This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Naked Montreal. New 500-word(ish) excerpts are posted every Monday, so be sure to subscribe to avoid missing a thing!
PART I, CHAPTER 1: Bienvenue / Welcome
Montreal is world-renowned for three main areas of cultural significance:
- Fine French cuisine
- Stunning old-world architecture
- Total sexual deviance
Three guesses as to why I’m here. (All right, the fine French cuisine was a draw at first, but once you’ve tasted one pâté poutine you’ve tasted them all.)
Perverts. Prurience. Penis. So many great words start with P. You can find them all in Montreal, along with plenty of beautiful people to keep you company on our icy winter nights. The men and women of Montreal are said to be the most beautiful in the world, thanks to the diligent efforts of Les Filles du Roi – 17th century prostitutes sent by the king of France to populate, in perpetuity, the provinces of the New World. Or so the story goes.
Montrealers have always had a low tolerance for North American standards of propriety. In short: they certainly aren’t prudish.
So many Ps, so little time.
When you visit the city, the important thing to remember is that although it is charming and beautiful and oh-so-very French, it is not Paris. Any comparisons you wish to make to the City of Lights are perfectly welcome, so long as you keep them to yourself. And if you’re American that goes double, my dear, along with any references to Canadian dollars as “funny money” or starting a sentence with the phrase, “Well, back home in America…”
You are in America, darling: North America. Please bear this in mind at all times, as you gaze and graze through the continent’s fabulous capital of low rent, cheap eats, and more hipsters per Mile End than church bells. (Though Mark Twain once observed that one couldn’t throw a brick without breaking some stained glass in this holy fuck of a town.)
It’s true: you are still in America, although you’re standing in the only unilingually French-speaking province in Canada (a technically bilingual country), a place where English is considered a second language for 68% of its residents. Employees of the Societé de transport de Montréal (also simply known as “The Metro,” our hummy little subway system) are not required, by law, to answer questions furnished in English, and most take this law quite to heart, lashing out in some extreme gutter French when provoked by one too many Bostonian tourists asking, “Yo, this bus go to Crescent Street, bro?”
Speaking French – even the most mangled and abject variation thereof (as evidenced by the local take on it) – is the key to all successful social interactions in this city. Brace yourself for the culture shock. But don’t worry: we all secretly speak English. Some of us simply prefer to mock you in our native tongue, much like our Parisian cousins.
As you enter the Sin City of the North, by land or by air, you should surrender to the feeling that everything you think you know is wrong. To orient yourself on this pouting lip of an island you must understand that, here, all compasses will steer you wrong. While our streets technically run North/South and East/West like all cities built on grids, these directions do not hold magnetically true. Perched like a smirk, smack in the center of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, Montreal is forever askew: East is really North, making North actually West. Don’t worry if this is unbelievably confusing (because it is); instead, just look to the enormous iron cross atop our mountain to get your bearings. Remember that you are “south” if you are downtown, “north” in Mile End, “east” in the Plateau, and “west” in Westmount.