Friday, September 11, 2009

O' Canada or: The Canadian Kilted Yaksmen, Pt. 3

As we unpacked our warmest summer clothes–Canada was cold in May–we monitored the FreMTV video countdown. The top five included an utterly bizarre video called “Tri-Cul” by Les Cowboys Figrantes at number five, about a taxi driver and his pregnant fare going into labor, but every person in the world looks like one of the three band members. Number three or four was titled “Moudit Qu’t’es Belle” by Longue Distance, which utterly rocked. It was the most interesting French-Canadian punk-pop I had ever heard, until I got home and translated the lyrics, only to discover the song was actually French Emo, and included the line, “Curse you for being beautiful, you rock ’n’ roll girl.” Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was number two. There was also some wacky video I’ve yet to identify which sounded like the girl from Evanescence singing country girl-rock, but it was in French and she wore a tutu in a sepia-colored basement world populated entirely by abused children. How do I know they were beaten? They wore casts and crutches and hid under beds with teddy bears crying, and drew crayon portraits of monsters beating them labeled “Daddy.” This was the number one video for an entire week. Then the new Coldplay album came out.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the same kind of overly-immersed confusion that children from poor Paraguayan villages feel when they finally get that scholarship fund to come study at UCLA. Everything on TV seems very decadent, like it could only make sense if you’d been raised on an I.V. drip of pure pop culture. Never try to understand a culture from its cable programming.

During the daylight hours of our stay we did the usual, touristy things–we got our money changed, visited the Montreal Museum of Modern Art, and basically explored the city waiting for the bars to open. Stepping out onto the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Sainte Denise is like stepping onto the Mason-Dixon Line. Turning right, one can walk downhill into the docks and bay. To the left, one has the option of turning left again onto Rue de Sainte Catharine and visiting the bars, porno-shops, and “touching-approved” strip joints. This is the Main Street of Downtown Montreal. Think Times Square circa 1987.

In the day at least, one is better off continuing up Sainte Denise Street. After a few generic municipal businesses, the paved road turns to immaculately maintained cobblestones, and the buildings start looking like London: one-story homes stacked three stories high, and packed like sardines, all of them long since converted into small, private boutiques, hookah bars, and expensive bistros. These are places that spell ‘shop’ with and extra P-E. Classy. In one I was mistaken for a store clerk precisely eighteen minutes after suggesting we bet on whether any of us could resist tourist nature and be mistaken for a “Native Canadianite” in just three days.

Interspersed with these fancy-schmancy locations were some rather ritzy Adult Novelty shoppes1 and about seventeen million head shops. We entered one and stared at various gravity bongs and hydroponic systems and instruction manuals and secret compartment-possessing soda cans until the owner came over and talked to us. After mistaking a macraméd frisbee for a baret, we spent a good forty minutes discussing the vast disparities between Canadian and American health care systems, and the ineptitude of various world leaders to have been named Bush. This is the section of Montreal that feels like L.A. I highly suggest visiting.

1. At least I think that’s what they were. One’s sign was just a giant anthropomorphic condom, so it was a pretty safe guess.

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