From the streets of Mexico City to the streets of Montreal. A modern megalopolis sprawling on the plain of an ancient volcano that, a millennia ago, held a population larger than Imperial Rome. A beautiful island city larger than Manhattan and nestled in the St. Lawrence River, re-settled by Samuel de Champlain in 1611 from the original native inhabitants.
There's nothing quite so jarring as culture-jamming from one country to another, the biggest shock being the weather; cool, mild evenings in one, winter's first snow in the other.
One day I watched 1,000 demonstrators protesting working conditions in Mexico City. A few days later I watched 20,000 students protesting tuition hikes in Montreal. They are a world apart in sensibility and logic.
Then there's crime. Both cities have pernicious corruption epidemics, though lately Montreal's mob penetration of the construction industry probably tops Mexico City. Murder rates are similar, slightly higher in Mexico City with over 2 per 100,000 compared to just under 2 in Montreal. Taxis are riskier and poverty much more prevalent in Mexico City. Drivers, in both, are crazy.
In spite of the differences these cities prove that vast differences in demographics and urban form cannot determine, or prevent, success. Both have lively, exciting and safe downtowns, streets teeming with young and attractive fashionistas, cell phones growing from their ears as they bleat Spanish or French versions of "what...ever".
City culture, it seems, can pacify and amuse even the most skeptical observer - me being the perfect example.