Category Archives: Quebec

Back in NYC

I got in late last night on the train. The Amtrak train was 2 hours late both ways – going up to Montréal and coming back to NYC. I really support the idea of passenger rail travel, both for environmental reasons and just for the retro glamour and romance of it all, but Amtrak has a lot of room for improvement. Not only was the train late, but the café car ran out of food less than half-way into the trip. Not like there was much selection in the first place, just some sandwiches, burgers and hotdogs, reheated in a microwave. I really miss Japanese trains for their puntuality, customer service, and selection of good food – such as special, regional bento boxes known as “Ekiben” (駅弁).
Anyway, I was starving by the time I got home at 9:30 pm. So I dropped off my bags and went out again to pick up some takeout Pad Thai at Royal Siam, a Thai restaurant just around the corner from the apartment, and a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon (a very light, cheap American lager, but perfect with spicy food) at the corner bodega. I pigged out at home and I was quickly asleep.

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Filed under New York, Personal, Quebec, Travel, Uncategorized

Pictures from Québec

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Above and below: Two views from the train from NYC to Montréal.

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Above: Hot air baloon festival, view from the train, just after passing into Canada.

Below: The lake by Fred’s house. Very Dawson’s Creek!
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Above and Below: A photo-essay about modesty.

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Above: close-up of the lake

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Wafu Noodle Salad 和風冷麺サラダ

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A Fred and LS original recipe. We made this cold noodle salad for lunch on Friday and enjoyed it al fresco on the terrace.

Ingredients:

cooked udon noodles, rinsed in cold water

julienned carrots and cucumber and turkey cold cuts

chunks of avocado

wedges of tomato

chopped green onion

Arrange the vegetables on top of the noodles in a bowl. Garnish with some sesame seeds and season with Wafu Dressing. Mix well before eating. If you can’t find Wafu Dressing, any soy, sesame or miso-based Japanese-style dressing will do. A perfect lunch for a late summer day.
Links:

http://wafu.ca/

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Filed under Cuisine, Food, Japan, Japanese, Pictures, Quebec, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized

Update from Quebec

I left New York early on Thursday morning for what was supposed to be a 10 hour train ride up through Upstate New York to Montreal, Quebec, but we were stopped at customs for nearly 2 hours, so I arrived in the Montreal nearly 2 hours late. Fred came to pick me up and whisked me off to his house in the country, about an hour and 15 minutes outside of the city.

Friday, we spent some time out by the lake next to the house, just enjoying the weather. It is quite nice to get out of the city for a little bit. As much as I love NYC, I thought it was really cool to see a real beaver dam and some happy, lazy cows grazing in the countryside. Friday night, we met up with Mark, another friend from Japan who is now living in downtown Montreal. We went to an excellent Vietnamese restaurant for dinner where you can bring your own wine and not have to pay a corkage fee – a fantastic idea we need to implement in restaurants south of the border. Then we walked around a bit, looking for places to get a drink, and we ended up at this rooftop terrace of a bar. The terrace itself was pretty cool, but the sangria we ordered with frighteningly sweet and the crowd was like, tragic or something. Lots of short, short men and some high school kids mixed in. A hilarious parade of oompa-loompas and jailbait. Fun!

This morning, we went to get some brunch and then headed to a suburban shopping mall, more to enjoy the free air-conditioning than anything else. Shopping malls, that cultural nexus that unites us all across this vast continent, from North to South, East to West!

I will upload some picts later when I get a chance. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Japan, Personal, Quebec, Travel, Uncategorized

Recipe: Gâteau à l’orange

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This is a recipe for an orange cake that I got from Fred in Québec. He got it from his grandmother who got it from a newspaperway back in the day. The ingredients and the recipe are simple, but the results are delicious. Here is my slighty jazzed-up Anglophone version:

Ingredients

4 large free-range eggs

2 cups of white sugar

2 cups of white flour

2 teaspoons of baking soda

a pinch of salt

3/4 cup of vegetable oil (I used a half cup of neutral safflower oil and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil to give the cake that Mediterranean je ne sais quoi)

2/3 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1 and a half oranges)

Grated rind of 1 orange

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

powdered sugar (for topping)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 Celsius).

2. Beat together the eggs and the white sugar for 2 minutes

3. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and beat into the egg and sugar mixture

4. Beat in the rest of the ingredients except for the powdered sugar and transfer batter to a ring-shaped cake pan or a Bundt cake pan

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean

6. Allow the cake to cool complete, remove from cake pan, invert onto a serving plate and top with sifted powdered sugar. Et voilà, c’est fini! Très simple et délicieux.

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Filed under Cuisine, Food, Personal, Quebec, Recipes, Uncategorized

VISCA CATALUNYA LLIURE! VIVA CATALUÑA LIBRE! VIVE LA CATALOGNE LIBRE!

The people of Catalonia have voted 'yes' by a margin of 74% to the Statute of Autonomy. Catalonia is a region (or what some consider a "nation without a state") located in the northeastern part of Spain, which includes the vibrant city of Barcelona. The traditional "Catalan Countries" (Paisos Catalans) also includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and Northern Catalonia across the Pyrenees, which is now under French jurisdiction.

I had the honor of spending an academic year (2000-2001) studying at the University of Barcelona and have been following the progress of the Catalan people towards greater self-determination ever since.
The Catalans have their own language and culture that is quite distinct from the Castillian (AKA "Spanish") language and culture of central and southern Spain. The Catalonia have historical claims to an independent state dating back to the Middle Ages but eventually, there country was carved up and swallowed up by Spain and France. Also in more recent history, the Catalan language and culture were suppressed during the Franco dictatorship in Spain.

Despite the large margin voting in favor of the Statute of Autonomy, there was also a rather worrying rate of abstention. Slightly less than 50% of registered voters voted in the referendum. Both Spanish nationalists, who believe in maintaining the centralized, unified nature of the Spanish state, and Catalan nationalists, who want nothing less than full independence opposed the Statute. However, the statute was supported by Zapatero's Socialist government in Madrid which is also pursuing talks with Basque nationalists. In concrete terms, the new Statute would give Catalonia's government more tax revenues from the central government in Madrid as well as more say in areas such as the management of immigration, airports and language and culture.

While some may argue that "autonomy" just means an added layer of bureaucratic red-tape, I would still have to say that autonomy is a step in the right direction, with full independence through a democratic process being the most desirable end result in the long term. After all, in the last few weeks, we have seen Montenegro and Serbia become independent countries through peaceful, democratic means, putting the final nail in the coffin of the former Yugoslavia. I think the increasing number of independent, sovereign states in the world is good for democracy and good for the protection of cultural and linguistic diversity. We have other historical examples of peaceful and democratic separations of nation-states, such as the Velvet Divorce of Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well as the independence of Norway from Sweden.

It is interesting to note that while there has been a greater trend towards "national" and regional sovereignty and autonomy, there is also the parallel trend of international integration – such as the European Union. These trends work very well in tandem, even if they sound contradictory at first. The basis of international, interstatal organizations is that of national sovereignty. All parties come to the table as sovereign states. So the Catalan people, should have the right to negotiate in the context of the European Union as a sovereign state, equal in standing to Spain or France or any other E.U. member state. Only then can the system be truly democratic and ensure the protection of cultural diversity in a globalizing world.

Economically, an independent Catalan state is viable.  Along with the the Basque Country, it is one of the most economically developed regions in Spain.  On the socio-cultural level, even though Catalan is considered a "minority language," in absolute numbers, it has more speakers than European "national" languages such as Danish, Norwegian or Finnish. 

Radio-Canada has also recently done a report on Catalonia, comparing the situation there with that of Québec.  Both are regions with minority cultures and languages with nationalist aspirations.  Both have embarked on projects of linguistic and cultural revitalization as a way of countering years of colonialism, assimilation, and neglect.  Catalan leaders interviewed in the report openly admited that Québec served as a model for Catalonia in terms of linguistic and cultural policy.

In a broader context, we can apply the example of Catalonia to other regions/nations without a state.  Certainly, China can learn a lesson or two.  China is still working under outdated, imperialist notions of the Chinese "nation" when it comes to its policies towards Xinjiang (East Turkestan), Tibet, and Taiwan (even though Taiwan is already de facto independent since 1949).  Obviously, China is growing very quickly on an economic level, and it seeks to maintain its territorial integrity as a way of maintaining law and order as well as to ensure its access to natural resources.  However, a "smarter" way to progress would be to allow for state-to-state relations on the political level while maintaining increasingly integrated economic ties.  So in the case of Taiwan – let us be our own country, but let's work together economically.  Otherwise, Chinese policies amount to nothing less than imperialism, no better than the Japanese imperialism of the first half of the 20th century that the Chinese government is so quick to point out and attack Japan for.

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Filed under Catalonia, Politics, Quebec, Uncategorized

movie review: C.R.A.Z.Y.

Fred gave me the DVD of C.R.A.Z.Y. as a parting gift before I left Québec.

This award-winning film traces two decades (1960-1980) in the life of the Beaulieus, a suburban, middle-class, Québec family. The title of the film refers to the song of the same name by American country music singer, Patsy Cline, which functions as a leitmotif through the course of the film. It is also an acronym for the first names of the five brothers in the Beaulieu family: Christian, Raymond, Antoine, Zachary and Yvan.

The plot focuses on Zac, the fourth brother who is born on Christmas Day, 1960, and his relationship with his father, Gervais, who works in construction. Early on, it becomes evident that he is "not like the other boys." His mother takes him to the eccentric tupperware saleswoman and mystic, Madame Chose, who tells him that he has a gift from God. The film takes us through Zac's life as he grows up, comes to terms with his "gift" and his being different, and follows the relation between Zac, Gervais and the rest of the family through the years from estrangement to reconciliation. In the background of all of this family drama is the social milieu of the Quiet Revolution, Québec society's own coming of age, where the values of the government, the Catholic Church, and society as a whole were put into question and reformed and reestablished.

Besides the eponymously titled Patsy Cline song, Charles Aznavour's "Emmène-moi au bout de la terre" also functions as a reoccuring leitmotif, as it is the family patriarch's song of choice to sing at family gatherings, even as times change and the years, and decades go by. Along the way, we also hear emblematic tracks by Pink Floyd, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and others. The soundtrack of the film functions as a means of evoking the time period depicted in the film as well as reflecting Québec's particular place as a middle ground between Anglo-American and French cultures. As a note of trivia, apparently, securing the legal rights to the soundtrack took up a large chunk of the budget for this film, whose high production values and high budget look and feel which suggest the Canadian film industry's own coming of age.

C.R.A.Z.Y. succedes in acheiving that which is common to all great films. It takes us into the lives of a particular group of characters (the Beaulieu family) in a specific time and place (Québec in the 60's and 70's), shows us a wide range of human emotions, and yet also manages to touch upon the universals of the human experience that we can all identify with: growing up and coming of age, the relationship between fathers and sons, coming to terms with being "different" and the establishment of one's own identity, and the reconciliation of one's religious background and one's own definition of faith.

This film has it all, so check it out!

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