Montreal Cafes: Owls, Sparrows, and Cats, Oh My!
I hate to sound like I'm giving up, but I decided not to continue with French classes. Perhaps it is the teacher in me, but the brutal unvarnished truth is that the homework was really beginning to get on my nerves. (I know, "Do as I say, not as I do," right?)
I started to resent Will happily poring over different uses for etre vs. avoir, eagerly responding to a few questions or writing a 60-word paragraph, while I found myself chafing as I went through more subjunctive use cases than I'm ever likely to confront while ordering steak frites at a Parisian bistro (the real reason we were learning French in the first place), complete exercises 1-4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, write a 300-word essay on environmental gaspillage (with me comically re-counting all words after each sentence--even though I, of course, knew that the sentence I just wrote could not possibly have fulfilled the need for another 170 words...). Often all this work was in addition to preparing for an oral interview and studying for a "mini-test" as well. Did I mention that I'm on sabbatical?!
So, once we finished our first 4-week sessions of classes at YMCA (we both got A's!--woo hoo!), while Will registered for another level of grammar classes along with his private lessons, I declined to move on. Since everyone was saying that the homework intensified with each next level, I could not imagine what would happen with Niveau 5. I'll admit that perhaps there was the tiniest glimmer of egotism that feared NOT being the best student in the next class, but I'm quite confident that I tell the truth: I did not want any more homework.
To improve my conversational skills, I signed up for "Semi-Private" sessions with another student at my level. We were supposed to meet with a teacher twice a week for two hours of chatting--much better, thank you. I was slightly incredulous at our first meeting when our teacher assigned us exercises (on the pluperfect tense) and when Tais asked our instructor if he could correct them if we wrote essays (!), but I'm still thankful that we are not to have any more exams. (I plan to mutiny if exams ever get mentioned.)
So what am I doing with my extra time now that I'm not taking 3 hours of classes every day? Drinking! Coffee, that is...
A fellow student from last class--a Marketing professor in a Business College nearby--gave me a list of the city's best restaurants, bakeries, and cafes not known to tourists. I cross-referenced his list with what Yelp and Tripadvisor have indicated as the closest best cafes "near me." The goal of my study for the 4-week session for which I'm not taking classes will be to see which cafe is my favorite. Lest you think I'm being too easy on myself, please remember that part of this investigation will entail conversing in French at these cafes (and coffee is cheaper education than classes!). You know, School of Real Life, etc...
Luckily, there are so many independent coffee shops nearby that I haven't needed to go any further than .6 mile for my first 4 visits.
This place turned out to be quite tiny, though something of a powerhouse. There were just a few large tables, and that meant we all shared the space without feeling like we were invading someone else's territory. Somehow, the large communal tables ended up being able to seat more people than if there were as many chairs but with smaller tables. Something to remember, just in case I decide to open a cafe in a future life.
Oddly enough, even though I replied "Oui" when the guy asked if my latte is "Pour ici?," the barista made my drink in a to-go cup. Since she did that with a few others as well, I'm chalking that up to something other than a language miscue. Perhaps she finds it easier to make her design in those cups, who knows? I do think that Cafe Nocturne actually gave me the most interesting and different latte design.
Their logo is of an owl, and I'm convinced (Will, less so) that the design created somewhat resembles the head of an owl. No?
In a way, I feel like I ordered the wrong drink here. I debated about whether I should order a Turkish coffee because that apparently is their specialty. However, having ordered a large latte at Cafe Nocturne, I decided that I should continue to order the same drink, just for the sake of a "controlled experiment."
Cafe Replika was a much larger place, and yet still quite hopping. It's easier to come here and work with a fair amount of anonymity. You don't get the sense that you are bothering anyone else or a feeling that you need to vacate your space for someone else. Perhaps it's a bit less cozy because of the size, but this is the place I'd come to if I needed a place to work for more than an hour.
The coffee (pictured at the top of the post) was quite good as well, and very rich. You can see the interesting graffiti on the building's exterior walls (pictured just above).
Les Chats Heureux
The name means "The Happy Cats," and it is one of the highest rated cafes in Montreal (though not on Ali's list)--and no, not because of the coffee itself. In fact, the coffee (again, a latte, pictured below) was actually a bit more expensive and not as tasty as the other ones I tried for this experiment. It was, in fact, clearly the worst of the bunch in terms of taste. It wasn't bad, per se, but it just wasn't great. No design, not terribly rich or creamy or unctuous.
But, of course, no one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE, comes here to get the best cup of coffee.
The cats steal the show, and--as one Yelp reviewer put it--the shop offers the best cat therapy one could hope for. Little kittens, huge cats, short-haired, long-haired, sleeping, playing, eating, drinking, leaping on tables, sniffing people's food. Cats everywhere! (No, you shouldn't go there if you have allergies.)
At one point, a customer's purse fell on to the floor. Three kittens went to investigate this novel object and seemed endlessly fascinated with the strap. They kept on lifting and lowering the thin strap and competed with each other for the next turn at playing with it.
If I need a good cup of coffee, I will skip this place. But if I need to lift my spirits, I'll definitely visit these "happy cats" again.
Le Moineau Masque
The name of this charming place means "The Masked Sparrow," though I have no idea why it's named this. Unfortunately I missed the best time to come here, when the outdoor patio more than doubles the available seating area and also allows you to enjoy the quiet residential area that the cafe is situated in.
Trying it out on a drizzly and chilly early November day, it was indoor seating only, and there isn't too much of that... Some people were already sharing tables, and I grabbed the one end of the sofa that was still free and plunked down my stuff. As you can see, there is a mix of small tables, along with the arm of the sofa that my own coffee was sitting on (below).
This cafe is definitely cozy, but the downside of its popularity is that there isn't much space during inclement weather. When a family with two young children came in, I stopped nursing the last of my latte and got up rather hastily to go.
The Masked Sparrow's latte (above) was just a bit smaller than the others (there was no large or small size, just one) but also a bit cheaper. Along with Cafe Replika, this place might have had the best coffee--with Cafe Nocturne very closely behind these two. Les Chats Heureux had the most indifferent coffee with the most memorable permanent residents...