The last couple of days I had in Montreal were pretty cool. I really liked the Plateau area. Downtown gives the impression of competing aspirations as to whether be a modern American city or a traditional European one and falls between the stools, this part of town feels individual to Montreal and is all the better for it. Square houses, with lots of bright colour and fancy windows and steps. It doesn’t come off in every case, but the overall effect is charming. Plus I had a flan on Avenue Laval (I assume Rue Quisling is round the corner) that was so good, it tasted like falling in love. Also in the area I saw a particularly Canadian sign, which read (in French) “this hill is our street, please don’t use it as a ski run”. Perhaps “Don’t take the piste” would be a more concise translation.
The French speaking thing in Montreal is a bit odd really. Although French is the main language in the city, pretty much everyone speaks English as well, and with lots of Anglophones at McGill and Concordia Universities as well as tourists and other interlopers it was difficult to know whether someone would speak to you in English or French. My French is OK if I’m ready for it, but when it’s sprung on me I tend to go blank. So, I spent a lot of the time there looking vacuous (or more son than usual).
I went to the Canadian Centre for Architecture too, which didn’t have much about architecture on public view (thankfully, as what it did have was way over my head), but did have a big collection of short films to watch on technology, transport and futuristic ideas. Best bits, a very funny public information film from about 1950 called Gentleman Jekyll and Driver Hyde which depicted the transformation of a decent, considerate guy to a rude, dangerous driver. Good to know that road rage is not a recent phenomenon. Also a documentary on the 1965 Tour de Saint-Laurent, including a bit where one of the two leading cyclists, obviously not used to being filmed, turned to look at the camera as it pulled up alongside him – whereupon the other rider took the opportunity to launch an attack and left him trailing behind. Best of all, some amazing film from the videos taken by the astronauts in the Apollo flights.
Overall, I had a good time in Canada. If it didn’t quite measure up to what I hoped for, it had lots of plus points too. Hopefully I’ll be back sometime.