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Culture commies and cyclists

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Landing on a humid night in Montréal, the city ablaze in sound and light, I stumbled through the dilapidated airport and its suicidal architecture. If the airport represents a legacy of debt and fatal design flaws - the Big Owe, a.k.a. the Olympic stadium was only paid off in 2006 - the bus to get you the hell out of there is a sign of things to come. At eight bucks with direct service downtown, running 24/7 with wheels every twelve minutes, the 747 Express is indeed the new Montréal in action: fast, green and collectively communist. Sure, the overpasses are crumbling and corruption in the construction industry rules the day, but this is also a province that thrives on collective solutions to shared problems. It's all part of Québec's love/hate dynamic, a vibrancy unsurpassed within Canada.

It's for your own good, it's for the neighbourhood!

-Arcade Fire

Montréal has been about collective livin' and lovin' since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. With a good dose of "white anglo bohemia" and immigrant fusion, Montréalers have been hard at work transforming what was a grid of sweatshops into a year-round destination for culture. Entire sections of the city are routinely shut down as pedestrians throng the streets for festivals. What would cause a conservative uprising in Vancouver doesn't bat an eye in Montréal. The main thoroughfare, St. Laurent, is closed top-to-bottom for extended weekends each summer; the Jazz Festival colonizes the heart of downtown while microfestivals occupy the dozens of community parks that dot the urban landscape.

The Quiet Revolution left two voids, economic and spiritual. When the armoured cars drove the cash to Toronto, it was Montréal's culture that kept the city afloat. When the churches emptied, culture filled the spirit. The Québecois love their culture and see it as not only food for the soul but for the table, as well. The spirit of culture signifies all that has become lacking in the sour and dour politics of crime and punishment in conservative Canada: joie de vivre .

The long tail of culture takes time. As the artists moved in, they kept the bars running and bought up buildings, setting up galleries and recording studios. The result is an entrenched infrastructure for a communal economy. Constellation Records launched two legendary live venues in the artist hub of Mile End in 2000: Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa. Casa's glittering bar spreads strange musical viruses for 10 clams. Across the street is Sala, the Spanish ballroom and temple of all things independent. At these two venues alone I've seen everything from Tim Hecker to Merzbow, Godspeed! to Dreamcatcher. Weird electronic forms of creative expression are the norm here. The clubs don't just rely upon the bread-and-butter to get the booty shaking. Minimal and innovative forms hold court.

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