(james benedict brown) on the road

An underground vacuum…

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 19 February, 2006


It’s warmer than yesterday, which is a good thing, because I don’t like it when my nostrils freeze. I’ve been making chicken stock on and off this weekend, so the apartment has another nice weekend smell permeating the rooms and promising much. But I wrapped up warm and quit my metropolitan sanctuary to head down town. I had to collect some tickets for the Canadian portion of my upcoming North American Rail Pass adventure from Central Station, which wasn’t much hassle. The ticket agent was envious of the bargain I’d snapped up with the low season rail pass. The parts of the trip in Canada alone would cost $1,852 if I had paid cash.

The Montréal En Lumière / Montréal Highlights Festival has started, and I think that part of this week long event (it’s hard to tell because there are so many damn festivals in this city) is the intriguingly titled ‘Montréal Underground Walkway Celebration’. It began this morning with a 5km mini-marathon and walking tour. The route (you can see a map here) winds through Montréal’s Cité Souterraine (Underground City), and walking from Central Station to a photography store in the Eaton Centre I wanted to visit, I found myself following the route, albeit in the ‘wrong’ direction. There were families (children all with painted faces… are painted faces compulsory on ‘fun’ days out?), couples and eager tourists. Of course as I got closer to the start I met more of the slow walkers, many of whom seem to have exhausted their supply of ‘ooo this is fun’. And I think that’s just the problem. In a guidebook, the idea of an ‘underground city’ sounds pretty neat. Blade-Runner-esque images of a deteriorating society forced underground by urban warfare, perhaps.

But in reality, it’s just a vast shopping mall. Actually, it’s about a half dozen shopping malls that have all burrowed tunnels under streets to each other, but it could be just one. Perhaps with a few more multi million dollar property takeovers, it will be. The idea is fantastic. But the reality is just depressing. The one thing that sets much of Montréal apart from every other city in North America is that it doesn’t feel commercialised or North American. So it’s a bit of a disappointment to find this subterranean labyrinth to be the same collection of franchised and chain stores and food concessions. It’s not cool. It’s tragic. This spider like creature has pushed it’s commercial tentacles under dozens of streets and buildings, sucking people into an air conditioned environment where there’s nothing to do but spend money.


But let’s not finish this blog entry on a low note. jamesbrownontheroad has hit a century; this is the one hundredth post. Thanks for reading and for coming back so often. I love you guys :-)

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  1. allyt said, on 19 February, 2006 at 13:52

    congratulations on your 100th post. I too dislike the nostril freeze…this is canada, the true north, strong and Free…ze

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