Noir in a Familiar Place
Well, I didn’t make a movie or hobnob with other writers since I last wrote in this space, but I did go to Montreal. Montreal is one of my most favorite places in the world, starting over forty years ago when my brother and I went there and we felt like daring men about town because we drove down notorious Ste. Catherine Street. Really, we made one run and stopped once, at a depanneur, where I bought a pack of Player’s cigarettes. The kicker is that I didn’t even smoke, but they seemed exotic in a pack so different that what was available in the states. That pack and several coins and bills served as my souvenirs.
The city’s place in my heart and psyche was cemented though, when it was part of the itinerary on my honeymoon with Barb. That situation has solidified as we have returned yearly on our anniversary ever since and our children have come along on every trip from the time they were born. I’d be a poseur to pretend I was a ‘habitant’, although I do wear a Canadiens ball cap while there. I figure it’s a lot safer than a B’s hat. We usually park our car while there and travel about on foot or by bicycle or subway. Ste. Catherine Street still figures prominently for its shopping and dining, with very little remaining of the “adult” entertainment for which it was once known.
Last year, llandrigan gave me a copy of The Crime on Cote des Neiges by David Montrose, a 1951 story set in Montreal. This and several other old Montreal books have been reissued by Montreal’s Véhicule Press as one of their Ricochet series of vintage noir mysteries. Looks hardboiled, doesn’t it? The story line is standard cynical-private-dick-with-a-heart-of-gold clears an innocent girl of murder. It is well written and highly enjoyable, but fascinates me even more with all its references to streets I have walked and place names I know.
During this last trip to Montreal, I made a point to go to La librairie Paragraphe, 2220, avenue McGill College (okay, for you Anglophiles, that’s Paragraphe Bookstore and I highly recommend a visit there) and look for other Ricochet issues. I bought three and am currently reading 1949’s Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street by Al Palmer, a Montreal journalist who covered the police beat and wrote a column on city nightlife. It has me thinking back to that trip in the early 70’s and the realization that Dorchester Street, which runs parallel two blocks over from Ste. Catherine, still existed then, although it depended on what part of it you were situated as it was called both a street and a boulevard even then. That changed in 1977, when the city renamed the majority of it Boulevard René Lévesque. And since that time it has undergone extreme urban renewal with huge residential swaths razed and replaced with high-rise corporate headquarters edifices. But still, I was there only slightly twenty years after Palmer wrote about a young farm girl who came to the city to escape the boredom of rural Quebec. Who knows what I might have seen then if I had been more observant in my early twenties. As it is, I have to satisfy myself with blurry memories of what the city looked like and the knowledge that at least I was there.