Beggars in  Paradise Revenge of the Stumpy Munchkins


Beggars in  Paradise

Revenge of the Stumpy Munchkins

La Carrote Joyeuse

Flap your arms around and honk like a constipated goose. Mais faut pas gener.

Quebec, PQ
20th July, 2001

Montreal is cool. It has to be. So cool, in fact that everywhere you turn, everything you see, every guide book, subway poster, local newspaper, and street banner insists on reminding you just how interesting, fun and culturally rewarding Montreal is. It's the Festival Capital of Canada, or of the North, or the Universe, they scream. It is filled with hot, exciting neighbourhoods - see how much charm there is in the old town, how very cosmopolitan and Europeén the population is, see how they manage to hang out and look disinterested in the Latin Quarter 24 hours a day while still going to forty-three festivals of world culture a week!

The Montreal Sub Post-Office of Art

Montreal is cool. I was reminded of this so often that I became confused, unable to match this obvious truth against what looked very much like a middle sized North American city. Montreal is all high rises and square corners, whiffs like an open drain in the summer, and has as much character as a West Midlands outlet village. I followed the guidebook to the old town, wandering from one architectural triumph of world proportion to another, each one to me looking more like a dirty grey Victorian sub post-office than the one before.

I wandered through the centre of the city, gleefully dubbed the centre de la ville, the centre of life, by the waggish city council. In which case, in the view of Montreal city councillors, life revolves around a collection of over-priced malls, pretentious coffee shops, and seedy, down-at-heel strip clubs. From what I know of politicians, this may well be true.

Montreal is, of course, begging to get slapped. I have never been anywhere so self-conciously hip, so neurotically interested in being interesting. It anxiously gazes at itself like a fourteen year old wearing his white Eminem costume to the disco for the first time, checking any available mirror to make sure he`s still as with it as he hopes everyone else will think. Montreal is, in fact, as bad as Dublin.

Bongo Fest

There were, sure enough, a couple of festivals ongoing in the party capital of the galaxy. A celebration of humour (though I believe good humour can celebrate itself) and a world-class collection of bongo drummers, witness to the fact that the only people who can stand bongo drummers are other bongo drummers.

All the requisite festival trappings were there: dirty, urine-soaked streets, a cheery cartoon mascot animal that must have been hand-drawn by a deranged baboon in crayon, and an undergraduate street theatre group who put on an a revue of giant papier maché insects being chased by a man wearing a tricorn hat and a carrot on his nose. I supposed it to be an exposé of injustice in Western Samoa.

Anyway, your festivals don`t impress me. It`s not that hard to do a festival. I`ve been to the Buncrana Races. All you need is a few yards of bunting, a rocking horse for the kids, and all the locals can go down to the pub while the German tourists make a determined stand in the rain wondering when things are going to get started.

Revenge Boulangerie

And the laugh is, they do all this to prove how very cultured and European they all are. Now, if there`s one thing the nations of the British Isles lay aside their squabbles to agree on, it is how very `European` we are not. Who would want to be associated with a hotch-potch of garlic-chewing EU grant swindlers and petty bureaucrats? When was the last time anyone got into bed with the frogs and didn`t need to take a bath immediately afterwards?

All this because the people of Quebec speak French. Or claim to. I have no evidence either way. I decided before I came to Quebec to attempt to address people in the best French I could muster. The people of Quebec, meanwhile, had made a similar determination to address me only in English, no matter what. Being pig-headed, as you know, I refuse to have my language du choix dictated to me and stubbornly continue in French. My average ludicrous conversation would proceed as follows:
Moi: Une baguette, s`il vous plait.
Elle: Oui, une... quelque chose avec ca?
Moi: (Hesité pour un instant, formule les mots justes)...
Elle: (Slight smile patronising her face) Would you like anything with that?
Moi: (me confutre, I confuse me, losing grip on both English and French. What? Shakes head in grinning panic.)
Elle: OK that`s two dollars goobye. Have a nice day.
Moi: Merci. Merci... au revoir. Merci.

I will not be beaten. On the next occasion I stood outside the shop for three minutes, considering all the possible twists our next conversation could take, and prepared all my responses in advance. I went in:
Moi: Une baguette, s`il vous plait.
Elle: Oui,... (turns and mutters something into bread).
Moi: (What? Comment? Je n`ai pas entendu! I couldn`t hear! No!...Hesité).
Elle: (Checkmate, Monsieur l`anglophone) That is all sir?
Moi: (Head hanging, beaten) Oui, c`est tout.
Elle: For here or to go?
Moi: Pour aller.
Elle: Goodbye.
Moi: Au revoir... jusqu`au prochaine fois.

I decided that they really didn`t speak French at all here, particularly as they were as uptight about crossing the road - only on the green man!- and not drinking alcohol in public as any other Canadian. The French is only a con job to get the tourists in: Look out!, a yankee is coming, everyone act French - you! start flapping your arms around and honking like a constipated goose - you! start throwing childish tantrums - and you! stop washing your armpits!


I thought I ought to be cultural though, since that was the big whizz here. I went to an exhibition of the Piscasso Erotique. That was excellent. Haven`t laughed so much in months. The normal gallery crowd was there middle aged women, skinny legged men, and blimping American tourists gawping in loose joweled stupefaction at sketches of a wife-beating pervert masturbating over the body of a prostitute, and all trying to think of something wise and cultured to say. Piscasso expressed his inner rage and malformed innards well enough, but I wandered out after an hour or so I wanted to find a artist less inclined to urinate over someone else`s sandcastle.

Upstairs there were some renaissance paintings dedicated to seek out the eternal and beautiful in the human spirit, although I`m sure the artists of the fifteenth century were as familiar with horror as Pablo. Taking those with the rejected wall-hangings of the contemporary art section restored my levity, and I gained a perpective on my situation here.

Montreal. The truth is, I didn`t want to be here. I wanted to get out to the wild, open Canada, hiking, canoeing, running free with my brother, the moose, in great majestic herds across fertile, fruited plains, not eating le Poulet Frite a la Kentucky with a bunch of guff-talking crypto-Frenchmen. It was time to get out of the cities.

Tadoussac and the Whale

I`m travelling with the Moose Travel Network, a hop-on hop-off series of minibuses that cover routes in both East and West Canada. The next stop after Montreal is Tadoussac, a small village sited where the long Saguenay fjord meets the St Lawrence river. It is a beautiful spot, mountains, forests, and the sea, but what makes it famous is... whales.

This is one of the great whale feeding grounds of the world. We took a boat out at 7am and saw... Minke, Beluga, Finwhales, Humpbacks, Porpoises... and the Blue! We saw a blue whale breach right in front of us, blowing his spout 30 feet into the air, going under, surfacing again, going under, surfacing one last time before he dived - and then he threw up his great tail behind him! I can`t tell you how exciting this is. And rare! Only 10% of the all the blue whales in the world show their tail when they dive. Our guide almost jumped out of the boat with the thrill of this moment. In nine years that was only the third blue whale tail he had ever seen.

As the Moose is a shuttle service, my travel companions vary. For my sins, I am currently surrounded by English girls, with names like Emma, Claire, Trish, Claire, Cath and Claire. Of course I`m much older and more experienced than they all are, so naturally they pick on me relentlessly. Being from the straightforward Saxon world they call my black Ulster humour `sarcasm` and ask me why aren`t I nice. I think that `nice` means your average southern English rugby and ale stuffed halfwit. Anyhow, sorry Trish for calling you a little power packet, it only shows that I respect you enough to think you can take it. I have to have the discernment to be myself. And I did warn you that I belonged to the devil.

There`s a good chance they may read this before I finish this leg of my tour, so if this channel goes silent, look for my body buried, stake through my heart in a crossroad in the Cotswolds. And never fear, my grave shall be kept fresh, and watered by meaty nice guys, stopping for a restful moment after watching the rugby, with twenty pints of bitter, down the pub.



Moose in Montreal




Humpback Whale


Blue Whale


East Moose Route


Hat & Spoon



You can comment on this article on the Message Board.

Contact me





The Facts

Where I stayed
Kingston: HI Kingston. Spacious place.
Montreal: HI Montreal. Big institutional hostel.
Tadoussac: La Maison Majorique. Fantastic location, huge country kitchen/lounge area, wide patios. Live music one night. Laid back.

How I got around: Moose tours. Excellent hop-on/hop-off service. The staff struggle to do their best for you wherever they can.