Hottest Heads of State

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Memoir Quebecois, Part 2

Dinosaur exhibit at the Granby zoo

We live in a golden age of human achievement.

If you haven’t been reading JD’s travel diary, then you haven’t been missing out on much. Don’t believe me? Just check out Part 1!


Friday, July 7

Dear Diary,

We got the first pass version of our book on Thursday night, so I stayed inside all day on Friday working on the book and ignoring the kids’ requests that I 1) play ninja, 2) play pillowfight, or 3) play ninja pillowfight. Meanwhile, while Kate went to a coffee shop to work on the next chapter of her Justin Trudeau fan fiction.

Since I didn’t do anything interesting other than eventually relent and play ninja pillowfight, let me tell you about all the television we have been watching.

The World Without Canada is a three-part documentary narrated by Dan Aykroyd that purports to highlight Canada’s many contributions to the world. But its actual message seems to be, “Without Canada, the United States would become a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland.” As we watched, at first we thought, “Is this a satire?” But gradually, our thinking shifted to, “Do Canadians not like us?” Because the movie didn’t seem super sad about the idea of America becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

But I don’t want to extrapolate out to all Canadians, so I’ll just say Dan Ackroyd doesn’t like us.

The World Without Canada

This is an American fleeing from the giant tsunami created when the Canadian landmass suddenly vanished, as depicted in the History Channel Canada documentary The World Without Canada.

Here are some other fun facts about Canadian TV.

  • Pretty much every show is available in “described video for the visually impaired” which is just what is sounds like. “The caped figure runs out.” “A man wearing an apron lies dead by the sausage cart.” “At the morgue, Dr. Ogden measures the width of a sword blade.” Every show is better with a flat-affect narrator describing everything that is happening. (P.S. We don’t have cable so maybe this is true back home too? If so, we promise to get cable when we get home.)
  • A show called Murdoch Mysteries about a detective in turn-of-the-century Toronto is in its 11th season, and it is on every night multiple times, and I’m sorry Canada but it is just not good enough to have gone 11 seasons. (Update: But I do watch it almost every night.)
  • I watched another Canadian turn-of-the-century drama called When Calls The Heart because I thought the name was hilarious, and I will watch it again the next time it comes on for the same reason.

French Proficiency Status: The Quebec license plate says “je me soviens.” Kate tells me that this means “I am my own souvenir,” which is probably not true.


Saturday, July 8

Dear Diary,

Part of the conceit of this Canadventure of ours is that we are not on vacation in Montreal, or on a trip to Montreal. We are living in Montreal, just for a really short time. So when the weekend arrived, instead of going sightseeing, we did the same thing we do back home: Drive out to the suburbs to big-box stores. Specifically, we visited Canadian Tire.

Every fourth commercial on Canadian TV is for Canadian Tire, which had led us conclude, “Canadians really love tires!” And while that may be true, Canadian Tire is a tire store only in the sense that Sears is a tire store. Sears does sell tires (well, they carry tires) but lots of other stuff too.

We went there looking for toys, based on the parenting theory “if we buy our kids toys maybe they will go play by themselves.” The toy selection was pretty limited, but what they did have is a see-through toy truck called the “Canadian Tire Resin Ice Truck” billed as “The exact replica of the Canadian Tire Ice Truck.”

Canadian Tire ice truck

That’s a pretty bold claim! I went on their website to get a photo of it, and while I was there left a product review in the form of a dad joke.

JD's review of the Canadian Tire ice truck

French Proficiency Update: I am feeling increasingly guilty about not adding the accent mark to “Montreal” in this journal.

English Proficiency Update: Kate has started saying “eh” and claims she can’t help it and doesn’t know if she’ll be able to stop when we get back to the U.S.


Sunday, July 9

Dear Diary,

I dragged Kate and the kids downtown because there is a plaque put there by the United Daughters the Confederacy at a spot where Jefferson Davis once spent the night. I don’t want to go on a whole rant here so let me just say, “Dear Canada: Just because someone offers to pay for a Confederate memorial doesn’t mean you have to take them up on it. Love, JD.

While walking around we were panhandled for the first time, which is astonishing in a city this big—if Montreal were in America, it would be the 5th largest American city. (Actually, if Montreal were in America, we would have tried to impose an English-only law during the whole Freedom Fries thing, and it would have tried to secede, and we would have razed it to the ground. But you know what I mean. It’s a big city.)

We also had a doubledecker tour bus drive past us, and the tour guide said “And if you’ll look to your right, you’ll see the American embassy,” and I looked, and it was a McDonald’s. Hardy har har.


Monday, July 10

Dear Diary,

I went to a coffee shop and worked on the book.

French proficiency status: I ordered my coffee in French, but then the barista asked if I wanted it to go so I had to switch to English.


Tuesday, July 11

Dear Diary,

For reasons I’m not ready to reveal, I spent the morning wandering around the Montreal riverfront with a large camera taking photos of a small plastic cat and a small plastic octopus pirate. So if anyone ever tells you they saw a guy photographing a small plastic cat in Montreal, it was probably not me, because this is a pretty big city and what are the chances I’m the only guy doing that?

In any event, I had a fun, embarrassing day.

  • I walked passed an Army surplus store and stopped to look at their window display because they were advertising a “wire pull smoke grenade” which obviously piqued my interest. They also had a pretty cool grappling hook, and I was tempted. But then I realized that on my way back to the U.S. I’d feel compelled to declare it. And I wouldn’t have a good explanation for having a grappling hook, other than “I am a dork.” (Or maybe, “Well it’s in case you guys don’t let me back in and I need to scale a border wall. Haha!” This would go over great because ICE agents probably have a good sense of humor about themselves and their role in society.)
  • I took my first cat-and-pirate photo at one of the big ornate Chinese gates that frame the entrances to Montreal’s Chinatown. As I squatted at the intersection, holding a plastic octopus pirate in one hand and a camera in the other, I thought to myself, “Boy, I’m sure glad I went to graduate school.”
  • Surprisingly, no one gave me any strange looks. Ha, just kidding! Everyone gave me strange looks.

Octopirate goes to chinatown
French Proficiency Status: A couple of people didn’t realize I was a tourist and asked me questions in French, perhaps because I was taking pictures of a small plastic cat and so they assumed I was too mentally ill to travel.

  • The first time, a group of teenagers asked me “Mon dieu frites zut alors napoleon,” or at least that’s what it sounded like, because I do not speak French. I apologized for not understanding, and they switched to English and asked me where the zip line tower was.
  • The second time, I was on the sidewalk leaning against a Starbucks trying to steal their wifi (if it even counts as stealing) so I could read the Donald Trump Jr. emails. A businessman asked me, “Peugot noir baguette tour de France” and I again apologized. He turned and asked some other guy, who then showed him his phone. So, I guess he was asking for the time, although it might also been “Hey buddy can I check out that sweet phone?”

Wednesday, July 12

Dear Diary,

We took a day trip to Ottawa, and as a result I have some recommended do’s and don’ts about visiting Ottawa.

  • DON’T assume that you’ll be able to easily find a parking space on Parliament Hill, even though it’s Canada so how many people can there be? (A lot, as it turns out.)
  • DON’T reward yourself for finding a parking space by having a couple of pints of beer at lunch.
  • DON’T assume you can take a tour of parliament simply because you’re willing to. We showed up at 2pm and the day’s tour tickets had been sold out for hours.
One of the Canadian parliament buildings. Which one? Who knows!

There are four major political parties in Canada: The center-left Liberals, the center-right Conservatives, the progressive New Democratic Party, and the secessionist Bloc Quebecois. When you show up for your first day as a Member of Parliament, you’re assigned to a political party by a sorting hat.

  • DON’T be like Kate, and get your hopes up that you’ll see Justin Trudeau wandering around Parliament Hill. If you want to bump into Justin Trudeau you need to hang around rock concerts, or beach weddings, or caves.
Canada Day decorations hiding spot

Guys I found the crate where Canada keeps its Canada Day decorations during the rest of the year.

  • DON’T forget you’re in Ottawa, and start to imagine that you’re in the Canada pavilion at Epcot. Because then you’re going to feel like buying moose-print pajamas and they do not sell moose-print pajamas at the Canadian parliament.
  • DON’T budget less than three or four days for the Canadian War Museum. This museum is absolutely huge and amazing, because Canadians love war. (That’s a little “Haha how could people as nice as Canadians love war” humor for you, but actually I do think they love war at least a little bit.)
Hockey fan screenshot

The war museum used a video of two hockey fans from Toronto and Montreal to explore the history of conflict between English and French-speaking Canadians. And I had to take a photo of it because otherwise no one would believe me.

French proficiency status: We listed to French talk radio while driving back to Montreal, and wondered “If we listened to this for 10,000 hours, would we learn French?” I think the answer is “maybe” because over the course of a 15 minutes I managed to learn that “criminale” means criminal, which means that in 10,000 hours I would learn 40,000 words.

Wardrobe dissipation update:

  • One of my socks has gone missing. I hate to point fingers, but our landlord is the only other person with a key to the apartment, so I do think he probably stole my sock.
  • I’ve stopped wearing the red t-shirt I packed, because I am quite sunburned and it’s a little too matchy-matchy.

Thursday, July 13

Dear Diary,

I went to a coffee shop to work on the book again. As I sat there, writing a book in a coffee shop in a foreign country with the baristas chattering away in French, I started thinking to myself, “Boy, what a life! I’m an expatriate writer, just like Ernest Hemingway or James Baldwin.”

And then it occurred to me that I’d just spent half an hour trying to come up with a double entendre about William McKinley. And let’s face it—Go Tell it on the Mountain wasn’t even James Baldwin’s best work, but it’s probably better than even the best McKinley double entendre.

French Proficiency Status:

  • I noticed that the Fire Department is “Incendie Montreal” which sounds a lot like “Incinerate Montreal,” which made me wonder if if the fire department is starting fires so they have something to do on slow days. I don’t know this for sure, though, so I don’t want to start any rumors. It’s just a working theory.
  • I am now getting Twitter ads in French. I’ve provided a translation of this one, just off the top of my head.

Twitter screengab
DIRECT from our restaurant. Our delicious fries, for the plasticine of yore. #JourneyOfTheFries!

Miscellaneous: A new Canadian Governor General was announced today, former astronaut Julie Payette. The Governor General is the viceregal representative of the actual regent, Queen Elizabeth, whenever Queen Elizabeth is not in Canada. The Governor General does not have to be an astronaut, but it does seem like a good idea just in case there’s a space emergency.


Friday, July 14

Dear Diary,

Our Bastille Day began by finding out that we’d gotten a parking ticket, which is unsurprising since the street parking system here is:

1) Difficult, because the streets are very narrow and crowded,
2) Complicated, because they have overlapping systems residential permits trash pickup, street sweeping and snow plowing, and.
2) Explained in French, which even after two weeks we don’t speak that well.

Parking signs in Montreal are confusing

They should add one in English that says, “Or you can just save time and send us a check.”

We considering acting in the spirit of Bastille Day and tearing it up, then deposing the local monarch (Queen Elizabeth). But we decided we’d wait until the next major holiday to overthrow Queen Elizabeth.

We discovered the parking ticket because we were leaving for a day trip to Granby, Quebec, to visit the Granby Zoo. The hourlong drive was beautiful. On the way we listened to Kate’s “Montreal” playlist, which is the Canadian national anthem followed by a bunch of Arcade Fire.

The zoo was spectacular. I genuinely don’t understand why it’s not in the “What is the best zoo” conversation. It includes:

1) An undersea exhibit that includes a giant shipwreck and free stingray petting,
2) a cave habitat set inside a big, labyrinthine cave, with slides and secret passageways.
3) An Australian Outback exhibit set up like you’re on a roadtrip through Australia.
4) I could go on and on. The food was pretty good, too, and the dining area had an adjacent playground. Oh, and there was a big zoo-style exhibit of full-sized moving, roaring robot dinosaurs, and instead of a zoo train there is a monorail twenty feet above the ground that winds throughout the park.

So if you’re thinking about going to San Diego for the zoo, consider changing plans and visiting Granby, Quebec, instead. (On the other hand if you’re thinking about visiting St. Louis for the zoo, you still should! It’s free, and by coming to St. Louis instead of San Diego you will reduce your chances of death by tsunami.)

cigarette

No matter where we go, Kate is always picking up cigarette butts. Her motto is, “Nothing tastes better than a free cigarette.”

French Proficiency Status:

JD says groin

Groin” means “snout.”

Special request to readers: Part of the justification of our trip to Canada was the favorable exchange rate. But obnoxiously, today the Canadian central bank raised interest rates for the first time in seven years, and the Loonie (yes) is appreciating against the U.S. dollar. So, I would consider it a personal favor if you would dump all your Loonie holdings and buy U.S. dollars. Even if it’s just a few hundred thousand dollars, every little bit helps.

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JD and Kate Visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Are you as excited as we are for the release of our book Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents, on January 30, 2018? Probably not. But that’s OK. Healthy, even.


Exterior of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
Atlanta, GA
Adults: $8 | Children (16 and under): Free

JD: For a while we were wandering around a big park, lost, looking for the museum. When we finally stumbled upon it, I said, “The Carter Library sneaks up on you…just like the real Jimmy Carter!”

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Sincerely, Dick

Relationship Advice from Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon writes his own relationship advice column

Richard Nixon recorded all of his Oval Office conversations, and the transcripts from these secret tapes are an nonstop explosion of profound wisdom and keen observations about the human condition. If you’ve ever read through the transcripts yourself, you probably thought, “If only this guy had his own relationship advice column!” Well, all of your wildest dreams are about to come true.

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J.D. and Kate Visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

As part of the research for our upcoming book,* we’ve been traveling around the country visiting presidential libraries and historical sites. And you can travel along with us—virtually!—by reading a review of each place we visit.

*It’s true! Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents, is coming out from Henry Holt & Co. in January or February 2018. (We honestly don’t know whether it is January or February. Maybe we should ask someone!)


Born for a Storm

If you think no one in real life would ever use the #BornForAStorm hashtag, then you are wrong. In fact, it is a good way to get a counterpoint to our overbearingly sanctimonious view of Andrew Jackson and The Hermitage.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
Nashville, TN
Adults: $20 | Students (ages 13-18): $15 | Children (ages 6-12): $10

JD: We visited The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s historical site, on November 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election. If you’re looking for something to help take your mind off a presidential election, I do not recommend visiting a presidential museum.

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Patrice Talon

President of Benin
Patrice Talon

Patrice Talon scored these sweet sunglasses for free from his eye doctor.

If, like me, you have a website in ranking all world leaders in order of hotness, then you’ll be excited to learn that the country of Benin has a hot new president. (Well, “new.” He’s been in office for like a year. It’s not easy to keep websites ranking all world leaders in order of hotness up to date, as you of all people would understand.)

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J.D. and Kate Visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

As part of the research for our upcoming book,* we’ve been traveling around the country visiting presidential libraries and historical sites. And you can travel along with us—virtually!—by reading our review of each place we visit. (Note that in this first installment, you’ll also be traveling through time, because we visited the Lincoln Presidential Library on Labor Day and are only now getting around to posting this. A terrifying insight into our work process!)

*It’s true! Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents, coming out from Henry Holt & Co. Look for it in early 2018! Or go ahead and start looking for it now, and by the time it comes out, you’ll feel like you’ve really earned it.


Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Photo credit: Lee Adalf (because ugh we forgot to take a photo.)

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Springfield, IL
Adults: $15 | Children (ages 5-15): $6

Kate: As we pulled up to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, it occurred to me that it is not a great place to begin this series, because after this every other presidential library is going to be a huge letdown. We should have started with Herbert Hoover.

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Special Report

Memoir Quebecois, Part 2

JD and Kate Visit...

JD and Kate Visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Special Report

Memoir Quebecois, Part 1