Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Road Trip Montreal and QC: Photos, Food, Gardens, Dinosaurs and Monster Trucks

We’ve only driven through Canada once on our way to a family reunion in North Dakota from Connecticut, crossing at Niagara Falls. The drive was uneventful, flat, boring and the roadside hotel room a filthy disaster. We refused to let that be our impression of the Northern territories.

On this next excursion we decided to visit Montreal and Quebec City and the experience was a 180˚ difference. Spending three nights at the Holiday Inn on Sherbrooke in the heart of Montreal was a good call. From Philadelphia it was a nine hour drive, unfortunately we hit 5:00 rush hour traffic coming into the city but easy to negotiate. We left the car parked for three days and could walk or use the subway. Montreal is like any mid-size city but with some obvious differences; 1) people speaking French Canadian 2) a ton of coffee and pastry shops and 3) a bicycle-share system with adequate cycling lanes and wide streets and very / pedestrian friendly. We arrived on Thursday evening, freshened up and hit the street looking for a restaurant on Carolyn’s hit list. Had a decent dinner at some posh restaurant on Saint Denis. The food was delicious but rather than splurge for dessert at the restaurant we decided on a nearby chocolate shop that serves drinking chocolate. I don’t like to spend all my money in one place, no matter how great the food or atmosphere, its good to change things up, spread out and have new experiences, an integral part of travel. Drinking chocolate is awesome and sitting outside in the cool night air lent itself to a warm delicacy. It may be a bit too heavy a dessert for some but most shops offer a wide selection of chocolates varying in sweet and darkness.

Montreal is a great town for walking. The shops are abundant along Rue Saint Denis and Saint Laurent. Plenty of places to eat, have a drink or sip of coffee. Most retail shops are open until 8:00 or 9:00pm on week nights and Saturdays. Plenty to see and do. One interesting observation is that a high end clothing store or home furnishing store is next to a much more affordable store. This creates a decent mix of people from all brackets of society. That delineation between poor, middleclass, and wealthy is a little less obvious. Overall it appears to raise the bar and disseminate a healthy form of social order through participation and observance.

For our extended weekend we rolled into town in the middle of Le Mois de la Photo á Montréal, The Space of the Images from September 10 – October 11th. The event is an international biennale on contemporary photography (includes video) that features 24 solo exhibitions and public space interventions by artists from 13 countries. Le Mois de la Photo á Montréal is an important event that brings together artists, curators and other specialists for exhibitions, conferences and forums. All the exhibitions look very interesting and we could only see a few. Three notable places where Vox, the originators of the biennale in 1989, showing a DVD by Yael Bartana (Israel and Netherlands) called Summer Camp + Awodah (2007) about an Israeli pacifist organization on Palestinian land where buildings had been demolished in 2006 and their effort to reconstruct.

Private commercial contemporary galleries Galerie Pangée www.galeriepangee.com/index.php?lang=en in cooperation with the Aperture Foundation in Vieux Montreal (the old city) had an excellent show Edge of Vision – The Rise of Abstraction in Photography. Included Ellen Carey, Michael Flomen, Charles Lindsay, Edward Mapplethorpe, Chris McCaw, James Welling and Silvia Wolf. Of these artists, all of which were accomplished, Chris McCaw’s Sunburn prints were very interesting. Using extended exposure times he is capable of burning linear patterns across the surface of the photo sensitive paper. The images are large black and whites and the process and apparent control is fascinating.

Michal Rovner had a retrospective at the DHC Art Foundation for Contemporary Art
http://www.dhc-art.org/ . The building itself, four floors, three dedicated to the exhibition with a skylight and open air shaft running down the backside of the glass elevator to the first floor allowed a decent amount of ambient light to illuminate each level. Exhibition spaces could be partitioned off and since much of Rovner’s work is video projected onto the surface of sculptural objects, the rooms had to be dimly lit. The exterior light imposed no problem. Each floor was thematically dedicated to a specific type of Rovner’s work, the top floor featuring some large still photographs and a DVD projection with seating. His work requires no critical or theoretical prefacing. The viewer ‘gets it’ immediately from the imagery an can choose to explore further. The DVD shows various large scale (up to 4 floors or more) urban office and store front projection installations that captures by passers on the street unawares and gathers their attention. Some of the performance/installation documentaries where politically overt, literal and set against rural arid open spaces running along patrolled borders usurped by the scale and elements of nature. The painstaking and methodical assembly of an square white stone open air structure roughly 12 -1 5 foot high with a door and central area that resembles a sanctuary is disassembled and reassembled in various locations across the globe. This was an beautiful, amazing and memorizing feat of engineering and patience that transcend Rovner’s other work with the human form as a metaphorical relation to microscopic behavior.

If searching out contemporary art The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal located at the Place de Arts featured three excellent shows; 1) a group exhibition with Christine Davis, Adad Hannah and Franz West 2) Betty Goodwin: A Critical Survey through the Prism of the Musée Collection, and 3) Projections Series: Music Video featuring music videos directed by electronically savvy and creative artists. The Music Videos seemed to garner the most attention in the basement level by the book store. A huge cavernous space was illuminated by the work of Jaron Albertin, Arcade Fire, Battles, Jim Canty, Kaiser Chiefs, City and Colour, Patrick Daughters, Feist, James Frost, Dave Gahan, Emily Haines, Irena & Vojtech Havel, Thomas Köner, Vincent Moon, Vincent Morisset, OneInThree, Radiohead, UVA (United Visual Artists), Wild Beasts and Roel Wouters.
http://www.macm.org/en/index.html The show had us both transfixed for at least 40 minutes, but that is the nature of music videos, especially if they are done well, sucking you in to feed the ADD fall out of contemporary society that lurks within us.

Vieux Montreal, next to the shipping port and aquarium, is rather touristy but has some excellent galleries and great places to eat. The cobble stoned narrow streets and tightly packed store fronts has a European flare. There is a decent balance between old and new architecture. Red brick and crumbling stucco buildings are outfitted with contemporary interiors and innovative additions that reinvigorate and breathe life into otherwise heavy stone and mortar construction. Hundred year old buildings cross fade seamlessly into a metal, glass and fabricated additions, a beautiful extension of history both old and newly written. One of Montréal’s gems does not necessarily reside in a place, object or attraction but in its approach and procession to create a city that correlates in feel and look and is embodied in its communities. For the most part a conscious and respectful display of self interconnects with the clarity and design of the city.

The city is also known as a university / party town. McGill University is in the heart of it all at the base of the Parc Mont Royal. The city transformed on Friday and Saturday night as doors that during the day where shut and locked opened with crowds spilling onto the street. The lounges and beer houses were energized. Although there are a few stumbling and boisterous characters on the street, the trade off is a vibrant and thriving nightlife, a symbol of economic prosperity. It also makes for an enjoyable and entertaining walk back to the hotel. 

Saturday we checked out the Botanical Gardens. In any city we search out the gardens. It makes for a relaxing reprieve from the concrete jungle. The Gardens are next to the Olympic Park and stadium built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. This amazing sci-fi saucer building and tower with cables to retract the dome was an added bonus on our way to the gardens. I love the visibility of the tower from different vantage points in the garden. 

On the top of Carolyn’s list was Jean-Talon Market in the little Italy section of town. After a long afternoon walk in the botanical gardens a subway trip up to the market capped a perfect day. Rated as a #1 market in the northern hemisphere it did not disappoint with plenty of high quality food to eat. Talon is big but easy to see everything there is to offer. A local spot and very few tourists it was a great place to watch people on their daily rounds prepping their pantries for days ahead. We walked away with a basket of mixed berries, a couple of pastries, coffee and fresh bread. We walked back toward our hotel through the residential neighborhood. It’s very similar to Philadelphia row homes but split into two levels with black wrought iron or wood steps that lead from street level to terraces on the second floor.

Sunday we headed off to Quebec City but took a slight detour to the top of Parc Mont Royal. Along the route there are some spectacular views of the city. A great place to get out of the city. From the park it was a two hour drive to QC. Parked on the street and spent the afternoon around the Parliament building and Old City. This walled portion of town is very touristy and reminiscent of European streets extending to the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. Rue Saint-Louis takes you directly to Cháteau Frontenac and boardwalk like terrace, a central area for tourist activity with a great view of the river. Though just outside Old City along St Louis are several patio restaurants for a meal or drinks and soak up the afternoon sun. We opted not to stay in QC but a 15 minute drive on the countryside at a spa/hotel called Auberge Quatre Temps in Lac Beauport. I would recommend staying a couple nights at this place.

Next day, stopped to get gas along Highway 20 and were treated to a Dinosaur and Monster Truck show. It doesn’t get any better kitsch than this. Took a major detour through the Adirondack Mountains. The trees where just beginning to change. Checked out the Olympic ski area and stopped in Lake Placid for a walk to the lake and a cup of coffee. Looks like a great mountain town and a place where I could definitely spend some time. Very beautiful. From there it was a blaze back home driving until 1:00am. After many trips abroad I wanted to get a small compact car. It makes everything easier especially parking and maneuvering in a city. We bought a Scion XD and we love this car, small and stylish. I wanted to see how far I could stretch the gas mileage. On the highway the average was between 40 and 42 mpg (includes some drafting off passing trucks doing 75 – 80). Overall a great and relaxing 5 day road trip.