City Beautiful by John Hamer

In 1881, Mark Twain described Montréal as a city
“where you couldn’t throw a brick
without breaking a church window.”
In 2014, we might describe Montréal as a city
where you can’t throw a brick
without hitting something beautiful.

Everywhere you look—in the alleyways,
in the exquisitely dressed up
mannequins in the shop windows,
at the people (my god, the people!)
on the Mountain, down by the River,
in the parks, and in the open-air markets
(like Marché Jean-Talon and Marché Atwater)
—everywhere you look, it seems
that our fellow citizens are conspiring
(it really does look like a conspiracy)
to make everything they touch
—including themselves—beautiful.

Seriously, you can’t even walk to the pharmacy
to pick up some garbage bags
without being left speechless
again and again and again.

Let me be clear, the beauty of which I speak
—the beauty of this great city—is not
the natural (and thus accidental) beauty of BC or Banff.
Nor is it the kind of beauty that you pay money to see,
like the beauty to be found in a museum.
No, the beauty of which I speak is free,
and it’s very, very intentional.
Like the perfect hair of the hormonal teenager,
the beauty of Montréal is beautiful
because it wants to be—and this charms me to no end.

Something wonderful is happening in this city—despite
(a) corruption scandals that would make
a Latin American dictator blush,
(b) crumbling municipal infrastructure that’s made
much of downtown look like the perfect place to shoot
a post-apocalyptic disaster movie,
(c) a federal government hell-bent on destroying
everything we love about Canada,
(d) and a provincial government hell-bent on destroying everything we love about Québec.

In spite of all these things,
and against all odds,
there is a buzz of creativity here
unlike anything I’ve seen before
in my lifetime.


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