Friday night, undeterred by the hefty price and the venue’s notoriously horrid acoustics, we made the trek to Earl’s Court to see one of the best bands arounds in these sad days when Justin Biebers and One Directions roam free: Arcade Fire.
Two-and-half hours later, after an amazing concert, we sat outside a closed shop, tucking into our greasy Burger King paper bags, and I found my mind drifting back in time and away, towards those three days that we had spent in the Arcade Fire’s home base, MontréalQuebecCanada as Win Butler says.
We arrived on a warm evening in May, not quite knowing what to expect from Montréal. We knew it because a friend lived there for a while and, quite frankly, we’d chosen it because it was the farthest we could go with my air miles. It was a blind bet, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of the year.
Montréal struck us for being a city full of contrast. The bus that took us downtown was an old rusty thing, with the driver shouting down the name of each stop, but the area we ended up in was all glitzy, towering skyscrapers and fashionable people driving around in Beemers. Streets filled with high-end shops, such as Rue Sainte-Catherine, ended in neighbourhoods where abandoned buildings covered in graffiti and hobos were plentiful and the boutiques scarce. Recently renewed squares led into streets with lampposts planted at odd angles and cracked tarmac (well, the tarmac was kind of cracked everywhere….).
But this is not to mean that we didn’t like the place. Actually, we loved Montréal. It felt open, real, filled with story yet modern, well-cured but also unafraid to show the visitor its drab places. Faithful to their Quebecois origins, the Montrealers speak French, with a cadence and an accent exotic to my ears. Being That Unprepared Guy I failed to do my homework and the extent of the usage of French, and the French heritage of the city, caught me completely by surprise. But it was a short-lived shock, for I soon learned to love the fact of being able to walk into a charcuterie as rich of history as those I found in Dijon and I used my high-school French at length, without being excessively mocked by the way.
We left Montréal too soon, after a heart-warming sunset seen from the Saint Joseph Oratory. We left with lasting memories, those of a city with a lush and a powerful nature, an intriguing melée of history and culture – where a group of Royal Canadian Black Watch bagpipers could give their lungs a workout within walking distance from Chinatown in a French-speaking town – and a most welcoming people. It’s been brief, but we’ll come back.