Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Closest I'll Ever Come to Heaven...

The difference between a regular hotel and a bed and breakfast is not so much the breakfast itself, but the fact of having to eat it with the other guests the morning after you’ve had loud, disruptive sex and kept them all from a good night’s sleep. A hotel’s relative anonymity means you might get some wall-knocks in response to your bed-rattling, curtain-swinging, sheet-crumpling session, but you’ll never have to face them the next day and ask them to please pass the jam.

Awkward French toast aside, we did pass a lovely night in an old converted barn, now living a torrid second life as a bed and breakfast cum yoga studio cum photo gallery. Snow was falling on cedars, and on pines, and firs, and on anything else that had the audacity to be outside. Soon, that would include us. Because obviously -24 degree weather would inspire anyone to shed their clothes to wander around outside in frostbite country, and not only enjoy it, but pay for the privilege too. Some have called it folly, others call in torture, but the business card says simply Le Nordik – spa en nature\outdoor spa.

The principle of Le Nordik is easy to grasp: hot, cold, rest, repeat. The hot part is happily obliged: either you sit in a hot tub nestled among the rocks and trees while snow collects on your eyelashes, or you lie about in the Finnish sauna (“Dehydrates strips of caribou while you relax!”) or you breathe in the goodliness of the steam bath (“Tastes like menthol!”) And then, once you’re good and sweaty, in order to achieve the ultimate relaxation, close the pores, and fully detoxify, comes the cold: literally, a hole is chopped through the ice on the lake and you jump in. Or, for the more romantic-minded, you may luxuriate under the iciest waterfall that will ever constrict your balls and pinch your nipples. Either way, it’s a deep freeze that chills to the bone. And if the shock stops your heart for more than the expected 30-45 seconds, the staff have hooks on long poles, perfect for fishing frozen corpses out of environments more suitable for polar bears. Just kidding of course. Polar bears aren’t that crazy.

For those of us who survive the jaw-clenching cold and are too incapacitated to make a screaming escape to the car comes a restful reward. You can flop yourself down on a lounge chair, or warm yourself by the fire in the gazebo, or stretch out in a room full of mats that plays host to the most wonderful thing I’ve ever witnessed – adult nap time. And then you do the whole thing over again, And again, for as long as you can stand the mind-blowing bliss.

God it was good. It was so good. It was fat-free chocolate-covered pretzels while you shop for pricetag-free Manolos on the first day of a three day weekend good. Andrew and I stewed in the hot tub for so long that our fingertips passed pruney and broke new territory in raisin land. We scuttled between stations in just our bathing suits and our flip flops, neither of which, in case you’re dense, do much to cut the cold. We had robes and towels, but they grew icicles after their first use and became slushy articles of discomfort that we were better off without.

Logically, I knew that it was -24, but I never really registered it. Hot tubs have amazing thawing capacities, and making out in hot tubs is truly divine. I was too blissed out to even mind my wardrobe malfunction. Predictably, I fell out of my impractical bathing suit. But since it was just the one boob, I doubt if it even counts.

After several hours, we fortified ourselves with wine and cheese so that we could withstand the travails of a massage.

It was the kind of massage that elicited the kinds of appreciative noises that could easily be misinterpreted by anyone listening in. This is supposing that my groans were now drowned out by the ubiquitous canned sound of fake birds fake chirping in the background – constantly. The funny thing is, Le Nordik is tucked away in a forested setting and has no need for nature fakery. Perhaps if the real birds are taking a day off from this freeze-your-nuts-off weather, we could just, you know, muddle through somehow without them. I doubt I’d be sitting in the hot tub all tense and nervous thinking God damn, if only there was some imitation bird to be had!

At any rate, I have now seen nirvana, and I’m hooked. By the end of the day I nearly did a face plant into my injera, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay for paradise.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Baa baa black sheep, have you any Grey Goose?

Le Mouton Noir, it calls itself, which is a funny name for a bar, especially a bar that appears to be mascotted not by a black sheep at all but by an aloof pug named Fred. Okay, I made that last bit up. There is a pug, but the bugger couldn’t be bothered to properly introduce himself. But I suppose his name could be Fred. Nobody ever told me it wasn’t.

The Black Sheep Inn, misnamed or not, bills itself as a “musical destination” in rural Quebec. It’s the kind of place that has ski-doo parking out front and boasts nachos with “red sauce” as the highlight of its limited menu (and indeed, when they arrive, the sauce is exactly that – unidentifiable and yet unmistakably red). To show that we’ve paid, the backs of our hands are stamped with a bingo dauber, and with that, we are absorbed into the crowd.

I drink rye & diets; I don’t need to ask for a drink menu to know this isn’t a martini kind of place (if nothing else, the unironic wood panelling screams it sufficiently). Andrew is happy to continue with his love affair with stout, and this is just the place to indulge him. The tables are sticky and wobbly so we hold our drinks and don’t make the mistake of resting our elbows more than once. I feel overdressed in my jeans and t-shirt because I am not visibly sporting thermal underwear.

The first (of three) bands is setting up, and I am quick to notice that they are the kind of band who wear “interesting” sweaters and drink tea instead of beer. The singer tunes her saw. Yes, you read that right. Her saw. With the bow of a violin, naturally. But I am disappointed during the performance because the saw never makes an appearance. However, I am delighted that the fuzzy sweater has disappeared and she has donned a rather affected pair of white leather gloves that she swishes around moodily while on stage. She breathes a “bonsoir” to us from under her tousled hair, and visions of Edith Piaf dance before our eyes. My opinion is further improved when an accordion player is invited to join them on stage. I now believe that if you’ve never seen anyone wail enthusiastically on an accordion, then you’ve never really lived. Have you ever seen someone really feel the accordion? I’m talking spastic, eyes-closed intensity here. Whew.

Next up to bat was a fun and funny folk singer named Bob whose protest songs are directed towards dogs, who discouraged applause after a song, delightfully entitled “How to Build a Fence”, about the literal building of a fence, the fancy kind, with a gate that swings and everything, by saying Oh don’t clap, that song only had 2 chords so it really wasn’t that hard, and who dazzled with such insightful lyrics as If singing the blues is a gift, next time I’d rather have a toaster. You just can’t lose with shit like that, and I could have listened to this guy all night long.

It seems to me at this point that the acts tonight are a bit incongruous, but hell, this place has an African mask on the wall beside a dart board that’s beside a Che poster that’s under a disco ball that’s hanging next to a dusty ceiling fan. You might think that clashing is an intended theme of the mouton noir, but when you get a load of the waiter in his ear-flap toque, and the dog who sits his ass on the bar in flagrant disregard of any health codes, and the audience members who bang their beer bottles on the table instead of clapping, you begin to have an understanding of a sense of belonging that no bar in the city will ever have.

The, ah, headliner, if you will, goes on last (duh), and we’re apparently supposed to know that he was once in Blue Rodeo, but the only thing I recognize him from was his frenetic accordion playing earlier in the night. The accordion, it seems, was just the tip of the iceberg with this guy. He sets up a multi-media show that is accompanied variously by him on the guitar, the keyboard, and of course, the accordion, which continues to be my favourite. He really breaks that fucking shit out, he plays it like he means it, and I doubt that I will ever recover from the haunting tune that played during the death of a hand puppet. Although come to think of it, he may have almost been upstaged by a video of an older man beat-boxing so maniacally that I nearly mistook it for an epileptic fit. But then he closed the show with a tour de force on the piano so amazing that even he couldn’t stay in his seat, thus cementing his title of Coolest and Most Bizarre Thing I’ve Seen Since At Least Last Tuesday, And Maybe Longer.

And through it all, the premature clapper showed us her approval before it was ever appropriate. There’s always one in every audience, isn’t there? They over-anticipate the end of each song and clap way ahead of time, as if it were a race. Well, she won. Every damn time. Her early applause drowned out the best bits of every song, and some of it was so ahead of time that I would mistakenly attribute it to the fact that maybe one man in ten managed to zip up before exiting the washroom, but no. She just wanted the artist to know that she liked the show before any of us other fools did.

And then it was time to put our snow suits, get on our snow mobiles and make tracks homeward. Except not. Being out-of-towners and wearing galoshes-less shoes, we opted for a car in the direction of our B & B because – oh yes – if you thought my night at the Black Sheep Inn was awesome, well then hold onto your socks for my next instalment , which is even awesomer.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The walls are red, the plates are square, and the pan-fried calamari is spiced with cumin and pretension.

It’s not a bar.

It’s not a restaurant.

It’s a lounge.

You know you’re in a lounge when they don’t just plate food, they present it. Presentation involves disguising the fact that “dinner” consists of only 4 shrimps by stacking them vertically. Vertically! It’s brilliant, really. I can hardly believe I’ve wasted so many meals eating plain old horizontal food; things just don’t taste as good when they’re not piled on top of each other. And if there were just 4 little shrimps sitting forlornly on my plate, my brain might think “Four shrimps! What a rip-off!”, but when they’re artfully arranged into a leaning tower of shellfish, my brain thinks “What a delightful mountain of deliciousness!” Presentation doesn’t stop at stacking though; it also includes an ostentatious and often inedible garnish that usually looms larger than the main course itself.

You know you’re in a lounge when the wait staff is hired to stand around looking pretty – literally. Their main qualifications include trendy haircuts, cute dimples, and an all-black wardrobe. Once they’ve nailed the “I don’t hurry because I’m pretty” work ethic, they move on to the “I’m just doing this until I get my big break” attitude and the “God you people fucking bore me” look. Then they mostly stand around discussing their love lives and car payments while customers starve and eventually get their own drinks.

You know you’re in a lounge when they use some pompous euphemism for French fries on the menu. Call them frites all you want, but I know the truth: you’re just too goddamned lazy to come up with an imaginative replacement for them. Who do you think you’re fooling?

You might be in a lounge when some of the tables and chairs are replaced with – get this! – couches. You know, for lounging. And for sitting awkwardly in your dress, wondering how many germs are lurking in the fabric, and increasing spills by 86% (because what else would you do with your $18 martini other than have half of it coat the already-sticky, definitely-wobbly, and more than an arm-length’s away side table?) And please note: when I referred to “replacing” those tables and chairs with sofas, what I really meant was not removing them at all but just squeezing them into the already-tight dining space. Because if someone’s ass doesn’t brush your spaghetti carbonara, you’re not really living it up. But boy, if you’re strewn on a sofa, you must be having fun. You might actually start harbouring the delusion that you are “funky” or “with it” if you’re the kind of desperate middle-aged man who hasn’t realized yet that’s tragically out of touch. But there is nothing inherently cool about couches. Hey lounge: know who else has couches? My grandma. And she also serves drinks, and trays of compartmentalized food we used to call the cheese and pickle platter, but I suppose if we started calling them “tapas” then she could start charging us a cover, right?

You might be in a lounge if the nicest thing the newspaper reviewer could think of to say was “Dan Aykroyd ate there once!” and Dan Aykroyd probably had the right idea. A lounge is a place to see and be seen, and then retreat to your hotel room, crack open the mini bar (where drinks are so much cheaper) and have a shawarma delivered to you from across the street.

You’re probably in a lounge if the menu uses an excessive amount of quotation marks. For example, the menu might offer seared “rare” yellow fin tuna. You expect that quotation marks tell the reader something unusual is happening here: either you have a reservation about using the word, or you’re using it ironically. In this instance, we may guess that the tuna is not exactly served rare. However, when the same menu includes a dessert comprising of carrot cake and “frosting”, I really start to wonder what is so objectionable about the supposed “frosting.” Putting random quotation marks around things makes them sound ominous. Like maybe you shouldn’t trust the “frosting.” Like maybe someone’s pulling a fast one on us with the “frosting.” Like maybe it’s safest just to skip the “frosting”, if that is it’s real name.

You’re likely in a lounge if you hear the word ‘atmosphere’ thrown around a lot. Posh is what these places aspire to be; coolness is a great way to justify the exorbitant prices, and possibly the only way, especially when other negligible factors such as the quality and (god forbid you should ever leave a lounge sated) quantity of the food just don’t cut it. In fact, you’re almost certainly in a lounge if you pay 138$ before taxes and tip for a drink, an appetizer, an entree and dessert, and you still leave hungry.

You might be in a lounge if there’s a special menu that comes after dinner but before dessert. In another world this might be accurately named the cheese menu, but you’re in a lounge, so nothing is ever so easy. Instead they have to call it Quebec Thermalized cow milk, with triple cream, and bloomy rind. Because to call a rose by any other name....I mean, you’d still order it if they said they’d thrown a couple of cheese slices over some saltines and microwaved it, right? Oh, excuse me, they would never stoop so low as to serve it with mere crackers. In a lounge, it’s served with fig-walnut bread or some other snobby carbohydrate. That’s another thing about lounges: you’ll notice that everything on the menu has to sound at least vaguely disgusting, or else you’d never know you were eating something "innovative."

I'm not a hater, though.
Oh no.
I can bring the shi-shi with the best of them. I can drink martinis that took 30 minutes to arrive at my table like nobody's business. I can cross my legs and accidentally knock the napkin off the lap of a lady sitting 3 tables away and apologize with a big phoney shit-eating grin like you've never seen before. I can fit right in.

Just promise me we can stop at McDonald's on the way home.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Holy Hell.

Either Dante miscounted, or hell is expanding.

Currently, hell has circles dedicated to gluttons, misers, and sodomites where they undergo punishments supposedly commensurate with their sins. But I'm here to tell you there are things worse than boiling blood, demon whipping, and marinating in human shit.

The tenth circle of hell is called Bikini Village.

The good news: I'm going to Punta Cana!
The bad news: I'm going to Punta Cana!

Luckily (or unluckily, maybe), I'm not going until March, so I either have 2 more months to search frantically for that which does not exist (ie, a bathing suit that doesn't make me want to "drop" radios in my bathwater) or I have 2 more months to cancel Punta Cana and book some sort of arctic vacation instead. Nobody every broke out in hives because of how they look in a parka.

And the thing is, I don't really mind how I look in bathing suit.
I just mind how I look in a bathing suit under fluorescent lighting in a dressing room when the only colour on my entire body is the little red lines from the elastic on my socks.

I think it's fairly popular to blame our own bodies for the fact that swimwear just doesn't do us justice, but I will pass the buck if there's a buck to be passed, and I blame the suits.

I'm not disputing the fact that nobody ever told my hips that I didn't want children, and so they grew thinking that I might one day give birth to a litter of small volkswagons and are thusly proportioned. That part is true. But am I the only hippy woman walking around? No, I am not. In fact, if you sit outside of Bikini Village for 10 minutes, you will see every shape and size imaginable walk by, some of which will mystify and stultify, but walk by they do. But 30 seconds inside Bikini Village, and you quickly realize that bathing suits are cut to one shape, and it ain't mine, and it may not be yours either. Four more minutes inside that store, and you will hear cursing from the dressing rooms, witness crying by the mirrors, and see reluctance at the cash register.

I'm too short to fill out the normal swim suit, so either I put my boobs into the cups and let the torso portion just pool around my stomach unflatteringly, or I tie the boob holes around my neck and smooth out the tummy part. It's not a choice I wish on my worst enemy.

And all bathing suits make it evident that the swimwear people and the Brazilian wax people got together and conspired against us. Your normal grooming just won't do. Bathing suits ride up into territory you didn't even know you had - and when that ultra-white strip of skin is inevitably newly hair-free and exposed to sunlight in the first time in forevah, it's going to burn like a motherfucker.

But going on vacation is fun!
It's just that next time, I'm going to save myself a little sanity for the beach and book myself into one of those nudist resorts.