Black Magic + A Narnia Bar = A Brew for Curious Connections in Montreal

“Excuse me. Were you talking about black magic?”

Before this moment, my friends and I were sharing in a satisfied silence, sharing in the memory of the drinks we just consumed. Feeling the weight of the empty glass in my hand, I can still taste a bitter hint of the strangely named Irish Car Bomb lingering on my tongue. The moment is forgotten as my friends dive into a conversation. But I’m consumed by my own thoughts until a peculiar question in an unexpected male voice jolts me back to reality.

I take a good look at the man in his late thirties who has approached me with this strange question. He has shoulder length dark hair which falls down in twisted, wavy strands and he wears a warm smile on his thin lips. I don’t know how to respond to the intense curiosity buried in his dark brown eyes.

I wasn’t directly speaking about black magic. Rather, I was remarking on an interesting conversation about it which my friend had started while we waited for our first round of Irish Car Bombs—a concoction of Baileys, Guinness, and whisky.

This conversation begins with a discussion about the best reasons to live in Montreal, which eventually leads to a story about a sinister college roommate. The memories of this nightmarish character clearly continue to have an impact on my new friend, as I watch her hands slice through the air with frantic arm gestures, calling forth chilling memories of her school year in Toronto.

Now here stands this man dressed in layers of black, waiting for me to tell him about the details of our conversation about voodoo dolls and murmured spells. Is this a new method for picking-up women or is it the start of an honest conversation? There is only one way to find out…

“Yes I was.”

I feel the thrill of expectation as I wait to hear what he will say next. He studies me with interest, and I watch the corners of his lips expand into an intrigued smile.

“And do you believe in it?”

“I’m not sure,” I begin, “But, I do know that there are some things in the world which are definitely hard to explain and so we look at it as being ‘magical’.”

“So you don’t practice black magic?”

“No! Do you?”

I wonder, would he believe me if I said “yes”?

For a moment, I think I see his eyes light up before he chuckles and with the undertones of a French accent, he says in a clear, confident voice, “No I don’t.”

As we begin to talk, he tells me that he overheard parts of our conversation. He explains that he has an interest in what he calls ‘unexplained forces’ in this world. It suddenly feels a bit chilly. But it’s not the effect of this conversation, instead, it’s from the cold air blowing through the room.

I’m beginning to feel strangely at ease with this stranger, and like all those around us, we’re enjoying the easy going vibe of the bar we are in: Sainte Elisabeth. Its brick exterior is tucked away west of the popular neighbourhood of Saint Denis.

After the last show of the Jazz Fest in the Quartier des Spectacles of downtown Montreal, my friends and I journeyed to this bar where we expected to hear more live music, which did not occur. When we arrived at our destination, we were faced with the unimpressive exterior of the bar. All that would change in a few short moments, as my apathy transformed into wonder. Laughter and the clinking sound of glass echoed from somewhere inside the warmly lit bar. It came from an open terrasse which completely transfixed me. Walking towards the intimate, busy, and crowded room I noticed that the brick walls were covered with dark green vines twisting and crawling upwards towards the square ceiling which was not made of bricks or wood, but of a patch of night sky.

I became C.S. Lewis’s Lucy stepping through a “magical” wardrobe into a spectacular other world. Here in this giant wardrobe (with a black lamppost smack dab in the middle of the room), I am having the most open conversation concerning individuality which I’ve never experienced in a bar.

As my friends carry their own conversations with a group of men at the table next to us, I learn about my strange new friend, whose name he still hasn’t shard with me. Through our conversation, I learn that his hometown is Quebec City, but he has lived in Montreal for many years. I arrived the day before and yet, we both agree that Montreal challenges people to experiment with their identity, and most importantly, to do it freely.

A second Irish Car Bomb slips into my hand, as we continue chatting in air tinged with cigarette smoke. Soon no amount of magic can stop me from dreaming of warm blankets and sleep. My friends agree that it is time to leave.

Before going, my new acquaintance tells me to contact him if I am ever in Montreal again. “You have an interesting perspective on life. I like your energy,” he tells me as we part. I smile and thank him for the card and for the conversation.

I’ve never been told before that I attract positive energy before. As I walk down the street from the bar and look up at a pair of blinking stars, surrounded by the cold night air, I briefly look back. It’s hard to see Sainte Elisabeth now, but I imagine I hear the clinking of glasses once again and the rising sound of laughter.

Something Different: A Day of Frenzy in Montreal

July 1, 2012.  This is the day of the Nation’s 145th birthday.  While the rest of the country is taking advantage of a nationally sponsored day for sleeping in, today a celebration of a different kind is taking place, bright and early, on the streets of Montreal. 

By 9:00 AM I have settled into my room at Concordia University’s Grey Nuns Residence.  Groggy, but ready and eager to explore, I want to gleefully dance through the streets–but instead, wanting to make a good first impression on the city, I opt for normalcy. Heading towards Atwater and passing the imposing Canadian Architecture Centre, a Canada Day parade is in the works.

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There’s no excessive red and white invading the streets.  Instead, I can tell that a parade will take place from the marching of workers frantically commanding each other to place neon pylons and tape at chosen spots.  Crossing the street I follow the lead of a perky dog walker. 

With each step, I’m hypnotized by the bright green light beckoning walkers to cross into another world. I quickly learn that in Montreal you cross streets at green lights instead of red.  At the other end of the street I can see that despite their frenzied planning, the volunteers I left behind seemed confident that their efforts would pay off.  As I would come to observe, it wasn’t just the parade volunteers who seemed cool and confident.  It was the whole city. 

I head west, relying on my curiosity to act as my guide.  A couple blocks away the first unexpected event occurs.  I stumble across an old mattress lying comfortably along the side of the road.  The abused mattress seems out of place on the historic beauty of the streets. 

A few minutes later, I observe a couple struggling with large moving boxes while shakily placing them into their vehicle.  Blocks away there are more piles of beds, some are stacked on top of each other, others lie solo along the sidewalks.  Is something wrong here? 

Taking a good look at the houses on the street, I apply my x-ray vision to the exterior of the homes. I’m drawn in by the way that these elegant old bricks are splashed with bands of pastel oranges, purples, and greens. Nothing appears to be wrong.

But, it wasn’t just the one neighbourhood that seemed to be turning its homes inside out, it was all of Montreal.  July 1st is also a fiesta declared as ‘Moving Day’ by Montreal.

It’s a designated time for people to move on to something different.