Sunday, March 1, 2009

French word of the day: fête; party, celebration, festival

As in, this town knows how to. Last night we ventured out in minus 17 Celsius en famille to take in the Fête des Lumières, Montreal's answer to Mardi Gras. There were 165 events put on in three distinct areas of town: the Old Town, Quartier des Spectacles and Downtown, and the Plateau/Mont Royal. It's hard to fathom just how insanely well developed Montreal's fine arts scene is, especially the visual arts, until you thumb through the program for this festival. So many different kinds of venues, a staggering variety of media and genres, and an exuberance of collaborating to bring crowds of people out into the cold to see, be seen, to celebrate the city, and maybe to publicly rejoice in the hope that winter is almost over.

We chose well when we chose to live in this area; we were in or near the hearts of the action for this party. We headed out to the Old Town to take in the "animation" (no English equivalent, really); Milo was very impressed with the fire throwers and even more so with the fire blowers. There was a mini-tam tam event: a group of drummers all dressed in red and pounding away while dancing in unison, their breath visible in the stage lights beating down on them. (Too loud for Milo to get close to them.)

There was a 120 metre ice slide. We'd thought of taking Milo on it, but thought the better of it when we saw how fast that thing goes. Second thoughts on the ferris wheel too; a long lineup plus slow turn through the chilly night air seated on a metal chair- brrrr. Huge puppets, one like a giant rooster king, moving through the crowd, fireworks exploding in the inky chill sky, bon fires with people sipping maple-laced hot milk and roasting marshmallows on sticks. Milo had marshmallows for the first time. He couldn't see why you'd ruin their white puffy perfection by holding them over a fire and making them all brown and drippy, so he ate them off the stick in their raw form. 

We really felt like tourists when we nipped into a food court for a quick dinner; $6.50 for a tiny cup of poutine! Don't eat in the Old Town unless you've done some homework beforehand. After the fireworks we headed indoors to the Hôtel de Ville (original City Hall, the namesake of our street) for some old timey Quebecois folk dancing and fiddle-and-accordion music. Milo had a blast dancing to the music and then he had a go at using a traditional dancing puppet; you sit on a flexible wooden paddle, position the little wooden guy with articulated legs and arms on the paddle, and then you gently beat down on the paddle to the rhythm of the music and it looks charmingly like he's jigging away. Then we walked home, put Milo and Iggy to bed, and ventured out for more. The thing goes ALL NIGHT!! So the trains and buses run all night, and all the venues welcome revellers all night, and it's just a huge blowout so you can take in all you have the ambition and energy to do.

I went half a block up Ste. Catherine to a small, spare church to hear a 10-person chamber choir called À Contre-Voix. They sang a gorgeous program of 20th century classical choral works plus some Renaissance pieces and a lovely finale of Stevie Wonder's "Too Shy to Say." (I know. I hate pop-as-choral too. Pretty audacious to mess with Stevie. But it was great!) Then I wandered up Ste. Catherine, from the Dépanneur Scarface to the Pussy Corps Danseuses Nues, to take in the festive ambience, and came home to spell off Dave. He went out to see a lighting design competition in the Quartier des Spectacles and voted on his favourite. After 5 weeks here, he ran into someone he knew! In that sea of people. Always interesting to see how long it takes after moving to a new city until you randomly run into an aquaintance. 

And today was also awesome. Dave got to play ball hockey, we discovered a fantastic burger joint that serves incredible tarte au sucre for dessert that's a 10-minute walk from our house, and Milo was given the new Iron Man pajamas that Dave bought him earlier this week.

La vie en rose, my friends. It's like Obama: the buzz still hasn't worn off. Long may it endure.


  1. Sounds like a great time! I was interested in understanding the purpose of this festival and so I followed the link you provided. It almost seems like this festival doesn't have a purpose other than to provide an opportunity for people to get out and be entertained by light, food and performance. What a concept! And indicative of why Montreal is really an international city, one of the best in the world really...
    I'm glad you're enjoying yourselves!
    Are you going to come back?...

  2. it's gonna be hard to return to calgary. luckily we have great friends there so that will soften the blow.