Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Twenty-Four Hours in Montreal

Last week I started a new position at the Big Evil Corporation and as a consequence had to fly out to Montreal for a day this week. I was quite excited at this prospect, thinking it was wonderfully fabulous that I was being flown to another city at my company’s expense, and that in-fact this would become the norm. This may be ordinary for many people already, but for me was an exciting novelty.

Upon arrival to Montreal, I had the following first impressions of the city: (1) it is much colder in Montreal than in Toronto, (2) all the cab drivers are Arab, (3) the general population is better dressed and more attractive. I immediately became self-conscious of my thick Anglo accent. While previously I had always felt French-accented individuals to sound comical, with their pluralizing of every word, I know felt that their English sounded pretty, like fluttering butterflies. My own English sounded like rough sand-paper and at any moment I felt like a mob of people would attack me for speaking the Queens English.

I check into the Hilton which is supposedly in the heart of their downtown. I wonder to myself where everybody is, as the streets seem deserted. I have an uninspired meal, with a Martini, which I savour a little more, as it will be complementary after I submit my expense report. I retire to my room and sit on the edge of the bed and miss my boyfriend. Hotel rooms are now forever tied to that period of our relationship, where that was the only place we could spend quality time. I pictured him standing at the window, with me trying to coax him to lie in bed with me.

It’s late and I am tired and I should get to bed for my early start tomorrow morning. However, this is my first time in Montreal and I have a hankering to visit their gay quarters. An internet search before leaving had indicated that Montreal boasted North America’s largest gay village. It was a Monday night though and quite cold, but still, against my better judgment I found myself donning my petticoat and Kangol fedora hat and telling a cab driver to take make to Rue St. Catherine and Rue Amherst.

A club that was supposed to be open on Monday nights appears dead. I walk for a few blocks and indeed it seems this gay village is never ending, the gay rainbow flag is ubiquitous and seems to constantly be fluttering in the far distance. I walk by a couple of boys who are shivering on a snow covered bench rolling a joint; I smile indulgently at them. I walk by a convenience store and see advertising for beer. I recall that they are civilized here and you can purchase alcohol anywhere.

I hear strains of bass spilling out from an establishment. I look at the posters covering the wall and while I can’t read French I discern that this is a male strip club. With no other entertainment options available, I enter the club. There are maybe only a dozen patrons at the establishment, the majority are young groups of two, who only seem to casually glance at the entertainment on stage, with a sprinkling of aged men, who all are flying solo attention squarely focused on “men-tertainment”. I walk up to the bar and see a fairly attractive man on stage with his back turned to the audience and his plump buttocks exposed. It seems that the men from a swim suite calendar have stepped out of their photographs and are milling around and dancing for my viewing pleasure. I order a Heineken and take a seat and take in the view. I suck in my gut, making a mental note that I will have to start going to the gym regularly. I assume from the current performance, that all I’m going to see is lots of ass tonight. The “dancing” only goes on for a song and the dancer saunters away and the DJ announces his name and a number. It appears that if you wish, you can get a more intimate dance, if you head to the back of the club. The next song begins and a male emerges from behind the curtains on-stage. My eyes bulge. His fly is undone and the belt buckle dangles, and out of his black underwear, a fully erect penis is thrusting out. It’s pink and unbelievably huge. It’s not real, keeps going through my head; it looks like a Muppet cock. When he lowers his underwear and I can clearly see that it is attached to his body, I am shocked and mesmerized. I feel I can look at nothing but his appendage, but I don’t want to stare, so I try to look away, but my eyes are instantly drawn back. I feel self-conscious. I have never before felt inadequate in terms of what I am packing. I have never left anyone disappointed and always see that my measurements are a pleasant surprise when unpacked for the first time. But, now seeing this anaconda, in front of me in the flesh, I feel I should be bigger.

The dancers appear in a pattern. The first dancer only exposes his ass. This is followed by a dancer who walks around at full-attention. Every once and awhile a dancer disappears in the back with an old man. Another aroused dancer appears on stage. He also makes me feel inadequate. However, he is quite attractive. His swagger indicates that he probably listens to hip-hop. He has a base-ball cap turned to the side. And he is just walking up and down on stage, as if he were on the street, except his cock is jutting out. My head is beginning to spin at the surreal nature of this place. The next song is “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees and I feel that I am sitting through a climax of a Wes Anderson movie. I finish my beer, grab my jacket and leave.

I attend training in our Montreal office the next day. While walking around and especially when I got in the cab to return to the airport to fly back to Toronto, I had the feeling of being illiterate. Everything was in French, the advertising, road signs, menus, and I was unable to understand. I suddenly had an appreciation for what my Mother must have experienced when she first migrated to Canada. It’s almost as if you are blinded, being surrounded by hieroglyphics which you can’t comprehend. I have been to foreign countries before, like Pakistan and the Dominican, where I have been faced with a similar situation. This is different though, because in the other situations, I was in foreign countries, where I did not expect to understand. But, here in Montreal, looking out the window, at a city that at times closely resembled Toronto, it gave the impression of being in a parallel universe, one in which I could not read.

I recall a grade nine essay I had submitted, which was supposed to express our opinion on the new French law that mandated that all signs be in French and not English. I think my closing line read something to the effect of, “the people of Quebec should relax and not make such a big deal about signs.” Now, as an educated and informed adult, I now admire what the Quebec government did at the time. They had an understanding of how important language is in terms of being a gate keeper of culture. I have heard it expressed before, and I would agree myself, that Quebec is a slice of old-world Europe preserved in North America. I think this can be largely attributed to the language laws passed here.

I sit in a bar, in the departure gate, seeming to have entered a secret club; that of the business traveler who is en route to a destination. Everyone seems to be laughing and drinking gaily, striking up conversation with their neighbour randomly, exchanging flying horror stories. Black Berries are a must have as they are intermittently taken out and consulted in mid-sentence. I eat my meal in silence and take out my own Black Berry every once and awhile, to make evident that I also am a business traveler, even though I have no new emails to check.

I learn that my flight is delayed by half-hour. I calculate that I will now arrive home close to 11 p.m. Business travel doesn’t seem that glamorous anymore.


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