Sunday, July 24, 2005

Montréal, take me home...

Gawd, all the Niagara bitching sounds like "Holiday in Waikiki." And only April 2004? It seems like all this happened a lifetime ago.

Saturday, April 17th, 2004
11:38 am

My trip back to Sin City was a necessary evil - evil in that it drained me of loonies and drove me rather loony; necessary in that I got to see good friends and had to fulfill some professional obligations (or I got to see how some friendships were fulfilled amidst professional obligations). Ostensibly, I was back on the 401 to act as co-organizer of the storied Print Culture & The City conference. Saner, meaner people would have just blown it off. After all, it was already on my CV (and, having attended several eye-crossing meetings and done some preliminary work, it deserved to be on there) which I just know got me into my program of choice. Plus, neither print culture nor the city is my study object of choice (more like my object of derision in the latter case). So, the professional obligation was definitely not to myself beyond the fact that a few people will vaguely remember me as being dependable (and having an eternally patient husband willing to clock in 60 hours on the highway for his honey). I met a lot of nice people (my fave being U of Toronto's Sarah Brouillette who I sadly didn't run into until the toodle-oo party) and had an overall blast comme d'habitude. But also comme d'habitude, the intellectual stimulation was decidedly low voltage. Like the charnel house that was IASPM-Montreal last July, too many of the papers were of the "Look what I found!!!" variety, failing to follow it up with a "And here's why we should give a shit." No names (how crass of you!). Just the memories.

But let's jump back to some travelogue meat. Stuart and I decided to break up the trip for the first time since our first time (visions of Oshawa dance in my head). So I suggested London since it's the setting of the second greatest film of all-time (visions of The Hart of London dance in my head). And Stuart sealed the deal when he found a restaurant called Garlic's in the handy AAA book. We're both garlic FREAKS, known to chew on raw cloves in our immune systems' weaker moments. Needless to say, the restaurant was a hit. We started off with bread and two different kinds of butter/dipping sauces. One was apple-jalapeño or something like that. Next up was a roasted whole bulb of garlic as a spread, not bitter like the two times I roasted garlic. Then cream of garlic soup (swoon!). For the main course, I had Garlic's Linguini (linguini with roasted chicken, pancetta, wild mushrooms and snow peas in a garlic cream sprinkled with fried garlic) and Stuart had Roasted Garlic Penne (penne with roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, wild mushrooms, pine nuts, black olives in a basil pesto). We were too stuffed to brave garlic ice cream and besides, I had already tried it in Milwaukee with vomitorious results. The gay-seeming waiter provided entertainment with two difficult parties seated near us. One didn't like broccoli and told him to substitute it with whatever. Quoth the waiter: "Okay, I can't just go up to the cook and say 'Substitute the broccoli with whatever!' Look at other items on the menu to see what vegetables we have and pick one of those." As he whisked away, the broccoli-hater huffed "He was getting a little testy there." Rightfully so, sez I. What the fuck? The cook didn't get your bio, toots! Then someone else couldn't have anything cooked in olive oil. Okay, I live in a different country and I managed to figure the menu out BEFORE I got there. Maybe you shouldn't go to a restaurant that advertises extra virgin olive oil. (Sheesh - these are the kind of people responsible for the frazzled clerk at our hotel. He was practically groveling because someone fucked up our reservation and he had to give us a smoking room. I assured him that we were grateful to have the luxury of actually sleeping rather than driving 15 hours. Yes, I want a goddamn Bozo Button!)

All gassed up, we headed to Museum London on the Thames River (hmmm...) to see some Jack Chambers (the man behind The Hart of London) paintings. We discovered a huge, horny canvas by Atilla Lukacs and promptly bought a huge, horny book all about him (along with The Films of Jack Chambers which I knew I'd find in the gift shop). There was a huge room that was open to the public while being set up for a banquet. Inside was a Warhol, a Leger, a Mondrian but gawd knows what else because there were no placards (is that the word?) telling us what the hell we were looking at (or if they were even originals). Since it took up such a huge space, it was a huge letdown. Overall, though, I liked the modest scale of the museum, the fact that one could get in a good look at everything in about an hour. Plus, the room of nudes was pretty nervy. Wonder how parents explained Lukacs' dirty jockstraps and skinhead homoeroticism.

It was soooo refreshing to arrive in Montréal and not feel like an extra from Dawn of the Dead (the original, please) for once. I stayed at the lovely, commodious B&B Casa de Wurster y Thrift, alternately known as either The Thrift Store or The Wurst (depending on your mood, I suppose). Dove right into conference preparations. Then immediately after that tsunami blew over, dove right into my Rocky Horror/Shock Treatment/anti-Queer Eye/anti-capitalism paper. I was writing it on the computer of Samantha C. Thrift and about four pages in, Bill Gates' gremlins froze the screen. I managed to retrieve my masterpiece in progress but Sam's PC never fully recovered. I felt like shit even though it was Bill Gates' fault. So I had to finish on Jessica's shit laptop (not a slight on Jessica's purchasing habits; ALL laptops suck. It took a full ten seconds for me to get reacquainted with my mouse back home.).

So I only really got to chill out by the weekend. On Friday afternoon, Crabbycakes Snowsell and I took in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or whatever it's called. Pretty to look at but it's really Forrest Gump in reverse. Very American in its implicit devaluation of spotful minds. And, yawn, oh so het, just like that other pretty picture, Lost in Translation. Friday night saw me reluctantly sucked into a game of Scrabble which I dominated with the double word score on "quiz." Deeper into Friday night was dancing at Saphir which dominated all. Absolute blast although I wish I was dorky enough to bring paper and pen to write down Plastic's mixes (I know she deftly mixed "Whip It" out of something but what?). Highlights: "Roadrunner," "Stranded," "Barracuda," "Start Me Up," something new by Peaches and a bratty burner in which some bad boy tells a series of brief stories each ending with "Whatever!" and punctuated by a punk blat. Anyone know it? The great Poutine Palace afterward, my savage choice for best restaurant in Montréal. Saturday was a blur. Sunday was movie night with Atomic, Foam Soap and Robin Anne (the Western pronunciation): Xanadu, which didn't go over too well, and Christmas in July, which fared better.

The rest of my time was spent with goodbyes of varying degrees of maudlinity, capped off with a hug from the winner of Academic Idol, Will Straw and Indian buffet with famed homosexual cum metrosexual Ger Zielinski. Still, I'm not too sad about leaving Montréal, especially since I peeped Jessica's Rough Guide to Montréal and realized I had done (or rather seen) most of what I was supposed to. I'll miss my friends and the wild night life. But I look forward to putting the horrors of the border, immigration, etc. behind me. It will be sweet indeed to just cruise right over that Texas border and head straight for Austin with no papers necessary.

And that's just part one. Part two is our belated Niagara Falls honeymoon. But before that, we headed dry-eyed out of Sin City directly into Cobourg, Ontario to visit the Marie Dressler Museum. A bit of school: Dressler was THE number one box office star of the early 1930s in America, remarkable given that she was overweight and over 60 years old. She was born in Cobourg, about an hour and a half east of Toronto. Absolutely gorgeous city with a surprisingly lively downtown. And just past downtown, hidden in the middle of unassuming suburban dwellings, lies the house where she was born which now houses the Cobourg and District Economic Development and Tourism office. There's a plaque outside explaining Marie which we dutifully read before walking in. To the right was an attractive young woman seated at a computer and I told her why we were here. She got up and led us to our left into a small room which is basically the extent of the museum. The far end is taken up by a recreation of a scene from Min and Bill (for which Dressler won a best actress Oscar) with a wax Marie and Wallace Beery. How weird it must be to work there and know these figures are posing in a nearby room. A ledge separates us from the scene and on it are piled disparate photographs/publicity stills of and magazines about Dressler. Two glass cases - one displaying sheet music with Marie's mug on the covers, the other jaundiced newspaper articles. There's a photo album of clips documenting the house's history (fire gutted it in 1989), an upright glass case hawking Marie Dressler teacups, a dress she wore designed by the great Adrian (but for what film?) and an organ with no obvious link to Dressler. We watched a 7-minute video on her life and the woman working there closed two glass doors for our privacy (I guess). While we were watching, an even more beautiful woman came into the office and smiled at us as she walked up to the desk. I wanted to shout "What do you people actually DO here?!?" (Well, they do have an old film festival in October....) The hallway outside the museum room had some photos and lobby cards so I took the opportunity to snoop around a bit - just antiseptic offices. I signed the guestbook (most came from Toronto) and asked the desk gal how many people visit a year. She said she didn't know but I suspected she said that because the numbers were low. And that was it. The whole shebang took about twenty, thirty minutes tops. I was in a daze as we floated back to the car. Outside, I saw an older woman working in her yard. She lived in the house next to Dressler's and I wanted to ask her if she even knew it was there. I didn't, natch, but would it be so wild if she didn't know about it? I mean, that little room is so godforsaken that I'm not even sure visiting it brought it to life. It gave off the same kind of mystery as hopelessly unconsumable vinyl LPs at a Salvation Army that you pass by as if they were rooted like trees, except here it was more monumental. The objects are stationed in this tiny little room in this tiny little house in this tiny little city whereas thrift store records possess at least the possibility of motion. On the drive out of town, I kept exercising fantasies of how the Marie Dressler Museum might get used at some future date. All I could come up with is the image of a film scholar on a research project organizing the chaotic stack of photos, animating the ghostly monuments in the process.

What a contrast to Niagara Falls where everything is as blandly utilitarian as fly paper. It works like fly paper too. As you're watching the falls, all the tourist traps keep you stuck to the town. Someone suggest a book to me that tells the story about how some evil entrepreneur(s) saw the throngs of people staring at the pretty waters and set up some random bullshit wax museums and gift shops to bleed some money out of them. Oy the wax museums! We went to three, four if you count Ripley's Believe It Or Not. And let's talk about Ripley for one goddamned minute. Basically what we're seeing in the museum is a rich man's spoils. In this, it reminded me of House on the Rock in Wisconsin. In fact, if they took Nick at Nite and made it a town (Branson, as per Simpsons wisdom), then they did the same with House on the Rock and called it Niagara Falls. Back to Ripley - motherfucker gets to travel all over the globe, amassing all this exotica and us dodos get to just gawk at it behind glass. And all under the premise that it may not be true! As a staunch postmodernist, I should be grinning like a jackass. But Milli Vanilli were never serving up Truth as the main dish. So for me, the most fascinating exhibit was a jumble of letters and photos from a man who repeatedly wrote to Ripley, taking him up on his offer to provide photographic evidence of each oddity. I envisioned this man as our surrogate, comparatively immobile in relation to jet-setting Ripley, forcing a sort of charity from his privileged travels.

And that's the good part because at least Ripley's gobbled up some time. The wax museums took about 15 minutes tops to drag through. We went to three. The movie one probably perked my nipples up the most. I dug the irreverent inclusion of the final bloody scene from Fatal Attraction but they spelled Glenn Close's name incorrectly (same with several others). The rock-n-roll one was shoddy as fuck because what mise-en-scene can you recognizably place Nirvana or Little Richard in? As a result, there was little to look at beyond the figures themselves. The Sex Pistols (all two of them) were in front of the Union Jack. Jerry Lee Lewis was at the piano. Little Richard wasn't. Robert Smith (perhaps appropriately but still surprisingly) brooded all by his lonesome. Copies of old concert posters on the walls made a pathetic attempt at more eye candy. Ugh.

And then there was the Alien Invasion one. Double ugh. First off, I note that the boy who took our money at the rock museum was kind of a rocker type himself. He even marveled at Stuart's clear green Visa card like a true Dave Matthews fan. The guys working Alien Invasion were clearly struggling actors. The hopeful who took our money looked liked Rob Zombie but in a "I can be a Rob Zombie type for your film" kind of way. And when I saw another dude sitting on the floor, scarfing down his takeout before some sort of showtime, it hit me that this was going to be a haunted house with live actors. I avoided several similar attractions since the rides between Milwaukee and Montréal were haunted house enough for me. I got suckered into this one because it really was a wax museum for the first part. But it was three in the afternoon. We were the only people there. I would have felt much less like a big fucking dork had there been more people around. But as it was, I wanted to tell them, "Look, dudes, don't bother with us. Just let us walk around."

The wax part had figures you could have seen in the movie museum (Alien, Pumpkinhead). There were some newspaper articles about Roswell and I asked Stuart if he knew how far it was from Austin so we could be suckers there too. At which point, some dude jumps out and asks "What do you want to know about Roswell?!?" He scared the shit out of me but kept sprouting off Roswell facts after I told him I just wanted to know how far it was from Austin. Turns out, he's one of the live actors. "Ok, at this point of the exhibit, guys, you can choose either the yellow chicken door or..." I forget what the other was called. Stuart asked what the difference was and we choose the tough guy door where the actors grab at you. I sooooo didn't want to go through with this. But it was a lot less scary than I anticipated, although, like the last haunted house I was in, it was so pitch black we couldn't move forward. I had to ask "which way do we go?" into the darkness and a creepy "this way!" led us through. It was all so dorky. These were guys I would meet at a bar and discuss Saphir-like music, maybe a little harder (more Epitaph label stuff, I would imagine, more metal, more Tool). But here, we were forced to collectively deceive ourselves for ten minutes. For once, I had trouble with earnestness.

The Falls were hypnotic, yes. I'm glad I saw them. We took a tour behind the Falls which was a bit of a waste. This boy in a group of about 75 (!) Illinois college students said "This is it?!?!? I could have used that money for food." Indeed.

But for the entire time, I kept feeling as if I had a big sign on my forehead reading "SUCKER!" And I also felt as if I had to walk on eggshells amongst the people who actually live and work there. They all reminded me of that Simpsons where the family goes to Itchy and Scratchy Land and Marge and Homer split off to Parents Island or something like that. They dance at a place where it's New Year's Eve every day. As "Auld Lang Syne" plays, they're clearly loving it and they say to a waiter, "It must be wonderful to ring in the new year over and over and over" to which he replies "Please kill me." One other thing to note is that there were tons of kids around, "bad" kids with skateboards and such so I knew they weren't tourists. We went to a Tim Horton's (I'll miss ya, baby!) outside of the touristy area and there were all these black-cad do-badders hanging out in the parking lot. I wanted to ask them what it was like to live here but I felt that was too orientalist. Still, I'd love to learn about actually living there. And I hope Las Vegas fares a bit better for the Benjaminian in me.

On the trip back, it became clear to me that my life with Stuart has become a Jerry Lewis movie by this point. Instead of screaming at each other over some miscommunication, we wind up laughing our asses off. Seriously. We were literally in tears over three king size soft drinks from Burger King and a perpetually beeping gas pump. It was literally like a string a gags from The Disorderly Orderly. I'm not sure if recounting it all in detail would be as funny for you as it was for us, though. Besides, most of my friends cannot stand Jerry Lewis to begin with. But hey - it's better than crying.


Post a Comment

<< Home