Being a hopelessly obsessed city lover, of course I can’t go anywhere without looking at what’s the same, what’s different, what’s better and what’s not in different cities.
Things I saw in Montreal and thought, hmm, maybe Vancouver should think about this.
1. So many restaurants with signs in the window saying “Apportez votre vin” — Bring your wine. It seemed to be in every second restaurant in the area of the Plateau where I was staying, a neighbourhood that’s very residential but also has restaurants lining streets like Duluth and Mont Royal and some of the side streets. Why don’t we have more of that here? Actually, do we have any? I remember it used to be that at the On On in Chinatown, when it was still attracting people on the strength of the story that Trudeau used to eat there (um, 20 years ago?), would let you bring your own wine. But I can’t think of any other eatery here in town that does that. Is it because our restaurants operate on such tight margins that they have to have that liquor licence and marked-up liquor to survive? My Montreal friends speculated that it’s more likely in the restaurants in the middle of residential areas, where they can’t get liquor licences because of concerns about rowdies carousing through the streets.
2. Bike paths. I think that I can objectively say that Montreal is not as conducive to cycling, weather-wise, as Vancouver, though I’m always willing to be educated by some irate snow-tired cyclist who says Montreal’s weather is NO hindrance to cycling whatsoever. But in spite of the weather drawbacks, Montreal has some amazing bike infrastructure. While we were there De Maisonneuve was being dug up around Concordia University to improve the very hefty, two-lane bike path that runs all the way across the city on this major east-west artery. To get a sense of something similar in Vancouver, imagine a lane of the road being taken over and given to bikes on 12th, all the way across town from UBC to Boundary Road, or along West Pender from Georgia to wherever. It was still a bit nippy while we were there and it snowed last night, but there were still plenty of cyclists out and around.
3. Riot responses. Montreal’s version of the Anti-Poverty Committee staged an anti-police brutality last weekend that turned into a mini-riot, provoking disapproving editorials all over the city. Something the police there are contemplating for future demos, according to the papers: making it illegal for people to come to demonstrations with their faces covered by scarves, balaclavas and the like. An idea for Olympics protests here?
4. Alcohol in every little corner store. Okay, I know that some people will be distraught that I appear to be encouraging alcoholism, between #1 and #4, but boy did it feel civilized and convenient to be able to buy a bottle of wine at the depanneur at the end of the street to take to the restaurant or a friend’s house.
5. Taxis!! Everywhere. And they came instantly, wherever and whenever you called them. A friend from Vancouver, also in town, ended up having to commute between the apartment where she was staying and the hospital because her daughter got seriously ill. She called taxis at midnight and at 4 a.m. and they came within minutes. When we walked out the door and needed to get somewhere in a hurry, we could flag one instantly and no dirty looks if you were only going a few blocks.
But less you think I’m dumping on Vancouver — it’s not so. Yes, I like all those things about Montreal and more, especially the sense of a big city where the sidewalks are packed in a dozen neighbourhood with people just out revelling in urban life. But then you land in Vancouver. As always when I return from a bigger city, it seems small and almost rural. But it’s as green and lush as a park, sparklingly clean and dominated by those blue-white mountains on the skyline.