World Didn’t End,” that I myself haven’t even written the music to yet. That’s the whole point of me publishing the book: I wanted to share my creations even in their unfinished format.

Well, George inspired me to fast-track finishing that song. Who knows, he may even get a cowriter’s credit on it.

With his permission, I’m posting his versions of my songs below.

I’m rendered speechless.

Thank you, George.

on Big Anger

we are in a trying political climate, and some of us are feeling the burden of an overwhelming, existential anger for the first time. if this is your first relationship with Big Anger, well, welcome. some folks have been feeling Big Anger for decades, so we have much to learn from them. (want to hear their voices directly? start here. and here. and here. and here. and here.)

i have been privileged enough to be sheltered from Big Anger for a while, until a few years ago when this kid named trayvon died, everyone said it was about race, and my ignorant white ass had to sit down and take a hard look at what was going on.

when i did, with the help of an anti-racism workshop, my worldview crashed down. i had no idea all this suffering was going on right under my nose, and my lack of empathy was helping to perpetuate that suffering.

i got depressed. and then i got angry.

someone once told me anger was a step up from depression. because with depression, there is no sense of worth, there is nothing to defend, there is just hopelessness.

with anger, there is something to protect. anger knows you have something of value and is upset that something is taking that value away. someone has wronged you or people you love, and nobody deserved that injustice. anger tells you that something is worth fighting for.

and anger is correct.

it’s an important messenger. listen to it. let it call you to action.

but also, if you can help it, please don’t move into its house.

Big Anger likes to tell you it’s the only path to change. Big Anger is an abusive partner who makes you feel special, important, who says they’re the only one for you, they’re the only one who can provide for you and give you want you want.

Big Anger is a fucking liar.

we need you to keep in touch with love, gratitude and humor if we are to sustain ourselves through this. this is a marathon, not a sprint. Big Anger will always be there, but Big Anger is not the only pathway to progress. in fact, Big Anger is the surefire way to burn out a swath of humanity right when we need the energy to resist.

don’t get me wrong: anger is important to listen to. and PLEASE don’t lecture other people’s relationship with anger. it’s important that people feel it and have a relationship with it, but you do not need to forsake every other feeling you as a human being are capable of feeling.

anger is an amazing motivator. but so is love. so is gratitude. so is sadness. so is joy.

so by all means, feel angry. and then act.

but also feel gratitude, then act.

feel relaxation, then act.

feel sad, then act.

feel joy, then act.

do not let Big Anger be the only thing that drives you to action.