In AFAR’s January/February issue, contributing writer Matt Gross wrote “The French Connection,” which chronicled his attempt to get closer with his younger brother Steve on a trip to Montreal. A mutual love of food and the French language lured them to snowy Québec, where they consumed copious amounts of pork, went snowshoeing through the woods, and according to Matt’s account, rekindled some brotherly love.
The AFAR team recently called Steve Gross at home in Minneapolis to get his side of the story.
What was your initial response when Matt proposed that the two of you take a trip together?
I finally get to cash in on his glamorous travel job. If you don’t travel all the time, and I don’t, then the idea of getting to travel all around the world seems very glamorous.
Did you not travel much together growing up?
My family took a lot of trips together. But the last time just me and Matt did something was probably one of our skateboarding expeditions in Virginia about 20 years ago. I’m talking about expeditions to alleys and parking lots and concrete trenches, not what you’d think of as normal travel destinations.
If it had been entirely up to you, where in the world would you most like to tag along with Matt?
He knows Asia so well. I think going to Vietnam or Shanghai with him would be pretty cool.
If you could take Matt one place in the world where would it be?
I’ve lived in Minneapolis for five years so I’d probably want to take him around on a real tour here and show him some cool food stuff. It’s one place I probably know better than he does.
Matt makes it seem like he was a bully as an older brother when you were growing up. Was he as much of a jerk as he says he was?
He’s too hard on himself. I think it’s a writerly conceit that makes his story attractive. He’s a nice guy. We were four grades apart growing up and at that age you both have your own shit going on. You don’t want to worry about your younger siblings. I wasn’t close with my younger sister until we were older.
Were there any parts of the story that you think Matt didn’t represent accurately or that you would like to add your perspective to?
It’s funny. I read it and he spends a lot of time talking about me. It’s very flattering and very nice to have an article talking mostly about me. But he left out all of the nice things he did every day on the trip. For example, every morning he woke up, went out and got coffee and croissants for breakfast. I’d come downstairs and it was all laid out. And he put together a pretty incredible trip. It was the type of trip that you usually pay tour guides to organize.
Also, Matt actually did really, really well in Bikram yoga.
Who has a better command of the French language?
He and I are both fluent but I am better at French than he is. We both took AP French in high school. I majored in French in college and lived in France for a little while so my accent is better, especially when I drink. Matt however has fantastic confidence. Being a seasoned traveler, he is good at diving in and not being self-conscious even if he doesn’t speak the language perfectly. I am more self-conscious so if I don’t know how to pronounce something I don’t try.
Who is the better eater? Matt made it seem like you couldn’t keep up with his appetite the entire trip.
You don’t understand just how much foie gras the people in Québec eat. We walked into the storage room of one restaurant and there were individually wrapped stacks of foie piled up like gold bars. We were in a very sensuous, indulgent, stupefied state after each meal. You would eat to a level that you think your body is going to quit on you. It’s worth it.
What Matt doesn’t mention is that I had some restraint. He had duck in a can and I did not. I had a bite of duck in a can. But even Matt seemed restrained compared to the table next to us who had pig’s head with a whole lobster as a garnish.
Did you have a favorite meal?
The meal we had at the hunting club, Le Club Chasse et Pêche, was great. We got very drunk and it was a great place to get drunk. It was a very high-end restaurant and there was so much shellfish. Matt is like my mom and loves shellfish so we started out with clams and then we had oysters and then we had snails. Usually you eat one thing in a shell. This was like a meal of things in shells.
Matt mentions that you asked in a comic book shop if they had anything featuring squirrels. Why squirrels?
My wife loves squirrels. She is the only person I know who loves both pigeons and squirrels. They are such ugly, dirty little creatures that scamper around our cities and she adores them. My wife also wants to learn French. The French have a great tradition of animal cartoons and I thought I could find a French book of animal cartoons to bring home for her. But I couldn’t find one.
What surprised you most about traveling with Matt?
Everywhere we went, everyone knew we were brothers in a second. It was very interesting. We had a running bet going because everyone assumed I was older. I found that shocking, especially because he has a beard and by a large margin his hairline is a little farther back than mine. But then again, we both wore big puffy hats so it might have been hard to judge by our hairlines.
What did you find most surprising about Montreal?
I didn’t think it would be as cool as it was. I’d be willing to move there. The really interesting thing was that they speak English and French interchangeably. I’ve never seen that before where you can switch midsentence and use the word that best expresses a concept.
Do you ever wish you could swap jobs and be a travel writer like your big brother?
I’d be terrible at Matt’s job. Matt’s an adventurous person and will go into situations unprepared. I’m a happy spectator. That’s why I’m a reader of AFAR and he’s a contributor. He travels with flawless grace.
Can we anticipate another Gross family travel story?
You know, we’ve never traveled together with our wives. That could be interesting. Two couples leave the toddler with the grandparents. Maybe.
Photos by Alexi Hobbs. Read “The French Connection” by Matt Gross.