Marche Underground—Vintage Clothing, Art, and Furniture in Montreal

As we walked into the small, mall-like space, we were greeted by four women who looked like latter-day bohemians that had somehow “mended their ways”. Very unassuming at 3731 Notre Dame Street West in St. Henri is the Underground Market, known for its self-described retro, mid-century, kitsch, and boho offerings.

The ladies told us to feel free and look around. When you start looking at the makeup of the place, it takes the shape of a big apartment with different rooms adjoining in the narrow hallway more than a bunch of stores. In fact, it looks like a cooperative of vintage-style stores. You get this peaceful feeling of being taken back somewhere around the 1960s. It feels safe, stress-free, and as if you have a limited amount of time to let your shoulders hang.

One of the rooms (stores) was stuffed with old cheap kitsch furniture. What caught my eye here was the table. There was a plethora of mostly rudimentary old stuff that just brought me back in time. I liked that no one asked me what I wanted. The lady in charge of this store was outside the entrance leaving me be.

The pre-hi-fi area reminded me of some of the electronics of my childhood — to be clear, it was old already when I was a child. Take this mini record player, for instance. I love the added touch of CD’s in the drawer right below it. Sort of chaotic, time-fusion kitsch.

Ok. I admit it. I used to have a black phone just like this. I learned the alphabet from it, minus the Q and Z. There were enough items here to practically furnish the bedroom of a new apartment. I imagined some funky retro-coloured paint in hues that no longer existed. I thought of the mauve and then the mustard family.

Then I went into a room related to art. The lady in charge of that store came in and told me this was contemporary art depicting aboriginals. The prices were very affordable. The ones here were under $100. I almost bought one but held back not able to see them fitting in with newer “cleaner-looking” paintings I had recently purchased from.. insert laugh track here… IKEA. But I also like to buy first paintings of new and young female artists who may become famous one day. Let’s dingress from that topic, lest it overtake this article.

I walked I to a tattoo parlour. The tattooed young lady that worked there smiled and said hi.

“Is this a vintage tattoo shop,” I asked.

She smiled “no”.

“We just happened to be renting the space before all the other people moved in here from their previous location,” the tattoo artist said, seemingly half-annoyed at the thought.

He was an Asian man in his thirties or so. He was busy working on a customer who was lying flat on his stomach. It seemed most of the tattoo had yet to be finished.

“I’ve always thought of having a small tattoo,” I told the girl, not wanting the distract the artist.

“A lot of people do,” she said, “but I always tell them to think about what they want. Paint a picture in their mind. It should be something that represents them in a deep way. Something that will serve as a sign of perseverance and also as a refuge”

“But don’t come and tell me to put an exact image on you,” the artist said. “I’ll work with you and make a unique drawing.”

I was impressed. That made it very authentic. I sort of thought of the vintage theme there.

“I work by the hour. See this guy on the table here,” he asked, pointing at the body I was originally alluding to, “I allotted all day to him. I don’t know if you can see it, but he wanted Jesus on the cross.”

The artist was done talking. He sort of just turned himself out. It was surreal. The girl gave me their business card.

I asked the girl if I can take pics. She said it was up to the artist. We called his name and he didn’t answer. I was too intimidated to try again. I think my time there was up.

I should not the artist said “have a nice day, man.”

Above are things from the last room. These must have been a hundred years old.

In all the hoopla, I lost track of time and my companion.

I opened the door to leave and got this:

I decided to make a detour and joined my companion surrounded by smiling ladies. It was a cute little trip back in time.

It’s worth checking out next time you’re in St. Henri.

Brunch at L’Avenue St. Henri — Review

It was a beautiful crisp Sunday morning as I easily found parking on Notre Dame West in St. Henri. St. Henri is quickly becoming one of the IT (not I.T. Sorry tech nerds) places to be in the city. Once the poorest area in all of Canada, St. Henri has begun transforming into one of the trendiest places in the city. And its proximity to downtown makes it even more attractive. Those who took advantage of the forecasted boom a few years back can now see the chance they took was well worth it.

It was hard deciding where to go for brunch. There are so many different and varied choices. There’s anything from the typical to the bizarre, from ethnic breakfast fare to your greasy spoon, and everything in between. They’re almost all on the same street and within a 15-minute walking distance from each other. The queues were plentiful in all three of our targeted locations. We decided on L’Avenue because of it’s more centralized location, its sign, and its Google reviews.

The grungy feel amidst new condos and renovated and well-kept old apartments makes the area around the restaurant look like a Manhattan neighborhood. The apparent educated young population made it a mix between Greenwich Village and the West Village. But I shall digress with the NYC memories.

This is an example of the remnants of a dilapidated past. My mind here goes to some old areas of Krakow that tried to make it past the Communist era. This is what the old regime in St. Henri had to offer. This photo was taken just around the corner from the restaurant as I played neighborhood photographer while my dining companion waited in line (I’d say 30 people in the queue before us, but we had the 2-people advantage).

I’d say the entire waiting time was about an hour. Usually unacceptable as a wait time, I felt we could wait because it would be a new experience. I’d really be mad at myself were it not. After all, the food was secondary here. The neighborhood had a great vibe since I took classes here during my college years.

The restaurant offers free coffee for those waiting in line, albeit just the regular cheap Tim Hortons type. Still, it’s a move forward.

The first photo above is of the queue and what you can see from it. The latter photo is of a motorcycle apparently from the distant past.

Another surprising discovery was how 80% of the people in the queue and on or near Notre Dame street spoke English in what seemed to be their first language. Sure, there may be some foreign students amongst the rest in the crowd, but mostly it seemed to be young people who either had good-paying jobs, were using daddy’s car and part of his wallet for the weekend, or true artsy types. No matter which of the above categories they fit in, I wondered whether the original occupants of the neighborhood were economically forced out or given no chance but to move further north. With so-called progress came a price, and my bleeding heart was affected. The distraction of “2for Ted” quickly made that thought evaporate. I guess my mind thought it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t. Was it?

For those of you reading this strictly s a food review, let’s get to it.

The smoothie above was perfectly blended and just sweet enough to keep your sugar level at bay. It seemed, unsurprisingly, to be on almost every table. ‘Plateau West’, I thought.

I love the fruit in a skewer idea. Every customer got that as soon as they sat down at their table. Nice touch.

What endeared more to the place and the menu was that the chicken who’d laid those eggs were free-range. In y opinion, free-range eggs are much tastier. They have been proven to be healthier mainly because the chicken’s trauma while being enslaved and slaughtered goes into its premature eggs and in turn into our already-overused digestive and nervous systems. Anyway, whatever the case, it was poached and free-range all over the menu.

The French toast above was my order It was topped with your choice of ham or bacon or sausage and, of course, two poached eggs. I loved the salty flavour topped with some real maple syrup. It was simple yet unique, and the first time I’ve seen it around French toast. All in all, it wasn’t as good as it looks. But it was very good nonetheless.

My companion had the avocado toast. It wasn’t quite up to par. Two-thirds of the plate was green salad (most lettuce). The rest of the plate was fine enough, yet it was nothing special. It wasn’t bad in any way, but it could have been less bland.

The coffee was surprisingly not up to par. I ordered a double espresso lungo. Again, it was fine. But this is not a greasy spoon and the people that come here prepare for an outing per se, and they should get the best out of it.

My biggest complaint about the food was the poached eggs being overcooked. A poached egg needs to be a bit runny. Mine was a pleasant just-a-minute-overcooked light yellow to orange. Nothing wrong with the egg’s taste, but you’d figure a restaurant that almost exclusively poached its eggs would have a perfect grasp on how to make them.

The most surprising and fun part of the whole experience were the toilets. There are three single-user toilets, just like the WC in Europe. But the similarities end there. The photos above show the funky feeling in the toilets. My favourite was the red toilet that was more like a 70s discotheque than somewhere to relieve yourself. The music is loud, the lights are funky, and you feel like you’ve been taken back in time.

All in all, quite an illuminating experience. I definitely recommend it.

Atmosphere: 10/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 7/10

Coffee: 7/10


Morrissey: Low in High School 

Morrissey has come out with a landmark album. Just 13 years after his previous landmark,  self-defining “You Are the Quarry”, Morrissey fittingly,  and thankfully for his mob of new and old fans, comes out with an album that redefines the malaise in this world while also pointing out love and survivalmin a new way. 

Morrissey proves through his lyrics that he holds no -ism, just an unfunneled and unfiltered pointbof view which has caught up with the times. He’s against war (listen to the hauntingly first person death spell of “I Bury the Living”), police brutality (“Who Will Protect Us from the Police”), and the media (My Love,  I’d Do Anything for You” and “Spent the Day in Bed”). Yet he is for Brexit, in the mockingly sardonic “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage”, where everyone just seems to need to exit to getntheir freedom back. Wht proves to be the point lyrically is the movement against the stereotypes brought about by neoliberalism. Morrissey doesn’t care what his critics think.  And this emboldens the album and makes it into a storybook against politically correct angst. 

Morrissey has evolved immensely musicallyas well. His band has tightened up their sound while broadening tehir musical horizons. One of the best songs on the album is the controversially titled “The Girl From Tel  Aviv Who Wouldn’t Kneel”. Morrissey takes on the role of jazz lounge singer and does it impeccably. You expect to see him taking over Bill Murray’s role in “Lost in Translation”, but without the trite hoopla. Every song stands by itself yet is an important piece in making the album mesh. The ever-popular “Spent the Day in Bed” and “I Wish You Lonely” are cute pop tunes and stand alone, yet they are there ro inrtroduce us to media corruption and loss of individualism. They re mild intros to more serious songs. Andmit seems that the more serious song is, the more heavy or dramatic the music gets. The band goes from heavy rock to ballad,to pop, to jazz, to something akin to country, etc… in a natural fashion. 

Easily the best album of the year, Morrissey proves that he stiill has it in his late-50s. This is Morrissey’s best music since “You Are the Quarry” and the 3rd-best album he’s made.

POSTSCRIPT: Not sure what Lili Simmons has to do with the album, but I include her here as part of the memory of those classic The Smiths album covers. The true fans of old get my drift.

Central Athens — Legal Prostitution on the Cheap 

The above is a legal sex studio somewhere in the centre of Athens. This is the Greek equivalent of an illegal massage parlour in Canada, especially famous in Chinatowns around the country. Prostitution has been legal in Greece since 2010.

During my last stay in the city centre, I decided to take the deal on trivago and stay at a cheaper hotel just south of the ever-popular Omonia Square, known for its seediness and abundance of purse snatchers. You can get a very good hotel room with fridge in Central Athens for about €60 a night.

I knew and confirmed the drill with a taxi driver. Just walk and stay on Pireos Avenue and you’ll be safe. The taxi brought me to the hotel using a side road whose houses looked abandoned by its original owners and that was now a liveable pseudo-haven for south Asians.

All this being said, Athens is one of the safest cities in Europe and the most affordable in western Europe. Central Athens is always close to the Acropolis, almost always visible no matter where you are.

This is an example of a street we passed by. At the time, I made a mental note that thus was simply a bunch of abandoned buildings. And although squatting would have been possible as another option, brothels never would. And the owners of the brothels were not pimps but simply government workers. The diaspora on the streets was not profiting from the brothels, the government and the employees were.

This building apparently has multiple brothels. The price for a hookup ranges from €10 – €20.

This is where we should make the distinction between brothels (more popularly known as bordellos) and studios. Brothels are mostly hidden and the clients know about them by word of mouth. This seems odd since they are all supposed to be legal. And being legal consists of medical testing bi-weekly. This is very important because those not passing the tests can no longer work legally. This may explain their hush hush existence and lower prices.

I started realising early on in my stay that my hotel was one of the popular ones for call girls to make outcalls to because of its location. The hotel was respectable and quite clean. It seemed a bit secretive, but I blamed that on a lack of motivation by the staff.

A housecall in Athens will set you back between €80 and €120. They advertised €350 for an overnight stay. The agency would give you peace of mind that these girls were well-bahaved, clean, and would not bleed you dry when you were sleeping.

There is no red light district in Athens, just studios scattered throughout the city. They are almost exclusively near the city centre and tend to be in industrial sectors, abandoned streets, or nestled somewhere barely in sight. The studio is the form of prostitution the clients are attracted to the most.

The rules are simple. You enter and sit down in the lobby, usually on a couch. You are then approached by the girls that are free. Surprisingly, most studios have few girls. And 80% of the girls are not Greek. Greek girls are usually a bit pricier. The most popular ethnicities of prostitutes in Athens are Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian.

After a girl is chosen, you can negotiate limits. This brings up the price. It seems that the studios are not as busy as they should be. They have been known to have to bring their prices down to compete with legal and even illegal brothels.

Then you have the freelancers, or street walkers. I don’t recommend going with them. They are probably illegal migrants or have STIs or HIV. This is dangerous in ways that are apparent.

Then there are the local Greek women suffering from the economic constraints that exist in the country. This has opened up a new market of renting a girlfriend. These are girls, almost exclusively Greek, who will offer themselves as girlfriends or guides for a day, a week, or however long is agreed upon. They are usually women who don’t want to be prostitutes and who give men the Greek girlfriend experience.

No matter what your preference, always be safe and respectful. Athens is a beautiful and safe place. Enjoy it.

Article on €4 prostitutes in Athens
A bit more insight on the subject
Myrto Papadopoulos’ study on prostitution