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Fans’ View: An American in Montreal, finally

Photo: Michael Long

EDITOR’S NOTE: This guest fan post comes from Chris Gibbons, who traveled up to Montreal to catch Philadelphia Union’s match there. Here, he talks about his experience in Montreal.

I’m unabashedly a soccer fan. Liverpool and the Union, the USMNT and FC Metz.

FC Metz, you say? An otherwise nondescript second division French team?

And I say to you, my friend, “An otherwise nondescript second division French team for whom Faryd Mondragon played one glorious (first division!) season.”

If you take anything away from that clearly captivating exchange, it should be this: I’m a bit of a Francophile. I’ve been to France four times, speak the language enough to get around, and have been wanting to come to Montreal for years. The only thing holding me up was this fun fact:

A flight from Philadelphia to Montreal takes approximately six hours, costs approximately $600, and has a layover in Detroit.

To me, that wasn’t a very fun fact. Considering I could be in Paris for roughly the same investment in time and just a few more dollars, I didn’t see the value.

Then the Union came into existence, and two years later, the Impact joined MLS. As Darcy Sears once said to Johnny Moxon all those years ago in the American cinematic classic that is Varsity Blues, “Thangs change.” (A video clip, devastatingly, is unavailable.)

I marinated on the possibilities, realized that the Union don’t ever play home and home with PSG and that Seba is never coming back to lead a preseason tournée française where we hang out, he tells me I’m his footballing inspiration, we drink wine, and then become best friends, and, perhaps most importantly, that Antoine Hoppenot personally wants me to come to Montreal to tell everyone there how good he is. (That last part is a mild exaggeration, but the guy is good and the world needs to know.)

Road trip!

A car ride from Philadelphia to Montreal is a beautiful and scenic classic road trip through the Adirondack Mountains, takes a little more than eight hours, and costs about $100 in gas (round trip). For a Francophile like moi, it allows an unadulterated hour of driving after the Canadian border, a countryside that is startlingly similar to that east of Paris, complete with French road signs, adorable traffic cones that look like oversize children’s light sabers that fold up into themselves, and a blaze orange sign that says “FIN” at the end of construction zones. Then add in the joy of trying to figure out the conversion from miles to kilometers per hour at highway speeds, blankly staring at your dashboard (the number varies depending on the strength of the Yen, I think). Either way, the streets of heaven are north of Vermont, and they are paved d’or, mes amis. C’est la verité.

(Perhaps most important about any trip to a French speaking part of the world is the refresher courses in the language. When I can’t find my Muzzy VHS, I buy a phrase book to add on to my 3 years of teenage schooling…

“Où est le canard propre?”
“Le canard propre est dans la salle de bain.”

If I had a dollar for every time a conversation ended up there, I’d be a rich man. I digress…)

Rather than stay with my Sons of Ben brethren in downtown Montreal, I stayed in the old city in an eighteenth century hotel less than a block from Notre Dame, just off the old city boulevard, with a peaceful roof deck overlooking the riverwalk, perfectly suited to finish that bottle of wine. If I plopped you down there today, you’d never know you weren’t in Europe. I walked up and down the city streets for two days prior to the game, taking in sights: Little Italy, the plateau, McGill University, Rue St. Catherine, and others, all the while eating as much food as possible. All my world travels revolve around eating, and most of my memories these days are saved as Instagram photos of food porn, but Mon dieu, the food! Les Bistros, cafes, patisseries, boulangeries, marches, boucheries….and the poutine. The poutine.

But seriously, the poutine.

(Go Google “poutine”…. Everybody’s mom, go MSN Search it. Memo to 1997 self: Look for it in your unintentionally added Yahoo! search bar in your Netscape browser. We can wait.)

America: why aren’t we eating poutine ALL OF THE TIME? French fries, gravy, and chunks of cheese? Those are arguably the three most American words I’ve ever said in a row just there. (OK, maybe not more than ThunderCougarFalconBird, but a close second.) If it was called a Dirty Lincoln instead of poutine, it would be the official national food. I’m convinced. Add bacon, and I’m two bites away from a Meg Ryan diner situation. Just FYI.

In conclusion: I realize this turned into more of a travel guide than a soccer recap. You’re all smart people, so I’ll be honest with you. That match was so disheartening that I felt the only interesting thing I could write about was food and sights. Therefore, go to Montreal. It’s stunningly beautiful, everyone speaks English, they’re happy to have you visiting (which, sadly, isnt always the case in my beloved France), and it’s the most affordable way to see “Europe” on a long weekend.


One Comment

  1. I’m totally going when I get back in the states! And poutine….that may explain why they seem to randomly have gravy available with the french fries in the chow hall over here. I see gravy and I start looking for chicken and mashed potatoes…..but no…. Here it’s with fries. And marrow. But poutine doesn’t explain that. 🙂

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