Dispatches From the IPhone: Ma Belle, Ma Vie Dans Montreal

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Montreal is where I travel to when I want to live deeply. The Old Port is filled with art, romance and boutique hotels; St. Laurent and St.Denis streets hold unique shops and places to eat. Atwater Market is where patisserie is Parisian and butchers ply their trade. The only way to fail in Montreal is to lack the ability to walk and enjoy what the city brings to your feet.

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The one place I seek refuge with every visit is Au Pied du Cochon. The child of madman Martin Picard, it is the Mecca for Québécois food for the soul. From foie gras cromesquis (molten foie in bread cubes) to large chunks of perfectly done flesh, Pied is one of my favourite restaurants in the world. Sadly, it has also become a place where travelling conservatives pretending to be foodies are being drawn to. As I looked across the bar top, the uber thin woman experiencing the kitchen through her eyes in lieu of her mouth. The sad couple sat facing the bar instead of each other. They stared at the food on the plate instead of tasting it. Doggy bags full of unctuous Duck in a Can and foie gras poutine went home with them; they will pretend to eat it, but it will be thrown away when their microwave butchers it. Such things make me feel bad for the rest of the world; such things remind me of how fortunate I have become in 2013.

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What did I order? After the nuggets of molten liver, I ventured into the daily specials: charcuterie made at the cabane aux sucre, boudin (blood sausage) on top of thick potato purée, suckling pig shank with a creamy stuffed onion and a few choice bottles of Bourgogne red wine. The food was rich, the wine was perfect, conversation was joyous and I felt alive in the way one can only feel in Montreal on a Friday.

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Strangely enough, I have been pretty lucky to get reservations at Pied. The other two major restaurants, Joe Beef and Garde a Manger, were booked solid until April. Not a problem in a city filled with such stellar options as Schwartz’s, Frite Alors, Ruby Rouge for dim sum, and a 3 Brasseurs for microbrews in season.

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In a city where you can go to Atwater Market on Saturday morning and buy a picnic of calvados terrine with pear, a perfect pear tart, French bread, chanterelles and blue foot mushrooms and a wide collection of unique small biere forte, how could you not feel tears in your eyes? Yet, most tourists flock to fast food joints on Ste. Catherine. Sad, but common.

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Life is good. Perhaps this was the first travel wherein I found solace and rest. Not once did I divert my focus from the beauty around me. I never even pulled out my Hasselblad camera to snap a few photographs. Instead, I drank life to the lees and breathed in the cold, winter air to fill my lungs deeply. Such is the difference between survival and comfort.

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