I was sitting in the midst of Bitches Brew Revisited, one of the opening-night concerts at the Montreal Jazz Festival — excuse me, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal — when it occurred to me why jazz is so popular here: Because French Canadians are basically French, and the French can be reliably counted on to embrace anything most Americans hate. It makes them feel superior. Perhaps they are superior. They’ve certainly got the charming-city thing figured out. “Bitches Brew,” I’m not so sure. There are moments in that record that feel like genius, others more like the emperor’s new clothes. That’s when your mind wanders.
So I’m starting a list: Things the French Love that (Most) Americans Hate. So far: Modern jazz, sweetbreads, politicians with wandering peckers. Let’s leave Jerry Lewis off for now. Dig deeper.
And yes, we had a fine time in Montreal. You are free to disagree with my contention that French Canadians are “basically French.” I’m aware that to a Parisian, a French Canadian is a knuckle-dragging, fur hat-wearing lummox. A former editor of mine was French Canadian on his mother’s side and spoke the language, and told me a story once of riding in a taxi from the Paris airport, chatting up the driver, who complimented him on his graceful usage while simultaneously disparaging those blockhead Canucks who massacre it every day in his taxi, and… Suddenly this is sounding very much like a taxi story, I realize.
Whatever. I did enjoy being immersed in a different language for a few days, because it reminds you both of how very much you know and how very much you don’t know. I pointed out to Kate several times that faking it through a foreign country isn’t so hard, that much of it is non-verbal puzzle-solving and other tricks. The elevator button for the hotel lobby says R instead of L, but it’s nothing you can’t figure out. Besides, it’s so amusing. The Lonely Planet guide said that even in France, stop signs are red, octagonal and say STOP, but in Quebec, they’re red, octagonal and say ARRET. Still, if you know the red octagon part, you can figure out the rest. And it’s fun to speak fake French, and speculate on why it’s the language of diplomacy; my theory is that it sounds much classier to call someone le sac du douche than just a douchebag.
More stories to come as the week wears on. For now, just this one, transitioning into the bloggage: We were questioned closely at the border, entering Canada, about our plans for the week, and whether we were going to stop in Toronto for the G20 conference.
“The G20 is meeting in Toronto?” I asked. “I didn’t know that.”
“I thought, as journalists, you would know about the half billion we’ve spent on security, the anarchist protestors, and all the rest of it,” the guard said.
Shamed! I was shamed. To be sure, the G20 is one of those things I pay attention to when it’s going on, but criminy, buddy, the pregame is sort of the definition of a local story. Nevertheless, once we were in the Globe & Mail circulation area, it was hard to avoid, and coming home Saturday, we stopped for dinner in a suburb of the big T, and watched the violence on live TV. It looked pretty bad, but I’m just going to throw this out there and see what you think:
Police love nothing more than expecting trouble. It gives them a big, big bargaining chip to present to their municipalities, in return for a blank check. When the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Fort Wayne, the sheriff’s deputies fell out in a long row behind a line of riot shields that were so new you could practically see the stickum where the price tags had been. Riot shields are not normally gear the Allen County Sheriff’s Department uses, and I’m sure that was only the beginning. News that the world’s anarchists are coming to your city is music to a cop’s ears, as it represents huge overtime checks, helmets and gas masks and, for the bullies, a license to swing a club.
Which is not to say they wouldn’t rather be patrolling a pleasant summer day in the park. I’m just saying there’s a time in every job when you’re needed, and that feels good to everyone. I’m not saying I agree with the contentions in this rather paranoid article — short version: that, in need of a reason to use all that new equipment and justify its expense, that the police started their own riot — but it’s interesting to think about. The stuff about the shoes is intriguing.
I don’t know what the total damage in Toronto will be. But if half a billion in advance spending couldn’t stop it, maybe a different approach is called for next time.
Full-on bloggage today:
A story for Pride 2010, via Hank: After 45 years, a wedding. Also, an 89-year-old Stonewall vet sits it out this year.
The Back of Town blog — the “Treme” people — gets some love.
The Texas GOP comes out against oral sex. Way to nail down the swing vote, guys.
Susan Ager came out of retirement to write a very long account of her recent brush with endometrial cancer in Sunday’s Free Press. I know the lady had — has — a lot of fans, but I was rarely one of them. She didn’t even rank on the Albom Scale of Irritation, but she could get on my nerves. I can take or leave Sunday’s story — it’s certainly better than most of what they run on that space — but can I just say something? When I was a columnist, I got a certain amount of fan mail, and it wasn’t all from Brian Stouder. But when I published reader letters, I cut that stuff out. If someone wrote me a letter, told me how much they liked my column and then commenced to ask a question about something else, I cut right to the question. So when I read stuff like this…
(The surgeon) smiled at my bedside and said, “You’re meeting me for the first time, but I’ve known you for years through your work.”
…I cringe. What happened to self-effacement? There was a DetNews columnist who did the same thing. When she was off sick, she’d come back and write a column about how sick she’d been, peppered with reader notes about how much they’d missed her beautiful face smiling out of the newspaper. I ask you.
And now I ask you for leave, because, as usual, Monday is a killer.