Mordecal Richier

Be it ever so (increasingly) humble, there’s no place like home

Mordecai Richler August 7 1978
Mordecal Richier

Be it ever so (increasingly) humble, there’s no place like home

Mordecai Richler August 7 1978

Be it ever so (increasingly) humble, there’s no place like home

Mordecal Richier

Mordecai Richler

Good news for diminishing Montreal. Irving Layton, officially 66, entitled to a pension, but, as you and I know, still Canada’s youngest writer, has returned, putting unspeakable Toronto behind him. While this will not compensate for the departure of Sun Life and the rest, it certainly means more fun for a wilting city. Once more, the dreary letters-to-the-editor columns of the Star and the Gazette will be enriched by the poet’s sizzling missives: Layton, skewering academics, denouncing them, prescribing for WASP sexual constipation.

Lock up your daughters, Westmount, our prodigal has returned. He has not come home empty-handed either, but bearing a gift. A bargain. A deluxe edition of his latest book of poems, illustrated by Graham Coughtry, available for a mere $1,000 a copy.

When he abandoned Montreal nine years ago, Layton observed that the Englishspeaking community was “being squeezed out slowly but surely” and, in a memorable phrase, added, “The Hanukkah candles were going out.”

Grieving, he also noted, “I’ve had very little contact with the French-Canadian community and it’s too late in the day for me to start embracing a culture I know very little about.” But, obviously, after nine years among the habitants of Toronto, absorbing a certain je ne sais quoi, he has improved immensely on this self-confessed ignorance, for he now says, in the sad event of separation, “I choose Quebec.” Furthermore, Layton allows, “In Montreal, I see warmth in people’s faces, acceptance of others for what they are, not what their bank balances register,” while Toronto is a city he now pronounces spiritually dead, no fit place for mystics or visionaries.

Well, well. I’m glad to have the ebullient, visionary Layton back on any terms, but I can’t agree with him about Toronto, that maligned city, though I feel it an increasingly risky place for strangers.

According to a recent report in The Globe and Mail, men who proposition ladies in Toronto will now be subject to arrest, which will sort of take the kick out of publishers’ cocktail parties, and means out-of-towners would be well advised to

think twice before asking a lady for a street direction. Already, shapely members of Toronto’s incomparable police force, tricked out in clinging chiffons and panty hose, perhaps, and scented with Chanel, have booked hundreds of aggressively heterosexual men.

Beware, travellers. The alluring young lady you entice back to your room in the Inn on the Park may turn out to be a strapping police sergeant, more likely to borrow your shaving kit than respond to

your hungering embrace.

I can’t agree with Layton that Toronto, which now offers Harlequin romances to the world-at-large, is spiritually dead, but it must be said that it is still a city where joy is somewhat confined. In Toronto’s ball park, a unique place, where I’m assured the funereal quiet is such that you can actually hear a fly drop, no beer is served to fans sweltering in the sun lest they become so abandoned as to actually cheer home runs out loud, unnerving the players.

Mind you, serve those crazed Orangemen beer in a ball park and the next thing you know they will want to swill the stuff at hockey game intermissions, just as in doomed Montreal, where the cops, an inhibited bunch, actually still wear

their trousers on the street.

Toronto’s new puritanism baffles me, because the image of the city I grew up with was that of Sodom-with-its-back-tothe-lake. Sunbathing, with its sepia-tone photographs of bovine nudes, its abundance of bare Doukhobor bums, came out of Toronto. So did the memorable Justice Weekly, with its endless but thrilling correspondence on the pleasures of spanking.

In 1969, quitting Montreal, putting all those warm faces behind him, Layton observed that there had been a cultural shift: Toronto was now the nation’s capital.

Whatever my reservations about Toronto, I fear the poet was right the first time. Undeniably, Toronto is now Englishspeaking Canada’s cultural Big Apple. Why, in Montreal many of us who want to know what’s really going on in Quebec City have been reduced to making the out-of-town Globe and Mail our morning newspaper, if only because William Johnson’s reports out of our provincial capital are more penetrating than anything offered in our own Star or Gazette. Neither do we have any book pages to compare with those in the Globe's Saturday edition.

Montreal, an economic slide area long before the PQ came into power, is also in Englishspeaking cultural decline. ^ McGill’s English department is not the equal of the University of Toronto’s. Far from it. And there are no interesting book S£x publishers here. English-language production at the CBC is negligible. Our country theatre is just tolerable Lennoxville, not renowned Stratford. There are no literary magazines of any importance coming out of Montreal anymore. The films that are still being made here are, for the most part, embarrassing. Mindless. And to interpret culture in its broadest terms, it should also be noted that the Canadian edition of Time, once produced here, has been run out of the country, and a much improved Weekend has shifted to Toronto. Having unarguably yielded cultural as well as economic first place to Toronto, what we are left with is a lock on the only trophy that really matters in this country—the Stanley Cup)—and the one Canadian city that enjoys real physical presence. Boston’s satisfactions.