The fierceness to go modern has also produced Montreal's "sheltered city," a multilevel, climate-controlled labyrinth beneath buildings and streets in which one can avoid snow and salt, not to mention the heat waves that bake Montreal in summer. Lined with shops, the sheltered city tunnels this way and that, connected by concourses and the Metro to hotels, office buildings, the Forum and the Olympic site. It has some of the flavor of a suburban shopping mall except that it is concentrated underground and downtown, an arrangement that modern-minded Montrealers like Donat Burnham find irresistibly convenient.
Burnham, an interior designer, lives in a 20-story luxury building connected at a basement level to the sheltered city. He shops in the stores below and gets up at dawn to jog on the deserted concourses. Since his office is located in another building plugged into the sheltered city, Burnham was able to ride out a long spell of bad weather a couple of years ago by going 27 days without once stepping outside. He went to the movies, ate at fine restaurants and dated habitu�s of trendy boutiques, all of which he found in the sheltered city. "Fresh air?" Burnham shrugged, padding one day through a well-lighted arcade. "The air outdoors is dirty. It's the air in here that's fresh." Isn't it just like tricky Montreal to contrive to enjoy spring all year round?
Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock once described Montreal as a place where people keep off the grass in two languages. Wrong. Toronto is the place where people keep off the grass; free-spirited Montrealers walk wherever they please, which is also how they drive. Leacock's formulation, while taking into account the 67% of the populace that is of French ancestry and the 15% that is Anglo-Saxon, has the further disadvantage of neglecting those known as les autres, the others, an ethnic hodgepodge that is most conspicuous along St. Lawrence Boulevard, also known as "The Main." This neighborhood is where Montreal's immigrants traditionally settle on arrival and where they shop even after moving on to greener pastures, stopping by to pick up cookies at the Dutch Pastry Shop, cold cuts at Le Shalom Delicatessen or bedtime reading at Libreria Las Americas.
No delegation of Olympic athletes will pine away in Montreal for want of its own on-the-spot cheering section. Montreal's polyglot flavor was apparent enough at this year's St. Patrick's Day parade, when a white-haired gent lowered himself uncertainly onto a green chair at Ste. Catherine and Guy, staking his claim to the choice spot by announcing grandly, "I'm Ukrainian, but my ex-wife was Irish." And the city's sometimes odd fragmentation is underscored by the fact that it has three dental societies—one mostly French, one English and one Jewish—whose members tend to refer patients to specialists only within their own groups. "The English Club is the one that wants to be alone," insists Cecile Leclerc, executive secretary of La Soci�t� Dentaire de Montreal.
What Montreal does do in two languages is bicker. The city is the stronghold of French Canadians, who number six million on a continent of 343 million and often feel steamrollered by their English-speaking neighbors. On the streets of Montreal the defeat of the Frenchman Montcalm by the British General Wolfe in 1759 is both reenacted and avenged daily. The French regard les maudits anglais as so many overfed robber barons while the English look upon the "pea-soups" and "Pepsis," nicknames derived from food and drink supposedly favored by the French, as laughable louts. Montreal-born novelist Mordecai Richler relates one of the kinder jokes:
"Hear about the Pepsi, watching hockey on TV, who lost $100 betting on a goal?"
"He lost $50 on the goal, another $50 on the instant replay."
Montreal has two school systems, one Catholic and mostly French, and the other Protestant and almost entirely English. English-speaking whizbangs enroll at McGill University while French scholars matriculate at the Universit� de Montr�al, giving the city its own Cambridge and Sorbonne. On Saturday afternoons kids in ski jackets and knitted hats can be seen lining up at East End movie houses for French-language matinees (EN SONORAMA!) while youngsters dressed exactly the same way queue up in western neighborhoods for Walt Disney's No Deposit, No Return. At Montreal's lone remaining tattoo parlor, bearded, burly Professor Clement Demers is equally prepared to inscribe MOM or MAMAN on the customer's body, although he confides, "I don't know why, but the French don't go for that one as much as the English."
For many years French and English faced each other like warring armies across the symbolic battleground that was downtown Montreal. The English minority had the heavy artillery, controlling the banks and insurance companies, and any Frenchmen entertaining serious hope of getting ahead were pretty much obliged to speak English. Then, in the 1960s, Quebec began to modernize its educational system, at the same time finding itself besieged by terrorists demanding that the province secede from Canada. A wave of fire bombings and kidnappings culminated in the October crisis of 1970, during which Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte was abducted while tossing a football around with neighborhood kids outside his suburban Montreal home. Laporte's body was found in a car trunk a week later; he had been strangled with the religious chain he wore around his neck.