Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bienvenue à Montréal

As we leave Gananoque and head northeast along the edge of the St Lawrence river, our radio roulette game takes an alarming twist. As "91.5, Moose Creek Classic Hits" begins to falter and then disappears, we press the seek button and are confronted with the unthinkable - French pop music.

Now it is a well known fact that the French can't do pop music - in general it sounds ridiculous - like something that Antoine de Caunes would have introduced and then danced awkwardly to at the end of Eurotrash. So the thought of wall-to-wall Charles Aznavour makes me shudder. We notice that the road signs are suddenly all in French, including stern looking matrix signs warning us that "Rue De La Ponte Du Marie-Claude n'est passable" whatever that means, or ordering us to "Fermez La Vache". This is outrageous - they should be speaking the Queen's English - we didn't come all this way to be insulted.

As we approach Montreal, the "Eurotrash Channel" begins to break up and we flick up to the next one which is in English. Which is good, because we're hitting Montreal in the rush hour and the regular traffic reports brought to us by our two chirpy drive-time presenters (Ken and Donna if I remember correctly) will prove invaluable. Or at least they would, if all the road and bridge names weren't French and weren't pronounced at breakneck speed (in order to be able to squeeze in the vital information that this traffic report had been brought to us by Zak's Tattoo and Piercing Parlour, or something). As we continue to speed through Montreal at 0.000005 mph, (even The Black Slug can cope with this speed) Ken and Donna continue to reassure us that it really is as bad on the roads as it appears to be through our windscreen, and that the temperature really is as hot as it feels.

The hotel we've booked in Montreal (the Chez Swann) is very cool and contemporary. In fact it's so cool that it doesn't feel the need to display any outward indicators that it is in fact a hotel; so when the sat-nav finally announces we've reached our destination, Jus has to go wandering up and down the street asking if anyone knows where it is. Meanwhile, I sit in The Black Slug, hoping that I'm not violating some old Montrealian by-law which forbids english speaking drivers from parking on the left on a Wednesday. Eventually we find it - glass doors open into a long concrete corridor with some big piece of art and a reception desk with a couple of MacBooks sitting on it, and an arty girl with bleached hair behind it. It just looked cool (but then I can be very superficial!)

All the trendy types seem to be whizzing around on bikes, so, to get a feel for the city, we hire a couple of retro-urban-roadsters and take advantage of the large number of cycle paths (including some impressive two-lane bike motorways).  We then spend the next couple of days pretending to be cool, arty kids living in this cosmopolitan place.

We browse the old city which is lit by gas lamps at night, wander through leafy parks, and take a brief look at the "underground city" which is a bit like the London Underground but with shops and hotels and museums and apartments as well as the trains.

To really satisfy our arty pretensions, we wander into L'Hotel Montreal which houses a collection of pop art originals from the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst and even a David Hockney (though we've got loads of them in Saltaire). I'm feeling so arty that I'm almost getting used to the strangeness of being in North America, but having to greet everyone with a cheery "bonjour" or thank people with a badly pronounced "merci".

Montreal. Frencher than a baguette being carried by a man called Pierre with onions round his neck?
Montreal seems to be a big festival city and they frequently close off many of the streets to accommodate them (which probably explains why the traffic congestion is so bad). We've arrived during "FrancoFolies" which, according to the organisers, is the biggest music festival in the French-speaking world. No sign of Charles Aznavour though, I may have to revise my opinions on French pop.

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