I wrote this after a vacation to Quebec last year — I think we were stuck in Central Jersey traffic at the time.
It is not more the Paris of the Americas, than New York is the London of them. But Francophone it is and, though my completely cursory and elementary knowledge of Paris would have me stop the similarities at that, I still am going to rely more on my intuition than any hard data. If you disagree, there will be a time for you to respond at the end of this. Of course you may not have this fictional time to respond, so this is just rhetoric – perhaps you can find the joy in it as I do, though.
It is a great city, though, with its own identity. Ironically the thing that’s most distinct about it — that it has its own personality – unmarked by any other town too. It may appear self-involved to U.S. residents, who may simply think French is an arrogant language (as much as they think that Spanish is a stupid language) – meanwhile people from both North and South of the border think English is an ignorant language. And why wouldn’t they? I may be losing my argument against the joy of rhetoric, particularly spoken in English. But play it as it lies.
But the town’s self-involvement is simply circumstantial – in a totally non-New York way. Whereas other towns get their meaning and identity from comparisons to other cities – this one doesn’t. Chicago knows that it’s the king of the Midwest – the world stops and ends with Los Angeles – and that’s not just because the smog there will prevent you from seeing any further, or because the cities’ make everything seem like it’s an hour away! New York could just as easily declare itself as the greatest city in the world and not think twice about it – just as easily so could London, Tokyo, and Paris. New York’s such a big deal that Boston and Philadelphia both pain over the fact that they are not it. Not such with this town, who never compares herself to Toronto – the neighboring metropolis. In a Francophone province, almost on its very own island, this town doesn’t even have many U.S. cities to compare itself too – Burlington, VT and Plattsburgh, NY? I mean why would a St. Bernard worry about two Pugs?
Yes, to this town, it might as well be the only one of earth – with a newspaper that barely acknowledges its province or country (or its menacing Southern neighbor) – where its biggest concern is a highway under construction (yes, above the fold headline for two days was about the highway problem). It’s care-free nature, with its biggest worries being that olives ran out at happy hour at the second wine bar on the same block, is easy to resent, especially when compared to the poverty and violence of U.S. Cities.
Can an American really think about a Canadian city though? Can I write a review of a Lexus if I’m only driving a beat up Camry? But of course, that’s what Americans do – we compare. They don’t there. They are present. Ably present. “I am here and there’s nothing else to it.” I think that’s what their slogan is. I am what I am. I’m not arrogant, I just know what I like, and I don’t need to compare myself to you to feel that way – of course, why would they when they’ve won the Stanley Cup more times than any other team? When their professional hockey team actually predates the formation of the National Hockey League! How freeing, how liberating.
Yes, sometimes, it seems like they are far too stuck in their world – I mean, the fashion queues don’t always seem to make sense; nor do their Manhattan-plus prices, but the amount of invertebrates on the menus is good enough for me. Snails and octopus? I’ll take that to pretzels, steaks, and cream cheese. Speaking of ignorant Anglophones, they have their own “Pat’s & Geno’s” rivalry going too. The comparisons that this town commits are by and large contained within it. You better know where you want to eat your smoked meat – get it at Schwartz’s and not Snowdon’s – get your sandwich with a half-sour pickle, a cherry coke, and some slaw.
And figure out where you’re getting your better-than-New-York bagels. While this one city seems to make U.S. cities look like broken ones (which is exactly what they are), even our “operational ones” – Portland and Seattle – still look like white outs compared to this well-browned town. And it even seems like the different colors get along, which gives it a one-up over even our most-excellent San Francisco.
Even the town’s four basilicas, which will make even the most Presbyterian among us marvel at the beauty that Catholics embraced. The three-peaked mountain of the same name might even give hippies among us some trees to hug. There’s a block for anarchists and a neighborhood for bohemians (one that makes Williamsburg look like Fishtown and Fishtown look like Port Richmond).
But otherwise, nearly untouchable. A center of culture, diversity, good politics, and history. Montreal seems like a perfect city.
Would I move there? What? And not speak English? What do I look like to youse guys?