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Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Franco Files: Montreal Deux

Je Me Souviens

By Richard Carreño
My affair with this city has been long -- and fickle.

And I thank my Uncle Andy for the introduction.

In the late fifties, when I was about 10, I joined Andy and his family for several weeks visiting my aunt's family in Chateauguay, New York. Not far from Quebéc, Unc -- as I called him -- decided that we venture to to the city one weekend. I don't remember much regarding the visit, other than my uncle, always a visceral sort, spent most of his driving time in his big, bad, black Buick shouting obscenities to passing drivers. I doubt that Andy knew any swears in French. I'm sure his colourful ribaldry needed no translation.

I also remember was strolling through Mont Royal with the family.

At ten, this was my first international visit.

I didn't return here until much later, after graduating from Wilbraham in 1965, and winding up at NYU.

Several things happened about that time that concentrated my mind on Canada, and most significantly on Montreal.

First I had just returned from Paris, after a year of schooling at the American University there. I was in my francophile mode at the time, passing myself off as quasi French. Reading Le Figaro in the subway, and that kind of humbug. I was a yé-yé abroad in New York.

Two, the Vietnam War. How much was a one-way ticket to Canada was on everyone's mind.

Three, Rudolph Roy. Rudolph was an NYU student. What year? What major? Never knew. But he did live in the Weintraub Dorm in University Place, as I was doing at the time. Rudolph wasn't French. He was Haitian. Some Haitian. French reared. Natty yé-yé attire. With a coffee-coloured skin tone. (Quite rare for Haitians). We became buddies.

I remember our first trip to Montréal. We were going to hitchhike. This didn't work. I forgot that Rudolph was black. I supposed he did too. We managed to get up the Hudson, not far before we boarded a bus for the rest of the journey. Yeah, the Haitian thing again. At the border, about 2 in the morn, the Canadian douanes gave Rudolph a thorough going over. Finally, we make it to snow-packed Montréal.

How we met Mimi (Parent) and Claudette (Lalonde) I don't remember. But that same night the girls took us in -- in a tri-plex somewhere off Sherbooke. I remember the locale because it was in walking distance to the Central Library on Avenue Sherbrooke, where I spent some time.

I hooked up with Mimi. (Rudolph, with Claudette). Young love. And I fell in love -- with the city. I even wrote some mash notes to the late Jean Drapeau, then the mayor. He responded. Back and forth -- until it ended.

Later returned to Québec, traveling with my parents and Froma.

My francophile phase segued into an anglophile period. How these things come about is anyone's guess. Nancy and I enjoyed some Canadian ventures. I remember going to St. Miquelon with her on assignment from the Sunday Telegram.

But it wasn't until the early 1980s that I returned to Montréal. I was working for Collette Travel as a tour guide, guiding forlorn, disoriented bus people to Montréal and Québec, for the most part. Funny thing was that I didn't spend alot of time learning about the city. Rather, I was partying with fellow guides. (Did snag a few Canadian editions of John O'Hara, however).
After that it was fickleness. Except for some transfers, enroute to and from Europe, I didn't return here again for any period to speak of until last summer. Yet another stage has set in -- that of the flaneur. Je me souviens.