An out of town friend of mine once asked me to name my favourite things about Montreal. I can't quite remember what I answered exactly, but I'm sure I included at least a few things from the following list, as they've been favourites from the start. I continue to reflect on this from time to time, when I have one of those quintessentially Montreal moments, where I encounter another quirk in this beautiful, difficult, cold, hot, awesome, oppressive, wondrous place. The list just keeps growing.
In no particular order:
1. Aiguisage Tony. Elusive. Slow-moving. Deadly. This old-world blade sharpening service is a rare and exciting sight to behold, if only because you never know when it will appear. Tony gives a fair but brief warning of his arrival through the unmistakable, gentle clanging of his bell. Like children to an ice-cream truck, adult foodies, lawn and gardening enthusiasts, and just plain old knife fetishists bolt out their doors and down those notoriously windy Montreal stair cases, knives, axes, and scissors in hand, to chase Tony down before he turns the corner and out of sight. I have never caught him.
2. STM night riders. City bus drivers often turn the lights down in the front half of the bus. This is probably to cut down the reflective glare on the inside of the windshield, but the bonus secondary effect is that it has an amazing pacifying effect on passengers.
Pair that with the sweet sound of a Habs game emanating from their little transistor radios, and riding the bus (or even driving it) is pretty alright.
3. The mind-boggling cultural divide. It's quite easy to meet savvy, educated Quebecois adults who, despite having grown up with cable TV, have never heard of David Letterman, or Saturday Night Live, or Peter Mansbridge. That one can, technically speaking, spend a lifetime in Canada, neighboring with the most prolific, bombastic entertainer on earth (them Yanks), and still manage to filter out a large portion of that noise, amazes me. The cultural divide runs much deeper than one might think. They LOVE Elvis, tho.
4. Dépanneurs or "deps" as they're colloquially called. Independently-owned and operated corner stores whose best feature is the offer of cold beer on every corner. Best of all on those scorching summer evenings: large, self-serve, walk-in fridges you can just chill out in while you ponder their selection. Speaking of which...
5. Micro breweries. One of the truly delightful things about living here is never having to order big name "domestic" beers while out for a pint. The choice of locally made beers here is astounding, as is the incredible kitschy-ness of their labels.
Les québécois are as passionate about their distinctness as they are about their beer, so it comes as no surprise someone dreamed this baby up, no doubt whilst nursing a few late-night brews. L'indépendante, as the brand suggests, is a separatist's answer to drinking your way to independence.
Manifesto from their website (translation mine):
"The Independent. Its taste is that of freedom and its aroma that of the will to reclaim our destiny. Its ingredients are courage, affirmation, determination and the confidence to make Quebec a country where ideas and passions are brewed. The Indendendent is a beer that is savoured and discussed. Its profits will go toward the promotion of Quebec as a nation, and the active engagement of those who want to see Quebec take its rightful place in the world. The Independent is a beer that will never surrender."
The text on the image above reads (I did NOT make this up):
"An ambitious fundraising initiative has been launched to promote Quebec independence. A new beer, The Independent, is being brewed in various regions of Quebec and its profits will serve to promote the nation of Quebec.
Forward this information to a maximum of people, visit our website, lindependante.qc.ca, and see if this beer is sold near you. If it is not (although soon it will be everywhere) find an alternative means to get it (perhaps someone you know lives near a retailer).
If every Quebec sovereigntist buys two six-packs per year, we will soon have the financial means to launch an important campaign for the country Quebec deserves to become."
While not exactly promoting emancipation through alcoholism (only two six-packs?), if they really wanted to tear the country apart, every Independentiste might look like this.
By the way, I've tried this beer. It tastes like Coor's lite. Although I also entertain the idea that it's actually Molson Canadian with a different label. Ironically, despite Molson's being headquartered and brewed right here in Montreal, Molson Canadian, with it's "I AM CANADIAN" ad slogan and evil, pointy maple-leaf, is biera non grata in Quebec. Although not that many people seem to notice.