Ça Plane Pour Moi: Montreal Musings (Pt. 2)

"I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me
It's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea
But let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye"
“Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” – Leonard Cohen

You’d figure after my last blogpost, you would think we covered quite a bit of Quebec’s largest city. And not unlike Toronto, there were things we either had in mind but didn’t get to (The McCord Museum, which has a large indigenous peoples collection) or the touristy (Olympic Park and Biodome, the former built for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and the latter originally part of the World Expo ’67 which Montreal was selected after original host Moscow had to back out.) We ended up walking around various neighborhoods where our only wish was to have a couple more hours in the day to explore more.

Alas, that will have to wait for another day. And now, without further adieu, our “les trois grands“, the big three of what we loved best in Montreal.

THE MARCH TO LE MARCHÉ

Montreal has a bounty of five public markets, which were all collected under the management of Marchés Publics de Montréal since 1993. And if we had our way, we’d live the rest of our lives next to Marché Jean-Talon and shop there everyday if we had our druthers.

One of the largest open-air markets in North America, Jean-Talon offers 220,000 square feet of market located in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood. A bonus aspect to this market is their operating hours – Jean Talon is open all days of the year save for two days around both Christmas and New Years’ Day. During the winter, walls are erected so you can shop in relative comfort, while the summer is when you see the biggest bounty of produce from all over Ontario and Quebec, including things that are somewhat less common around these parts like ground cherries and chokeberries.

I can’t imagine one wouldn’t be dazzled by the choices, as we were on a Monday morning. In some ways, we missed the hustle and bustle that would’ve been in place during the weekend before our arrival, but having a less harried walk through the market allowed us to glance at the bounty at a more leisurely pace. In fact, we noticed that many folks with mobility issues were using that fact to get around to the market’s vendors without too much hassle.

While most vendors are outdoors, some have indoor space offering varying products like meat, seafood, spices, and pasta products. A few food stalls are scattered throughout as well, but unlike many Stateside markets, this is a produce market first and everything else is the proverbial cherry on top of the proverbial sundae.

We had forgotten how good a well-made crepe really can be, that is, until we put in an order for such at Crêperie du Marché. Operating since 2005, their Breton-style crepes in the Brest (Spinach, Egg, Ham and Cheese), and the Vitré (Apples, Maple Syrup, Swiss Cheese, and Ham) plus a couple of espresso drinks were perfect fare for people watching on this lazy morning. Another great visit came in the form of Épices de Cru, a spice shop with all sorts of spices and blends both domestic and international that we’ve never seen here.

As with any great market we’ve visited as a tourist, it’s hard not to go crazy and plunk down a wad of money on pretty much everything. But then again, it’s not folks like us that keep a market like Jean-Talon afloat (though I’m sure business from tourists like us does help) – it’s the locals who have found Jean-Talon a reliable and bountiful source for all things food-related since it first opened in March, 1933.

Marché Jean-Talon | 7070 Henri Julien Ave, Montreal, Quebec H2S 3S3, Canada | Ph: (514) 937-7754 | https://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/en | IG: marchejeantalon

Crêperie du Marché | Ph: (514) 238-0998 | https://www.creperiedumarche.com/ | IG: creperiedumarche

Épices de Cru | Ph: (514) 273-1118 | https://spicetrekkers.com/about | IG: epicesdecru

IT WAS SO AHEAD OF ITS TIME…

Our historic house touring continued in Montréal, but this proved to be the not quite the usual exploration – in some ways, we were actually walking through all the residences in the utterly unique and captivating Habitat 67.

We know of certain architects off the top of our head (Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei, for example) but we are far from architectural junkies. However, we do appreciate innovative or exceptional structures – we did not realize that the architect for Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie, was the prime force behind buildings we knew of in the Jewel Changi Airport and the Marina Sands Bay Hotel and Resort (both in Singapore.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of our tour group during our visit consisted of current and future architects (including a family from NE Ohio) as well as architectural buffs. As we found out, Habitat 67 was essentially based on Safdie’s thesis he produced at nearby McGill University relating to modular building systems as a way to efficiently build out affordable housing, yet in a way that avoided the tenement style of mass housing he saw (and loathed) in places like the United States.

One note for tour visitors: parking at Habitat 67 is for residents only; all tour takers are advised to park their cars at the small park just north of the tennis courts and walk to meet your guide at the small plaza at the foot of the complex. Also, we need to give a big “Merci Beaucoup” to Dez the Doorman. We had accidentally booked the tour the week before on their online reservation site, and ended up calling Dez to see if we could make the change. He assured us that we didn’t need to do anything and just tell our guide that we talked to Dez. Sure enough, our guide (who was quite informative) had the note from Dez we’d be showing up.

Habitat 67 may never have existed had not a last second awarding of the World Expo in 1967 went to Montréal when Moscow had to pull out at the last minute. This event allowed Safdie to submit his thesis as a project to exposition officials. That his unique vision got the approval despite his young age (Safdie was only 23 at the time of submittal) is an indication of just how ahead of its time Habitat 67 truly was.

As far as historic living spaces we’ve seen, there’s nothing quite like Habitat 67 in our experience. Essentially, 354 identical, prefabricated steel and concrete were built onsite and hoisted on top of each other in a manner that allowed not only each apartment owner to have their own sun-accessible terrace and windows, but also allow anyone walking around to experience the same through its windy corridors and passages.

Safdie wanted to encourage interaction between residents, so pathways have natural collection spaces which allow people to congregate and socialize. Despite the concrete, entrances to the various boxes are unique in nature, allowing for a touch of individuality between units. In addition, the boxes were laid out and built such that if a box owner wanted to sell their space to another, the boxes could be altered so they could be combined (currently, Habitat holds 148 total units, down from its original size of 158 units.)

Habitat 67 is can be roughly divided into three pyramids, with various sections built out for elevator shafts and staircase access. The crown jewel of the tour, if you will, lies in access to Safdie’s own unit, which resides at the top of the middle pyramid. Being unoccupied, Safdie’s space is the perfect model to walk through as it contains all the equipment that came with the original build. For example, the original push button electrical on/off switches have a notable delay from push to actual lighting. Also, the windows are inset and cannot open, though that drawback is lessened greatly when you access your terrace and grab views of the Old Port. the city skyline, and the St. Lawrence Seaway around you. Interestingly, some of the excavated rocks that were dumped into the Seaway in relation to Expo 67 construction essentially created an infinite wave that draws hundreds of surfers to the water next to Habitat.

In order to keep the cubes fully adjustable and mergeable, all wires and piping are shuttles underneath the floor. In fact, finding an exposed pipe, wire, or similar is pretty much non-existent at Habitat 67 – any servicing of utilities on the exterior requires a staff of 40+ specially trained people accessing the opening of largely well-camouflaged panels in various locations.

As it turned out, the project proved very expensive, though our guide hinted that if the Expo committee had gone full bore with what Safdie proposed (1,000 units, plus a school and shopping centre), the cost-efficient onsite prefabrication could have made the project break even. Habitat continued to provide affordable housing to its residents well after Expo shut its doors, but eventually any building quirks and slightly non-ideal location (a shuttle offers residents regular trips into downtown every day to allow for shopping and similar) proved outweighed by its truly unique nature. Once the City of Montréal sold operation of the building to its residents, the desire to own one of these units grew substantially; likewise, the going price did too – a Habitat 67 apartment that went on the market just prior to our visit was listed at $1.75M CAD.

Tours are available in both French and English and have been renewed this year after a halt due to COVID-19. If you’d like to tour this first edition of Safdie’s unique vision of the future (one that Safdie has had a chance to refine further with projects like Habitat Qinhuangdao in China and Qorner Tower in Quito, Ecuador), the tour is more than worth the cost of admission.

Habitat 67 | 2600 Av Pierre-Dupuy, Montréal, QC H3C 3R6, Canada | Ph: (514) 866-5971 | https://www.habitat67.com/en/habitat-67-guided-tours | IG: habitat67montreal

GREAT FRIENDS AND GREAT FOOD

We were lucky to have a friend in Montréal whom we had known for a long time in social media circles. She gave us some great suggestions for potential meetup places, and we said whatever works out best for you should work out great.

Queue up Khyber Pass. Located along the Rue Duluth and named for a vital mountain pass between the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan, this Afghan restaurant is one of many international eateries that line this very pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street. We arrived early to take a gander of Rue Duluth and the neighborhoods surrounding and adjacent to it, and I pondered what it would take to get more of this stuff back in my current home or Columbus.

Unbeknownst to us, this restaurant, which opened up in 2009, had a mini-controversy with its original wooden restaurant facade, which apparently didn’t receive proper permitting from neighborhood officials. Suffice it to say, that has not affected the restaurant’s drawing power with the locals, nor was it was anywhere on our minds when we met up with our friend to enjoy what turned out to be gloriously relaxed dinner plus some BYOB wine (apparently, several restaurants have a BYOB wine policy along Rue Duluth.)

Our experience with Afghan cuisine is pretty limited – Columbus had a kebab-oriented place for awhile, but nothing close to this full service dining space. What seemed to be a cramped interior opened up into what felt like a secretive dining patio with Afghan-themed murals and other paraphernalia decorating the walls that darkened as the evening ticked into the late hours. The menu had far more items than Kebabs, including more items with pasta than I expected (Mantoo and Ashak (a dish my spouse ordered – pasra with leeks, garlic yogurt, ground beef, and tomato sauce for example) and things I hadn’t heard before like various Chalaws (veggies or protein with tomato sauce, Afghan spices, and basmati rice.)

To be honest, we didn’t get great pictures of the food (the kebab platter pic above being the only exception.) By the time we got settled in, the dim lighting m nixed that possibility; you’ll have to trust our word that Khyber Pass is worth the visit if you’re in Montreal. But in reality, our company was the most important aspect of this meal. It had been awhile since we came close to closing down an establishment, but indeed we three did and it felt like no effort at all.

The hugs at the end of the night were genuinely warm, a result of familiarity from afar plus the fact that we have been kept afar from the public in general for the past two years or so. The actual Khyber Pass can be a daunting place to navigate, but this particular version proved to be the perfect place for our paths to cross this night.

Khyber Pass Restaurant | 506 Duluth Ave E, Montreal, Quebec H2L 1A7, Canada | Ph: (514) 844-7131 | Yelp: https://yelp.to/Ady1bO4cSsb

Note: an erroneous Instagram link to Habitat 67 has been corrected since the time of original publishing

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