Montreal, the city that never...sweeps, shovels or cleans

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 11:46 a.m.
A New Year approaches and I can only celebrate my insignificance as a human being and even worse, a pedestrian, thanks to Montreal’s municipal government. Yes, Montreal was hit with a heavy snow storm as well as heavy rains that turned to ice. These are the blows that a sadistic or vengeful (depending on your point of view) Mother Nature sends our way during December. It makes us sad and weary but we expect it and soldier on.
What we do expect is that our roads and streets will be cleared as quickly as possibly and as much as possible. Unfortunately, this is an unreasonable expectation in some parts of Montreal, no, in most of the parts of Montreal that I saw in the last few days. The ice on the sidewalks was thick and uneven making slipping and sliding a certainty. While the streets were slushy, they were not icy. This forced pedestrians to compete with cars and forgive me for stating the obvious but cars definitely have an unfair advantage in the weight and speed departments.
This state of affairs would be bad enough but to rub salt in the lower class wounds, N.D.G’s sidewalks were impassable while upper class Westmount sidewalks were reasonably clear. When I went to get fresh bagels at the Fairmount Bagel Bakery, I found that the sidewalk on St. Urbain was not only clear but had small stones thrown down to make it safer.
I may not be in top condition but I was pretty scared of breaking a hip on those sidewalks and did a lot of hiding indoors during my stay in Montreal until cabin fever finally drove my loved ones and me downtown to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Outside the Museum, workers were cracking the ice with shovels and throwing salt down. If the city couldn’t get that together, it would have been nice if a few more building and home owners might have at least tried to get the square in front of their homes done as the Museum and our hosts did which made getting in and out of their home much less frightening. A little thought for others goes a long way.
If I was an elderly person who hadn’t stocked up on groceries and couldn’t have them delivered, I’d be pretty worried at this point because the sidewalks were barely fit for twenty year olds, let alone the elderly. I lived in Montreal and cannot remember seeing the sidewalks in such rotten condition for pedestrians.
Granted that cars need to have safe streets because car accidents can be more catastrophic than a few fallen pedestrians but this is no excuse for what Sherbrooke St. in N.D.G. looked like this week. I think that we deserved better and I hope that there are more complaints going out along with this one.
We live in a country where we can predict that weather like this will happen frequently and Montreal certainly needs to have a better strategy for dealing with snow and ice so that people can walk their streets without fear of breaking their necks.
Having said that, have a very happy and healthy New Year and above all, and I mean this, don’t break your neck.

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An Open Letter to Santa from Somebody's Mother

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 5:46 p.m.
Dear Santa,
Well, another year has rolled around and I’ve got to admit it, Mr. Claus, this has been a rough one. Watching the world – my personal world and the great, big wide world – go to hell in a hand basket is rough. The rich may not be getting richer this year but the middle and poor classes are certainly going down the tubes faster than a toilet flushes and the Third World? They’re doing so miserably that they can’t even enjoy our slow demise as much as they should.
I teach teenagers and their latest kick is positive visualization. Yes, I have kids telling me that if they believe with all their heart that they’re going to get no longer than a 98%, that’s what they’ll get. The down side is that if they entertain the slightest amount of doubt, then that 98% goes down to a 96% or lower.

You have to love teenagers for their faith in magic. I know Santa that you are crazy about it but alas, I love those cynical types who have mean and nasty answers for the positive visualizers and I suppose that makes me a bad person too. As one of my colleagues pointed out, where does that leave poor people? Do they just lack faith? I have to say that disease, starvation and misery is punishment to the overkill-degree for someone who just can’t visualize a life without family dying of AIDS and lack of food and clean water.

Santa, it is beyond me to imagine a world where greed takes a backseat to compassion and where all the goodies get spread equitably. Maybe John Lennon had a better imagination than I have because I cannot imagine a world where people live for today and live in peace. Years of bad news have beaten that vision out of my head along with sugar plums.

By the way, I’ve never had a sugar plum in my life. The closest thing that I can imagine is a candy apple and I never was keen on those - too sticky for me. I suppose the elves like them but nowadays, kids have visions of iPhones dancing in their heads as I’m sure that you know very well. You should be so lucky as to get away with leaving kids sugar plums. They’d probably chuck them at you.

Mind you, if you were so kind as to drop off a grocery bag of sugar plums somewhere in Zimbabwe, you might see more gratitude. Given the cholera epidemic, you might want to send in an army of elves to do something about the well water and while you’re at it, there’s a few people that need some slapping up side the head rather than coal to let them know how truly naughty they are but I imagine that’s out of your power. You leave that to God, Fate or Karma.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, Santa, how about one year with very little drama? That’s what I would dearly love to have under my tree: a year where my family can figure out how to get through the various messes without intrigue and soliloquies. As for the rest of the world, what about some boring peace and prosperity? Maybe this big Recession/ Depression is a wake-up call for some but please remember that some of us are plenty awake already and don’t need the drama that those rich schmucks do. Excuse the Yiddish, Santa, but these self-centered guys really are schmucks and they have about as much spirit of Christmas as a Jew in a mosque.

Cut the poor some slack Santa by cutting the drama and we’ll all have a very good year.

Your friend,
Somebody’s Mother

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Need a little Christmas and cough syrup

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 2:30 p.m.
“It is at this time of year when there is cold instead of warmth, rain instead of snow and dark instead of light that I begin to look forward to the Christmas season. It’s misguided, I know, perhaps a little foolhardy but please remember that so far I’ve heard Christmas music at a mall only once so it hasn’t filled me with horror and dread…yet.”

I wrote those words about three weeks ago when I had a cold and laryngitis. Well, it’s déjà vu time again because I’ve got another cold, another case of laryngitis but I just spent 4 hours shopping on a frigid day after I did 14 hours of residence duty and through my coughing fits, I need Christmas and Hannukah and Kwaanza and all the associated festivities.

It is indeed at this dark time of year that I realize that it will be a losing battle to start thinking of Christmas decorations because we have time honoured traditions in our family that forbid the hint of a Christmas light till two weeks before Christmas.

Granted this is the first Christmas where my children are not living at home and I am starting to realize with some apprehension that there may come a time when they are living so far away that it may not be possible for them to come home for Christmas. My mother in New York used to say that Canada stole her baby. Though I tried to make it home for some part of the holiday season, it became more difficult once I had two kids and those white-knuckle drives through the Adirondack or Green Mountains became less and less appealing. It was much easier to spend the holidays with friends in Montreal whose families were also far away.

What was very difficult for my family was that I was never home for the American Thanksgiving holiday that always takes place at the end of November. Thanksgiving Day is huge in the United States, a two day holiday of feasting and togetherness. It just wasn’t possible. Many families are experiencing this and expectations are certainly changing.

Shopping habits are changing too. More and more people are avoiding the holiday rush at stores by shopping online. I find a great appeal to this. Not only can you skip the long lineups, you can avoid hearing bad versions of The Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night ad nauseum. I must admit that I am willing to risk identity theft (my credit card has all sorts of lovely insurance just in case and so does yours, I bet) just to sidestep the crowds, the lineups at the cash registers and the holiday Muzak.

So as I cough my way through the first two dark months of Eastern Standard Time (when the clock falls back, I fall ‘way back), as I cherish every ray of daylight that comes my way, I realize that the crowds, the carols and the garish decorations are not to be scoffed at. People need presents and a reason to celebrate in these dark times when we may not have enough money in our pockets very soon to do any celebrating at all. I know that my more religious friends will urge me to put the Christ back in Christmas but being Jewish, I get some leeway on that score.
We do need some Christmas cheer about now so I say to the stores and malls, "bring it on, bring it all on.” To my religious friends, I urge you to cut the heathens some slack. Together we will face The Little Drummer Boy and we will triumph.

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You can’t put a price on warmth!

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:40 a.m.

At the end of a hard day on the road, when you want to fall into bed and sleep, there is nothing worse than searching for a hotel room and finally finding one only to be caught by nasty surprises.

This happened to me last weekend and I suppose that it would have been funny except that I had experienced a weekend from hell. As many of my readers know, my mother passed away this summer and my father is in a nursing home. Last weekend, I went to their home to burn any documents that might have their social security numbers on them and to take whatever mementos and furniture that I wanted for my children and myself.

It was indeed a sad job made even more unbearable by the fact that there was no heat in the house and the weather had turned bitterly cold. Our hands were frozen and the task was made even longer by a meeting with the realtor who will probably be selling the house for us. She got cold so luckily the meeting was shorter than it might have been which allowed us to get back to work.

We finally finished throwing things away and burning papers and loaded up the van that we rented, heading north exhausted. I had picked up a coupon book that allows you to get discounts on hotels. Unfortunately, it was Saturday night and the coupons didn’t work for most of the hotels except for the Super 8. My husband was sceptical; he is a big believer that one should never stint on hotels. I thought that since it was a big chain, it couldn’t be all that bad. I was so wrong.

We got a pleasant enough greeting from the desk manager who even offered me a cup of tea. My husband picked up the key and we got back in the van and drove around the building to our room. We opened the door and that was when we were hit by something that we hoped and prayed that we had escaped, the chill.

The rooms each had their own heater and were not preheated. I turned on the heater with hope in my heart but when I put my hands up to it expecting hot hair, all I got was a lukewarm blast. I called up the cheerful desk manager who informed me that they never heat the rooms until it reaches -5 degrees. I was too cold and dispirited to ask if that was Fahrenheit or Celsius.

We jumped a blanket off the second double bed in the room and brushed our teeth with our coats on. The fan on the heater blasted all night long and by morning the room was warm enough. Then it came time for a hot shower but no such luck. My husband let the water run for a good ten minutes and finally managed to get a tepid shower. I was desperate for a shower so I gave it a try and was luckier. Somehow more hot water had made it to our bathroom and I got a hot-ish shower.

Disgusted, we decided not to try our luck with the complimentary breakfast so we left the Super 8 in White River Junction and didn’t stop till St. Johnsbury where we had breakfast at Anthony’s Diner. The food there is always good and it’s nice to eat well after such a cold ordeal. I love their home fries and if you’re ever there for lunch, try the coleslaw; it’s the best in Vermont.

I hate conceding a point to my husband but I admit - very publicly admit - that it would have been worth an extra fifty dollars to stay in a well heated room with hot water.
Take my word for it, if you need to stay in White River Junction when the weather is cold, steer clear of the Super 8. Learn from my experience. If I wanted to freeze, I would have slept in a tent.

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