Old Montreal: Chinatown, St.Laurent and St. Denis

I became a man in Montreal. On the streets of this city I discovered the night dance that people do when businesses shut doors and people live with each other. While completing my masters degree at McGill, I also learned about poverty and how easy it is to slip into situations where you have no food, no money to pay the rent and a million outside pressures to succeed. I know what life is like to scrounge food from friends; I know what it is like to budget $20 out to cover a week’s food. Montreal taught me this. This city also taught me that I can get behind anything and never give up on myself no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

Montreal also taught me the beauty of the carnivalesque: the colourful, sexual, masquerade that brings true joy into a grey world. While studying here I became a flâneur, who walked the streets at night because he had no other options with which to fill his time. I watched people, I learned the intricate balance between their interactions, and I appreciated the beauty of the dance. My thesis came to reflect the world I saw, Vampires Incorporated examined how the carnival shapes our human narrative. The mask shown above caught my eye, and will probably end up coming back with me if the cost is not prohibitive: masks will make brilliant props for the upcoming series of photographs I will be shooting.

I spent about five hours walking from my hotel in the old port to Chinatown and then on to St. Laurent and St. Denis. The memories, good and bad flooded back to me, and at a time when I thought that I had come to peace with the ghosts left behind I found a few key pieces that needed to be put to rest. As I strolled into Chinatown I recalled the little orange tree and pepper plants I bought from a Chinese woman on the street who reminded me of my dead grandmother. I thought of the nights spent drinking pichets of St. Ambroise at the Copacabana. I remembered going to dinner with Colin Hill at The Main as he whispered opinions about what Leonard Cohen ordered there. Faizal Deen cooking me a tinned salmon stir fry while rambling on about Michael Ondaatje in incoherently glorious mumbles. I thought of my first dinner at Fondumentale with the woman who would later become my wife for nine years. I thought of the fights, the walking out and the being left alone. I remembered the abandonment and that I had plugged my way through all of it to become who I am. Despite all of those hard memories, I felt alive and quick in what remains my favourite Canadian city.

My expedition into Chinatown had me visiting the old grocery shops I knew: the place where I bought my hardcore steel wok that I still use today; the place where I buy moon cakes. Tonight though, I walked by a dive with roast ducks hanging in the window, and while I normally would have passed on going inside and regretted it later I thought of my experience on Wednesday night. I went in, sat down and ordered the duck. Hilariously, the head waiter was enthralled with my Leica M3 camera and by the end of the dinner almost every server in the place had asked to hold it. The duck and rice tasted superb, though it was mostly from hunger and the happiness I felt at allowing myself to do the things I want to do.

My room at the Hotel St. Sulpice was upgraded to a deluxe suite that is bigger than my condo in Toronto. The bed is to die for, I have couches and leather chairs. There is a stovetop [like I am going to cook in Montreal], and a giant bathtub for two. Sadly, I am alone on this journey, and that is for the best, because when I finish with Montreal I will be a much stronger man yet again, and the value of that, given what I want to build in my life, is critical.

So no romance for me on this trip, but there will be many more trips back to Montreal in my near future, which is good because the Old Port is so deeply romantic with its intimately lit restaurants and vintage scene. Nope, my day tomorrow will be spent looking for smoked meat, armagnac, coffee darker than an eclipse and a few masquerade items. Life is good, I am rising.

Final Note: I just re-read the introduction to the thesis I wrote here…and it sent chills down my spine with how well-crafted my writing was; such a cool feeling to experience that while here in the place it was written. 




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