We had ourselves a mission. Or, least, I had assigned everyone one. The goal was to make the seven-mile return trek to New Victoria Fish in Montreal. We’d all applied sunscreen, filled water bottles, had cash in our pockets. Peter had his sports sandals velcroed, my mom had her sneaks on, William was sporting his Ferrari cap. It was game time.
We’d had the salmon lox they sell at this fish store one summer before. Peter, who is a master at ferreting out the most character-filled places, had heard about it from a friend, and he and William had checked it out. I had been out doing something, either running or stuffing my face, the two things I do best in Montreal, and missed the errand. But I’d heard about it ever since:
“You walk in and two old men are standing there. They say nothing to you. You tell them what you want and one starts hand slicing the fish. They continue to say nothing. Until one holds out a long knife, the blade as long as your arm, reaches over the counter with it, and offers you a huge sample of the salmon.”
That fish, it was unlike anything I had ever had: silky, not too salty, not smoky, just rich and fresh and simple. Couple that with a fresh sesame seed bagel right out of the hot mouth of St. Viateur Bakery’s oven, a luscious shmear of cream cheese and you’re so in heaven you would not at all be surprised to find yourself perched on a cloud with a halo beaming over your head.
If you don’t like salmon or even fish, let me try to put this into terms you can understand. This was like the best blueberry pie you’ve ever had: flaky crust, not overly sweet, blueberries behaving, not watery in the pan, that first bite making you roll your eyes back. Not because you even mean to, but because your body needs to in order to keep itself together. Don’t like blueberry pie? Let’s see. It’s like the best steak you’ve ever had: juicy, a crusty sear on the outside, so tender you could cut it with a butter knife. Don’t like steak? Well, I can’t help you then.
Anyway, needless to say, I’d been dreaming of this salmon for a year. But on this trip to Montreal, Peter had elected not to rent a car, so in order to get to New Victoria Fish, we were going to have to hoof it.
On Friday morning, I sent them off 20 minutes ahead of me with the idea that they would walk and I would run and we would meet at the fish store. It sounds complicated and it was complicated as only group trip plans can get. Of course, it was also completely self-indulgent on my part — if I was going to make them all do this errand that only I really wanted to do, at the very least I should accompany them on it.
I marveled over that as I started my run on an already hot morning. It’s amazing how the self-centered kid comes out in you when you’re with your parents, and how they love you so much they’re willing to be manipulated into doing what you want. I vowed to be the same for Gabrielle.
I reached Côte Sainte-Catherine and turned right. Now it would be about two miles before I passed Côte-des-Neiges. Three blocks after that, I was to turn right on Victoria. It’s remarkable how everything is interesting when you’re on vacation. The sun, it feels different, a little more unpredictable, a little more fun. The people on the street you pass, it feels like they’re headed in interesting directions, possibly to work at a candy store or possibly toward home where they will sit on their balcony and read a Virginia Woolf novel. The houses you pass look foreign and faintly magical, and you find yourself imagining what it would be like to live there. Would you be different? More ambitious? More apt to host cocktail parties that would involve a claw-foot bathtub filled with ice so you could chill bottles of champagne in it?
Seemed likely as I continued my run, assessing how my legs were feeling, wondering if I’d pass my family soon, loving the idea that they were nearby.
The scenery changed rather abruptly after I passed rue Van Horne, the homes replaced with structures with an institutional bent: a few hospitals, a university campus. Then I ran into major road construction, and the sidewalk was closed, forcing me to cross the street. Oh, but I was in the shade now. What rich currency shade becomes while you are hot and running so only likely to get hotter. The construction continued for an unusually long time, the road completely dug out so you could peer into the inner workings of the city with all its wire veins and tunneled arteries.
I was almost at Côtes-des-Neiges when I spotted my family walking together. My heart swelled as I saw my mom swinging a bag for the fish, which also contained a precious bottle of water that she’d generously offered to carry so I wouldn’t need to. Right then and there, my run was done. I’d walk the rest of the way with them and the rest of the way home, because that’s what I should have done in the first place.
And when we got to the fish store, it was exactly as they described. Soviet-era spare, two grizzled men behind the counter, the smell of fish sharp and intense. Peter asked for the salmon and the knife silently came out. A few minutes later, the blade appeared across the counter with a sample of fish.
I’d been waiting for this for a year. It was worth the wait.
2 thoughts on “Journey to the salmon store”
Hi there! I think I have found the right place. I live down the street from your mom in Winnipeg. I am from the US and actually lived in Bowling Green, KY for a few years before moving to Winnipeg. I am also a writer. Your mom suggested I get in touch. Please drop me a line! All the best, Joanne (923 Dorchester)
Hello! I’m so happy to hear from you. Yes, my mom has told me all about you. Actually, she just told me this week that you had told her about how hard and isolating being a writer can be and, honestly, just hearing that buoyed me. Sometimes it’s just nice to know someone can commiserate. I’m going to check out your blog right away. Thanks for getting in touch!