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 (Prohibition was implemented in Québec in 1919 but almost immediately repealed, so this was a “wet” island surrounded by “dry” jurisdictions.)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.