June 14, 2000

Downtown (Part I)

Yesterday I had occasion to go downtown. It's something I should do much more often.

I used to be downtown daily, first at university and then at work (hospital lab-tech) until just before I began having children, about twenty years ago. Since then I doubt I've even gone as much as once a year.

I always felt at home downtown. I loved the busy streets as much as the cool oases of the McGill campus and Mount Royal (all parkland) looming over it.

Digression: Mount Royal Park was designed in the late 19th century by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same landscape architect that designed Central Park in New York and many other public parks and planned communities in the United States. It's literally and symbolically the centerpiece of Montreal.

I avoid taking the car downtown, (because of traffic, difficulty parking, and the fact that I'd have to go back to it rather than continue to wander in one direction as I see fit) preferring to park partway and take the subway (the "Metro"). Our subway is relatively safe (I feel safe in it) fast and clean, with 65 well-maintained stations, no two alike in design. It is often the people's concert hall, with designated places for street musicians who are invariably excellent. I didn't encounter any yesterday, unfortunately.

I emerged into daylight near the heart of downtown and found myself peering up at the tall buildings and gawking at the handicraft stands and the people in a nearby square. I had become a tourist in my own home. I tried to shake off the feeling by walking and it lessened as I approached a more familiar area. Much has changed in twenty years, but it's mostly cosmetic.. a few new buildings, many new stores, but the spirit is the same. It's something I've never found anywhere else in my admittedly limited travels, although Boston probably comes closest, with its beautiful old buildings and historic heritage.

Montrealers, despite political and language squabbles (mostly carried on by the politicians) are tolerant, polite, and considerate of others. And that's in normal times. In times of difficulty (usually snowstorms) the city works as one, and total strangers push each other's cars out of snowbanks and do what they can.

There's an energy to being in the city that I didn't realize how much I'd missed. I felt like I was back where I belong, and my home and life in the suburbs looked dull and stifling. I always knew I didn't quite fit in there but I'd forgotten where I do fit in. (I never actually lived in the city, only much closer suburbs, but spent most of my waking hours there for all my young adult life.)

Inevitably I wandered up to the McGill campus, a bit reluctantly because I have many ghosts there, but it wasn't the experience I had anticipated. The ghosts kept their noise down to a tolerably low roar and I walked through the grassy paths of the lower campus noticing how much and how little has changed. The icing on the cake was the hot dog vendor's radio. It was blasting Led Zeppelin. Absolutely perfect.

I sat on the grass in the same area where, 32 years previously, a fellow student (who is now a respected member of the Montreal City Council) tried to pick me up. This being the year 2000, however, I pulled out my cell phone and called one son on his phone, and paged the other one. Worlds colliding, but I can deal with it.

to be continued..

Linque Du Jour: More Urban Monstrosities!

Thanks to Doug in Alberta for passing these along:

The city of Edmonton Alberta is to be invaded by a herd of artistic cows between July and November, 2000. Cow sponsorship is intended as a fundraiser for a local children's charity. The Cows in the City website offers this explanation:

The Symbolic Meaning Of The COW
"The female domesticated cow is uniformly a positive nurturing force. She is a good creature of great endurance and modest dynamism with her simple warmth and her patient gestation. Her green food is manifestly natural. She is a plain symbol for Mother Earth herself, and an expression of the vegetative maternal principle. The cow's great rhythm is that of humility. She has a primitive holiness all her own."
Dictionary of Symbolism Hans Biedermann

Primitive holiness? Whatever..

Not to be outdone, Cincinnati Ohio is holding the "Big Pig Gig" with over 360 fiberglass pigs (individually designed of course) to be scattered around that city this summer. Why pigs? Two reasons: Cincinnati used to be a "hog butchering town" according to the newspaper article, so pigs have historical significance; and as pointed out by a Cincinnati businessman, "Pigs are fun. They're cute. They're friendly.''

Yes but do they have primitive holiness?

Anyone know of any other exhibits that might qualify for my collection? This is fun!

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