Pensive Prowler #30 by Dmetri Kakmi
When my friend Cam Rogers invited me to stay with him in his girlfriend’s flat in Montreal I could hardly say no. After all it was his birthday and this most French of all Canadian cities has fascinated me since I saw Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal in the early 1990s.
Montreal is also the home of the legend that is Leonard Cohen; and, thanks to Instagram, I knew that queer enfant terrible Bruce La Bruce was shooting his new salvo, Saint-Narcisse, there at the time.
How exciting. I might bump into the great man himself or actually be in a Bruce La Bruce provocation. I’m ready for my humiliating, yet oddly erotic sex scene with skinheads, Mr La Bruce!
As further enticement, the Musee des Beaux Arts boasted an exhibition of fashion designer Thierry Mugler.
So off I went, only to arrive in the Ille de Montreal feeling like I’d bathed in the other passengers’ excrescences for almost twenty hours in the air. Never the less, after a quick shower and a change of clothes, Cam and I hit the streets in search of fortifying ramen.
It was a chilly night. Despite it being May, spring was yet to arrived. The dismal Canadian winter swept boulevards in which cars glistened like evil spirits as they swished by in the persistent drizzle.
The discomfort of being out on the cold was forgotten when Cam pointed out Leonard Cohen’s house across the bare trees of Parc du Portugal, and the very next morning treated me to breakfast at Bagels Etc, a regular Cohen hangout. Over the next week, I discovered that giant murals of the crooner’s face loom over many parts of the city, like the all-seeing eye of a benevolent despot, lending Montreal the air of a hip dictatorship.
Montreal is built around Mount Royal, an extinct volcano on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River, the slopes of which were once occupied by the Iroquois. Perched atop the mount, like a supplanting god, is a giant crucifix that lights up at night to remind you not to enjoy yourself too much because the wrath of god is around the corner.
Maybe that’s why the populace of under two million pursues hedonistic pleasures like a wolf after a moose. The minute the sun came out Sunday morning everyone stripped down to shorts and T-shirts and rushed to the park that slides off the mountainside to enjoy the free drum and dance event known as the Tam Tams, the smell of weed thick in the air. By mid afternoon, when Cam and I descended from the mountain, the park was jammed with families, hippies, Rastaferians, brazen flirts and eccentric fashionastas, enjoying the music in a hazy carnivalesque atmosphere reminiscent of a medieval fair.
It must be said the denizens of Montreal did not strike me as a particularly fashion conscious lot. I saw little above the standard blue jeans and voluminous grey jackets the whole time I was there.
The success of the Thierry Mugler exhibition at the Musee des Beaux Arts tells me they are desperate for fantasy.
I mean what suburban Mum doesn’t aspire to wear a bustier inspired by Detroit car styles from the 1950s? Or which business woman doesn’t want to climb into a suit composed entirely of rubber tyres before driving the kids to school? Want to look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon before sitting down to peel potatoes? Thierry Mugler has the dress for you, madame.
Of course you’d have to subsist on a lettuce leaf and a glass of water for a year to fit into those tiny creations, but what price fashion, darling?
Cam and his girlfriend (who was in Spain at the time) live in a borough known as Le Plateau. It’s a lively, up-and-coming area, full of cafes, bars, and restaurants, catering to an ethically diverse clientele: Portuguese, Jews, Greeks and of course the French. English is very much a secondary language and it was delightful to hear people switch from Quebecois to English in the blink of an eye when I mumbled with some alarm, ‘Je ne comprends pas. Parlez vou Anglais?’ Though I understand there is a degree of resentment.
Several times during my stay, I walked to Mile End, the next borough along, to buy chewy sesame bagels straight from the oven at Fairmount Bagel. Heedless of my waist line, I devoured one on the way home and shared the rest with Cam over breakfast. If there’s anything I miss now that I’m in Melbourne it’s those bagels, so full of give and bite— amazing with Swiss cheese and a ring of piquant salami.
Were the bagels better than the poutine we had one rainy day at Maam Bolduc?
The large white enamel bowl placed on the table between us overflowed with french fries covered in gravy, topped with caramelised onion, curds and roast duck.
Poutine means ‘mess’, and that’s exactly what it looked like. A great big mess. But the burst of umami when the lot was conveyed to the mouth via a fork was utter heaven. Even though I was full, I kept shovelling in the carbs until it felt as if I carried a food baby. The walk home hardly touched the sides and I passed out for several hours on the bed, unable to move and providing a perfect resting place for Cam’s two Siberian cats.
I didn’t meet Bruce La Bruce, which was just as well. After all the food I’d consumed, I looked like Jubba the Hut. Unless Mr La Bruce was making a film about fatty fetishists, I wouldn’t make it past the front door. So Cam and I shuffled to L’Express one last time and toasted this fun city with a Montreal Martini.
This is the final Pensive Prowler column.
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.