Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Schwartz,The Main, and the Canadiens Cargo Cult

 It's hockey playoff time again, and a chance to indulge in a little harmless tribalism.
must be Sunday at 630 am
Montreal's rabid hockey fanaticism has reared it's ugly head once again, with battalions of
flag tipped automobiles leading the charge. 
 Across town, tourists and followers line up dutifully
waiting with baited breath for their opportunity to take part in a Montreal culinary 
tradition, the eating of a Schwartz's smoked meat sandwich.
 The tradition of queuing for smoked meat does not go back much further than the
mid-nineteen nineties, when the popularity of this restaurant began to mutate
into a an experience more resembling a 'rite of passage', meanwhile, directly
across the street sits it's sister deli 'The Main'. catering to their small but faithful
mocking those in line
clientele, who seem oblivious to all the pomp and circumstance associated with that 'hipper'
deli on the east side of boulevard St.Laurent. 
Schwartz has been celebrated in film and music, in a painful attempt to foster a sense of 
'culture' in an otherwise bleak and vacuous North American wasteland. 
The Main humbly goes about it's daily business of selling the tastiest rival sandwich
to Schwartz's, with little fanfare and NO lineups!
I'm not writing this to trash Schwartz, it's a great sandwich, and an interesting experience.
But when hunger calls, and I'm walking up St.Lawrence street looking for a good meal to 
'chow down' on, the choice is obvious.
To eat at Schwartz usually means at least a half hour wait, standing outside, then a five minute
wait standing inside, and then a ten to fifteen minute wait sitting inside, crowded shoulder
to shoulder with other patrons, while your chair clatters and bangs into the one behind you
as you get up to let the people sitting next to wall OUT!
And they usually leave you a nice present
while you wait for your meal to arrive, entering a reasonable doubt in the form of some
discarded smoked meat fat, a half eaten pickle, and a crumpled serviette.
    A meal at The Main requires no waiting period whatsoever, you simply walk in, and 
within a minute or two the waitress takes your order, as you receive your meal usually
within five minutes.
  The sandwich is almost always delicious, less expensive, and you are back out on the
street making your first belches often before those you saw lining up at Schwartz's have 
even entered their restaurant.
  But once inside, the faithful are treated to a wall display decorated with testimonials,
favourable write ups, and autographed pictures of Schwartz's most famous celebrity clientele.
It has all the icons and artwork, of a 21st century food cult religion, it even has it's holy eucharist
in the form of a 'medium fat' on rye, but this city had a similar tradition with Ben's Deli, which
fell to the whims of hungry developers,capricious politicians, and an indifferent public.
What was once considered to be a sacred and untouchable piece of our city's culture
has been proven to be little more than a transient phenomena.
In the end, the difference between the two sandwiches is a 'coin toss', so the decision of where to eat
becomes a choice between hunger, and following the 'cool crowd'... and I know where I
stand on that issue.
Now that I'm on the topic of 'Montreal Culture', let's get back to the Habs and their recent
transformation of status from simply a 'legendary hockey franchise' to that of a  pseudo-religious
the 'good ol' days'
cargo cult. because let's face it…that's what they are.
Like the cargo cults of the south pacific, who would attempt to pattern
themselves on the routines of American soldiers at the conclusion of
the second world war, the Canadiens organization have turned the
'Bell Centre' into a 21st century cathedral devoted to the worship hockey.
 Larger than life size statues of former great players dominate the
exterior courtyard for all to admire, as the devoted fans of 'Les Habitants'
walk over plaques honouring great ones with bordered bricks embedded
with the names of the Canadiens wealthiest patrons on their way to splurge
at the 'Habs Zone' and pay very expensive tithes . (sound familiar?)
I suppose, with the demise of the once mighty and influential catholic church, Montrealer's are looking
for new ways to give their lives meaning, while satiating a need for tribalist pride, but what really is the
Habs legacy?
They've won twenty-four Stanley Cups, half of which were won when there were only  six, count 'em -S I X-
teams in the league.
They haven't won a cup in almost a generation (18 years) and have won only two in
the past thirty-two seasons. There are many people who want to believe that the
Montreal Canadiens are hockey's version of Manchester United or the NewYork Yankees,
and many of those people surely must work in the Habs marketing department.
The sad thing is, many fans actually believe their team is a source of great recognition
for their city, which it is, when you compare them to that 'sack of shit team' Torontonians have
been forced to endure. 
   Don't get me wrong, the Habs have been an entertaining franchise and a source of tribal
bonding for Montrealers, especially since the demise of our beloved Expos,
  But in the mid nineteen nineties, the Montreal Canadiens began to become mythologized
at a similar time and in a similar way as Schwartz's.
Perhaps there was a sense among influential Montrealers that the Habs and Schwartz's
were long standing Montreal traditions which needed to be vaulted to an even higher realm in
the public's consciousness then they already were?
The Canadiens, and Schwartz's, have always been popular, but not with the same 
self-conscious reverence they are adorned with today. 
    Contributing editor to the 'Abyss', Pierre Duranleau, often cites his father Moe's own 
words when he reminds us that there was a time in the 1940's when they had difficulty
unloading discounted Habs tickets at local drugstores.
When LaFleur and Gainey, Lemaire and Robinson were dominating all NHL opponents,
there was an equal euphoria for the young Expos, and our powerhouse CFL team the
  The popularity of the three major sports have ebbed and flowed throughout our city's history.
Montrealer's take great pride in being the first city to accept and welcome a negro ballplayer
when the late Jackie Robinson broke into Major League Baseball with the Montreal Royals
years before 'blacks' would get their chance to play alongside 'whites' in the big leagues.
The decision to experiment with a 'black ball player' was that of Brooklyn Dodgers G.M.
Branch Ricky, an American, and Montreal just happened to be in the right place at the right
So the chest pounding continues to this day, as the franchise does far more to promote
it's history through clever marketing and promotional merchandise, than by doing what's
necessary to bring a Stanley Cup contender back to the city.
They go through all the tribalist motions of a cargo cult hoping to recreate the past by mocking it,
while neglecting the true magical formula which brought all that great hockey to this lonely patch 
of tundra we call Montreal.
                                                                                  Dirty CT    April 2011


  1. I'm glad someone got that out his system for the benefit of others such as myself, who are sick and tired of 'nostalgia marketing' (I guess one could call it that). Montreal is a fallen city that had it's day in the sun before c1996, which tragically represents the unfortunate year the PQ party took political power in Quebec and Montreal eventually just sank into cultural and economic ruin. The Montreal (and by extension Montrealers) of today is no different than the 40+ year old male who cannot come to grips with the reality of his greying hair, and sadly decides to dye it mat black! The reality is, peoples from other countries and North=American cities couldn't give a systhetic dildo about Montreal, Schwartz of the Canadiens!

    William P Randzen

  2. Oh dear me, correct-shonz are in effect here: the PQ (also know as the party who has the monopoly on separatism in Quebec) came to power way back in 1976 (that was a typo).

  3. At least the 40+ male HAS hair to dye, others don't have the luxury of hair.
    Just because someone is prematurely grey and chooses to dye their hair 'mat black' doesn't mean they denying reality, they are simply determining their right to chose how they look and live, realizing they need not live as victims of defective DNA.
    -Anonymous CT

  4. Dying one's hair is a metaphor I used for hiding or masking something. In this case, hiding an undesirable physical part of one's body: greying hair. Well, comments are subjective and personal. Mine wasn't meant to hurt or insult any one person in particular who dye's his/her hair for aesthetic purposes. I'm not questioning whether it's right or wrong. People dye their hair because they don't like the current colour state or condition of their hair. I guess it wasn't the proper metaphor to use.

  5. No hurt feelings were had nor insults assumed, your metaphor was a good
    one. My point was, that Montreal, like the 40+Male, at least has some qualities worth saving in an attempt to parade around, perhaps for one final time, as an entity of youthful vigour.
    Perhaps it is a false facade, but the crumbling facade is not, at this point, an indication of energetic depletion, only exterior vanity.
    By the way...what the F**K does any of this have to do with smoked meat?
    Anonymous CT