A Typical Stroll

I’ve had a coffee and more cigarettes than is good for me, and walk out of my hideaway on the Main onto the street (and block) I’ve lived on for 11 years, loaded with my bag of laundry and headed to the Buanderie Duluth. Walking half a block south, I pass the Barfly and remember that I stayed far longer than I anticipated last night. Then I pass Laika, and look through it’s large front windows to see if Mike or Gerry are in and they’re not because it’s too early and they’re usually in by late afternoon.

Approaching the corner of Duluth and St-Laurent, I cross over to the east side of St-Laurent and walk east along Duluth to the Buanderie, where people have been doing laundry in the ‘hood since 1968, and where I’ve been doing it since 1994.Walking in, I say a big hello to Mr. Apollo, the kindly owner and custodian of the Buanderie since it opened, and the man who makes doing laundry seem fun and easy, especially when he’s in a mood to sing. Walking into “Apollo’s”, as it is affectionately known, feels like walking into a laundromat crica 1970. There is a turntable and a basket of LPs dating as far back as 1957, with the latest being the soundtrack to “Grease”. Among the various pictures and handmade signs on the wall is the classic Expo ’67 aerial shot of “Man and His World”, a picture I remember every Montreal household having somewhere when I was a tot in the late 60’s early 70’s.

Hi Mr. Apollo, how are you today?”
“Hello good boy! Good, good! How many machines today?
“Just two today, Mr. Apollo, thanks.”

He provides me with the required change and soap, we talk a little about the good weather we’ve been having as I load my machines, and then I head out to get some some smokes at Le Marche Ventura. Walking 4 blocks west along Duluth, facing a view of our little mountain I’ve yet to tire of, I approach the legenadary Marche Ventura, owned and operated by Mario and his younger brother Hari for nearly 20 years. While the sign in front refers to this gem of a depanneur as Marche Ventura , we of the neighbourhood know it alternately as Mario’s or Hari’s, depending on how old you are and who you know best. They usually open around 11:30, and it’s noon now so they’re open and Hari’s standing outside having a smoke looking like he’s trying to wake up. If you get Hari in the late morning or early afternoon, he’s a very quiet and sometimes even sombre character. It lasts only for a couple of hours, because as anyone who knows him will tell you, there’s nothing sombre or quiet about Hari.

Again, as is the case with Apollo’s, there’s little evidence to suggest anything has changed since the day Marche Ventura opened. There’s nothing glossy about this corner store, and it often seems to outsiders like it is in a perpetual state of chaos. Yet there’s definitely some order, you just have to look a little harder to find it.

Before I’ve even asked what I want, he says hello as he reaches with his right hand for a pack of my regular brand. We briefly chat about the events of the night before at Barfly’s “Slutty Bingo” night (held every last Monday of the month), where Hari did a very special kind of dance that no one who saw it will soon forget. We have a laugh about it, say “See you later”, and I go for a much needed breakfast at Patati Patata, walking east along Duluth and then a block north on St-Laurent to the corner of Rachel.

Patati Patata is a very popular and busy counter diner that serves regular fare like burgers and sandwiches and fish and chips, all with a unique twist. Owned and managed by the affable Louis and a hard-working and dedicated staff, it has become one of the pillars of the neighbourhood in the 6 years of its existence, a testament to the quality of their food and service. Today, as I was finishing my breakfast, chatting with a member of the staff just before the start of his shift, I notice an older man walking in with a female companion. They sit down in one of the counters “for two”, and I continue chatting with Luc about the evils of these new landlords. I then notice a young man 2 stools to my right approaching the older gentleman with a question:

“….excuse me, but are you….?…you are, aren’t you? It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir! Could you do me the honour of signing an autograph? I’ve never asked anyone for an autograph before, but I’d really like it if you could.”

My interest now piqued, I turn around to get a glimpse of this celebrity in our midst. He sat behind me, but I could see just enough of him to realize this gentleman was none other than Leonard Cohen. He graciously accepted to sign an autograph and then quietly went on eating and conversing with his companion. That was my first glimpse of Montreal’s most famous troubadour/poet in my time living here.

I then walk south on St-Laurent once again, back to Apollo’s to put my washing in the dryer, bumping into Mike and his dog Jinx. He let me know that Barfly just got a new pool table and invites me to come by before opening hours to have a game and try it out. I put my stuff in the dryer, then head to Barfly, excited by the prospect of new queues, new table. Alas, the table, while an improvement over the previous one, is not what we expected it to be. The felt needs cleaning, and for some oddball reason, they did not include a triangle. Mike and I had a game, I lost by scratching on the eight, and the table was christened. I left shortly after, picking up my laundry at Apollo’s, then came home to finish off this entry.

So that’s my typical stroll around the neighbourhood. I don’t know if it even qualifies as a stroll, but it’ll have to do. Things did not necessarily happen on this day or even in the order in which they were told, but it is typical and all this stuff happened. All of these places have one thing in common: they are what this neighbourhood is about and for the most part they’re the kind of places that speculative landlords with no connection to the neighbourhood want to see destroyed. In their place, they would put some ludicrous specialty boutique, upscale bar, or condominum. They buy into this neighbourhood, wanting to displace the tenants and merchants who have made this place what it is, forgetting it is we who have made this ‘hood what it is. Us, not them.

Not without a fight, I say.

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Mission of Burma at Cabaret

Ted of Jerk Appeal, while working his shift at the Barfly the last couple of weeks, had been bugging me to take him to the Mission of Burma show that was on as part of the Pop Montreal festival. While I’d heard of them back in the early 80s, I had never heard them until the weekend they played Montreal. I don’t know how I managed to miss them back in the day, but apparently it’s never too late. Ted had been raving about the historical importance of this band in the early American underground scene, not to mention how good the material is, so I booked our place at the show based on his recommendation. My pal AY, impressed with Ted’s passion for this band, also got a ticket and the three of us met at the Barfly on Sunday night and made our way south on St-Laurent to Le Cabaret just south of Sherbrooke St. – probably the best live venue in the city.

Ted was kind enough to make me a CD of 15 songs the day before so I wouldn’t be lost at the show, and I liked what I heard. I couldn’t help but think that for an American band, they sounded like a band who listened to a lot of earlier Brit art-punk-pop bands, though not in the least derviative.

We arrived at the venue just before their scheduled time (22:30), just in time to see the last couple of songs by a band called “Read Yellow”. The place was fairly quiet, the balcony apparently closed but we sat there anyway since there were a few people there already and a good balcony seat at the Cabaret is usually hard to come by. As far as we werie concerned, these were the best seats in the house. The place started to fill up in the gap between sets and by the time Mission of Burma came on the place was about 3/4 full.

The three members that makeup Mission of Burma quietly made there way to the stage to rousing applause and began what was for me one of the best sets I’ve seen from a band of that genre (what genre you ask? tough to say, but to keep it simple, heavy, guitar oriented punk/art/pop) since I had the pleasure of seeing Nomeansno on their 1985 “Montreal Tour”. Also like Nomeansno, I’ve never heard such a full sound from a three piece. The sound of three was more like the sound of six, doubling up on all the instruments.

If I knew all the songs I could give a round down, but the only songs I knew by name at the show were “Academy Fight Song” and “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”, both played with passion and intensity as the crowd was lapping it up.

Musically, I’d say that Mission of Burma resonate with the great British art-punk-pop bands of the late 70s(Buzzcocks, Magazine, Wire, Gang of Four, Killing Joke), while presaging the great American underground bands of the 80s. A friend of mine who wasn’t underage when Mission of Burma came to Montreal 20 years ago (At the Checkers Club) said they were regarded as a highly avant-garde band back in 1982. I’d say 20 years avant-garde. You’d hardly know their material is 20 years old, it feels so fresh.

This was a night where everyone in attendance knew they were watching something special, and where the band knew they had the crowd in the palm of their hand. On this night, Mission of Burma could do no wrong, and they did no wrong.

Easily the best show I’ve seen this year.