Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sum Sum Summertime

There is a difference between how summer is viewed here and back in Chicago. Here there is an urgency that once the weather turns nice it must be enjoyed. Drop everything and get outside. It's understandable because the nice weather is two to four weeks shorter. Here the warm weather (above 70F or 21C) more or less lasts from June to August, while in Chicago it spills over into May and September. The flurry of activity outdoors is impressive. There are constantly families bicycling past the front of our house on the weekend. The rush hour traffic drops dramatically as so many people go on vacation in addition to the kids being out of school. The construction industry shuts down for two weeks at a time you would think they are trying to get as much work done as possible. All of the vacation spots (camping notably) within Quebec are booked solid. While there is no time off in August, June 24th and July 1st are days off (St Jean Baptiste & Canada Day respectively). For those of us in construction, combine those two days with the two weeks and you have quite a chunk of time off within five weeks to enjoy the weather. Also, we're in a climate you would expect would not be conducive to outdoor swimming, but it seems like three quarters of the houses have a pool. One thing that clued me into the urgency is that last year the weather was not very nice on the weekends all summer. There was a malaise that hung over the summer and people have not stopped talking about how bad it was. It is possible that it was due to the bad weather last year that people have felt more of a need to take advantage of the weather while it was here. But I still think it is due to the long winter of staying indoors that people feel the need to get out. As of today we have had 10 or 11 days above 86F (30C) in June as opposed to only one last year.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Iraq, the movie

I had an interesting thought the other day. Looking back on the whole reason for going to war, it seems a lot like a common plot for a hollywood movie. The one man (Bush) has information that the bad guys (Saddam) are going to end the world (with WMD's). He goes to the authorities (the UN) who don't believe him, so he has to go it alone to save the world.

There are a couple other recent news items that I found disturbing. First Senator Durbin's apology for comments comparing Guantanimo Bay to a Nazi war camp. Apparently he read something that points in that direction and has been backed up by other FBI accounts. What worries me is the attitude of we must win the war on terrorism at all costs. Be it coming down to the level of the terrorists or disregarding their civil rights (or our civil rights for that matter). We're supposed to be the good guys, right?

The other item was a timetable for pulling out of Iraq. Although I didn't agree with going there in the first place, once it was started, it needs to be finished. It would be even worse to leave the place in a state of chaos or internal warfare. Setting a timetable will only let the insurgents know when they could take over. The sad thing is that I read the other day that some Republican congressman said that a timetable needed to be set because the polls back in his district were starting to show that support for the war was starting to slip. It would be sad if that were the reason for pulling out before things were stable. From what I have been reading the US over history has done quite a bit of meddling already in the Middle East.

Programming Note

Although the stated purpose of this blog was initially to discuss differences between Montreal and Chicago, it now seems to be drifting a bit towards expousing my opinions on current events. This is partly due to having less of an outlet to discuss these topics than I had back in Chicago. Plus this is a good medium and recently a popular medium to discuss topics. I hope to keep my soap box banter to a minimum and keep posting my observations of Montreal and Chicago differences. Also some of the posts will be an FYI for people back in Chicago about the Montreal environment. This is partly because the majority of the people who I know check it out are there.

Also, my plan is to keep the number of posts to one or two a week. The idea is not to overload anyone following this on a regular basis along with having a reason to check back regularly.

Thanks for watching.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

24/7 vs. Bankers hours

Another aspect of life here that really struck me is the lack of convenient store hours. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that except for possibly in the center city, open 24 hours is rare. In fact it is the exact opposite. Most stores are only open after 6pm on Thursday and Friday nights until 9pm. Not Saturday and Sunday. Grocery stores that I know of do stay open until 9pm almost all week. But that is still earlier than I am used to. In Chicago, grocery stores stay open until midnight, phamacies are 24 hours frequently, and there is even the Home Depot open 24hours (in case you want a screw at 3am). Banks are the biggest extreme and I really was surprised that something resembling traditional 'bankers hours' still existed. My local bank is not open on the weekend and they are open after 4pm only on Thursday nights until 7pm. They have just announced they will be open later on Wednesday also, but they are still closed on weekend. The one thing that does counter the limited hours is that the few times you are able to make it to the bank, you can register your bills and pay future bills at the ATM.

This again goes back to my little feeling of being time warped back a few decades. A nice thing is your hands are tied so you the times that stores are not open, you don't have to spend it running around doing chores.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Patriotism part 2

Since writing the post on this subject, I have thought a bit more about it. I have also had a trip stateside.

Patriotism can have various connotations and levels or categories. At times I am proud to be American, at times I would rather not be associated with the actions or impressions that some Americans put forth. Americans and the French (from France) are probably the most proud nations in the world. They both tend to be we are who we are and if you don't like it 'pooh on you'. Brash and at times very in your face. We're the best and we don't care what you think. Living in France, I found out what the receiving side of racism could feel like. Yet both are so tied together through history and similarities that I found it funny and troubling when there was the disagreement about the Iraq war. The freedom fries was kinda funny, but some people took it entirely too seriously. Can't someone have a different opinion without being demonized? Lastly on the negative side, it troubles me that there are many out there that feel you are not American or patriotic if you question actions or ideals of the American public or the government. As my father put it, the fact that this country has many different people with different opinions make it great. I agree but I am troubled by the apparent sway toward closed minded conservativism that I have noticed since 9.11.

Lets finish this on the positive side. Last weekend when I was attending my sisters graduation, I felt a great sense of pride being an American. First it was the Star Spangled Banner being played which caught me for some reason. Then it was what many of the speakers had to say. What the country stands for and it's history (civil rights, freedom, and equality). Also the concern for those less fortunate. These are the ideals that everyone should be proud of and try to keep alive in their everyday lives.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


This is one of the biggest issues that has made life much easier here than it was in Chicago. Let me start by some comparisons. I have experienced a few different types of traffic in my life.

First is the fairly civil type of driving. Drivers let you merge when you put on your signal. When two lanes merge, it's one lane after the other. Drivers don't honk unless it's truly warrented. Drivers don't block intersections. I think you get the idea. For the most part, this is the type of driving that I remember when I was a kid and when I first started driving. Also, in general, it is the type of driving I have encountered here. Of course there are exceptions, there's always someone out there trying to sneak ahead and when traffic is bad the stress pushes people to do stupid things. But in general that is the state of it here. Somebody let me know if my recollection of driving in the 70's and 80's is correct. This subject also goes back to that 70's feel I have noticed here and mentioned a few months back.

The second type of driving is dog eat dog. I have experienced this in my limited driving experiences in Paris and New York. It is partly a game of chicken and partly whoever is farther forward has priority. The Avenue de Paris which leaves Versailles is six lanes wide with only one yellow line down the center. Everyone just jockeys around until they find a spot in the traffic. It's kind of a controlled madness. The stress level is high and I could not deal with it on a daily basis, but is can be fun for limited periods of time. Also as long as you're not pressed to get anywhere. I had a blast a couple summers ago jockeying a rental car down the length of Manhattan. It took two or three hours and the car didn't get a scratch.

It's the last type of driving that I find difficult. It is a situation where there is a mix of the other two types. This seems to me to be the current situation in Chicago. I also probably find it more difficult that others because I'm trying to be more like type one than type two. Maybe from now on, I'll just drive like type two when I'm in town. My thinking is that as cities become larger, they make a transition from type one to type two. Chicago is currently stuck in between.

This is a topic I would really like to hear your opinion on. I will probably revisit it in future posts.

Stealth visit

My apologies to my friends for not notifying you that I would be in town last weekend. I came with the kid and the trip was intended solely for the family. It was for my sister's graduation (Masters in History). My mother was also in town, so we all got some good quality time. So I used some of the available time between chasing and recovering from chasing the kid to verify some of my observations. We will all be coming for the last two weeks in July. We hope to see you all at a much more leisurely (It's our vacation) pace than the last two visits.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Two Years

Well, it has now officially been two years. I guess I can say we are pretty settled. We have a house, my French is now as fluent as stated on my resume, I can think in metric, and I have actually started following Canadian politics. The house is probably the biggest of those. It was a bigger step than I had thought. Having an outdoor space larger than a patio makes quite a differnce. I think I have enjoyed it more because I'm able to build things (fence, compost bin, sandbox) that does not need to be as finished as something inside. Tending to the plants is fun also, though I don't plan to become one of those fanatical suburban lawn keepers.

"Do I miss back home?" has been a common question both that other people have asked and also been in my mind. Last year I said it was that I was more nostalgic for the time spent there. Much like any other place or time period in my past. At the time of moving here, we were starting another phase of our lives with the kid. Lately, I have thought differently. I do miss some things about back home. Spending time with the people I would see often, or attending special events with family and friends. The flip side is that when we go back, it is a special occasion and we see everyone. Some people we actually see more often now. It is a bit shallow, but I do miss the food. Or at least the accessiblity to it. We have found some new places here and some substitutes, but I still look forward to having my favorite foods at each visit.

As far as the places, I have always been interested in change. Maybe it is because I have been in the construction industry, I find the transformation of an urban environment or a building being built interesting. To some degree I am also interested in the demolition, but not when the building is worth keeping. So I really like seeing how the city has tranformed or adapted since we were last there. As a kid, I like damming up streams of water, then see how the water would adapt to the situation. Kinda the same thing. But like many places I have been to, you don't need to be there to see the transformation. You just have to return. For the most part places such will remain the same.

Lastly, events are something I miss. Things you can't see unless you are there year round. Mainly summer ones. The Air Show, the Taste, 4th of July fireworks (though they have damn good ones here), the Indy 500, the occasional Cubs playoff, beach volleyball, and watching the lake and it's moods through the year.

As far as what I don't miss, this blog has done fairly well at covering those points. I still have a long list of observations to post. Some deep like the last one, some shallow.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Here's a post with some heavy issues.
What is patriotism? In the dictionary it is called a love and zealous support for one's country. Zeal is defined as intense enthusiasm, ardor, fervor and therefore passion. I bring this up because I have questioned whether I can consider myself patriotic considering my disagreements with the actions taken by the US government and the views expressed by many citizens in the US. Here are my two main sticking points.

First, I believe it was not correct to go into Iraq without a few other major world nations. I believe the world should act together. Going to war should be the last resort. Bush says it was and all other possibilities were exhausted, but I can't say I believe him. The main reason for going to war was to stop the spread of terrorism. Another reason for going to war, if you believe Fahrenheit 911, that it was Bush wanted the oil and to finish what his dad started. I find it very hard now to believe that any action by the government does not have a hidden motive. In Bush's case, it seems everything is directed toward the betterment of big business. War means defense contracts. A war in Iraq means access to their oil supply. They hide behind conservative values and small government, but I believe that is primary motive.

Second, I believe that many people in the US have become xenophobic after 9/11. People seem to have become less accepting of people different from them. I find it disturbing that so many had this reaction. Society had been slowly moving toward acceptance of others, and that event pushed everyone back a few steps. Also, judging by the past election, I do not agree with the values of half the US. The country seems divided sharply between conservative and liberal.

So the question is, can I be patriotic given the two points above? I guess another question is whether being patriotic also means being proud to be an American? Can I be proud to be an American if I don't agree with the foreign policy of the government? The war only reaffirmed the view by many in the world that the US is war hungry or a heavy fisted police power. And if I don't agree with the general psyche of the average American, can I be proud to be an American. I am very proud to be from Chicago and of my family and friends even though we do not share the same views. I am proud of the university that I went to even though I'm sure I don't have the same views as everyone who went there. So can that logic apply to my country. Granted, my family, friends, school, and city did not go to war.


It's that time of year. Lilac trees and bushes seem to be everywhere up here. And they are all now in full bloom. The other day walking home from work, it seemed like the whole neighborhood smelled of lilacs. I'm not sure why they are more popular up here, but it makes for a nice start to the summer.