I was standing at the edge of the Saint Lawrence in Montreal waiting for L’International des Feux Loto (fireworks) to begin and as a friend began to explain to me what the various landmarks were I realized how eerily similar it all seemed. There was a city to be sure, and a river with a promenade and pedestrians crossing a railway line, but there was also a casino, a number of bridges, a dome, even a Six Flags theme park, and of course, finally, the fireworks.
I generally don’t venture down to the river on Independence Day to see the fireworks over the Connecticut River; this year Luna and I walked down to watch them explode over the MGM castle. Watching our local urban equestrians race along Main Street during the event was a surprising addition to the festivities. Because we needn’t commit a great deal in order to watch this yearly spectacle we generally don’t push to get the best view. The most entertaining bit for me is watching the thousands of cars jostling to get out of the downtown once the show is over. It can take a couple of hours to get traffic back to normal.
In Montreal the pace of the cars and of the pedestrians was much less frenetic. We wandered back to the hotel San Sulpice which, now that I think of it is probably about the same distance from the river as our home is in Springfield. Many, many more people in Montreal, it seemed, viewed the fireworks as marking the beginning, not the end, of the evening’s festivities. True to our roots, we were done for the evening.
What fills me with hope after spending some time in a world class city like Montreal is noticing that it still has many of the same issues with which to deal as little old Springfield. There are vacant storefronts, the homeless sleeping on park benches, surface parking in ridiculous places, obstacles to pedestrians, ugly buildings, obtrusive highways; but the takeaway is that Montreal’s positives so far outweigh the negative that it is a scintillating place to experience.
No one will ever ask which Montreal we visited. Springfield’s early economic and cultural success has given rise to dozens of eponymous communities the ubiquity of which has made it the ultimate generic fictional place from the Simpsons to The Guiding Light. Unlike Poughkeepsie, Peoria, Woonsocket, Albuquerque, Tulsa, Baton Rouge and countless other places it will never be a Cher, a Madonna, or a Sting of urbanism. Wedged in between Boston and New York we are destined to shriek “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” for all eternity if we insist on comparing ourselves to them…and we will.
There’s no comparing the variety and vitality of Montreal to that of provincial Springfield, but we have a plaza here, and a museum there that can compare favorably now and again. Until our friends got us out of the touristy areas every meal we had was overpriced and underwhelming. (After that we found great food, and sometimes it wasn’t even pricey) I read that there’s a movement toward more mediocre places for Millennials, although it might do Baby Boomers a bit of good to find some places to survive in semi retirement with inexpensive housing, cheap entertainment, low cost dining, lots of public transit, and a well funded social safety net.
In a lot of ways what makes this place so great is its mediocrity. Two readers have recently commented specifically on how a transformed community, whether Springfield or Bellows Falls, can make it unrecognizable and even unlivable to those who would have it transformed. I can’t help but want better for the place I call home, but I do wonder if it ever becomes a shiny new thing to those on the outside if to me it might lose its luster.