Friday, September 21, 2007

Montreal, Day One

The Montreal Festival of Cognitive Dissonance
So I found it kind of amusing that before the trip began, my sole Quebecois coworker--who happens to be a young, foxxxxay female--began her advice by listing strip clubs, and after a list of more respectably touristy things, ended her schpiel by announcing "Oh, and if you wanna--'ow you say, pay for fucking?--go to Ontario Street." (Do I radiate loneliness that badly? Please say no...)

Anyway, I figured at the time this was some kind of knowing joke on the part of a long-ago urban planner: "Hey Gilles, where we gonna put dese prostitute?" "How 'bout Rue Ontario? Dat'll show dose Toronto fuckers..."

Today, though, was apparently the fifth annual running of an international festival called "Dans la ville sans ma voiture" ("In the city without my car") which, in its Montreal iteration, involves closing down eight or ten blocks worth of Rue Ste. Catherine and associated cross streets--for my fellow Calgarians, think a much less crowded 4th Street Lilac Fest--and parading throngs of happy, giggling preschoolers down a street that, when it's not full of stores[*], seems to be giant ornate churches on one side--and hole-in-the-wall *ahem* establishments offering "Live Nudes" and "Contact Dancing" down the other. Some of you will no doubt be glad to know the Bill 101 folks seem all right with *that* in English.

[*] he said in a Dave Bowman voice

A Cobblestone In Every Street and a Cathedral For Every Parishioner
Coming from Calgary, a town so in love with reinventing itself architecturally--and so new in the first place--that any building that predates Hitler invading Poland seems like a rare, precious link to a past so remote it hardly seems real. Montreal, on the other hand, has so much architectural history they don't know what to do with it. The guidebooks recommend a walking tour of Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) with its cobblestone streets, 17th and 18th century French architecture and insanely high gift shop-to-possible customer ratio, and they're quick to play up the strengths of the huge, gothic Notre Dame cathedral--but a five-minute walk through any part of downtown picked at random is guaranteed to turn up at least a handful of charming old buildings--one of which is probably gonna be some breathtaking basilique, cathedral or the like. And three quarters of those are named after the Virgin Mary, so it gets a little confusing.

Evidently I Am Not A Cunning Linguist
Three ways a discussion can go with a Montreal shopkeeper/server/customer service what-have-you, assuming your language skills are identical to mine:

1. Begin in English. The other party, being a consummate professional in a bilingual city, will of course follow--and you'll end up feeling a vague sense of Liberal Guilt(tm) over your Insidious Cultural Imperialism(R) if they have even a smidgen of a French accent. Which they probably do, since like 80% or something of this city rocks la langue Francaise when they have a choice about it.
2. Begin in French. The other party, being a consummate professional in a bilingual city, will of course switch to English before you have a chance to embarass yourself any further. Liberal cultural imperial guilty whatever see above.
3. Allow them to begin in French, and if you're lucky you'll be able to get by with only "Oui", "Non" and "Non, merci". And feel like the worldly cultural sophisticate you are.

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