Intro... By Neil Walker
Scout? En français? À Montréal? Mais oui! J'ai cherché les bistros extraordinaire! I mean, someone has to check out the site of Le Festival du son et l'image. But first, I had to get out of my hotel safely. The Delta, where much of Le Festival happens, was filled on the St Patrick's weekend with hundreds of 10 year-old hockey players from North Andover, Massachusetts. They had come to Montréal to seek victory over the French-Canadian teams in the city of hockey saints, such as Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Toe Blake, and a once unbeatable ream, the Montréal Canadiens.
On the streets, thousands of Irish and Irish-French had rediscovered St Patrick's Day. A sea of green hats and green hat vendors washed through Rue Ste Catherine after the parade. To judge from the party noises from 22 floors down at 3:30 am, the Irish were in full control of the city.
Now, as the Festival moves into town, all of that is history. The rooms which housed mountains of hockey equipment, its young owners and their impossibly dedicated parents are being transformed into listening salons. They are turned inside out by the hotel staff and the exhibitors only to have the exhibitors scorn them as non-musical environments, homes for unbalanced sound reproduction.
There are no more green-hatted celebrants at the altar of shamrock sentimentality. Now, we arrive, serious, ready to hear hours of the closely-mic'ed instruments of high fidelity sales: acoustic guitars, electric bass guitars, brushed cymbals, wood blocks and singers who are able to sing with microphones which sound as if they are Krazy-Glued to their throats.
And how do we feel about all this, audio fans? FANTASTIC! We are now totally psyched for three days of bliss! The gear we dream of, the engineers who explain why holding a capacitor between your toes makes any CD sound better, the speakers which vibrate knowingly as you watch them, the turntables which look like a part from your car's front end suspension. In brief, all the magic of technology as art form in and of itself, and all the magic of technology in the service of art.
Now, we do not live by audio alone. We also live by bread. So write this down. Want cheap, excellent beer with excellent sandwiches? A ten minute walk up St Laurent (several streets east of the hotels running north and south off Sherbrooke) will bring you to Grano's. Students from McGill are often here, as polite as all Canadians are reputed to be. Cheaper, with better food and lots of atmosphere, is Mondo Fritz, about five minutes north of Grano. Just keep walking north after you pass Avenue des Pins - it is right after Schwartz's, a great kosher deli where there is always a line-up when it re-opens on Saturday evening after closing Friday night for the Sabbath. Fritz offers 81 beers. When I was there three days ago, I especially liked the St Ambroise blonde. A pitcher of this Montréal beer is about 11 or 12 bucks Canadian or roughly eight bucks USD.
If you want a really excellent meal, there are any number of little restaurants on street corners throughout downtown Montréal. Some of them do not sell wine, so you have to go to the local SAQ (Société des Alcools du Québec). Try some of the French wine bottled under the SAQ labels: there are some great bargains here.
Last Friday, we went to Restaurant Laloux at 250 Avenue des Pins, east. This restaurant is the most Parisian restaurant I have ever been in, outside of Paris. A huge wine list and superb food will give you an evening to remember. So will the price: most main courses are $20 to $25. We splurged and bought a bottle of $60 wine, so, with taxes and tip, the bill was about $230 CAD for the four of us. Reservations are a must: (514) 287-9127). By the way, if you are unfamiliar with French menus, entrées are the appetizer course preceding the main course.
The signs all over Montréal saying STCUM do not stand for Saint Cum. It is the abbreviation for the Montréal transit service. It goes something like "la Société de transport de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal."
A nice little place for breakfast or a quick lunch outside the hotel is Café Suprème, a small, quick-order restaurant a block west of the hotel on the south side of Président Kennedy, the street on the south side of the Delta. The cheddar cheese omelette was great and inexpensive.
If you want to walk a little further west, for a more elaborate lunch, try out the super pizzeria, Wienstein & Gavino's Pasta Bar Factory Ltd. at 434 Crescent Street, Telephone: (514) 288-2231. Just walk west from the hotel to Crescent (near the Musée des Beaux-Arts). There are several other good restaurants on this street which are tourist-oriented. But try out any number of restaurants on St Laurent, or a little further east, St Denis, and you can have a real gastronomic adventure. Or just walk around the residential streets and you will find good restaurants on the corner of many blocks, mixed right in with the houses.
Le Festival du son et de l'image is a great event in a great city. It focuses on the kind of listening gear which music-loving audiophiles love. Now that I have completed my scouting of the site, I can recommend this as a great weekend. And, by the way, while you are walking along the side streets, or up St Laurent or St Denis, don't blame me if you happen to find, near the great restaurants, a few really fine new and used record (CD and vinyl) stores. Just thought I should warn you - you may never leave this magical city.