* Greetings from Montréal! I hope you like this message I'm sending for you!**
** I was going to post something with this headline while I was actually in Montréal, but I had a bitch of a time finding 1) an Internet cafe and 2) the time to sit and write. So I'm posting it now, after I'm safe at home and able to poop in my own toilet once again.
So I'm back -- and I'm both exhausted and exhilarated. Everyone who's been to a GALA festival raves about how profoundly cool the experience is, but I was skeptical. I mean, come on -- it's a bunch of gay choruses singing back to back, hour after hour, day after day for seven freaking days. In two separate theaters. And gay men's choruses don't particularly attract the hunky, lusty, eye-candy-y demographic you find at other gay events. I'd half expected this week to be so dull that I'd sneak home a few days early and enjoy some unaccounted-for time in Chicago where nobody in the whole world could find me.
Fortunately, I was wrong in almost all of my assumptions and expectations.
We sang first, kicking off this week-long love fest. And I mean LOVE fest. We got the kind of cheering, screaming, throw-your-panties-on-the-stage reaction from the GALA audience that you'd normally expect only for people like Madonna or (grrr) Ricky Martin. (Can you feel the love? Can you FEEL the fucking love?) And it just fueled us to be even better. We ROCKED, actually. And we left the stage buzzing on a high that didn't go down for days.
I also hadn't counted on being so moved and so inspired by the other choruses I saw. I heard gorgeous music, reflected on thoughtful programming, got swallowed up in tears and goosebumps and cheers, and actually found myself contemplating moving to a new city so I could sing with two of the choruses -- both of which were from LA ... and one of which was a women's ensemble. Which would involve a few logistical challenges.
Official Decree from the Kingdom of Jake: Songs about singing -- especially in the first person ("We're gay men and we're singing this song because we're out and we're proud and did we mention we're GAY?") -- are stupid and dull and tedious. So are Meaningful Commissioned Works About Gay Love And HIV. They've been done, and there's nothing left to explore on that planet. Even worse is original, amateur material -- which inevitably gives us unendurable crap like "Gaydar!" and "Flowers Have Agendas."*
*Actual song titles from a mini-musical about gay people turning blue. As in physically turning blue. I tried to rip my veins out with my teeth so I could bleed to death instead of having to sit through it in Montréal. But no such luck.
Men in Montréal are hot, but not Stepford-fascist hot like they are in America. They tend to have great bodies with a little bit of extra flesh around their middles. Which is refreshingly sexy. And you'd be surprised how operating in that aesthetic can boost your self-esteem.
And let me tell you, there was not enough of my relatively-hot-with-a-little-flesh-around-my-middle self to go around in Montréal. I got more attention this week -- even as my muscles atrophied and my gut expanded from the lack of available exercise equipment and healthful, low-fat food -- than I get in a month in Chicago. Bring it ON!
Speaking of men, do you know that stereope that says gay men tend to be beautiful and cultured and rich and hunky and good dancers? It's just not true. We largely blew that one out of the water this week.
And do you know that stereotype that says lesbians tend to be obese and unattractive with unflattering hairstyles and wardrobes right out of the Shoney's Employee Manual? That one's pretty true. With the notable exceptions found in this chorus.
OK. Enough with my bitchy little insults.
The city obviously had a huge building boom in the 1970s (no doubt fueled by the 1976 Olympics). Unfortunately, it also seems to have encouraged its architects at the time to be unnaturally avant-garde in their work -- and as a result, the overriding effect is a boxy, beige-y, thoroughly dated aesthetic that calls to mind early personal computers and first-generation "brick" cell phones. And it's EVERYWHERE -- which is especially jarring next to all the beautiful Victorian buildings that seem to represent the only other architectural style in the city.
And speaking of dated cultural artifacts, we swear Montréal JUST discovered the '80s -- from music to clothes to hair. The whole city made me feel downright progressive in my sensible Gap and Old Navy wardrobe.
While Duval Airport is clean and airy and altogether beautiful, the rest of the city is dulled by a layer of grunge and neglect. Sidewalk cracks are choked with weeds, buildings are unpainted, landscaping ranges from anemic to overgrown ... and even the Olympic Village sits in an obvious state of disrepair. It's kind of depressing. (I will concede that the Place des Arts shopping and theater complex where the GALA took place was always clean and nice -- though it had all the aesthetic charm of a suburban Holiday Inn. Even when you factor in its bizarre fountain/wading pool with orange chickens and bulls standing around in disturbingly yellow water.)
Montréal does know how to have fun, though. The bars were always hopping, and there were tons of street fairs going on the whole week we were there. My favorite was Juste Pour Rire, the "just for laughs" festival in the Latin Quarter a block from our hotel. It even had a Euro-funky little green monster mascot that was plastered on everything from backpacks to beer bottles to window decorations to lamp posts.
It's not very different from American cuisine. In fact, America's two biggest culinary exports to Canada seem to be Burger King and Subway. I'm so proud.
And if I could change one thing about the food in Montréal, it would be to introduce the concept of skim milk. The lowest fat content I could find for milk was 2%, which is like Elmer's Glue to my delicate, skim-milk-only palette. ACK!
I was surprised how functional I was in Montréal with only a single adult French class under my belt. It helped that the country is completely bilingual -- I'd just read something in English and then read it again in French when I already knew what it said. You'd be amazed how effective that can be for absorbing a language.
And speaking French is fun! My new favorite word to say: crêperie
I also got a little thrill each time a clerk or waiter approached me and chose to speak French instead of English. As though I passed for a native or something.
Question: If you live on Rue Saint-Denis, are you a Saint-Denista?
I roomed with three friends whose obsessive planning and alpha-male personalities helped make this week even more spectacular than I could have hoped. Jeremy and Shawn coordinated side trips like whitewater rafting on the St. Lawrence River (which was more work than I'd expected but a blast nonetheless) and a road trip to Québec City (which is GORGEOUS -- almost as nice as the Canada you see at Epcot Center), and Arnie (bless his hyper-social heart) got us invited to tons of parties and helped us meet tons of people from all over the world. And I was perfectly content to just follow whatever they suggested and throw money at them to help pay for it.
So I'm home. It's late. I'm halfway unpacked. I'm fading in and out as I type this.
And I'm a better man for it all.