I set out on a trip to Montreal this past summer where the art scene, music, food and culture is unlike anywhere else in Canada. To sum it up in two words ~ C’est magnifique!
In the morning you don’t have to wander far to find your wake up coffee. I found “Cafe Brioche” and had a fresh pressed coffee, a delectable flaky pastry and croissant to start my day.
Adventuring around town you can’t help but admire the architecture. The narrow streets passing through blocks of cramped row houses standing shoulder to shoulder with their classic old-world style wrought iron balconies and spiral staircases. And the old Quebecois style of stone houses with chimney stacks crowning the gables at either end.
I notice every one here is walking or riding bicycles. All weaving in and around each other so very nonchalant in their highly populated environs with faces from every nation on earth represented in a multi-cultural multi-lingual hub of cosmopolitan city life.
There are people out on patios everywhere mixing and mingling, chatting and smoking, drinking wine and coffee and just simply enjoying summer and enjoying life. Crowded as it is, it seems that everyone gets along here.
The scent of wood smoke wafting in the air a tell-tale sign that you are near an authentic bagel bakery in the Jewish district, where the fired up ovens are producing hand-rolled bagels pulled from the oven on a long wooden paddle and then dumped fresh, hot and chewy into a bin beside the cash register counter. All that you have to do is grab half a dozen, go to the cooler pick out your cream cheese and lox and ~ la voila ~ diner is served. And if you are still hungry, there is Schwartz’s deli with its famous Montreal smoked meat sandwiches piled high on rye with a big kosher dill.
In the Italian sector, I had the ultimate experience of an Italian production of opera in the park on a warm summer night. People were seated in front of the stage in rows of folding chairs set up in the street and others were laying on the grass watching the big screen and listening to the angelic vocals of La Boheme echoing though the trees. After the show, a slice of pizza from the street vendor in the tent and then off to the gelato shops and cappuccino bars.
Speaking of bars, there are a multitude of nightclubs, from cocktails on a swanky neon roof top to grungy dark basement beer dives with any style of music you can dream of and of course jazz jazz jazz everywhere. And be it 3 AM, they don’t close until the last patrons leave.
There was so much to see and do… I went to visit a friends print making studio and was given a tour of the large facility housed in an old textile factory with many more private art studios located on the floors above.
And of course, Old Montreal is a must see – full of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants on romantic cobble stone streets. It stretches out along the waterfront of the historic harbour on the St. Lawrence seaway, a shipping lane connecting the Atlantic ocean to the great lakes of Upper Canada. Lunch was in a Parisienne style cafe: french onion soup, brie with fruits, baguette and foie gras. Then off to see the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral.
The visit to the Musee des beaux arts downtown had Picasso and African art as the feature exhibition on display. His iconic works were presented with African tribal art juxtaposed to his own figures, faces and sculptures. Both bold styles were displayed side by side in a sympatico of line, form and expression.
There were 3 buildings to explore in the huge gallery and it was very easy to spend half a day or more viewing the pieces in the collection.
As I walked up to the entrance for the Picasso exhibit, I passed through a grand mezzanine with high glass walls and a view of the cityscape that played out in a horizon of structures old and new. It was here that I discovered my favourite work of art from the entire trip – it was outside of the gallery – a massive portrait of Leonard Cohen.
I stood for several minutes admiring the mural on the side of an apartment building outside over 100 feet high. It was a beautiful and gigantic homage to the city’s beloved own poet and artist. Considering his fortune and fame he could have lived anywhere, but he never left Montreal. And now up in the sky, he gazes out at his city with a secret pleasure in his eyes.
And now I know why he never left…