Tree stumps decorate our hotel. The one outside our elevator reminds me of the tree stump that performers rub for good luck on “Showtime at the Apollo” before they kill it on stage or get roundly booed and shooed off stage by an old man with a cane. I’ve rubbed the stump, the hotel stump, a couple of times. Never know when you’ll need good luck. The stumps are a clear sign that we are in a trendy hotel, if you like that kind of thing, which I do. Who wouldn’t be into getting $50 off a spa treatment at a nearby trendy spa or a free upgrade to a suite, then being sent to your cozy, yet quirky room with a box of upscale chocolates? I don’t know. I am not that person. Neither is my friend Inez. We ooh’d and ahh’d over our new home at the Hotel Chez Swann as soon as we entered. Not a bad way to start in Montreal. (Shout out to Travel Artist Gai Spann for the suggestion.) Check out some pics below.
After check-in, the most important thing on the agenda is food. I am starved especially after getting to the airport at 5 am to see a woman get knocked down by a baggage cart (she was OK, but justifiably pissed), stand in line for over an hour to get my already overweight bag checked in and have a $10 banana, cup of fruit and juice for breakfast. I am convinced that airports are turning into pits of hell. But I am in Montreal now. Our very hip hotel staff sends us to Reuben’s. We make a couple of wrong turns through downtown Montreal past the biggest Forever 21 store we’ve ever seen and any other chain store you’ve ever seen in the US, before we get there. We started with a couple of tasty mango-itos. Inez had three softball-sized Kobe sliders and I had a turkey melt the size of Texas. American-sized food portions have snuck across the border.
Of course we need a nap afterwards, so we head back to our well-appointed room for a quick snooze and to call our high school classmate Sarah Hamady, who we hope to hang out with today. Then of course it’s back to food. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but somehow vacation is all about planning your next meal. We chose Julien, a French restaurant about five blocks away. I practiced a bit of my very rusty French to get us seated and was told by the maitre’d, Marc-Antoine, that my French was pretty good. I think he was just flirting, In fact I am sure he was. He made it back to our table frequently and offered himself as dessert later in the evening. Should have gotten a picture of that one. But instead, I have a picture of the confit de canard with the crispiest potato coins brushed with duck fat. Fabulous.
Now, for the reason we came. The center of the Montreal Jazz Festival is another couple of blocks away on Sainte Catherine, where the street is blocked off to house six outdoor stages. It feels sleepy at first. We guess because it’s early in the week. We don’t see throngs of people immediately until we head to one stage to see the band “Freshly Ground.” They had the crowd jumping and had a sound that reminded us of Paul Simon meets Cyndi Lauper. We caught the end of their performance and followed the crowd around to see Ima, where we discovered that Vegas cheese has snuck across the border, too. Ima is a blonde French Canadienne cover queen. She started her set with Rod Stewart’s “If You Think I’m Sexy,” then went on to warble her way through Lou Rawls and Barry White hits. When we’d had enough we made our way to the Cafe Starbucks and met Larry a veteran Jazz Festival-goer from Raleigh, N.C., who recommended that we see Bluesman Lucky Peterson. He made a good call. Lucky and his lady Tammy showed Ima a thing or two and tore down the night sky with their renditions of “Fire” by the Ohio Players and Prince’s “Kiss.” Couldn’t end any better than that, so with tummies full and blues in our heads, we decided to call it night.