I’m living in Montréal for a little over a month, nestled downtown where the latin quarter and gay quarter meet, not too far from Chinatown or the old harbour, and every day something interesting is bound to happen. Montréal is a city where french, festivals, sex stores and drag-queens reign, and has been affectionately nicknamed the cultural capital of Canada. Just this month in Montréal, there has been the Fashion & Design festival (think outdoor runway show with a free concert by K-os), L’off Festival of Jazz, the world acclaimed International Jazz Festival of Montréal, a White Night Festival (a night time, outdoor street-art festival), the World Beer festival, and the infamous Fringe Festival where people from the “fringe” of society from all different parts of the world come to perform an art, theatre or music shows that differ slightly from the norm. I went to one such show last night, entitled Perverts!, and it mostly consisted of completely nude performers jiggling around on stage and acting out various forms of sexual affection that would push the comfort limits of any spectator. There wasn`t much dialogue, dance, or decipherable message, but the shock factor alone entertains.
Montréal is also a place there it doesn´t matter if your male, female, transitioning from one to the other or both, and homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals can all thrive since anything goes.In a lot of newspaper classifieds, the “Escort Services” section is bigger than the employment, housing and cars-for-sale sections combined. Sex shops, strip joints, peep shows, and “bath houses” are everywhere along my section of St. Catherine, the main street through the gay village. Sunday night I went to a bar entitled Mado`s where dragqueens and hopeful transvestites put on an amazing lip sync/dance performance, and if I wasn`t enjoying myself enough watching dressed-to-kill males more beautiful than myself prance around on stage, I was even more pleasantly surprised when the last performer came out and performed Bjork`s “It`s Oh So Quiet.” Iceland represent! The nightlife in general is always entertaining, since I went to the most impressive gay bar I`ve been to yet called “Sky” which consists of 5 different dance floors with their own separate dj`s and bars, complete with a rooftop terrace, a swimming pool and a jacuzzi hot tub that stays open til the wee hours of the morning.
During the day there is also a bustling underground world, where the subway system and an entire shopping mall of 200+ stores lay underground downtown Montréal. The architecture of Montréal is a melange of old French and English colonial buildings, with more modern glass and concrete sky scrapers around, dwarfing them. There are a lot of old, beautiful cathedrals also scattered throughout, and when I spotted one such church tower in typical gothic style, I walked in through the massive wooden doors only to realize I`d walked into a university building that was built on the site of this church, but kept the tower as its entrance. Very confusing.
Its noticeable how many students this town caters to, with 4 major universities speckled throughout the centre of the city and an extremely friendly student nightlife. From all the parts of Canada I`ve visited, Montréal has by far the cheapest and most accessible alcohol, with every cornerstone selling cheap beer and wine and the province regulated liquor store still boasting comparatively low taxes, great selection and long opening hours. There are a bunch of restaurants which allow you to bring your own wine without paying a corking fee, and last Monday I polished off a bottle of pinot grigio with a kilo of steamed mussels at a white-table cloth restaurant for less than $20 with tax and tip. And when I want to eat a budget meal, poutine is easily and cheaply available 24 hrs of the day within a few blocks from wherever you end up after a night of drinking with the drunk munchies.
Montréal is of course the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, which is in my opinion the most random but amazing spectacle I`ve ever seen. Even though I`ve been to it in Vancouver and Vegas, seeing it here at their home stage seemed like a necessary thing to do, so me and my best friend Clio went on Tuesday night, their 25th anniversary show. Then, by random chance, a guy asked us for directions to the show tent on our way there, quickly followed by “I have 2 free tickets, are you two going?” We said yes, but that we would take them anyway and called 2 of my roommates who got to come for free. On Sunday afternoon, we went to the base of Mount Royal (a huge park in the middle of town) where hundreds of people come together to play percussion instruments, practice tight-rope walking, or reenact medieval battle grounds complete with middle age wardrobe and plastic weapons. Other random occurrences include a man riding a bicycle with a cat standing on his head, another guy riding past with an iguana on his shoulder, a police horse trying (and almost succeeding) to eat my Guyanese-gold bangle off my arm, and the current top male model in the world staying at my place for almost a week since he just happens to be my roommates best friend. Very, very random.