Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Montreal: Tuesday in Old Downtown Area

Tuesday, October 11th
The house we were renting as our home base was a 15 minute walk from the Snowden Station subway stop on the Metro. We bought a week's pass since the rest of the sites we planned to see were accessible via the Metro. We would start by visiting the Old Montreal area, the first site to being the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal.

Directly across the street opposite the entrance to Snowden Station was a deli-type store. I was amused by the multi-purpose, all-encompassing, truly cosmopolitan customer base –  its sign promising Ola Sushi ICE CREAM SANDWICH VIETNAMIEN.

Our first purchase with our Canadian currency was our Metro passes and then we boarded the train.

We would get off at Place d'Armes, nine stops later south and east on the orange line.

I documented our arrival with a photo.

OK. We are here. Which way are we facing? Which exit do we use? Why go outdoors and look when there are cell phones to consult?

From the Metro stop  Place-d'Armes(1), the Notre Dame Basilica (2) was only a few blocks walk down toward the waterfront. Lunch and a few art galleries were nearby at (3) and the archeology museum was at (4).

There is the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal in the background behind Frank.

The craftsmanship and woodworking within the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal was impressive. The spiral staircase in the following photo circles up to a pulpit from where the priest would give his homily. Before there were microphones, this position best enabled him to project his voice to the greatest number of members of the congregation. We completed a guided tour, en anglais si vous plaît, since we had our choice. Then we walked deeper into the Old Montreal district to pick a suitable eating place for lunch

We devoured a huge and hearty lunch at Pub St-Paul. Located in the heart of old Montreal, Pub St-Paul occupies one of the city's oldest historic buildings. After lunch Frank and I would lag behind a bit and window shop a few art galleries and then catch up with John & Sue and Joe & Margaret at the archeology museum.

I am not so much a fan of modern art that needs to be interpreted and "understood",  but I do like artsy pictures of unique places and architecture. These row houses on a tree-lined street are known for their outdoor curving staircases and quaint picturesque appeal; photos and posters of them from different angles are prevalent around Montreal. This view is fairly classic. I imagine clearing the snow from those steps in winter is a challenge. In retrospect it might have been fun to locate this street and visit them in person. Of course the snow that adds to the charm would not have been there when we were so it would not have been quite the same.

The window in the next shop really caught my eye. Aren't these stylized animal pillows with their sleepy eyes adorable? They are inspired by the creatures in Quebec's forests such as owl, caribou, beaver (castor), and fox. See other Velvet Moustache creations here. Even the Velvet Moustache name is cute and appealing. The artist is Majorie Labrèque and her title is Seamstress.

The shop name was Métiers D'Art du Quebec and métiers translates to English with many appropriate choices.

The next shop we entered had displays of moccasins in every color of the rainbow and fur trimmed garments. I turned around and saw this looking directly at me. I startled but took a photo. I have no idea how it was made, how real it was (or had been). I did stroke him (her?) to see how he felt –  a bit wiry and not super soft. I later found an 1987 LA Times article, titled Montreal a Haven for Fur Buyers, about Montreal being the fur capital of North America and about the industry earning more that $100 million for Canada each year. Fur has played an important role in Canadian history since 1670. The LA article had been published 30 years ago but I wondered if there is a sensitivity to the use of real fur in Canada now? My guess is that there may be somewhat, but not nearly as strong an anti-sentiment as in the United States. I did come across this interesting recent March 2015 article at http://qz.com/356854/theres-actually-a-way-to-feel-good-about-fur/ that discusses fur without guilt. It raised several issues worthy of thought such as wild fur, invasive fur, roadkill fur, and vintage or repurposed fur. Montreal is a city of history and the fur trade is an integral part of it. Nevertheless I'd had enough of this shop. It was time to head on down the "Rue" to something else

Street corners themselves were pleasurably scenic to look upon with their bright red street signs and colorful flower planters.

 Frank and I lingered a bit at the intersection to soak in some of the ambience.

Along our strolls throughout the day we had passed a symbol that look like a pair of cherries several times. We finally asked a random passerby what was its meaning. He smiled, was quite polite, answered us in English with a heavy French accent that they were for the sprinkler system. Curiosity may have the potential to killed the cat but satisfaction gets it back. Aah!

Then we were off the to archeology museum called Pointe-à-Callière. Outside the entrance was a pianist serenading the passers-by on this whimsically decorated upright piano. It seemed to be horse themed with saddles and horseshoes as well as horses and pegasi (yep, plural of pegasus). He was so intent on playing I did not feel I could interrupt him to ask about his piano so I guess I will never know the significance. Curiosity goes unquenched on this one.

The Pointe-à-Callière is a unique museum in that it in constructed on an archeological dig site. In the lowest level you can see some Iroquois artifacts, the foundation of the original building and rotted wooden timbers that once supported it.

There is a huge multimedia theatre at the entrance that in 18 minutes tells the history of the site from Iroquoian times, through fur trading years, through years as the Royal Insurance Company offices (1850-1870), to years as a Canadian customs and tax building until 1921. It lay abandoned until destroyed by fire, in 1947 fire and being partially demolished in 1951. Like a phoenix it rose from the ashes in 1992 to be inaugurated as a museum during Montreal's 350th anniversary year. Here it is then and now, still retaining its triangular footprint and displaying stylized replicas of the clock tower.

On our walk back to the subway I snapped pictures of a few more signs. My granddaughter is really into sharks right now so I think she would have liked this milk ad. The falling ice warning sign is something I will never see in my California hometown.

After our return Metro ride, during our walk through the neighborhood back to our rental home, I saw this license plate on one of the cars parked on our street. My birthday is May 26 so it was some sort of cosmic sign. The slogan on the license plates is Je me souviens that loosely translates as "we remember" and is the official motto of Canada'a province of Quebec. It is not correlated with a specific event but rather a statement of Quebec's pride in its history. It can be found embossed or sculptured on local statues or on cornerstones of buildings. A statesman explains it as "We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glories"

Our trip thus far had certainly been an immersion in the history Montreal from the church and Mount Royal on Sunday, the railway on Monday, the basilica and archeology museum on Tuesday. Even this set of apartments we would pass each day on our path to and from the subway had an old world feel to them and supported the theme of the trip.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ponder Post: The Snow Child

I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey on my return flight from Montreal. I had started this book once before but had been insufficiently engaged to continue it. Being captive on the plane, I had the incentive to be more persevering and I am glad I was. My reading of The Snow Child was well-timed for another reason. Having recently watched the film at the ExpoRail Museum on the struggles to build the trans-Canadian railway across the harsh snow-burdened countryside, I was in the correct heavy snow frame of mind to immerse myself in this book set in the Alaskan wilderness. The novel was an appropriate cap-off to my Montreal trip.

I'd give it four stars, a bit slow in some parts but an overall engaging mix of fantasy, mystery, and suspense that affords an appreciation for the wonder, beauty, and challenges of living in the Alaskan wilderness. Were I the author, I might have written a different ending; but then I would have robbed the reader of exercising his/her imagination.