Monday, July 31, 2006

Montreal, part un

I have been to O'Hare before, but I have NEVER seen planes stacked up like they were on Saturday morning. Maybe they're trying a new queueing system to avoid a repeat of the recent mishap...

Anyway, approaching Montreal from the air, one is actually reminded of Chicago: the vast expanse of flatness stretching out in every direction and filled with suburbs studded with homes notable for their vertical orientation and their profusion of swimming pools in a climate that could support pool use at most only one-third of the year. From the freeway, however, the approach to the city more closely resembles another Midwestern metropolis, with the French-language signage providing the only indication amongst the endless series of 1970's-era strip malls and warehouses that one is not, in fact, in Oklahoma City.

Once on foot, however (and downtown), the view changes appreciably from any "south of the border" parallels. It's not European, exactly. Not East Coast American. Not even Quebec City-ish. A mix of all those things, perhaps. Or at least the part we saw, which, admittedly, wasn't much. Having spent so much money on tickets to various Outgames events, we spent our time scurrying to those. I am relatively certain that I could take a Gray Line tour of Montreal and not see a single building that I recognize from this trip.

We did have fun, though, which I will get to in a subsequent post. For now, I feel compelled to share a ramble probably meaningful only to myself...

The comparison of Montreal to other, more familiar, places got me to thinking about one of my childhood obsessions: collecting telephone books. I used to spend hours pouring through the yellow pages (there were no green pages or blue pages or fold-out maps then) of each new city, looking for what these far-flung places had in common. Did the new book contain a listing for an NBC television station? An Amoco service station? A Long John Silver's?

Then I would spend further hours designing cities of my own, always maximizing these "chain" corporate identities that jaded Americans pretend to abhor but secretly keep in business: the precursors to and industry cognates of Wal-marts. I'd like to think that I didn't include the local identity in my cities because the spontaneous creativity of Mom & Pop establishments is hard for an eight-year-old mind to comprehend, let alone replicate in endless variations. But it is far more likely, I suppose, that these corporate identities represented a sense of status that my own upbringing in rural America lacked.

Or it could be (horror!) that I in fact like chains. When people ask me what I miss about the Bay Area, it's not the trendy boutiques or the once-in-a-lifetime culinary experiences. I wish that my current residence afforded me easier access to two things: a Chili's and a Macy's.

While we had quite good food in Montreal (and not a bite of it from a chain), the first place we headed once back on American soil was the Chili's at O'Hare airport. And we knew exactly what to order: the queso dip of which we have been lately deprived. Is it the best tortilla-chip topping I've ever consumed? No, but it is predictably good. Just like a McDonald's in Marrakesh will be predictably clean (in fact, predictably cleaner than any American location of that chain) and have instantly recognizable food. And a Frappucino grande de banane et coco in Montreal will be just as good as (if more romantically pronounced than) the one from the Starbucks at SFO.


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