The Return

I began writing this entry in early March, a day or two after I came back from Montréal. I can’t believe it’s been almost six weeks since I was there, and that I’ve been at my new job for a month already. At any rate, I figure I should salvage this entry if only because it’s a shame to waste the time I put into it…

Yes, I’m back in Halifax. And you know what? I’m actually glad to be back.

It’s not that I didn’t have a good time in Montréal. In fact, this little escape was precisely what I needed. I would’ve been filled with regret if I hadn’t gone, and Montréal remains a city where I want to live one day, if only for its faster pace, cosmopolitan feel, and Frenchness. But at the same time, I can’t help but conclude that (A) the lurr of Montréal has changed for me with time, and (B) Halifax, though more limited in what it has to offer and comparatively prudish, is not such a bad place after all. Whether it’s becuase of my age or the times we live in, I don’t perceive places as I used to just a few years back.

Montreal, in particular the Village, has really changed, though. I stumbled upon the first noticeable change within an hour in the Village: the closing of the Presse-Café du Village. Understand that Presse-Café is in fact a smallish chain of coffeeshops, but this location next to the Beaudry metro station has been a meeting place in the Village for what seems like forever. It was one of the few coffeeshops that still had a smoking section, and it was where I was given the cheesiest but most amusing come-on line in my life years ago by a bespectacled Armenian who’s well known in the Village. Confronted by the locked door — although all the lights were on and Christmas decorations still adorned the walls — I couldn’t help wonder how such a hopping place could have gone under.

I found the answer in the daylight the next day (click each to enlarge).

Presse Café du Village Presse Café du Village

So it’s not that the place went under as much as it almost toppled over! Apparently this happened one weeknight just before Christmas. The place was immediately evacuated and that part of Ste-Catherine blocked off in anticipation of the full collapse. But it didn’t come down, and those steel beams were added a few days later to prop up the failing wall. Given how much the old building has moved, though, it seems unlikely that it’ll be salvageable. But according to my host Michel at the bed and breakfast (which I highly recommend to all gay guys visiting Montréal), maybe things are being left to stand as they are while insurance companies figure out what to do. It still surprises me that the structure is deemed safe enough to let people up close.

Given that I arrived in the Village around 8:00 pm and hadn’t had supper yet, I needed food. Cleopatrick had taken me to a noodle house at Ste-Cat and Montcalm once upon a time, and I mentioned to Michel and Sylvain that I thought I’d go there …but their eyes grew as big as quarters and they finally asked (in French), “When’s the last time you’ve been there?” Apparently the place changed ownership a few years back and it’s a dive now, so they recommended EstAsie for eastern food or Le Saloon for “a sure bet every time.” In the end, I opted for the latter and I’m glad I did; I had a yummy pasta that night and returned Saturday night for a TexMex chicken salad. Despite its name, Le Saloon is a hopping, trendy, techno place that attracts a diverse crowd, from lipstick lesbians to muscle marys and every variation in between, of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Le Saloon is the kind of resto that makes Montréal what it is. And on that point, I think I owe an explanation of what I mean by that to those of you who aren’t familiar with this city.

Montréal has a unique style that is both North American and European, multicultural and bilingual (though predominently French). It is also, as one CBC Radio commentator once said a while back on Definitely Not the Opera, the “libido of Canada” — a characteristic that is manifested in so many ways.

  • I’m thinking of the attractive middle-aged Colombian woman sitting next to me at Le Saloon the Saturday night I was there, who, knowing very well she was likely barking at the wrong tree, still paid me a kind and flirty compliment which I had no problem returning.
  • I’m thinking of the cute, shortish twink of a waiter in a coffeeshop who, when I seriously asked his advice for “just a little something light to eat,” immediately came back with, “Well …there’s me.”
  • I’m thinking of the strip clubs in Montréal, where the dancers, unlike in other cities, not only take everything off but also like to push the envelop by showing themselves in their full glory ……if you catch my drift. (Never mind that many of these dancers are “gay for pay” straight guys; they have it, don’t mind flaunting it to an appreciative audience, and are willing to go further than most places anywhere.)
  • While I recognize that appearance and grooming is admittedly a superficial (and often vain) thing, I’m thinking of the mode of dress among Montrealers as a whole, a mode that is relaxed yet urbane and age-appropriate for the most part — a far cry from the frumpiness I have come to associate with Halifax. Then again, Halifax is the capital of “no-scent” policies, a notion that leaves Montrealers slack-jawed when I tell them about it. Of course we’ve all had the misfortune of encountering the precious twinkie who seems to have bathed in a vat of cologne, but Montrealers are not about to ban an age-old seductive practice which, when done properly and in the right time and place, is pleasurable and adds a little piquant to our encounters.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Montrealers don’t only have savoir-faire; they have savoir-vivre. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes Montréal so appealing to me.

However, I can’t deny that it felt different this time around …and not in a good way. One reason, perhaps, is that I still can’t get used to the idea of Cleopatrick, a quintessential Montrealer in my mind, not living there anymore. But I suppose there are many other reasons, including the fact this was my second trip to Montréal in the dead of winter, which is a despicable time of year anywhere in Canada, safe perhaps Vancouver; the fact that Québec, like most other jurisdictions in Canada, is adopting strict anti-smoking laws (which I wouldn’t mind so much if I could only successfully quit that dreadful habit), and the fact that the Village is now run over by the nastily aggressive panhandlers that the residents of the Ontario Street area, just to the north, have managed to push out of their neighbourhood. Overall there’s a feeling, which my B&B host Michel expressed, that the Village is not what it used to be just five or six years ago, that it is in decline. It is becoming edgier, but not in a good way.

That aside, I so very much enjoyed my Friday evening with Cleopatrick and his “hubbies,” who made the nearly two-hour trip into town to take me to a lovely restaurant in Little Italy. The veal, prepared by the restaurant’s 83-year-old doyenne who could barely speak French or English, was to die for. Afterwards we made our way back to the Village for coffee but, beforehand, we had what I can’t help but call a Montréal moment.

The boys needed to stock up on poppers (which, for the record, I don’t do) from a sex shop on Ste-Cat. However, what should have been a simple transaction quickly became an awkward “why is he telling us this” moment as a result of the clerk who, for whatever reason, decided to give us a Reader’s Digest version of his life story in the guise of an explanation of why he doesn’t use poppers anymore — the fact he was once a gym bunny (which was hard to tell looking at him that night), that he was a good friend of Tina and poppers …until the evening he had a spectacular collapse while visiting his mother, landing him in hospital and death’s door for several weeks. Sad stuff indeed, except it was difficult to reconcile hearing his tale with the tails …namely those on the hardcore porn movie, which so happened to be playing just above his left shoulder, that featured young men with freakishly large appendages, …while the other store clerk was behind him and making all kinds of gestures which clearly were meant to draw favourable attention to himself (for, contrary to his colleague, he definitely had a naughty look to him that made him more suited for a job in a joint like this). As we walked out, we couldn’t help think that the clerk’s segue from “I personally can’t touch poppers anymore” to, well, his really sad story was ……I dunno. If not “inappropriate,” then certainly unexpected. It’s the kind of confidences I tend to draw from strangers while I’m on a long train trip, not during a short visit to a sex shop.

JOThe next day I was to meet up with Mr. J for a 10 o’clock coffee near Concordia University. He works the graveyard shift, so the plan was to get together for a few hours after he got off work and he’d head back home around 1 or 2 for his day’s sleep. But for whatever reason, the Presse-Café we had chosen to meet was also closed, so we headed back east to the Village and landed at the Club Sandwich, where we’d met up a year earlier.

While Mr. J is from Halifax, we actually didn’t meet while he was still here. Rather, we were introduced by phone after he’d moved to Montréal, by none other than Indiana Jones. Today, while Mr. J and I talk and talk and talk about just about everything, we can’t help comparing notes occasionally, and what’s frightening to me is how our experiences with him are so similar …sometimes right down to the same words and the same gestures. Even as we look back, neither of us can understand why we were so keen on cutting him as much slack as we did despite the overwhelming evidence of the extent to which he was using us. We figure we must have a “SUCKER” tattoo stamped on our forehead, which only he can see.

Neither Mr. J nor I had a watch that afternoon at the Club Sandwich, and it was overcast that day. But suddenly the sun did peek through the clouds and we both thought the same thing when it did. “Wow, the sun’s awfully low… it must be… well, later than I thought…”

When I dropped him off at the Beaudry metro station, it was 4:50. So much for his day’s sleep.

The rest of my weekend in Montréal I spent pretty much on my own, haunting coffee shops and ploughing through The DaVinci Code. I love just hanging out and reading while in Montréal, but I think the next time, I’ll try to go in the summer so that I can do so under a tree in various parks in the city. There’s something about being able to take it easy as the rest of the big city bustles around you…

{4} Thoughts on “The Return

  1. a) I love Montreal. I love all of Quebec. This post reminded me that I need to go back soon (luckily most of my family lives there– yay free lodgings!)

    b) Halifax was eating my soul. Seriously. I had to get out of there this summer and moved to PEI. Yes, even P.E.I. is less soul-sucking than Hali.

    3) Hi there, I’m Louise, and I just found your blog. Yay!

  2. Welcome, Louise. Can’t say I share your assessment of Halifax as soul-sucking, but I would have to read through your own blog to figure out how you’ve come to that conclusion for yourself. Certainly Montréal is a lot more fun and cosmopolitan but, unlike yourself, I’ve pretty well lost my free lodging there. Darn…

  3. Oddly enough, I remember in October 2005 going for a coffee with my very best friend to the Presse-Café on Ste-Catherine, close to McGill (in front of Simmons). We parked the car, got out in the rain and when we tried the door it was locked. We looked up just to realized that out of nowhere, Presse-Café had closed and this was now a “luneterie” shop, just like that, out of nowhere and in no time at all.

    We were quite disapointed we had to go a Second Cup. 🙁

  4. I enjoyed Montreal when I lived there for a couple of years, but, having moved to New Brunswick, I realize how much I was taking for granted about the city. Even in the less-desirable neighbourhood of Cote-des-Neiges, you could always stroll out for a bowl of pho, or to get fresh baguette at Au Pain Dore. Now we drive into Halifax for our hits of civilization!

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