Why Montreal?
comment 1 Written by on May 23, 2010 – 11:35 pm


So, I’ve made decision. I’m off to Montreal to swap the Argentinian winter for the Canadian summer. I’ll be there for two months from the end of June to the end of August.

If you’ve been to Montreal, you’ll understand. But I’m finding those that haven’t look at little baffled by the choice. How can it compare to somewhere as obviously exciting as Buenos Aires?

Although Canada and Argentina are poles apart in so many ways, there is something about these two cities that pulls in a certain type of traveller and gets right under their skin.  Both are very creative places with a strong identity and a rebellious spirit. I’m not alone on this; I’ve met a couple of travellers who share my dual obsession.

I lived in Montreal for a few months back in 1999, during which I worked a variety of very odd jobs, and I’ve been back a couple of time since. Last time I was there I met with a Scotsman called Angus (who incidentally wrote this brilliant book about cricket, as oxymoronic as that may sound). He too had been captured by Montreal and had decided to make it his new home. Over a beer in one of the city’s many outstanding brew pubs, he whispered, conspiratorially, “How do you know about this place?” He made it sound like I’d happened upon a secret colony, like The Beach, or a prohibition-era speakeasy, yet he was talking about one of the biggest cities in the second biggest country on earth.

Even to this day, visiting Montreal feels like being let in on a secret. Which is exactly how Buenos Aires used to feel, until the rest of the world caught on in the mid 2000s.

How best to sum it up? Well, it has the feel of a metropolis without the stress of New York; it’s stylish without being uptight like Paris; it’s brimming with talented musicians but without being as slavish to fashion as London.

I love looking across the skyline from Mont Royal park; I love seeing the crowds dance at the tam-tams every single Sunday; I love the Plateau area, with its beautiful townhouses with their distinctive external staircases. I also love the vintage shops, the literary cafes and the amazing street art, which all remind me of Valparaíso in Chile (which may be a better point of reference for people in this part of the world).

Naturally, there is always a ‘new’ Plateau, where all the cool kids are hanging out. Last time I was there this was in Mile End. I’m sure there’s a new Mile End by now.

I’m look forward to playing catch up. I look forward to getting stuck into the distinctive and ever-flourishing music scene, which is a major, major draw for me.  I’m looking forward to the non-stop summer festivals, as finally, fourth time lucky, I’m timing my visit with Just for Laughs, the largest comedy festival in the world. I’m looking forward to listening to the unmistakable drawling French accents, eating many bagels, hearing people talking about loonies, and maybe finally finding a veggie poutine.

Yes, a return visit is definitely overdue. Some years ago, I had to provide a newspaper with a bio sentence. I remember writing how I dreamt of being able to divide my year between Buenos Aires and Montreal. All being well, this year it looks as though I may finally achieve it. At least once.

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