Friday, March 21, 2014

Montreal Journal: Sexe D'Or

St Jacques Street (formerly St. James Street), l910
Alfred Hitchcock set I Confess starring Montgomery Clift as the priest, in the capital of the province of Quebec, Quebec City, but the setting could have been the largest city of the province, Montreal. It didn’t turn out to be one of his most touted movies but Hitchcock captured a certain Quebecois feeling that Montreal still exudes despite the erstwhile torch of cosmopolitanism carried by the airport named after Pierre Trudeau. You remember the famed prime minister with the disco wife, Maggie who liked to dance without her underpants. As you drive in you still are impressed by the dirty weathered brick buildings that capture the underbelly of the urban landscape. The great boxer Arturo Gatti (who married a stripper and whose supposed suicide still remains a matter of debate) came from Montreal. Mordecai Richler, the local Philip Roth, wrote about the Jews of Montreal in St. Urbain’s Horseman and other books (St. Urbain Street is like London’s Golders Green). And speaking of strippers, Montreal is famous for its all nude lap dancers and nothing captures the phenomenon more starkly than a sign which reads Sexe d’Or, Pub Bare as you pass signs for the Rue Sherbrooke and Rue St Jacques on the way to Centre Ville. Old Montreal with its gilt edged office buildings and cobblestone streets is reminiscent of Manhattan’s Soho or Tribeca in the way it domesticates the age of the l9th century robber baron. The vintage Hotel Le St. James still is an oasis of personalized luxury whose room service carts come with their own hot and cold boxes. But the little bejeweled piece of Victoriana has been virtually swallowed up by the surrounding skyscrapers which block the view of monuments like Mount Royal and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It may be a case of survival of the fittest, but who is the survivor who the fittest remains to be seen.

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