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Tuesday 4 Dec 2007
Montréal, Canada

I'm snowed in ... w00t!

Yeesh, it hasn't been THAT long since I last did an update (about 2 weeks), but so much has happened I'll just have to write everything in bullet-point format.

Btw.. I'm leaving Montreal on the 14th December, but I'll miss this place terribly ... anyway, read on...

- The snow has been falling heavier than ever for the past week. It's already 2 feet deep! It's undeniably pleasant to walk on though since the snow is like powder.. walking on it feels like you are walking effortlessly through talcum powder (it's a lovely feeling).

- Again, I thank the heavens every day that I bought a really good snowboard jacket at the start of the year.. it's so warm, yet so light. I don't even need to wear layers.. just a t-shirt underneath (which is really handy if yer going to a club, etc)

- I also love the 'silence' that accompanies snowfall. Cars move slower, the snow absorbs any ambient noise, and all you hear are people's feet scrunching in the snow.

- I took last Friday off work since it was the last day of the month that I could use my unlimited monthly metro pass.
I wanted to take in the sights I wouldn't normally venture out to see - such as the area that obviously used to be "Irishtown" in Montreal (when thousands of Irish fled to Montreal during the famine.. and even before that when they allied with the French during the wars of independence .. which the British ultimately won though). Within a 2 km square area.. you could find streets called "Rue Saint Patrick", "Avenue des Irlandais", even a park called "Parc Hibernia". It also seemed like a relatively poor neighbourhood (relative to the rest of Montreal.. but pretty affluent compared to poor neighbourhoods in other large cities), which pretty much is the stamp of approval that this is an Irish neighbourhood!

- The Irish influence .. or at least, how the city catered specifically for the Irish, is quite remarkable. Rather than spurn the immigrants (as seemed to happen in every other city the Irish went to) Montreal clearly wanted to make the newcomers feel at home so they built a fantastic-looking basilica "St Patrick's Basilica" and there's even a plaque dedicating it to the Irish community. As noted in the previous paragraph, many street names have a bit of Irish in 'em.
I guess the Catholics know how to stick together!

- St Patrick's Basilica also had the friendlies damn squirrels I've ever encountered... they would almost literally walk all over you if you had food on your clothes. I got some cute video of them bounding toward me in the snow.. right up to my foot! I'd pet em if it weren't as rabid as anything (although they did look pretty fat.. guess the approach is working for em)

- I also took in the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral which is enchanting inside with it's stunning decor and attention to detail. They have a sound and light show here that I reckon would have to be seen!

- Incidentally, it was on the Friday that I took off that the snow started falling. This was fortunate since "Vieux Montreal" (the old town) is stunning when snow fills the streets.. it's like something out of a Swiss alpine village, with snow falling on 'real' christmas trees dotted around the avenues and falling on the signs that hang from outside the glowing warm colourful restaurants, shops, and galleries dotted around the area.

The ambient sound of choirs singing their hearts out filled the city streets when I was wandering again last Sunday.

- The last thing I ventured out to see on Friday was the "Biodome" situated in a park on a surrounding island (which is also accessible via metro). It's essentially a huge geodesic structure like the one at the Epcot centre in Florida. It houses a large natural environment museum, which is on my list of todo's before I leave Montreal. I saw it while the snow was coming down in a blizzard, and it was so other-worldly in this environment that the image will stay with me forever. (I took a photo of it too!)

- Yep as you can guess.. Montreal is really an experience. I've started reading the local equivalent of Toronto's "Now" free music newspaper: "Hour", which has equally funny/interesting commentaries on politics, music, cinema.. plus list after list after list of great music, theatre and indie cinema (a particular favourite here.. the Quebec cinema scene is huge since they make a lot of French-speaking movies for the world here).
As with Toronto, it would be quite impossible to get bored in Montreal. There's always some festival on, or really cool event.

- The latest census of Canada's population shows that 20% are immigrants. Clearly most of those have come to Montreal judging by the diversity of cultures here. but something which I find quite cool about Montreal - more than another other Canadian city - is that the individual cultures aren't blended into a "standard Canadian version" but are still clearly distinct. For example walking through the tiny China town area was seriously like being transported into the middle of Beijing - people wearing communist-era headgear, and the (obligatory) Falun Gong practitioners handing out leaflets. I put this down to the 'European' outlook the city has, and the lack of pressure to conform to a 'western ideal'.

Other stuff...

- Each subway station is uniquely (and sometimes exquisitely) decorated.. supposedly the purpose being so that people who can't read (or have bad eyesight) can identify where they are. I don't believe that for a second, but rather believe it's just the local council being typically 'arty' for arts-sake (they even have a few parts of the walls that look grimy and damaged (exposing water pipes etc), but ironically it looks like a "work of art" in the context. The graffiti on the damaged sections only adds to this effect.. I bet they left those sections purely to provide a canvas for graffiti artists. You don't see much graffiti around Montreal incidentally.. I think they take too much pride here.

Y'see... Montreal evidently prides itself on it's cultural and visual aspects more than anything else. Even the batman-esque floodlight that shoots up into the sky seems to serve no purpose other than to beautify the already gorgeous city.

People just seem "happy" to be here.. as I mentioned to my physiotherapist (while she was cracking my elbow back into shape), this is one of the only places I've been to where the people DON'T think the grass is greener on the other side. They are proud and happy to live here.. and are not snooty about it, but seem eager to have visitors experience it for themselves (I can't remember the total amount of French Canadians I met on my travels that asked me to hook up with them when I arrived in Quebec so that they could show me around)

- Saw Blade Runner - The Final Cut in the cinema this evening... outstanding to see it on the big screen. My favourite sci-fi of all time.

- I almost got arrested by a cop when I crossed the road at a red light, and didn't see he was directly on the other side.. doh! He let me go since I wasn't living here.. but someone else who followed me wasn't quite as fortunate...

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