Monday, October 18, 2010

Ugh Canada!

"You’ll love Montreal!" I heard it from at least half a dozen people in the weeks before I left for my trip. I only wish it had been true. From my last post before I was on my way, I had mentioned that I had not done any research into what would be happening while I was there. It turned out that I needn’t have worried. I was so busy with the British Queer History Conference that I barely had any energy to do anything else. (I’ll write more about the conference in another post.) Certainly the weather had something to do it, since it rained most of the time, although on the day I arrived it was actually quite pleasant.

That first afternoon I made my way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see the permanent collection. That, admittedly, was worth it. Their 19th-century collection has a few interesting works, including James Tissot’s October, 1877, appropriately Aesthetic Movement as a vertical portrait of a flirtatious young woman in black surrounded by a profusion of orange and yellow autumn leaves (image courtesy of In the same room was John William Waterhouse’s Saint Cecilia, 1895, which I had seen before at the Royal Academy retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work, but it’s always a refreshing surprise to see such a lovely work again. (Oddly enough, neither of these works appear on the museum’s website. Could there be an embarrassment about Victorian painting?) The museum also has one room dedicated to the arts of Napoleon, which was interesting. Some of the works were from the private collection of Ben Weider, a “Nap”-ophile who amassed not just art but also personal artifacts like his hat, boots, and a lock of his hair. The Thorvaldsen Apotheosis of Napoleon memorial bust may seem a bit over the top, but it is a brilliant Neoclassical example of how Napoleon was immortalized after his death. There was also a special exhibition of works by the German Weimar painter Otto Dix, which had been in New York not too long ago. Sadly, I have missed both versions of the show, because I had no time to see it here either.

This opening may make you think that I actually did enjoy the city. OK, so the museum was fine. But then that was it. The rest of my experience with the city wasn’t all that thrilling. The architecture is disappointing. I think I had in my mind something akin to Quebec City, but this wasn’t the case. There is Beaux-Arts style architecture for sure, but it has been swallowed and blocked by gulag-like modernist monstrosities that make you think they wanted to be Paris then New York and never made it in either direction. In contrast, Vancouver’s modernist architecture is quite beautiful (note: been there twice; love it!). I managed to get down to Old Montreal on Sunday morning, but even that disappointed me. There is construction everywhere, and the few “old”-style buildings are bizarrely juxtaposed near Chinatown, so you look in one direction and see a classical dome and turn around and see pagodas. Only when I took a taxi back from a lovely visit to see a fantastic private collection of Neoclassical books and a wonderful brunch (merci, LG!) did I finally see the Latin Quarter, and that area was delightful with its shops, restaurants, bars, etc., all of which reminded me New Orleans.

So I’m being overly harsh. I did have a wonderful dinner with JJK and CR at a Belgian restaurant one night. I also did see some go-go boys at Campus [nsfw!]...certainly always a fun experience doing that, especially considering Canadian bars allow their boys to dance sans sous-vêtements. I am glad the hotel had an indoor swimming pool, because I took advantage of that as well. One of the more interesting features of a city like Montreal is the complete comfort with which everyone interacts bilingually (French/English). If nothing else, seeing everything written in both languages helped improve my French a bit. So, who knows, maybe I’ll give Montreal another go in the future...but it will have to be in nicer weather. Perhaps with some sunshine and flowers in bloom, it may turn out to be a more pleasant city to visit.

[I wrote the above blog post while I was at JFK airport waiting for my plane to take off...3 hours late. I am posting it from Leeds, England, where I am now. More anon!]

1 comment:

Sherman Clarke said...

Glad you were able to do some academic research at Campus. Have a great time in Leeds though I imagine northern England will be rather on the gray side this time of year. You'll manage, I'm sure.