This Ain't Havana (Part One)...

 I couldn’t resist putting in a Ramones reference in the title this week, especially since I used a pun on “A Tale of Two Cities” last week.

Something that constantly courses through my head is a compare-and-contrast exercise between Montreal and Miami – where I used to live. Inexplicable floods of traffic, an international vibe and yes, bilingualism all mark congruencies between the two cities. Politically, economically and, um, weatherwise, they could be on different planets.

To wit:

On the international politics front: Everybody knows Montreal has historically been the battleground of the movement to make Quebec a country independent from the rest of Canada. Miami on the other hand has long been the battleground of the movement to make it part of the United States.
I talked to this guy a week before he froze to death. It's just such a shame.

One day, it could happen.   

On the language front: Both cities are known for being bilingual, even though they go about it in completely different ways. Montreal road signs are mostly in French until you get to Westmount, where arrêt becomes stop and suddenly the rue disappears from the street signs.

In Miami the road signs are mostly in English which means that if you speak the language you’d probably know where you’re going except they don’t correspond to anything so it doesn’t matter what you speak. Most of the hours spent travelling by car in Miami are used to devise methods of avoiding construction sites, steering clear of rogue airports and dodging on-ramps that go to places like Honduras.

Speaking of transportation: Montreal has a comprehensive subway system with transferable tickets to bus service and vice versa, meaning you pay one fare to make one trip (I try talking about this when I’m in Florida and people think I’m crazy). As a bonus, there’s a whole other city that somebody put down there, somebody who probably felt his body crack up into little tiny pieces when he walked outside in January. I think it’s also a scientifically proven fact that the Underground City has more women’s footwear per square metre than anywhere except the Marcos Family Yard Sale.

CHOO! CHOO! Smells like transportation in the Magic City.
Terming what Miami has a “public transit system” is like saying Jackson Pollock painted in the Belgian clear line style. There were fewer wheel gauges in my toychest than Miami uses on its rail lines. There’s the Amtrak-like Tri-Rail, a train that runs from Palm Beach County to a terminus that is about a kilometre away from the Miami International Airport (this is one of the rogue airports you’d be trying to avoid if you elected to drive). While there is no continuing train service to that airport, you can get off the train two stops previous on a smaller gauge train called the Metrorail that then makes three stops max in Miami’s downtown core before heading into Coral Gables. That train connects somewhere with the MetroMover, which is a free tram that runs on tires offering users some of the sights and all the smells of the city.

I actually used to love using the MetroMover, which offered a good way to see Miami from two storeys up. But like with anything free, there are pungent trade-offs to riding it. It looks like a futuristic robot-operated monorail; it smells like a futuristic robot-operated dumpster. 

The language front, part two: In Montreal, most people speak one of two official languages, depending on where you are and who you talk to. In Miami, most people speak one of two foreign languages, depending on where you are and who you talk to.

When in Miami, wear a guayabera instead...
The international politics front, part two: The most talismanic symbol of where the two cities differ is the Che Guevara t-shirt. Wear one in Miami and you wouldn’t make it five minutes in the open atmosphere. In Montreal scores of people wear them as a totem of Third World solidarity. In one city, he’s a symbol of repression. In the other he’s a symbol of rebellion.

A few serious comparisons perhaps only I find interesting:
Of the roughly 2.5 million people who live in Miami-Dade County (essentially the metro area), just under 51 percent are foreign-born, and just under 68 percent speak a language other than English at home, according to the most recent figures by the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the more than 3.5 million who live in Montreal, about 18 percent are foreign-born, more than 2.4 million speak French at home (about 590,000 speak English with the rest speaking another tongue), according to the most recent figures from Statistics Canada.

A slanted horizon aside, this place ain't so bad...
About 26 percent of Miami’s populace has a bachelor’s degree, versus almost 33 percent in Montreal, according to the Census Bureau and StatsCan respectively.

Perhaps one of the most interesting points of departure between the two cities is the role that language plays, and I’d by lying if I said I didn’t think this blog would return to this topic in the future. There is a feeling in Montreal that language is something that is constantly defended through the enforcement of laws. In Miami language is a de facto mode of communication that sprouts out of a barely controlled chaos.

Somehow both towns make it work. 

And all of that being said, please don't take this post as an indictment of Miami. It's a city whose culture and arts scene is vastly underrated by the mainstream media. And while my neighbours inform me I could be shovelling snow in April, summertime is so long in Miami there you don't even really find deciduous trees. 

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