I remember the old fish place on Victoria Avenue from my earliest childhood memories, growing up in Montreal. That shop which smells like a fisherman’s boat, seems to have been around forever and still stands, operated by the old Greek owner till today.
The Greek must be well into his eighties by now. He stands, as he did when I was a child brought by my father to buy some lox, ready and waiting behind the counter. He wears his dirty, fish smelling apron, cuts fish with that big fish carver of his, while he wipes clean the carver with a rag, or serves the customers, that ever present scowl on his wrinkled old face. His face is set with a thousand wrinkles and it looks like it could have been carved out of stone.
As he scowls and cleans his carver, readying it for the next customer, he glares suspiciously at his clientele, while slowly pulling up a skin of smoked salmon from the long, ice filled fridge, and lets it fall with a loud slap on the cutting board he has in front of him. Looking like he wants to throttle somebody instead of giving out free lox, he lets slice the fish with his practiced fishmonger’s hand on the carver, as he had been doing almost every day of his life for the past innumerable years and holding out his knife with a generously cut slice of sleek, thick, oily, red lox laying on its edge, he offers it with a grunt to the delighted customer in front of him. As the customer chews slowly on the salty and juicy piece of fish, savoring the traditionally prepared Greek method of salting and smoking fish, probably passed down from this man’s ancestors, ancient Adriatic fishermen, the old man carefully and slowly slices through the salmon’s red flesh, allowing the perfect thickness — not too thin, enough to experience all the flavor but not too thick so as to overwhelm the palate.
I remember the man unchanged from my youth — old, wrinkled, scowling and offering up free samples of the best lox in town and probably in the world. I remember he used to look down on me with his intimidating look and holding the lox in front of me, ask “Who’s the boss?”
He knew his best customers were Jews, and even though he was probably Greek Orthodox, he found a way to connect with members of other faiths.
I would turn to my father shyly, not knowing what to say, and they would laugh and he would point up to heaven, letting me indulge in my delicious sample.
He doesn’t seem to do that anymore. He certainly doesn’t remember me now, as an adult, coming to buy his product. But I will never forget this memory from my childhood.
Even now, as I pull up on Victoria Avenue in front of the old store front with the fish painted on it and my stomach growls, I know that as long as this business lives on, my memories will be shared by many others for years to come.