I just returned from Montreal where, thanks to the Jewish Book Council and to the Montreal Public Library, I spoke to a group of around 70 or 80 members, whose many intelligent questions kept the evening lively and the auditorium buzzing.
Having never been to Montreal, my husband and I decided to extend our trip for a couple of days to enjoy the much heralded beauties of the city. We were impressed by the charming architecture, but more so by the kindness and generosity of its people. We walked a good part of the city, disregarding an unexpected snow storm, below zero temperatures, and a right foot that for no reason--other than, perhaps, being struck by the evil eye--ached so badly, I was forced to limp like a pregnant duck.
On our only free evening, we decided to spoil ourselves and asked the concierge to suggest a "magnificent" restaurant, my choice of word, alas. "Europa!" His immediate response. "You can easily spend four hours there," he added, "It's an unsurpassed culinary experience."
We combed and teased and dressed up for the occasion and walked six blocks in the slush and snow, yours truly hanging for dear life to my husband's arm, slipping now and then, imagining sacrificing my life at the feet of my ravenous stomach. I had not eaten much the entire day, other than chocolate, 99 percent cocoa.
We arrived in one piece, pleased at the warm sepia décor and friendly ambience. We were seated under a red crinoline floor lamp that made everyone and everything appear flushed with joy and beauty. The bread was warm and delicious--yes I go to a "magnificent" restaurant and I report the bread. But then again, I gauge the quality of a restaurant based on the merits of its bread and butter, which to me is the best part of the meal. One course after another came, small morsels displayed like gems we thoroughly enjoyed--an added bonus, no sign of pork in anything.
We were halfway through the meal, enjoying every bite, waiting expectantly for the main course, when the waiter approached with a cigar box. "Cigar for Madame?"
Is this a joke, I wondered, offering the waiter a tentative smile.
"Would Madame like a cigar?" she repeated, unfazed by my growing shock and annoyance at her doggedly serious expression.
I glanced at the shiny wooden top of the box, embossed with golden letters that pronounced: "Cigars from Havana," or something to that effect. No, this was not a joke.
I turned to the waiter and barked, "Do I look like someone who would light a cigar to cleanse her palette?"
She snapped the box open, releasing a puff of aromatic smoke and revealing two appetizing cheese croquettes in the shape of cigars.
"Perhaps Madame has changed her mind now?"
Madame had changed her mind, but so did her appetite.