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August 8, 2006

Bob's Tango Trip to Montreal

In July I took a little trip to Montreal. I was actually taking a trip to my wife's family reunion in Cardinal, Ontario, but Montreal is the closest airport, so I flew in there. My wife drove out there with the kids about 2 weeks earlier, so she could visit with folks along the way. We were supposed to meet in Montreal for a romantic getaway, but childcare issues got in the way and I had the city all to myself. If you don't already know, Montreal is one of the greatest cities in North America and definitely the most "tango" city in the northern half of the new world.

I got there on a Wednesday. The flight from Minneapolis sucked because I was just starting to get over this weird inner-ear virus that made me feel both drunk and hungover for about a week. I had to wait this thing out, but the doctor gave me an antihistamine that cured the dizzy spells, but turned me into a zombie. I basically chose to go with the dizzy so I could see more of the city. Anyway, the first thing I did was rent a bike, which may have not been the best thing to do with balance problems, but I wasn’t about to walk. Montreal is one of the best biking cities you’re ever gonna visit, and a bike is the best way to see it. There are bike lanes all over the city and some pretty nice trails into the outskirts. I spent most of the day tooling over town.

On Thursday, I met up with Daniel Saindon, a genial Tangophile who produces a francophone tango radio show called Montréal-Buenos Aries Vice Versa. It’s an hour-long show on Radio Centre-Ville, a community radio station in Le Plateau. I went to Daniel’s apartment where I met the show’s very animated host, Veronique, who interviewd me for the show. Unfortunately, she did not speak English and I do not speak French. Daniel did a simultaneous translation that will somehow be edited into a useful radio show. I was the first English-only guest they’ve ever had! After the interview, we went out for Dim Sum and Daniel took me on a guided tour of the best used CD shops in Montreal.

That evening, I met Jonathan Goldman and Pablo Seib, the accordionist/bandleader and bassist of The Sweatshop Tango Ensemble for dinner. I’ve been listening to their fabulous new CD
De la Main á la Boca
a lot. Jonathan lives in a former sweatshop-cum-artist’s-loft on Ave. Saint Laurent, or La Main as they call it in Montrél (The main drag that divides the Anglophone west and Francophone eastern halves of the city) Their CD is a super tight mix of Pizzolla quintets, arrangments of classic tangos, and Jonathan’s smoking originals. You should check out Jonathan’s Due Agosto. Anyway, I met them in Jonathan’s loft, where he showed me his new baby: chromatic bandoneon that he had bought a few weeks before. It had an awesome sound and Jonathan was already pulling some good tunes out of it. The layout was pretty similar to my bando, so I could kinda make a few noises on it. We both lamented that fact that learning a bandoneon in your mid-30s is way too late to start.

We went out to a Portuguese grill for a hearty dinner and washed it down with some local Montreal beer that was both red and tasty. We told funny stories about our bands and our fellow musicians. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to a dance studio "Chez Lily’s Milonga", featuring Keith Elshaw as DJ. We shot the breeze with Keith and chatted about our favorite topic: tango. The place was sparsely attended, even for a Thursday night, but the dancers who were there were incredible. I’m talking about intimidatingly-good incredible. I just sat and watched for a long time. I was still feeling a bit dizzy from the ear infection, and the beers with dinner didn’t help, but I finally got up the nerve to dance. I ended up dancing with a real nice gal from Houston who was passing though town with a lady friend to experience Montré and it’s tango scene. They have a flickr photostream called Tethered to the Sun where they document their lives and travels. They are nearly naked in most of the pictures, which I think is pretty cool. I’ve never danced with a naked photoblogger before.

The next morning I took the train to Cardinal to see my family again. We had a nice visit with my in-laws and we drove back to Minneapolis a week later. The highlight of the return trip were stopping in North Bay, ONT for the night and taking the kids swimming in Lake Nippissing, where the clay bottom extends at least half a mile before the water gets waist high. You could see people walking their dogs almost to the horizon. We also enjoyed the Science Museum in Sudbury, which had a great kids play room for exploration and blowing off energy. They also had a lego playroom and a live porcupine who dances on his hind legs and "threw his hands in the air like he just don’t care". You can’t find stuff like that in the states! We also stopped in Sault Sainte Marie, ONT and Iron Mountain, MI before returning home. I had my mini-accordion with me the whole time, but pretty much didn’t play anything beyond amusing the in-laws. Whe I got home, I had to practice like hell to get ready for our gig at Peavy Plaza, which ended up going really well.

Posted by bbarnes at August 8, 2006 7:06 PM


You seem to have had a good time in Montréal. I was there about three weeks before you were. You know, going to Montréal can become quite habit forming. I have been going back each year for the past seven years. For some people, it is similar to the feeling "I left my heart in San Francisco." It takes more than a few days to really get the feeling of the city. Each tango venue seems to have its own personality. I know that you had previously visited Tango Libre and that you visited Chez Lilly this year. You need to keep coming back. There are many other tango sites and many other dancers. Next time, try to visit "Al Sur" near the Jean Talon métro station. Also, you must visit Tanguéria on the Boulevart St-Laurent, Chez Mocha Jo, and Studio Tango. I think there is a tango festival in Montreal next year. Consider going even if you do not take any classes. There are some great dancers and some "world class" music, including Sweatshop Tango. By the way, I am looking forward to any upcoming compact disk releases you might have. After all, I bought two copies of both current releases. You know, one for myself and another for a gift. I am happy that CD Baby is now selling your disks. I like those people better than the previous vendor.

Posted by: Mark Hammond at September 2, 2006 6:07 PM