Wednesday, June 19, 2013

rep road: dateline montreal

What are the chances?  After enduring snickers in Toronto over our excellent new book If Mayors Ruled the World because of the unbelievably unlikely circumstance that Toronto's mayor was - allegedly- caught on video doing crack cocaine, I arrived in Montreal to the news that its mayor had been arrested on corruption charges earlier in the day.  I hereby give up trying to understand Canadian municipal politics; I long ago gave up idealizing them.

Aside from the crooked mayor, everything else about Montreal is a joy.  More than any other city I know, it just works for me.

Despite cramming all my appointments into two days, everything went like clockwork.  The booksellers here are a dream to work with, and getting around between meetings is a pleasant adventure.  My only regret is that I couldn't visit some stores I normally like to see.

My last appointment was with the tiny in size but big in literary ambition Argo Bookstore on Ste-Catherine.  I've celebrated this collective of young book woshippers before, but this time I was a little awestruck by how seriously they ponder every title.  Their buying decisions are one part enthusiasm and one part intimately knowing their customers.

At other stores, when they say "I have a customer for that," I sometimes have a feeling they have in mind a customer type rather than an actual bookbuying human being.  Something like " this seems like the type of book that the type of people who frequent our store might stumble on and buy."  

Nothing wrong with that, but at Argo, there is incredible specificity about it- my impression is that most of the books they order are with selected with very particular potential buyers in mind.  

Can a bookstore be viable when it's stocked for the reading tastes of a collection of specific individuals?  To be determined.  But it makes for a very satisfying sales call.  And I never get out of there without being sold something that eerily matches one of my own pet interests.  The argonauts may be the bookselling model of the future (and, oddly, the past.)

Oh Montreal, how I love you.  My friend Mariann the ayurvedic pracitioner prescribed dates for my stress, and there on the corner I find a wonderful Syrian grocer with dates galore.

The sun shines on the island in special way, the morning and evening rays blaze from surprising angles.  (Look at a map, the island is oriented north-south though the streets are laid out as if east-west.)

Even public spats in Montreal are more entertaining.  As I ate my pizza this evening the couple beside me exchanged heated words in alternating French and English.  It turns out that the man was angry because the woman had written a letter of complaint about roaches in their apartment to the real estate company, but had sent a photo of a single roach.

"Why didn't you show it next to a loonie?" he demanded.  "You have to be able to show how big it is!  If you're going to attack a big company, you have to go drama drama drama!"

Like I said, Montreal, je l'adore.

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