This City They Call Sin City

Prohibition DaysMontréal has long been known as one of the world’s Sin Cities, a reputation it gained as a result of Prohibition in the early part of the 20th century. (Prohibition was implemented in Québec in 1919 but almost immediately repealed, so this was a “wet” island surrounded by “dry” jurisdictions.) With Montréal being Canada’s largest city and economic engine until the 1970s, it became a magnet for people elsewhere starved for sundry indulgences. Although economically this city is not what it used to be, its reputation as a decadent Babylon persists. Some still refer to the joie de vivre that reigns, while others, like a commentator on DNTO — Definitely Not the Opera whom I mentioned in an entry in 2006, claim that Montréal is “the libido of Canada” — an assessment with which I totally agree.

The notion of sin in Montréal is not always sexual, though. Take, for example, the Bilboquet I told you about a while back. Their ice cream comes in four portion sizes.

  • mini
  • raisonnable (reasonable)
  • généreux (generous)
  • péché (sinful)

People here like to play with the notion of sin, to a point suggesting that denial of pleasure would be a greater sin. They are often flirty but with a sense of play rather than an intention to cruise. I dare even say they have a total “kiss the devil’s arse” attitude.

But before I go on, allow me a digression. As much as the Bilboquet is fine in my books, Roberto Restaurant much further east on Bélanger at Lorimier is in another league. Quite frankly, their gelato is so sinfully good that it should come with a XXX rating. (How fitting that thunder rumbled outside just as finished writing that sentence, as if to concur.) I’ve been there three or four times already and I think I’ve found the perfect combination: strawberry and coffee. Resistance to this kind of sin is definitely futile, although I promised Esposo that I would resist a little for the sake of my waistline.

Coming back to Montréal as a sin city, though…

One day I was walking back home from the dep down the street when a young woman threw her duffle bag from a car parked along Queen Mary and stormed out from the passenger’s seat. A guy got out from the driver’s seat and was saying to her, “It was nothing, really. I didn’t even get an erection!” Clearly she wasn’t buying it. I told Cleopatrick about this little incident when I got home, whose only remark was, “Well, if she does buy it and she does go back with him, God help him the time he can’t get a boner with her.”

Spoken like a true Montrealer.

Just like the janitor of the building where I live, a 70-plus-year-old lady — a term I use loosely not because she’s a floozy but because she’s not exactly a lady. She’s loud and totally politically incorrect in her speech, but in fact she has that very “live and let live” attitude that’s so Montréal. Formerly from the anglo side of Pointe-Saint-Charles but a resident of Snowdon for many decades, she matter-of-factly recommended what she thinks are good places to eat, one of which was “you know, just around the corner where the gay village starts on Ste. Catherine.” Obviously, that made it easy for me to tell her when she inquired about Esposo’s whereabouts that he is, precisely, my esposo. She just leaned on the kitchen counter, laughed in her gruff way with her hand covering half her face, and said, “Aaawh! Now I get it!” Of course, she then went on to tell in her politically incorrect way about how one of her son’s had also married “someone from away” and it turned out badly, but the thing about her is that she has absolutely no filter between what she thinks and what she says. She’s actually quite a character, really.

And I think that, two months in, I’m becoming a Montrealer in my own right. The other day I was speaking with my boss (a.k.a. The Woman, who’s originally from the Montréal area) and she asked me how I was settling in. While extolling the virtues of the neighbourhood, I mentioned one shop down the street where you can get the best bagels “this side of the mountain.” She laughed and remarked on how that was such a Montréal thing to say.

My accent when I speak French may not be that of an anglo Montrealer speaking French nor that of a native franco Montréalais speaking French, but in this diverse sin city, I’m fitting in in my own way.

Real Urban Wildlife

Call me naïve — Hey there, Naïve! — but I never realized that skunks live in Montréal.

Westmount is home to a variety of wildlife that has made its way down the mountain. Within the island of Montreal, there are as many as 15 to 30 raccoons and skunks per square kilometre. … Susan Spencer encountered a family of skunks living under her deck on Lansdowne Avenue. She called Humane Wildlife Control who initially placed a trap door in the small opening used by the skunks, allowing them to leave but not return. The company also placed wire meshing deep into the ground so the skunks could not dig themselves back underneath the deck.

Westmount is literally the backyard of this building (as you can see from the map to which I link), and the mountain is right over there, in plain view.

Although a Saturday night, I was in bed before midnight. Except that I woke up shortly before 3:00 am with a bad dream induced by an incredibly foul odour. The bedroom windows were closed except one by a tiny crack, and the bedroom door was closed, too. I got up to investigate and even stepped out on the balcony to check things out, but the smell was so stuck in my nostrils — and I happen to have a minor sinus cold as well — that I couldn’t tell if I was really smelling a skunk. It bothered me so much that I had to get dressed and investigate in the back alley. And yes, not only could I smell the stench back there — although only in small whiffs — but I think I may have spotted the stinky black-and-white critter.

I never doubted the existence of raccoons in any city, but I never thought I’d encounter a skunk in a densely populated part of Montréal. I always associated skunks to the country and suburbia. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one in all my years in Halifax, although admittedly it doesn’t have anything like Mont Royal in the middle of the city.

Thank gawd for air freshner. Now if I could only go back to sleep!

Gimme a Break, You Two!

Jean & SarkoThe leader of the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa, Gilles Duceppe, and the leader of the Parti Québécois in Québec City, Pauline Marois, are in a tizzy over Governor General Michaëlle Jean telling France President Nicolas Sarkosy to “Look beyond Quebec” for the “million of them out there fighting to save their language and their culture.” But the best Duceppe can do is dismiss the monarchy as a “ridiculous institution.” For heaven forbid that anyone but a Québécois pure laine be allowed to “own” the celebration of Québec City’s 400th anniversary as a marker of the francophone presence on this continent.

It’s that kind of pettiness, narcissism and “ahistoricalness” (if I may coin the term) that dampens whatever sympathy I have sometimes for Québec’s sovereignist cause, which evidently is in the doldrums these days if that’s the best that can be argued. Moreover, Acadians know well that THEY were the first French-speaking settlers in North America, settling temporarily on Isle Sainte Croix in 1604 and founding the first permanent settlement the next year in Port Royal. While in Québec City last summer, someone argued with me that that didn’t count because it was nothing more than an outpost, whereas Québec City was the founding of a “real” city that still exists. That, of course, is a totally vacuous argument if you ask me. And it’s not by lying and rewriting history that sovereignists are helping their cause.

I haven’t been living in Québec very long but it’s amply clear that this is a nation that is distinct from the rest of Canada. Québec has remarkable autonomy in many public spheres, from taxation, its legal system and immigration policy. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about on that last point! As Esposo’s sponsor for permanent residence, I will be taking a direct engagement with the Québec government (not the federal government, which will forward our dossier to Québec when it’s determined that’s where we want to live, and notwithstanding that Esposo’s permanent resident status will be with Canada, not Québec), which will want me to ensure he “adapts” to Québec culture (read “speaks French”). Fortunately, I don’t totally disagree with that position and Esposo wants to improve his French as much as I want to be functional in Spanish one day. But when the political discourse of sovereignists takes a dive like this, I wonder if we’ll ever be good enough for the Duceppe and Marois of this world.

Convincingly Delightful

I’m not the biggest fan of ice cream. By that, I mean that I like ice cream like anybody else and occasionally I crave some, but I rarely buy some to bring home and it’s not at the top of my cravings list. But Bilboquet in Outremont could change that in a big way.

Maple taffy ice cream, available only in season (ending in mid-May)… I just don’t know what to say except Oh, My! And how more Canadian and Québécois can you get than maple, eh?