Chicken out when you smell smoke: Fines, poultry, and the scent of our city
Breathe in. Breathe out. Through the nose... it warms the air. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now, what do you smell? Me, I smell chicken. In my neighbourhood, I always smell chicken.
It's not always exactly what I'd like to inhale, but there it is. It's in my face so I might as well suck it up. The smells, the sounds, the constant sensory input...it's part of living in the Plateau - and a fantastic one at that. That's what I think, at least.
Turns out it's not what everybody thinks.
The recent news is that the city of Montreal has served fines just shy of $53,000 to two Plateau charcoal grill-wielding restaurants, Le Roi du Plateau and Portugalia, for not adhering to proper island-wide ventilation bylaws. You can read all the wrangly, dangly details in the Gazette's Jan. 31 story. But in short, they're accused of spewing out copious of smoke du poulet -- so much so that it's affecting the quality of life for nearby neighbours.
The restaurants, which occupy respective corners of Clark and Rachel, are mere blocks from my humble abode. (I live kitty corner from another Portuguese culinary stalwart, Chez Doval.) On nearly any day, I can poke my nose out my door and smell bird. On the haziest days, I can feel it on my skin and smell it in my clothes. It's not necessarily the most pleasant of sensations, but it's a genuine one.
And yes, I know this is a health issue and a bureaucratic kerfuffle and an affront to these local businesses. But I'm not necessarily those things right now. I am my nose. I realize now just how much the complex perfumes of my community please me.
I remember my first days after moving here almost ten years ago, standing on the corner of Saint-Cuthbert and St. Laurent. The smells of roasting coffee from La Vieille Europe, the greasy spice from Schwartz's, the wood smoke from Jano, the bread being baked somewhere... it hit me like a memory I already knew.
I've heard that smell is the most direct link to nostalgia. An unavoidable smell from your past that resurfaces in the here-and-now is almost certain to transport you back to moments you've lived; a form of sensory time travel, if you will. I agree. Many times I've been whisked away to time long ago at the slightest whiff. Breathing deeply, I am Marty McFly.
Sure, come springtime, the fetid pong of thawing garbage and dog shit rivers make the Plateau feel like we live in a seasonal Orwellian experiment. These are but a few of the demonic miasma that are not wholly pleasant... but at least they are authentic.
I feel this awareness - very different from the shitty smells, mind you - adds to the pleasure of living here. I consider it memory accelerant.
"A small paradise" says a tiny painting on the doorway of Le Roi du Plateau restaurant.
I can understand if that chicken smoke was pouring in your window on a stifling summer day. Not nice, especially if you're unable to escape it. According to city spokesperson Philippe Sabourin, the city has received 50 complaints since 2008 about offending restaurants in the area. It's a question of quality of air and life. Understandable, absolutely. We're all entitled to a comfortable living situation. But have you tasted that chicken? Goddamn, it's good. I want it served at my funeral.
Regardless, I have to question in some small part; what would be removed if we didn't have access to the heavy sensations we do? Would my days be the same if I weren't snorting vapourized chicken skin?
En fin, you know what? This is the Plateau. We're not here to be swathed in a blanket of restrained comfort. It's loud. It's dirty. It's smelly. It's delicious. Eat it up, man.