Anne and I have been enjoying this most Canadian and international city the past couple of days. Although proudly Francophone, everyone we meet speaks English and, with typical Canadian empathy, switches to it immediately on figuring out our incapacity with French. We are staying in the Vieux Port, or old port district, which is sort of a a combination of Sausalito and Pier 39 gussied up with cobblestones, car-free zones, and remodeled 200 year old brick and stone buildings. Across the street, by the St. Lawrence is a carnival with games and booths and a ferris wheel to match the London Eye. On the next pier down is the Montreal Museum of Science. The entire zone absolutely packed with tourists. Good for Montreal, certainly, but a bit claustrophobic!
The city has a large amount of public art. Murals, projections on the side of buildings, museums. There is a “Festival zone” in the downtown area covering a couple dozen square blocks and incorporating open plazas, informal amphitheaters, stages and pedestrian blocks peppered with street food, games, and performers, with music scheduled on the stages free early evening. There is a Comedy festival happening now. We saw an extraordinary exhibition at the Musee de Beaux-Arts on the relationship of Picasso to the art of Africa and Oceania. He was surrounded by this art in his studio and a lot of his work makes sense now in a different way. Quite extraordinary.
Yesterday we got out of the tourist zone by having a Jewish day. We went to shul in the morning; our former rabbi from San Francisco, Aubrey Glaser, has returned home to Canada and assumed the rabbinate at a large Anglophone Conservative synagogue here. At the post-service lunch a conversation with a long-time member showed they are facing the same sort of issues that our synagogue is facing–stable but older membership, primary support from a handful of stalwart families, and a changing set of values among younger Jews. We followed this up with a walking tour of the Plateau district led by a young curator from the Museum of Jewish Montreal. “In the Shadow of the Mountain” traced the engagement of Jews in the arts and politics of the city. Jews have been integrated into the growth of Montreal as an international city from its earliest development (more like L.A. that N.Y.) and haven’t seemed to face the endemic discrimination so characteristic of our engagement in other places in the world. Plateau reminded us of Brooklyn, with young people, young families, arcane eateries and a lot of coffee spread among long established hardware stores, repurposed buildings and Schwartz’s, serving the best smoked meats in Montreal (as the long line out in front perhaps could attest).
WE have two more days here then off to the countryside, after the tandem, which was due here on Friday, arrives tomorrow as promised by Fed Ex. It is here in Montreal but has to clear customs before delivery. Why it’s so complicated to send your personal property back and forth across this border is another of those mysteries of modern society.