It’s one of the nicknames that the city of Montreal can call its own. But for me, at least, the nickname and the place don’t make an immediate connection. I’m from the glorious tristate – where you find your way to the best known places by moving along the chain links of stopover towns, one after the next. “Metropolis” means bustle – its the body formed by the layer of skyscraper tops that doesn’t seem to notice the man slinging hotdogs at the corner. It’s the audible heartbeat of a city without silence – every moment punctuated by pulses that sound different than the last. It’s New York in all of its simultaneously sleek and grimy splendor. It’s something I know.
But Montreal is not New York.
I mean sure, if someone flew you over blindfolded, struck you deaf to block out the French, hid all the obvious signs of nationality, and spun you around three times for good measure, I’m sure there are a decent number of places in the city that are almost indistinguishable from the stretches in midtown. That’s one of the things that I love about the urban environment, after all – the almost-always-present sense of familiarity, despite place, despite space, despite time of day. But there’s something about Montreal that’s just unique, and I wish I could verbalize it for you. It’s this sense of magic that boils up inside me when I step over the street that divides Old Montreal from the rest of the city – leaving the asphalt and sidewalk for cobblestone corridors.
There’s something about the Old Town – something about the Old Port that agh I just…
You emerge from the sprawl – from a place where the name “Metropolis” makes sense – and the first thing that strikes you is the narrow. Not the narrow _____, just the narrow of it all. Cars can’t come here – there are posts holding them at bay, jutting from the smooth stones, making sure that the space is safe for the people milling back and forth in the collective shadows of old taverns, shops, the looming church. Progress has and hasn’t happened here – it has sort of bled into the pages, but frozen halfway – caught in the space between, the pause – like the buildings, like the people, like you. You’re lost.
And then, you step out into the air. You’re at the port. The ships have pulled away.
The sun is setting.