This birthday celebration for me was somewhat different. It started out academic, moved to a typical tourist bus tour, a walk through some different places in the evening and I finished up watching a fashion show.
Montréal is unique. A French speaking city in the Province of Quebec with English and then Arabic the second and third languages. Yiddish was the third language here in the early half of the previous century and there is still a strong Jewish community…just try the bagels.
I will keep the academic discourse to another time and place. Suffice to say that my study tour of North America and especially here at the Concordia University has been worthwhile, informative and so helpful. It will mean that I’ll have work ahead of me when I return to UniSA and write up the reports, give briefings and presentations. However, the work has only just begun. So why am I here? That will all come out in the wash over the coming weeks and months. Back to my birthday with a difference.
Around one in the afternoon I booked one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours that permeate many cities. I have found them great for getting a bit of as spiel about the place and great for orientation as well. Had my train trip not been delayed, I’d have done this on Sunday. Yet, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours on my birthday. Montréal is not only different to the rest of Canada, it sees itself as different too. It is a nation within a nation, well the Province is.
The weather was cool, but at least it wasn’t raining. Some of the city is still without electricity following a tornado-like storm yesterday. While Canada is celebrating 150 years of formation, Montréal is celebrating 375 years…it was first settled by the French in 1642.
After the bus tour I went underground. I don’t have any statistics for this city under the city, but it is huge. At least three levels before you get to the underground transit system and interconnects a significant section of the city. In the winter, when it is minus 10, 20 or more (not temperatures that I ever want to experience) many almost live underground. It is possible, if you live in a city apartment, to leave your home, travel to work, go out for lunch, return to the office, do your shopping on the way home and cook your dinner and not step outside. No wonder the people here embrace the summer and weather where you can be outside, daytime or at night. I managed a little shopping.
I walked the streets back to my hotel and. Had a short rest before heading out around 6.30pm. During the bus tour we were driven through ‘The Village’ and the Latin Quarter, so I headed off to explore them on foot. On my travels I found the local fire station and I couldn’t help myself I had to have a look and chat with the Firies. It is a world-wide club. Before I got to the Latin Quarter I stumbled across a free concert in one of the squares. The music was upbeat and if I was x-years younger then … maybe? I enjoyed watching.
The Latin Quarter was packed with people, and cafes, bars and restaurants spilled in to the streets. There was hardly an empty table and at some venues people lined up waiting. Talk about pressure on having a quiet relaxing dinner when you have hungry hoards staring at every mouthful you take. Don’t order another wine or beer.
I was starting to feel hungry but decided to walk on to ‘The Village”. Not sure if this name came from the The Village People (YMCA fame) or not. However, it is the gay centre of Montréal. The people here have embraced diversity, religions, races and are passionate about politics. On a Wednesday evening the area was busy but quiet. No doubt after the Gay Parade here on Sunday the place would have been jumping. I was not looking for a big meal and most of the places were either offering fast-food or big meals. I kept walking.
I wandered another couple kilometers back along Rue Sainte-Catherine to the mall area. For the past few days Festival Mode & Design ‘pop-up’ fashion orientated booths, displays and activities were taking place. Most of it was in French so I didn’t fully understand the context. One of the failings of Australian education, well in my day, it was only bi-lingual if you were in the top stream of classes. I never made that level at high school.
I found a nice Asian restaurant and had won-ton soup with ‘shrimp’ and dumplings with a pale ale. No candles, it would have necessitated the Firies being called out to douse the flames. The area was alive. People. Activities. Light shows. Live music. The star-struck wannabes lining up for that perfect make over and advice on making it it in fashion, makeup, clothing design, sales…
A crowd was gathering so I wandered along as well. It was a fashion show that lasted for forty-five minutes. This was a first for me. I have never taken much notice of fashion or cat-walk modeling in the past. This was an interesting experience. The show was a performance of entertainment, fashion, live music, multi-media digital displays and surprisingly for me, enjoyment. A bank of paparazzi were position at the end of the catwalk where every garment draped model posed to be photographed. This was a not only a display of fashion, but a celebration embracing the history and diverse culture of Montréal.
Why do models pout and look unhappy? The only time there was animation on their faces was in the finale. However, I was entertained. Not only by the rather good looking models, but the supporting performances by kids, a Bagpipe player, jazz trumpeter (I loved that) and themed cultural and history covering all the religions and some local sporting heroes. What also caught my eye was the range of models. Naturally there were the perfect male and female bodies, showed off to perfection. In addition there were plus sizes, the average (not so perfect) shapes, short, tall, young and old, anorexic as well, different races, black, North American Indian, Asian, Middle eastern (including Muslim) and French/English influences as well.
The crowd was entertained, appreciative and supportive. There was not one inappropriate outburst by anyone. The crowd walked away happy and I wandered back to my hotel, reflecting on a different and interesting birthday.
I’m embracing the French/Montréal style. I wrote this sitting outside in a cafe called Brasseurs, just off Rue Sainte-Catherine, drinking short black coffee and surrounded by people speaking in French, English, Italian, and Yiddish. It is 1230 Thursday 24, August here, and I will post this later tonight, or in the morning.
What a wonderful way to spend your birthday David, it all sounds perfect to me. Canada is the one elusive country I’m yet to visit – I’m even more inspired to now after reading your blog. Happy travels!!