Wednesday, August 19, 2009

But Google Maps Said To Turn Left!

All I really wanted was some poutine.

When travelling, I like to have a single, attainable goal around which to organize the vacation. When b&c and I went to Italy a couple of years ago, for example, he asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, "I want to see David." And he said, "We're going to be in Italy for nine days." And I said, "Yeah. I want to see David." And he said, "David's in Florence. We're in Florence for three days. It'll take one morning to see it. We're also in Venice for two days and Rome for four days." And I said, "Well, I hear it's a very interesting country. I'm sure we'll find things to do. Maybe we can drink some wine while we're there. As long as I get to see David." Which I did. And it was a great trip. I loved every minute there, except maybe for the half hour or so after that pickpocket in Rome nicked my wallet. I especially liked David, but the wine and the gorgonzola and the thirty or so different versions of the Annunciation that I saw were pretty nice, too.

Anyway, I'm in Montreal this week, with EFU and YFU. Normally, we go to my parents' summer place in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but EFU complained, with some justification, that I go on a lot of foreign vacations, but that I never take them anywhere. So I looked into cheap hotel fares, and decided that while 500 miles is a long, long way inside a car, we could handle it (twice). The single, attainable goal for this trip was to have some authentic Montreal poutine.

I've coveted poutine for some time now. I've read about it in multiple places, mostly on a blog by an American expatriate. Poutine, for those of you who might not know is basically an order of french fries topped with cheese curds and topped with gravy. In subsequent research, I've learned that there are many variations available in the Montreal area, and I'm sure they're all fine. (Someone in my office, for example, said that when she was here earlier this year, she had a poutine that included smoked meat, another Montreal specialty.) But I was looking for the classic variety (There are, after all, several replicas of David, including two in Florence, but they really don't have the same impact.), and I had it on good authority that the Costcos in Montreal make a good poutine.

I, like any right-thinking person, adore Costco. And I rarely, if ever, visit another country without making a point of visiting at least one of its supermarkets (also laundromats, but that's another entry), and I'd never visited a non-U.S. Costco, so I'd have wanted to go to one in Montreal even without the siren song of poutine to draw me in.

I had originally planned the Costco trip later in the week, but it turns out that Hotwire and I have different ideas about what constitutes a two-star hotel. Our hotel, near the Vieux-Port, is entirely charming. The staff are friendly and helpful, the location is reasonably close to a Metro station (Champ-de-Mars), and the room is fine. Except for the medieval torture device being passed off as a bed. And the thirty-eight stairs between the lobby and my second-floor room (YFU and EFU are on the third floor: fifty-six stairs). Which, really, I wouldn't mind, but I would have appreciated a warning. I was driving, so I didn't bother trying to pack light (the planned trip to the laundromat notwithsanding: it's been very hot and humid here this week, and while I'm having a great time, I'm sweating through clothing at a record pace), and if I'd known I'd be walking up, I'd have brought a lot less.

Anyway, after two nights on the so-called bed, I could barely stand upright, and I figured (correctly, as it happened) that one thing Montreal Costcos were likely to keep in stock was camping mats, the kind you put under a sleeping bag. I don't have any of these, and they're useful things, so I thought I'd just buy a couple, put them on top of the bed while I'm here, then pack them up and take them home until another use presents itself.

So I go on the Costco website and determine that the nearest Costco is probably the one on Rue Bridge. I find the location and directions on gmaps, I retrieve the car from the parking garage, I get the kids in the car, and we head off, driving through what is apparently the touristy section of Vieux Montreal. (It's just over the hill from our part of Vieux Montreal, which is right near where the homeless people camp out. But it's fine here: it's very Europeanish. In fact, the homeless people camp out in the actual Champ de Mars, which appears to be a very pretty park.) And then the Vieux-Port turns into something more industrial, something that looks more like a working port. And I'm following the directions, which tell me to take a left on Rue Bridge, after which my destination will be on the right.

And, hey, I know that Americans shouldn't, but always do, assume that things will be the same somewhere else as they are at home, but at home, a Costco is something that you just can't miss. But somehow here, well, I was way back in a line of cars, and I was in the left lane, so I would have had to hang a left anyway, but the first evidence of Costco I see is the Costco gas pumps, and it's not that uncommon in the States for the gas pumps to be an outlier of the main Costco, so I didn't turn in at the gas pumps: I figured the big Costco building with the giant Costco signage would be after that, on the right, where gmaps said my destination was. But then I didn't see any other Costco signage. And then I didn't see any other place where I could turn around (or left or right). And then it became obvious why Rue Bridge was called Rue Bridge, as I was inexorably pulled by the flow of traffic across the Pont Victoria. And, you know what else? There are lanes on both sides of the Pont Victoria, but they both head south. It's a one way bridge.

I should say right now that some of the southern Montreal suburbs are especially lovely, and I regret that having no idea where the fuck I was robbed me of the opportunity to fully appreciate the architecture.

But you know, being in my car and having no idea where the fuck I am is not exactly an unusual experience for me. And the kids are used to it, too, so nobody got particularly upset. There was some laughing at me as I turned and u-turned and otherwise felt my way to a generally eastward direction and toward a (distant) bridge that would take me back to Montreal. And all this was happening around 5:30 in the afternoon, so there was a lot of traffic. But, at a very slow pace, we got back over the bridge and found our way back to Vieux Montreal and waved at the hotel room as we tried again. And this time when we got to the intersection with Rue Bridge, I thought I'd probably turn left just to avoid going over the (very nice, I'm sure) Pont Victoria again, but then when I got to the intersection, I looked straight ahead and saw a large building. And at the intersection I saw a very small sign saying Costco and Entree. And as I drove into the parking lot, I thought, "Wow, if that Costco was a snake, well, it'd be a really big snake with very modest signage, and it would probably swallow me whole before I could get away from it."

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with modest signage. It's impossible to come to Montreal (or, I suppose other parts of Canada, but surtout Montreal) without realizing that you live in a wholly inferior country. I felt the American taint especially profoundly as I was trying to find my way around the banlieues. On occasion, I'd have to make a very safe but otherwise unsanctioned and unconventional U-turn, and one of the local drivers would honk, on general principle, and I would call out, "Desolé! Crazy American driver."

Certainly, going into Costco in Montreal does nothing to ease the sense of inferiority. I'm told that the Costcos in (or near) San Francisco are also superior to my local Costco, but I bet they don't sell fresh oysters. Or such good chocolate (80%!). And they certainly don't sell poutine.

But alas -- and here we must stop for the deepest of sighs -- I am still getting ahead of myself. Because after I had shown my Costco card and we'd entered and seen the small sign saying that the food court there did, in fact, sell poutine, we went around the store and filled the shopping cart with camping mats (and, I must say, they've been a great help: my back is much better) and very reasonably priced high quality chocolate and a sweater for each of the girls, I arrived at the checkout counter, where the fully bilingual cashier told me that while Montreal Costco (like the ones at home) take debit cards, they don't take debit cards that also bear the Visa logo. Or MasterCard, I suppose. They take bank cards and American Express (like at home) but not my bank card. The people behind me in line assured me that Costco does take debit cards, but a) the cashier looked at them, smiled, and said, "Do you work here?" and b) my debit card had already been turned down by the machine.

I asked whether there was an ATM in the store, and there was, but when I got there, the person checking cards at the entree told me that I could try the ATM, but it wouldn't work. So I tried it, and it took me through all the steps, but then it didn't work. So I went back to the caisse and sadly asked for my Costco card back, saying that I would have to return another time. The cashier shrugged and called out for a cancellation. I motioned to the girls, but YFU said, "What about your poutine, Dad?" And EFU said, "We can just wait here while you find another ATM."

Which was not easy. Costco, as you'd might expect, is not in the center of Montreal, so I had to head back towards town, repeating in my head the names of streets as I turned off them so I could find my way back without making another loop on two or more of Montreal's main bridges. And after ten minutes or so of driving around, I spotted an ATM, which I managed to reach after only another five minutes of turns, and then I found my way back to Costco, and I stood in line again, and the cashier said, "Look, the total is still the same!" I appreciated her good nature, and if she waited until I was gone to castigate Americans in French, well, we probably deserve it, right?

When I got through the checkout line, YFU and EFU were just returning with the food, and, well, poutine might not be David, but it's totally worth organizing a trip around. So good, so good, soooooo good. The kids only had a bite each, and they didn't really see what the big deal was, but, hey, that's why I'm not rushing to waste a couple of thousand bucks to take them to Florence. YFU did say that the frites were the best fries she'd ever had. I think maybe they still cook them in beef fat there. Poutine is not exactly health food. I think it might have a little more sodium than is strictly considered healthy, too. But it's worth a trip.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you actually were able to finish it! We always split one and then can't finish it.

    Hope your visit is a nice one. Too bad socializing with bloggers wasn't on your agenda. Sniff.