Monday, May 23, 2005

Of Montreal

The Public Places By-law prohibits smoking in certain public places in order to protect the city of Ottawa's inhabitants from the public health hazzards and discomforts of second-hand smoke.


Any indoor area to which the public has access is a public place including such places as retail shops, hairdressers, restaurants, bars, bingo and billiard halls, bowling alleys, taxicabs and limousines. There is no provision for designated smoking rooms in the by-law.

By-law No. 2001-148

This is an excerpt from one of two Ottawa public health by-laws that prohibits smoking in public places—the other one relates to workplaces. If an analogous by-law had existed in Montreal, I have strong reason to believe that my trip there would have been more enjoyable.

This is not to say that there weren’t parts of the trip that I did like. There were a few, actually.

For instance, pursing through the social sciences section at a Chapters on Ste-Catherine, I happened upon a pair of forest green Nike throwbacks who, quiet auspiciously, were on the feet of Garden State(2004) writer and director Zach Braff. Initially I had to convince myself that it wasn’t Zach Braff and that it would be incredibly untoward to corner the innocent celebrity look-a-like. But at this point I was already making my move in his direction.

The Last Kiss is filming in Montreal, which happens to be starting Zach Braff, among others; the screenplay, interestingly enough, was penned by London, Ontario, native Paul Haggis, and is an adaptation of Italian director Gabriele Muccino L'ultimo Baccio (2001).

This was reason enough to assume that it was in fact Zach Braff wearing the forest green Nike throwbacks. “Hey” I said with some incredulity. He replied back hey, and after a few inert moments of mental vacancy, at which time I was trying not to call him Benjamin, I eerily and very inexplicably called him Braff. (Garden State was essentially homage to Mike Nicholas’ film The Graduate--the main character, Dustin Hoffman, was Benjamin Braddock).

Since he did actually extend his hand while replying yes I’m assuming it was Zach Braff. I quickly turned to my friend, who was himself flipping through a book, and motioned at Zach Braff, in hopes that my friend would recognize him. He didn’t. Now this was awkward. “Garden State” I said. My friend recognized him and Braff graciously offered his hand.

I should have asked him if he was going to the Decemberists show that night at La Sala Rossa, or maybe if he needed another member in his entourage, or maybe offered him some script ideas for a tenth Police Academy. I could have asked him a lot of things, but I didn’t. That’s not how we do in Canada.

Sufficiently star struck, the rest of the day consisted of good eating at the Peel Pub then the Decembrists show at La Sala Rossa, and finally a diversity of night spots on St-Laurent and Crescent. Omnipresent during all of this was the carcinogenic aroma of smoke. The Decembrists show was cool, although the prevalence of smokers, especially in such close proximity to each other and me, was very disconcerting. Being out at some of the "trendy" Montreal clubs left me longing for the staid, sterile clean air of bars in Ottawa, Waterloo, and London.

Montreal—Quebec, for that matter—has astonishing cultural sites which I’ve been to. That a socially progressive city, a darling among the top cities of the world, still hasn’t passed by-laws against smoking in public places is a little troubling. With New York already limiting smoking in public places, it’s time for other major cites to follow suit. The economic interest of private ownership has to be balance against the social interest of public health. But on balance Montreal was alright.

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