Un paradis piétonnier

Off Mont-Royal

Pardon my French, haux haux haux... I'm trying to learn as much as I can while I'm here. The title of this post translates to "A pedestrian paradise".

At risk of sounding like a broken record: Why do we build cities like we do in the United States, when there's clearly a better way? I came to Montréal to discover whether my suspicions were correct—that there could be a city somewhere in North America where the automobile wasn't the highest priority citizen. Even in "progressive" Portland, life without a car was tenuous at best due to most of the city being filled with single-family housing. And Manhattan has the opposite problem: Skyscrapers suffocate the island with hoardes of pedestrians on every streetcorner.

But here in Montréal, life is so pleasant on foot. I walked around in awe at how much I could access on my own two feet. I walked by several supermarkets, some ethnic and some organic. Shops of every stripe. Cafes, bars, restaurants. Parks and playgrounds. And despite the density, I haven't once felt overwhelmed. In fact, I've felt more comfortable than I ever do in America, because I haven't been steering a two-ton hunk of glass and metal through a goddamn city.

There are several streets in the central city that close traffic to private automobiles, such as the one pictured above. Walking down these is like being in an urban wonderland. It's quiet. It's charming. There's a real sense of place. You're free to stop and enjoy yourself without the threat of being run over.

Mont-Royal Avenue

I will never stop asking: Why don't we do this in America? Why do we choose to live our lives confined to horrid glass and metal boxes careening dangerously through asphalt-laden hellscape cities, when there's clearly a more livable way? I'm here, I'm experiencing it, and it's so much better. Not only is it better, but it's also, per capita, much more efficient and economical.

Residential street

I've had a few incredible multilingual experiences here so far. Yesterday, I came across a Latin supermarket, where I bought some pastries, a baguette, and some chorizo to prepare at home. The clerk didn't speak any English. I didn't speak any French, but I could tell she spoke a bit of Spanish. So I used the few Spanish phrases I knew to hopefully convey the transaction. It barely worked and we both kept laughing at each other.

Now I'm sitting at an Italian-owned cafe. I walked in, and, armed with a bit more French, asked "Parlez-vous anglais?" The barista seemed a bit confused, and just asked "English?" I couldn't tell what her native language was, but a couple of the regulars spent the next fifteen minutes conversing, switching back and forth between Italian and English.

All of this is making me realize how much more rich life would be if I were multilingual, and I'm going to make it a priority to learn French from now on, since I'm sure I would enjoy my time here even more if I weren't timid on account of the language barrier.

I'll leave you today with an interesting quirk I've seen here. There are still quite a few payphones strewn about the city—I wonder if these are kept in operation for those people who cannot afford cell phones. Anyway, being a bit of a telephony nerd, I couldn't help but snap a picture:

Montréal pay phone

À plus tard!