Random thoughts about being in Montreal at the start of week three...

It is a blustery, wet day in Montreal - a good day to settle into our apartment, sip tea, straighten up our mess and gently reflect on what's been happening to date. Later I will spend time playing scales on my bass and then reading in a few of my current books. Right now I am working on Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, as well as James Carroll's Christ Actually: The Son of God for a Secular Age, Jason Bivins' Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion, and Ted Gioia's Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. And, most evenings, we are reading aloud from Daniel Klein's, Travels with Epicurus, a delightful encounter. Last night's session included these words:

For many philosophers, idleness - both the idleness that is forced upon us and the idleness we choose - is actually one of old age's greatest gifts. It gives us time for that wondrous human activity, play. In his popular political essay, "In Praise of Idleness," the twentieth-century British philosopher Bertrand Russell chides us for failing to us our free time for, of all things, fun: "It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for lightheartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. A modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else - and never for its own sake.

Too true, indeed.  So in the spirit of that abandoned lightheartedness, let me use some of Di's photos (mostly) to share a few observations about what I have been experiencing thus far in Montreal:

+ This is a very dog friendly city.  In our small neighborhood in le Plateau, there are four pet centers and one dog run.  Fenced in dog runs are scattered throughout the city's large and small parks. And people bring their dogs almost everywhere - including street fairs. In fact, two blocks away there is a Doggy Cafe where you can sit and sip coffee while your pet gets to know his/her neighbors. (We haven't dared go there yet with Lucie as she is only just beginning to get her city vibe on; maybe - MAYBE - in July, but not right now.) 
+ Montreal makes an effort to create safe, fun and beautiful public space.  I am fascinated by the parks, gardens and plazas here that invite and encourage people of all ages, sizes, races, genders and perspectives to slow down and enjoy the view. Sometimes the view includes massive, old trees. Other times it is the creative architecture - old and new - that defines the city. And then there is the gentle art of simply watching the people. I got my first sense of this commitment to public space through the festivals we started attending 8 years ago. Living in a predominately Francophone neighborhood has only deepened my awareness that Montreal makes a genuine effort at serving its residence through safe, fun and beautiful public spaces.
+ There is a commitment to families of all shapes here.  Ok, the demographic reality for those of us living in Western Massachusetts shows an aging, declining population. Not so in Montreal! There are babies everywhere! In all kinds of families, too. There are oldsters like me, too and everyone in-between. I am curious to see what life feels like here once the schools get out later this month and I get to see just how many children call our neighborhood home. I know it is a lot because yesterday, Sunday, when we strolled through Parc Baldwin - our neighbor-hood green space - it was filled with birthday parties, picnics and soirees of all sizes.
+ The city's summer festivals not only bring in tourist dollars but showcase the edgy imagination that pulses through Montreal's core.  I love outdoor summer festivals in this city. The planners have figured out how to make them user friendly. They add to the verve of Montreal's groove. And they bring in millions of dollars in necessary outside revenue. That is the obvious part. What I am discerning now is how the deeper imagination of this metropolis is at work in the creation of the new festivals - specifically what this suggests about the community's values. We were at the culmination of a new festival yesterday, Street Artists Along St. Laurent, where 10 city blocks were cordoned-off to create an extended pedestrian walk-way. There were street food vendors, artists, shoes sales along with everything in-between. And scattered throughout the area were huge buildings with one wall devoted to new street art. 
The goal of this two year old festival is clear:  bring beauty and creativity to a transitional area while combating graffiti. And over the four days of the festival, thousands of people who might never visit the area strolled in the warm sun as they safely took in the new creations. There were concerts set up along the way as well as various DJs, too. The city even donated a bus for one artist to paint. This speaks to me of a willingness to look at the needs of real places and people and address them in a creative rather than punitive fashion. It also says that city planners, in cooperation in with local citizens, are willing to think outside of the box.
Two other short thoughts: while my French is very limited, I have not once experienced any disdain from the Francophone population while trying to converse. Sometimes we've had a bilingual conversation with both of us speaking French and English, sometimes people will let us try to complete a request in French and offer help when necessary and sometimes we both just nod and  hope for the best. But here's my hunch: the fact that we're willing to get out of our comfort zone and try to speak their native tongue makes a huge difference. I have heard other Anglophones say they are intimidated by French, but part of the adventure and blessing is going into places that are unfamiliar and being open to the kindness of the human heart. My favorite saying so far has come from the woman who is renting us our flat, who said of our goofy, mixed-breed dog, Lucie: Oh, un beau melange! A beautiful mixture - so much better than a mutt, tu ne crois pas?
This is a vibrant city that doesn't feel frantic.  It can close off ten blocks and still create an uncrowded vibe for a street festival. Yes, there are times when the opening free concerts at Place des Arts is overwhelming and claustrophobic But as a rule, the way this place seems to work is carefully sized so that if feels safe and accessible. Even walking the downtown streets you get the sense that Montreal is hip and alive without having to be obsessive and overwhelming.
And so the adventure ripens as we settle into this place. Oh yeah, one more word: some folk have written to us with places to visit around Parc Mont Royal thinking that because our apartment is just of L'Avenue du Mont Royal we are near the actual mountain. Wrong!  We are at the opposite end of the street and a long haul from Parc Mont Royal...I'm just saying.


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