Montréal, J’ai le béguin pour toi
Through many unexpected turns of events, I’ve found a way to get paid for doing what I love. I travel all over the place, creating short documentary films about brilliant, entrepreneurial women, helping them share their unique stories.
Occasionally I’m able to squeeze in a day off to explore the various spots I find myself in. In this case, Montréal.
My God…. what what a beautiful city….
Montréal is oil & water; old French traditions contrasting with western sensibilities, all of which happen in the context of a land taken from indigenous tribes (the subext of modern North America). It’s not terribly far from home, yet has some distinctly different sensibilities from other American cities…
For the curious: all photos were taken on an iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Everything in Montreal is in French. All street signs, all menus, all overheard conversations. Everyone speaks perfect English – even perfect Canadian, eh.
AND – they appreciate it if you will at least attempt to speak in French. A simple ‘Bon Jour’ and ‘Merci’ seem to go a long way in fostering good will with the locals.
Part of the city wishes it was an official state of France, the other is happy to be part of North America.
All of it – charming.
Easy for me to say as an American tourist.
Speaking of tourists –
“Les Touristes”, by Élisabeth Buffoli, is a grouped sculpture of caricatures portraying four very different scenes: a couple with astonished expressions, a grandfather & child, a skater, and a dog, all having very different experiences in the same space.
The work contemplates the concept of living together – a cohabitation of people from different worlds, harmoniously having different experiences in the same space.
These pieces were originally produced in 1939 and commissioned for the Les Halles district of Paris. In 2017, Ville de Paris gifted the piece to the city of Montréal as a gift for it’s 375th anniversary. In Paris, the figures faced historical buildings. In their modern configuration in Montréal, they do likewise.
And yes – that is a homeless encampment behind the skater – I can’t help but think that Buffoli would consider it a de facto addition to the art.
Okay…. This next part is going to be tricky to talk about.
I’m not a religious man.
I’m a skeptic.
Unafraid to call B.S.
….and, open to being impressed.
Oratoire Saint-Joseph-du-Mont-Royal is Canada’s largest church, and the largest church in the world in honor of Saint Joseph – Mary’s husband and Jesus’s earthly father. Of similar significance – the renowned healer, Saint André Bessette (1845 – 1937), aka, Brother André, made his ministry here. Knowns as the “Miracle Man of Montréal, He is known for having healed over then thousand people from various infirmities. Countless crutches from those he healed, hang in the crypt near his casket.
I’m the son of a man who never should have lived, but only did so by divine intercession and healing. Beyond that, as a long time divorcee, with many close calls with marriage to women & children from other men – if I were ever to be a Catholic, St Joseph would be my patron saint. I’ve always felt a sense of divine masculinity from the story of Joseph. Sure, Mary kept things and pondered them in her heart, but Joseph?! He knows things about being a man that cannot be spoken.
There was something still, quietly magnificent and divine about Oratoire Saint-Joseph-du-Mont-Royal that will always stay with me.
I struggled to make photographs that accurately portray the enormity and grandeur of this Basilica. Whatever picture is painted in your mind of it’s size – multiply it by ten.
The crucifix atop Mont Royal at St. Joseph’s watches over the city.
Montreal has a municipal building code that prohibits any buildings from exceeding it’s height.
Basilique de Notre Dame de Montréal was completely different from Saint-Joseph-du-Mont-Royal. Richly ornate, it contemplates the divine from a completely different perspective.
“The English Pug and The French Poodle” by local artist Marc André J. Fortier, installed in Old Montreal in 2013.
The two statue are mounted about 50 meters apart, between the Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal, and the Bank of Montréal’s head office. They both wear masks, exaggerating the snobbishness of their postures. The man gazes toward the Basilique, representing the French sensibility toward the deep traditions of religion. The woman’s gaze is toward the Bank, representing the English predilection for business. Both are holding their pets – small dogs who have discovered each other, anxious to comingle, unconcerned with the traditional differences of their owners. The man and woman represent older points of view, the dogs representing the mindset of modern Montréalers.
As a final note – the symbolism of the masks should not be overlooked – the masks represent a compliance with social norms – not the genuine desires of the individual.
My local friends took me to the preeminent establishments for two of Montréal’s local delicacies –
“Smoked meat”, and Poutine.
After a week of eating Filipino food, (if you know, you know), I had some serious questions about the term “smoked meat”. What kind of meat? From what animal? What part? And what exactly do you mean by “smoked”? And why the term “meat”? Is it beef? Pork? Chicken? Yak? Horse? Why are we just calling it “meat”, so mysteriously?
Smoked Meat is a cut of beef thathas been smoked for so long that it falls apartupon contact, Sandwiches with mustard & white vinegar are the preferred way to eat it, and Schwartz’s is the place to get it.
This 95 yr old institution of Montréal is partially owned by Celine Dion. When she shows up for lunch, she picks up the tab for the whole deli. Schwartz’s makes use of every single inch – people are packed in like the economy section of a cheap airline. Tables are shared with strangers – letting a single seat go unused is unthinkable (did you see the line outside?) There’s one isle and it’s barely big enough for one person to squeeze down at a time.
Poutine is Canada’s other national comfort food: a plate of French fries, drizzled in cheese and gravy. La Banquise is the preeminent place for poutine – I got mine with shredded mozzarella, peppercorn gravy & smoked meat. It was absolutely delicious.
En route to the subway, we stumbled upon a concert. The duo were from the Enoch indigenous tribe; their music largely informed by that heritage. They sang in phrases of English, French, and their native Enoch tongue. The large audience was comprised of people from infant to elderly, they seemed to quickly engage with and sing along to songs they didn’t even know. Quiet and attentive at all the right times, gracious in applause, this crowd was the stuff of a performer’s dreams.
At the end of the evening, we stopped into a nearby pub. The bar was comprised of many small interconnected spaces and rooms. In one of the rooms, a guy began performing classic rock tunes. Soon, the whole pub was singing at the top of their lungs along with him, whether in the same room or not.
Though these two moments are a microcosm; the people seem to have a different vibe up here. None of these audiences would ever exist in Utah.
One of the world’s biggest comedy festivals – “Just for Laughs”, happens in Montreal ever year, along with one of the world’s biggest Jazz festivals. If these two moments are in any way representative of Montrealers as a whole – it makes perfect sense why these festivals thrive here.
I will be in this same spot again, for a different reason.
Montréal, I’ll be back.