A Sketch of Montreal
Down in the parks: topless men, bottomless drinks, bits of stadium, visible panty lines.
Out on the streets: beret-wearing women riding side-saddle with cigarettes, peg-legged pirates, cross-eyed babies, puking Torontonians unaccustomed to the fun.
At any one time, half of Montreal’s population is underground. I refer not to “the underground city” that the tourists are always looking for (any day now, they’ll find it), but to the perpetual state of digging the streets up. Either there’s a year-round treasure hunt that nobody’s told me about or the mayor has lost his keys.
The women and men of Montreal could all work as models if they wanted to. The women could model high fashion, the men could model anything from gravel to grit.
I don’t mean to patronize Montreal’s women by suggesting they’re all beautiful or to insult Montreal’s men by suggesting they’re all hideous (so very hideous), but nowhere else in the world have I so frequently been moved to say the words “I’m sorry Madam, but is this man upsetting you?” only to discover he’s the husband of twenty years.
Montrealers are generally prepared to get from A to B by any means necessary. Boulevard Saint-Laurent looks like the Wacky Races. In a single day last week I saw a home-made motor-trike; an ersatz batmobile; some sk8er bois old enough to know better; a procession of Hell’s Angels, the leader of which wore bunny ears; a hipster with Icarus wings; Leonard Cohen and PK Suban on a tandem Bixi; and a dwarf on a pogo stick.
At first I assumed they were after me, but it may have been chucking out time at Cirque du Soleil Anonymous.
Jerusalem was built on seven hills, as were Rome, Paris, Budapest, Byzantium and Edinburgh. Efficient Montreal did it in one. But it’s not a hill, dammit, it’s a mountain.
There are no truly high-rise buildings due to a bylaw about structures not exceeding the height of Mount Royal itself. Presumably the City Council are afraid of angering the Volcano Gods.
Further credence is lent to Volcano Gods theory when you consider “The Tams”. It’s supposed to take place on Sunday, but there’s always at least one drummer sitting in the shade of that statue thrubbing along on his own. Why? Because if the drumming were to stop, the Volcano God would awake. Those crusties are in the pay of the City Council and we should all be glad of it.
That Earthquake last year? A warning shot. The on-duty drummer must have been distracted by one of those model women or a pogo dwarf.
There’s a giant orange on the side of the Décarie Expressway. I’ve been there. There’s a hotdog stand in the bottom. I asked a lady working there what they keep in the rest of the orange. She said “Nothing”. Suss.
Montreal, as David Cronenberg knows, is the ideal place to hide from the supernatural. That towering cross on Mount Royal (though its main function is a massive key to wind up the town each morning) sends out a clear message to vampires: “you may be welcome in the rest of Canada, but Montreal’s not having it. We’ve got quite enough pale young men with top hats and pierced nipples, merci.”
Zombies meanwhile will never breach our city, thanks to a convenient flap on the Jacques Cartier bridge. At least I assume that’s what all the seemingly-functionless light switches in Plateau apartments are connected to. One flick of the wrist and Johnny Deadfellow is in the Saint Lawrence. We’ll lose the odd Boston rideshare that way, but it’s something to chat about in the lavatory at Expozine.
Speaking of Cartier, he and his posse must have must have arrived here in the summer. “Zut Alores!” they must have said, “Is zis not a paradise, yesno? We will settle down ‘ow-you-say tout-sweet.” And by the time winter came along, they’d already built a whole city and it was too late to move a few degrees south.