A street like this never sleeps. The bars hum till three in the morning and after that it is the turn of the all-night cafés. They have all the stale, leftover food ready, for the drunk revelers who stagger in for a burger or a shish taouk.
Every metropolis has at least one street like it, usually in the downtown core. If you are on a flight coming in low at night, you will make this street out very easily. It is invariably the brightest string of lights. It isn’t the biggest street in Montreal though. That honor would go to maybe Sherbrooke or Henri Bourassa). But it is by far the liveliest. Something is happening on it all the time.
Welcome to Blvd St. Laurent in downtown Montreal – pronounced ‘Sang Lawrang’ in French-speaking Quebec. But you needn’t bother with the pronunciation – no one calls it Blvd St. Laurent anyway. A street like this one will always have a more identifiable moniker, like ‘The Strip’ or ‘The Jagway’. Everybody calls Bengaluru’s MG Road ‘Main Street’, while Kolkata’s Mother Teresa Sarani is unrecognizable because you and I know it as ‘Park Street’.
Likewise, Blvd St. Laurent is known to Montrealers simply as The Main. In French Canada, you have boulevards, pronounced boolvah and The Main is a boolvah. The French f—k with your mind constantly. They put consonants at the end of words and mandate you to not pronounce them. Pronouncing French is like having Scarlett Johanssen right in front of you with the buttons on her top undone and you can’t do nuthin’ about it.
Everything is available on this stretch of glitter – for a price. Whether you’re looking for an unmarked gun or a gal, some weed or ecstasy, a haircut or a hamburger or sex in the guise of a full-body massage or a lap dance, this length of asphalt has all these and more.
Every waiter and bartender along this street is a drug trafficker if you need ta get high. And a pimp, in case you’re horny. These gents have none of the furtive looks and the whispered directions to the alley out back, spoken in a hiss through the corner of the mouth. You come to expect that in a similar setting in India, not here. This is the west. Here, everything is hanging out in the open. You want to f—k, do some coke or buy some weed – you do all these things proudly. Folks here have eyelids that are unbattable. The police precinct that covers this street is reported to be ‘on the pad’. You are better protected from a mugger or purse-snatcher on this street than anywhere else in the city.
The Main is a hybrid, between Kolkata’s Park Street and Free School Street. Except for the graffiti and the murals. Nothing in Kolkata matches the wall art you find on The Main. The talent is simply awesome, at once gaudy and then beautiful. Business owners with building walls facing out, gladly pay for the scaffolding and the paint and let amateur painters go to town on them. Here are some pics of the murals we really dug.
Last week The Main was especially lively. They held their annual street festival, called ‘Festivale Mural’, showing off all the wall art that is splashed all over. For a few days in June every year, the busy boulevard is closed to vehicular traffic and all the cafes, bars and other merchants are allowed to spill into the street. If its sunny – like it was when we were there, a sizzling 32°C – there won’t be any place for you to walk without bumping butts. (Not that that is a bad thing, mind, depending upon the gender mix).
The food we got ta eat at the festival was fresh and dirt cheap, due to the economies of scale. We had Japanese noodles for $1 (albeit, on a tiny plate) and a hundred zillion stir-fried shrimps for $1 each. A shot of vodka was just three smackeroos. Not that I had any – I am a teatotaler(sic).
In the south, The Main ends up at Chinatown, a raucous Chinese bazaar where you can find anything to eat. If the joint you live in is infested with cockroaches and you would like to see a brighter side to them, you can be a part of Chinatown’s supply chain.
In the north, The Main reaches into Little Italy, an area that I am not very familiar with, even though I have been there once and found that it could be quite inviting, if you happen to dig Italian food. Otherwise, Little Italy seems too wrapped up in itself and it’s own.
Besides, after the Almighty Lord stopped making Lorens and Lollobrigidas, I never could develop an affinity for Italian women.