Montreal·Essay

C'est ma vie, Verdun

CBC's new writer-in-residence, Emira Tufo, thought moving away from the Plateau would be difficult — until she discovered all the quirks of her new neighbourhood in Verdun.

Emira Tufo describes Verdun as being 'a divided land,' but has been seduced by its peculiar charms

Shannon Bartley, left, and Lyne Poussier are the fairies of poutine at Pierrette Patates, a Verdun institution. (Submitted by Emira Tufo)

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the 2019 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence, Emira Tufo.


I moved to Verdun from the Plateau–​Mont-Royal one sunny day in May that felt like summer.

I was sad to leave my well-trodden paths, especially the one leading to Ramados, given that the Portuguese chicken options in Verdun were approximately none.

What would I eat now? And where would I wait in line?

There'd been something good about the long Ramados lineup. Waiting with the other zealots who routinely sacrificed an hour of their Saturday night just to get their hands on a saucy chicken breast or thigh had been a pilgrimage of sorts.

Where would I worship in Verdun?

The Pierrette Patates delivery vehicle is a familiar sight around Verdun. (Submitted by Emira Tufo)

As the moving truck pulled in, I spotted Pierrette Patates, and the name alone gave me heart.

It's a hokey diner with burgundy booths and a blue delivery vehicle featuring two Canadiens flags and a pair of rubber hands sticking out from the trunk.

Donald Farrow is the sire of submarine sandwiches at Pierrette Patates. (Submitted by Emira Tufo)

Here, I encountered Donald Farrow, sire of submarine sandwiches, and Shannon Bartley and Lyne Poussier, the fairies of poutine, who informed me that they had the second-best poutine in Montreal.

I ordered the smoked-meat sub, and Lyne assured me: "Vous ne serez pas déçu!" ("You won't be disappointed!")

As I gobbled down the gigantic sandwich under the watchful gaze of a Marilyn Monroe poster, a steady stream of devotees dropped by to pick up their dinner: tired but jovial workmen, immigrants from warmer climates. Lyne called them all "Mon cher." "Mon ami Greg" passed by and gave Lyne an update on his home situation as he waited for his order.

There was no lineup — just pure and discreet devotion: people treating Pierrette like their home away from home.

I asked Lyne if she was from the neighborhood.

"Oui," she said. "C'est ma vie, Verdun."

Verdun is my life.

And so, ma vie in Verdun begins.

Spring

The children's corner at Baobab Café is sometimes the scene of budding romance. (Facebook/Le Baobab café)

Searching for a café, I step into Baobab on the corner of Wellington Street and 3rd Avenue just in time to witness some romantic drama.

It's unfolding in the children's corner, where a toddler playing with a toy crocodile has lost his head due to the arrival of a dainty little lass politely seated next to her mother.

The boy gets down to business at once, manoeuvring his crocodile into a truck, and pushing the vehicle in her direction with a VROOOOMShe pretends not to see, all the while observing keenly from the corner of her eye.

Having failed to attract her attention, the kiddo summons up the courage to wobble over to the lady's table. Standing speechless before his pig-tailed princess, he holds out his hand and offers her the crocodile.

She is too shy to accept and buries her face in her mother's arm.

The lad wobbles back to headquarters but returns some minutes later, making a second attempt at contact. Again, modesty prevails — she declines!

But third time's the charm, and his last attempt is met with success: she shyly accepts.

Summer

Montreal is reputed to be safe, but Verdun has its peculiar dangers.

Its numerous seniors on scooters — or baby zoomersas I've dubbed them — are out and about, bustling around the Wellington sidewalks like there's no tomorrow and charging at pedestrians like bulls.

I have frequent near-collisions with these elderly hellraisers, but they've been around longer in the neighbourhood than I and deserve their right of passage.

Seniors on scooters — or baby zoomers, as Emira Tufo calls them — can be seen all over Verdun. (Submitted by Emira Tufo)

When their errands are done, many park their vehicles in the back of Déli Donut and sip their coffee, looking innocent and sheepish until they are once again motorized.

A solitary blue-eyed zoomer spends his days stationed at Verdun's busiest intersection, in front of Pizza Pizza. Wearing an orange safety vest and a blue baseball cap, he is a bright-coloured buoy in the sea of passersby. From this strategic location, he observes the world all week, from morning until dusk.

He seemed to me at first a sullen fellow, the corners of his mouth always pointing downwards, but one day our eyes met, and he tapped his lips with his index and middle finger: cigarettes!

I dashed to the dépanneur, feeling distinctly as if I were procuring drugs. When I handed him the pack, he broke out into a two-toothed smile and became a different man.

With the arrival of autumn rain, the blue-eyed zoomer moved into the entrance of the local Pharmaprix and then into De l'Église Metro station, only to disappear altogether with the coming of winter.

I imagine him now caged in a solitary apartment on one of Verdun's avenues, like a migratory bird awaiting the arrival of spring.

Autumn

It's late September and still possible to pretend it's summer. The street salsa nights, courtesy of a local dance school, have only recently stopped.

But over at the Mouvement social Madelinot — a community centre for people with roots on the Magdalen Islands — they're still dancing.

It's a musical evening, country-style.

The middle-aged audience wears checkered shirts and sequins and cowboy hats. A John Wayne-type sings on stage.

Something about the woodchip walls and modestly appointed tables, the women's dresses and permed hairdos: everything seems out of place and out of time.

Winter

It's the Friday before Christmas. I arrive home ready to relax, but lo, the power is out!

I'm hoping it's the block or at least the building, but no, it's solely my predicament. I run over to the local Rona because surely they will know what to do.

Verdun lights up during the holiday season. (Submitted by Emira Tufo)

The man behind the counter shrugs — it's 15 minutes to closing time — but a young man overhears the conversation and walks over.

Philippe used to be an electrician before suffering a work injury, and he still knows how to fix a thing or two. Besides, this is what he loves and now rarely gets to do. He can pass by in 20 minutes, because I sure as hell won't find an electrician at this hour or time of year.

He pokes around the fuse box, repairs some wire gone awry, and voilà - the holidays are back! I give him a Christmas gift intended for someone else, and he disappears into the night.

Verdun is a divided land.

For every permed Pierrette, there is now a chic Janine, a spanking-new restaurant with an Instagram account and a long lineup for brunch, and for every Déli Donut, there's a Sweet Lee's offering sumptuous choices for discerning dessert lovers.

I hope that they won't disappear, the zoomers with their scooters, the submarines and doughnuts, the sequins and the perms.

I hope he will be back come springtime, the two-toothed John Wayne of Wellington Street, cigarette in hand.


This is the first in a series of blog posts by the 2019 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, Emira Tufo.

We'd love to hear your favourite stories about Verdun. Comment below, or share your story on the CBC Montreal Facebook page

Learn more about the author: CBC/QWF's 2019 writer-in-residence wants to take readers on a journey

About the Author

Emira Tufo

2019 CBC/QWF writer-in-residence

Emira Tufo is the 2019 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence. A lawyer and a writer, Tufo has written for The Globe and Mail, performed at Montreal's Confabulation, and is the co-author of Montreal Murmurs, a blog about the curious, the funny and the furious aspects of life in Canada's most mischievous city. She has been featured on CBC's Homerun and All in a Weekend.

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