Friday, 23 February 2018

Beer and Roaming in Little Burgundy

Part One:

The Rocky Road to Wardruna 


Earlier this month I had the good fortune to see the Norwegian band Wardruna in concert on two occasions. I was even fortunate enough to attend an intimate session with their front man, Einar Selvik. The band uses traditional instruments and natural materials to produce music that has been lost to the ravages of time. They endeavor to make music that is not just a recreation of bronze age or viking music, but something that is much more. I've been inspired by this music to build my own instruments and to learn to play a medieval bowed lyre called a Jouhikko. This is the story of my journey to see the band. 

We had stopped at the Husky Hound Dog, the Pilot needed fuel and so did we. After ordering a gargantuan burger with everything but the kitchen sink the conversation turned to financial matters. My father was sharing some good advice, things were looking up and then I started to replay the events of the past few months in my head. The long wait was over I was on my way to see Wardruna in Montreal. Suddenly, a dreadful realization dawned on me; I had forgotten my ticket.

I'd remembered to pack extra socks and underwear, even my bukkehorn and Wardruna songbook. I'd left my ticket on top of my fridge, where I'd put it so I wouldn't forget it. Now I have two souvenir ticket stubs.

It’s at this point in the story that a clever narrator would say something like ‘And it was all going so well.’ This isn’t that kind of story and it hadn’t been going well. I’d spent the previous four months in anticipation of this concert. I was terrified of being in a confined space with so many people, but my own neuroses were about to take a back seat.

Like any responsible motorist, I wanted to make sure my car would be able to make the trip. That's was when things got complicated. A simple winter tire swap and inspection turned into a dumpster fire. Technical jargon aside, it would take several visits and lots of dough to get the car ship shape. When it came time for the second visit a new hiccup emerged. Something was very wrong with the transmission. With less than two weeks till the show, my car needed a new clutch and that was its death knell.

Tickets bought and paid for. Reservations at the Hotel Bon Solei made and by this time non-refundable, but no car to get me there. Public transport seemed the way to go. It'd be expensive, complicated and terrifying, but the simplest choice. It wasn’t as if I could conjure up a new car before the show, or could I? What started as a hypothetical search bore real fruit in the form of a 2011 Honda Pilot and I would take delivery the day before I needed to depart for Montreal.

With my Dad as co-pilot, of the Pilot, the trip was a sure thing. Even forgetting my ticket couldn’t dampen my spirits. The universe has ways of telling you 'Hey! Loosen up, things could always be worse.' In my case, the universe served me a gargantuan hamburger at a truck stop. It just happened to be delivered by a waitress who's face had been badly mauled by a dog; things can always be worse. 

The priority now was to get to the Hotel and sort out the ticket situation. The freeways of Montreal were not in a helpful mood. Huge chunks of the Turcot interchange were missing and it looked more like a war zone than a road work project. Traffic snarled to a standstill as we got close to the city, but we made it.

Home . A one star hotel above a gentleman's massage parlour and across the street from a 19th century catholic church.

The Hotel Bon Solei was on the top floor of a historic bank building, it was cheap, but clean and comfortable. More importantly, if had free Wi-Fi and I started to make arrangements to get my ticket replaced. I’d have to wait till noon the next day for the help line to open. If all went well I’d pick the ticket up at 2pm when the box office opened. 

It was a waiting game now. We had a gentrified neighbourhood full of pasty shops and cafes to roam around and roam we did. My sister had once lived close by, but much had changed in the years since; I blame the hipsters. One thing that hadn’t changed was the scrumptious food and top notch coffee. My father and I found a little café to eat at a few blocks from the Hotel and spotted a pastry shop to get breakfast at the next morning.

Things were looking up, so naturally I was waiting for the bottom to fall out; it didn’t. Breakfast the next day was beyond reckoning and with bellies full of coffee and puff pastry the roaming continued. Pricey boutiques and dimly lit hipster bars were plenty, but peppered throughout were antique shops and art galleries filled with opulent trinkets and ostentatious bits of home décor.

Eventually noon rolled around. Thankfully, payphones are plentiful in Montreal. Unfortunately, the one I ended up using was partly buried in a 10 foot high snow bank. The news was good, not only would I get a replacement ticket, but they’d waive the reprinting fees too. The waiting game began anew and it was time to rest and regroup at the Hotel Bon Solei.

The twin spires of Saint Cunegonde Church were a great landmark to steer us back to the hotel.

Both my Dad and I were a little tired from trudging up hills in the ankle deep snow. Soon I discovered I had quite the windburn, my entire face was a vivid scarlet and I had more roaming to do before the day was through. After I picked up the tickets I would have more time to kill before Einar Selvik was giving a talk and solo performance at Concordia University's Grey Nun Residence. The plan was to get the tickets and find someplace to get a beer to celebrate. As luck would have it, there was a rather nice pub called the Burgundy Lion right beside the box office.

Luck was being awfully kind by the time we arrived at the Corona Theatre box office. My ticket was there and they were doing sound checks for show inside the theatre. I had goosebumps, the realization set in that I had made it and no one was more surprised than me.The time had come for beer, two pints of Murphy’s Irish Stout and a Habs game on the big screen. I didn’t care much for hockey, but my Dad was chuffed to bits. Then I discovered the extensive selection of scotch on offer at the Burgundy Lion. 

Some bars have a small sidebar on the spirits menu devoted to scotch, this pub has a small novel organized by regions with chapters for independent distillers and some for staff picks as well. We settled on an experimental IPA cask from Glenfiddich and a cask strength BenRiach. They were transcendent and my scarlet wind burned face now had an even healthier glow to it.

With a belly full of cheer I parted from my father and set off to walk up another snowy hill. If I was going to make it to the Concordia show I’d have to be quick, it was a free event and there was bound to be a line up. I headed off towards Rue Guy and the steep street that lead to the Grey Nun residence. I wasn’t there yet, but I had made it all the same.

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