For those of you who don’t know it, the sporting brand Adidas is opening a new store on St-Catherine's and announcing it with a poster that says “Essence de Montréal.” Don’t you just hate it when some corporation making trifles attempts to appropriate the greater things in Life and purports to sell them to you in the form of a tennis shoe or a pair of sweat pants? Well, I’m telling you right now that shopping at that store will bring you no closer to the essence of this town.
First of all, this is not Vancouver. People here don’t make a lifestyle out of breaking out a sweat. There are runners on the Mountain, yes, and cyclists buzzing around on rusty second-hand bikes dating back to the 1960s (anything more contemporary would be stolen), as well as people hopping around with yoga mats. We’re not backward.
But, on any given day, there are more people –like, 17 times more – hanging out in a beer garden or with a glass of wine on some sidewalk terrace, if the weather permits (and it permits as soon as is it above five degrees Celsius).
And not only.
There are more people waiting in line to get a ticket for some obscure foreign film at the Festival des films du monde, and more people listening to live music at Divan Orange on any given Saturday night.
There are more people lying on the grass by the river in Verdun than there are on the bike path.
There are more people trolling around the sidewalk sales that mark the beginning and end of summer than there are at the malls.
There are more people taking advantage of the 10pm menu at Leméac and Chez Victoire, and more people waiting in line for brunch.
There are more people watching live wrestling in the basement of a church in HOMA, and more people packed into the Cinquieme salle watching stand-up comedy and modern dance.
There are more people talking and laughing late into the night on their balconies and in their yards from May until October.
There are spontaneous operas sung to acoustic guitar in St. Louis Square in July. And Shakespeare plays in city parks.
There are clouds of weed smoke all over the Plateau Mont-Royal. You need only take an evening stroll and breathe and you will be high.
There are lakes and ponds turned into musical skating rinks in winter.
There are cheap classical music concerts in churches all over town in autumn.
There are amazing bands you’ve never heard of playing at half-empty cafés on weeknights, blowing your mind and splitting open your heart.
There are public pianos scattered all over town and there are ordinary-looking people who put down their grocery bags and sit down and play Chopin and Philip Glass like true masters. There are people who stop to listen.
There are things around town, magnificent things that seem like they belong in Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulin but actually feature here in real life - things such as these which I saw with my own eyes:
A signpost dressed in its very own custom-made sweater
A small Santa Clause sitting in the basket of a parked bicycle on a hot summer night
A bathtub bursting at the seams with flowers in someone's back yard
An origami heart hanging on a random tree in a public park
Smiley-face stickers adorning the sidewalk just when you need a sign
A row of rubber ducks swimming in a puddle in the middle of Jean-Talon Market
Figurines of birds and bears and horses nodding their plastic little heads from windowsills draped with lace curtains
Two large rubber flamingos surveying the street from their perch on a stately iron staircase in Old Montreal
The street name sign of Rue Marianne altered by the hand-made addition of “So Long” above and “and Leonard” below so as to say “So long Marianne and Leonard” in honour of the city’s great bard
Alleyways with asphalt painted in the sorts of colours and patterns that would have opened Hansel and Gretel's appetite
There are people popping out to their Depanneur to buy drinks all over town on summer nights and then sitting on the stairs leading up to their front doors with friends and neighbours while music drifts out into the street from inside...
I could go on and I would be drunk, but I cannot 'cuz I've got to go out for a run!