Being A Set of Short Essays on Various Aspects of Walking Around the City
I attended Sunday services at the Anglican parish of St. John the Evangelist, the "church with the red roof," as it bills itself on its website. I'm sure that in a city the size of Montreal, there is a wide range of Anglican expression, but St. John's was, to my mind, enormously pleasurable because it was so very, very Anglo-Catholic. The church itself proclaims that it professes the expression of the Anglican faith in terms of the Oxford Movement, and the interesting thing is that the Catholicism that's built into that is a Catholicism that post-Vatican II Catholics would hardly recognize: enormous parts of the service were chanted (including the Gospel), the hymns were enormously traditional as only the Canadian Hymnal can do, and there was plenty of "Anglican aerobics" -- kneel, stand, sit, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel. The level of preaching was high, the parishioners were delightful to talk with after the service, and the guest organist is heading off to be an organ scholar at St. Paul's, London, in the fall. His postlude (J.S. Bach) was excellent.
The church itself looked like what I think a church should look like. It was Gothic, dark, smoky from decades of incense, and mysterious. I am not a snob about church architecture -- many modern churches are marvelous buildings -- but this very traditional setting fit the ethos of the place perfectly. And I am always happy when I get to sing any words to the tune of "Rhosymedre," though the texts in the Canadian hymnal seem to me to be more formal than those in the American one. This just sets up a different relationship with God (not a worse or better one, just a different one), and it seemed very fitting to me that an English church in multicultural, French Montreal would choose to be English to the point of crumpets and sherry in the vicarage garden.
Men on the Street
Montreal is the North American capital of truly buff men in tight t-shirts. I never saw a gym when I was there; perhaps they are all hidden somewhere, but they must be full 24-7.
I know that part of this presence is due to the fact that I stayed at a bed and breakfast just off Rue Ste.-Catherine in "The Village," the gay part of town. (Oddly enough, gay here meant gay male only. There were few women on Ste.-Catherine.) I am always self-conscious in such a place in that I am not buff, or at least not like these guys; my t-shirts are loose for comfort; and wherever I go, I would be identifiable as a Mainer for whom practicality is the primary consideration when putting on one's dress for the day. It was chilly, so I wore layers. The Montreal men strutted their pecs in the drizzle, oblivious to the weather.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Montreal is also the North American capital of street ogling, as it should be.
Ethnic food abounds in Montreal -- well, in any big city, really -- and one of the pleasures of traveling is to eat things that you don't normally get to eat. Carl and I had west African food on Saturday night and Tibetan food on Sunday night for dinner. West African good some readers may be familiar with; in my case, it was Senegalese fish in a spicy red pepper sauce, lentil soup with cardamon, and a mango salad. Tibetan food is probably less familiar, though if you stopped and thought about it, you could probably guess that it's vaguely Chinese, and in such a bracing climate it would have to be filling. And it was. Carl and I both ordered beef dumplings with dipping sauces, one of them made with tamarind, the other with mint. I also ordered a filling, fatty drink called "butter tea," which is exactly what it sounds like. Normally made with yak butter, and thus an acquired taste that our helpful waiter assured us we would not want to acquire, this was a more benign Western version, but a bit weird -- tea crossed with a stick of butter.
Old Montreal is a delight, once you block the throngs of tourists and twee shops ("shoppes") selling every possible Canadian cliche on a t-shirt that you can imagine out of your mind's eye. Instead, you have to focus on the buildings that are very, very French in their severity. I think that the popular sense of Frenchness is one of luxuriousness and high style, but to my way of thinking the classical severity of carefully hewn granite blocks and regularly spaced windows overlooking the extremely broad Fleuve St.-Laurent is equally French. Think about it: architecture in old Montreal had to express the power that New France held over potentially an entire continent here in this cold toehold at the foot of a hill (Mont Royal, from which Montreal takes it name) on an icy river, all to the glory of God and King. Luxurious? High style? I dunno about that. Old Montreal buildings seem to perfectly express their age and its people.