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October 4, 2004

Pardon my French

Well, Montreal was lovely: the weather was mostly gorgeous, the conference was worthwhile, and the city itself is a great place to spend a couple of days -- especially if you want to practice your French! Since I spent most of my time in meetings, I didn't have a chance to see many of the sights, but we did have enough free time to do a few things:

  • On Friday night, we attended a conference reception at the McCord Museum of Canadian History. The museum is on the campus of McGill University in downtown Montreal. The very attractive building was constructed in 1992. The permanent exhibition, "Simply Montreal," on the history of the city was informative and amusing -- especially the portions dealing with Montreal's extreme winters, which made us Minnesotans alternately laugh and shudder in recognition.

  • Our hotel was in Montreal's Quartier Latin, just a block from Saint-Denis Street. This very hip area of the city is mostly Francophone, and is home to many wonderful restaurants, bars, shops, and coffee houses. We were frequently the only English-speaking people in a restaurant -- but servers (who are no doubt accustomed to loads of tourists) were always very friendly and willing to switch to English. A little knowledge of French was essential for understanding restaurant menus, though!

  • With no meetings scheduled for Saturday night, we decided on a lark to try and catch a concert. The concierge at our hotel helpfully located a performance by the McGill University Symphony Orchestra that was to be held at a church only six blocks from the hotel. We didn't know what the orchestra would be performing, but with tickets only $10 each, we decided to give it a try. The church turned out to be the spectacular and monumental neo-Baroque Saint Jean Baptiste Church, and the repertoire was Mahler's 2nd Symphony ("Resurrection"), performed by a massive orchestra and chorus, including the church's immense organ in the finale. The packed house enjoyed an exciting and moving performance. It was a great way to spend our free evening.

  • Finally, on Sunday, we had a couple of hours to spare before catching our late-afternoon flight home, so we wandered down Saint-Denis Street to the National Film Board of Canada's CineRobotheque. The CineRobotheque is basically a huge video-on-demand system: you pay an extremely modest fee for an hour or two of access, choose your own comfy viewing station, and select the film you wish to view using an intuitive touch-screen database. A robot then retrieves the laserdisc for your choice and places it in a player. Within a couple of minutes, you're watching your film. The NFB has produced an impressively diverse body of films over the years; I used my hour at the CineRobotheque to sample several amusing animated shorts with a musical theme.

This was my first trip to Montreal, but I hope it won't be my last. I have to take Dr. Dregs there, at the very least, so he can experience the CineRobotheque for himself.

Posted by at October 4, 2004 7:00 PM