Our dirt bikes bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they're better than yours.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

J'aime les discotheques francais!

... and by "tonight," I clearly meant "tomorrow afternoon."

Anyway, I just got back from Île d'Orléans, which was actually quite interesting despite the fact that it's been pouring all day, but more on that later. First, I'll tell you about our trip to the traditional cabane a sucre on Thursday. On the one hand, I wasn't expecting much, as these things are always kind of touristy and staged. On the other, I was expecting it to at least be somewhat worthwhile, as, believe it or not, I've never really done any of that traditional maple syrup-related stuff every Canadian kid gets to experience at some point.

Well, I guess I wasn't missing much, because if that's how incredibly shitty this kind of thing is in Québec—the land of maple syrup!—I can't imagine what it must be like in the rest of Canada. Okay, so here's how the night unfolded: first, we had a "traditional Québecois" dinner, which consisted of pea soup, Wonder Bread, fried pork rinds, hash browns, some really gross, watery egg thing, beans with more pork, and microwaveable tortiere, with deep-fried crepes for dessert (not nearly as good as they sound). It could have been worse though; I could be a vegetarian, like my friend Joanna. See, when she paid her $20 (!) to go to this thing, she mentioned that she doesn't eat meat, and they gave her a sheet to put her name on. When she got there, she discovered that not only had they not bothered telling the people at the cabane that there were vegetarians coming, but that they weren't really willing to do anything about it once we got there (this is entirely the fault of the idiots running this thing, by the way, not the people at the cabane). Eventually, they gave in and made her whatever they had left in the kitchen, which consisted of macaroni with tomato soup on it (I'm not kidding).

After dinner, some guy wearing a fur hat and a flannel shirt (I think he was supposed to be a lumberjack or something) came out and played French folk music (which apparently includes that chicken dance song) for a while, while everyone—except for a few of us cynics who are way too cool to enjoy that kind of thing—performed this dance that involved holding hands and running around in a circle, mixed in with everyone running into the middle together while going "WooooooooooOOOOOOOO!" (and still holding hands). Then they brought out the maple syrup on ice for us to eat, which was okay, if sickeningly sweet. Then, THEN, we got to go on a "traditional" hay ride, except that there was more French folk music being piped into the wagon, and instead of horses there was a tractor. Oh, and did I mention that there were cardboard deer and moose bolted to the trees along the road so we could pretend we were seeing wildlife? Yeah. It was CRAZY.

Right. So that was Thursday. Last night, after much sitting around trying to make a decision about what we were going to do (I like it here—it's just like being at home), we decided to go check out this discotheque downtown. I know it doesn't really sound like my kind of thing, but it was the kind of place that just doesn't exist at home (it was really more like being at a rave than anything), and therefore it seemed like a worthwhile to see, if only as a tourist attraction. So we danced to terrible techno and drank expensive bottles of Molson Dry until 2:30 in the morning (clubs here are open LATE), and then realized that we had to get up in five hours to go to Île d'Orléans, so we went home.

Before I get on to today, I just want to reiterate to everyone how much Edmonton sucks. Québec is a much, much smaller city than Edmonton, and yet there is SO much more going on. Even at 2:30 in the morning, there are still huge crowds on the street, and you just get a sense that interesting stuff is happening constantly (there's a big music festival on right now, including the likes of ZZ Top, the Black Eyed Peas, Billy Talent, and Simple Plan—shitty bands, yes, but when's the last time any of them played in Edmonton?). This isn't like Whyte Ave at 2:30am, either—first of all, there are people out on more than one street, and, more importantly, while there are lots of drunk idiots, there are also lots of people just hanging out and enjoying the nightlife. When's the last time you walked down Whyte late at night and saw middle-aged couples sitting on benches just enjoying the action? So, in conclusion, Québec - Laval = awesome.

So anyway, after very little sleep we got up this morning and headed down to Île d'Orléans, which was the site of one of the first French settlements in North America and is still known today for the traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants (very few of them speak English). We saw a restored 18th-century manor, which was probably interesting, except the tour was given in incredibly fast French, so I didn't get much out of it; the first church built on the island (in 1680); the Parc de la Chute Montmorency (basically, a giant waterfall—this would have been much more interesting if it wasn't pouring and I had brought an umbrella); and, best of all, this Belgian apple orchard where they make all kinds of cider, jellies, preserves, mustards, and vinegars. This made me feel like I was getting something worthwhile for my money for once, as we got to sample everything, and then got a free lunch of salad, bread, and paté made from the cute little ducks we saw swimming in the pond on the way in. Delicious. We also got another glass of cider. (This may not sound that exciting, but compare it to my account of the cabane a sucre.) All of this got me so excited that I ended up spending $75 on cider, vinegar, and jam to take home (it probably isn't nearly as good as I thought, but keep in mind this was also the first decent food I've eaten since I got here).

So, all in all, it's been a decent day. I'm going to take a nap, and then go find out what crazy dance club we're going to make asses out of ourselves at tonight.

Friday, July 08, 2005

J'ai un ordinateur

That's right: after three very long, computerless days, those French assholes finally finished "virus scanning" my Mac and gave it back to me. (The worst part? My friend Joanna decided she was just going to lie and tell them she paid the $25 necessary to get it back on the same day, figuring they're so disorganized here that they'd never figure it out. Sure enough, she got her computer back in less than a day, after paying the same amount as me.)

Anyway, I promise I'll start posting regularly (not that it matters, since I don't think anyone is reading this anymore) now that I don't have to use those crazy French keyboards in the "bibliothéque" or, as they call it here, Pavillon Jean-Charles Bonenfant. It's actually kind of ridiculous: every single building here is called Pavillon [insert some French guy's name here], so you have no idea what's in any of them. For example, our residence is Pavillon Agathe-Lacerte, the students' union building is Pavillon Alphonse-Desjardins, the main French language centre is Pavillon Charles-De Koninck, and my classes are in Pavillon Adrien-Pouliot. Retarded!

Anyway, things here have improved a lot since I last posted. I believe I was complaining about the lack of things to do and the lack of interesting people I've met. Well, first of all, classes started on Wednesday, and they take up about half the day. They're split into four periods, just like high school, and we take grammar, oral, and phonetics classes. We haven't done much so far, but strangely enough, it actually seems like they're going to be really interesting for, well, classes on grammar, speaking, and phonetics (phonetics, by the way, is to teach us how to speak with a perfect Québecois accent so we can be horribly ridiculed next time we go to France. Today we learned how to make the French "u" sound—this may seem obvious, but there's actually a very subtle difference in the pronunciation of, for example, dessus and dessous.) So far it seems like it's going to be pretty easy, except for the oral class (speaking is definitely my weak point, but I've made some new friends—like Joanna, who I mentioned earlier—who are much better at French than me, and who are good to practice with).

I've also been doing a lot more now that I've met some more people. On Wednesday we finally made it into Vieux Québec, which is beautiful, just as I'd expected (basically, it feels like you leave Canada and enter Europe as soon as you cross through the old walls. I took a bunch of pictures but, of course, forgot to bring the cable I need to transfer them to my computer so I can post them, so you'll have to wait until I get back to see them). A bunch of us went together, including me, that Stephanie girl I mentioned in my last post, Joanna, an Portugese-American named Jennifer, a Saskatchewanian (?) named Sean, and a guy from Venezuela named Nelson. As we were getting a guy from Toronto to take a picture of all of us in front of a statue of Champlain, it hit me that we looked exactly like those incredibly posed photos of students on exchanges you always see in brochures and on websites: happy, ethnically diverse, and standing in front of some big monumemnt.

Anyway, I have to run right now, as we're going on a guided tour of the city at 3pm. I'll continue this tonight.

The losers are like redwoods in Edmonton...

Man, was it ever a drinky night at the Dog yesterday, as what started out around 8pm as a few editors hanging around and having a few pints in honour of Mr. Paul Matwychuk's leaving Vue for greener pastures gradually turned into a full-out Vue Weekly staff party, complete with far too many free drinks courtesy of Ron. It was a night full of conversations about newspapers, true ghost stories, how to shuffle a deck of cards with one hand, how Lyle actually did get fucked by Liberty Mutual, trying to figure out why the poker set we bought for Paul was so fucking unbelieveably heavy... though I think I was handling myself well on the outside, by about 1am I was far too drunk on the inside to be in a bar anymore. And I was just about to leave when who should walk down the stairs but Dave Alexander. That forced a few more pints down my throat. And forced Fish to shoot this picture.

Anyhow, long story short, there's a magpie that's been visiting my bedroom window pretty regularly for the past few days at 9:30 in the morning and doing that thing where they screech like an abandoned baby at nothing at particular. Which, when you went to bed at 4, isn't too hot. So yeah, I got that going on.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Vive le Québec!

That's right: I've thrown off the shackles of my Alberta-loving ways and have converted to Parti Québecois-brand separatism. I think it has something to do with these crazy French keyboards, where there's actually a key for the letter "é" (accent included), and you have to press shift to type a period.

Anyway, sorry for the lack of posts over the last couple of days. They have this strange rule here where if you want the internet in your room, you have to leave your laptop with them for anywhere up to three days while they scan it for viruses (apparently the fact that I have a Mac doesn't factor in). I left it there yesterday and just walked over in the pouring rain to see if it's ready yet (they can't call me because the phone in my room doesn't work), and it's totally not.

And speaking of the rain, I have never seen weather like this before. You know how when it rains at home it gets really cold and still manages to feel dry? Not so here, my friends! It's absolutely pouring right now, and 33 degrees (I just checked the Weather Network--that's how exciting this is to me). I don't think I've ever walked around in the pouring rain while sweating--I guess all you newly converted Torontonians understand this, but it's pretty crazy for a naïve Edmontonian like me.

Anyway, things here have been pretty okay so far (much more okay than my insane tendency to assume the absolute worst is going to happen whenever I put myself in a situation like this had led me to assume--just ask Chris). I have to admit I was still absolutely terrified on the plane over here, but there was something about just getting here and seeing it that automatically made me start to feel better. I met a few people on the bus on the way in from the airport, including Mattthew Wildcat, that lone Native Studies counsellor at the U of A who always wins his seat with one or two votes--he totally knew who I was from the Gateway! For the most part, though, I've been hanging out with three girls (I know--girls!!) who I met on Sunday. They're okay and everything (I quite like one of them, Jaime, probably because she's 29 and I can't seem to make any friends my own age; another one, Stephanie, seemed kind of lame at first, mainly because she kept talking about how Catholic she is, but then she got drunk with us last night, which kind of changed my opinion--yes, I'm incredibly shallow, and base all my opinions of people on how much they drink; and the third, Katrina, is, well, 18 and just out of high school. That's probably all you need to know about her).

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to classes starting so I can meet some more people (yep, that's right: I've been here for three days and classes still haven't started). We spent yesterday writing our placement exams, and then in the afternoon had to go to a welcome ceremony, which involved some guy playing a guitar and singing a song whose chorus was--get this--"un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, Québec!" Good times. We then stood in several more lines, to get our bursaries, student ID cards, etc. The strangest part? Instead of giving us meal cards, they gave us slips of paper ("cheques," if you will), that we then had to take to the bank to exchange for $600 in cold, hard $100 and $50 bills. This strikes me as a terrible idea for the younger, more irresponsible people among us, but whatever, I guess. Then, in the evening, there was a welcome soirée (I'm learning French!) that was just as lame as the welcome ceremony (and involved the same guitar-playing, French folk music-loving guy getting everyone to make fools of themselves by inducing them to dance to his terrible music). We escaped early, though, and I went to Le Pub (the originally named bar on campus) with Matthew and a couple of his friends.

Then, today, we got up early yet again (do you know how long it's been since I've had to be up at 7am five days a week? Since high school, at least) to get our placements. I made it into an intermediate-level class (yay, I guess!), and then we went to meet our profs and take oral and written exams so they could see where we're at. Then, because everything is incredibly poorly organized here, we had the entire afternoon off with nothing to do, so I spent most of it sleeping in my shitty res room. Good times.

Anyway, all in all this seems like it's going to be relatively fun. There's some sort of "activity" every day, except for Sundays, and on the weekends we get to do things like go whale-watching and go to places like Île d'Orléans and Trois Rivières, which I hear from Fresh is AWESOME. The one thing I really want to do first, though, is actually get off campus and go see the city. Luckily, Jaime invited me to come into town tomorrow along with her and her friend who lives here, so it'll be nice to do that with someone who actually knows the city.

Anyway, I'll start posting more regularly when I get my computer back. In the meantime, bonne chance, or something.

Oh, wait, before I go, here's a fun fact: the radio station here is called CHYZ. Hilarious? Oui.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

life as a one-bedroom basement apartment that needs vaccuuming

Sup, fools! So this is the first day of Kristine being in Quebec City for her month-long second-language program, and already I'm really, really bored. Not that I have nothing to do, of course; I do--but I also totally don't feel like doing it. It's 10:30 right now, and I should really be working on this gig review of The Fever show at New City that I convinced Exclaim to give me a shot on, but so far the muse has failed to move me. I'm probably just too nervous to start on it, I guess; it only has to be 300 words max, but I should also make it totally fucking awesome so they'll want to give me some more work in the future. Despite the ease of the workload, I'm finding the pressure to be kinda high. I'll quit being a big baby soon, though. Oh shit, and I just remembered that I have to do some Bestest of Edmonton entries for Paul tonight, too, which also seemed so easy that I left them to the last minute, at which point I discovered they're actually quite difficult.

Anyhow, instead of getting any work done, I used my newfound time to clean up this dump a bit and, uh, play a metric fuckload of XBox. GTA Carl and I are having some good times these days. We just made it to San Fierro, which unlocked the Gap-esque Zip clothing chain, which means I can now wear khaki shorts and a blue plaid bucket hat while I run around and kill strangers with a pool cue I stole from a bar up the street. I tell ya, you just can't buy that kind of happiness. Except, you kind of have to.

Also, Calgary third-string goaltender Dany Sabourin just held my mega-powered, 67-6-3 Canadiens to one goal on 47 shots in NHL 2004. Seriously. What the fuck is that. Needless to say, controllers were thrown and swears were swore, much to the presumed discomfort of my upstairs neighbour.

Okay, back to work. Or back to starting work. And oh hey, be sure to check out Rue Morgue's August issue, because I sure wrote the Travelogue of Terror on the Tower of London, and it sure is awesome. Yay, first thing I've written for a professional publication other than Vue! Take that, long-time employer!

And finally, Canada Day here was really boring. In fact, people are starting to treat the police presence as more of a novelty than anything else, if all the wandering bar girls posing for photos with cops were any indication. Clearly, fear has not been sufficiently struck in the hearts of Edmontonians.

Things sure are smoke-free around here now, too. If you're bored, check out the cover stories Darren and I wrote on the issue. Huh!