I am here, in the intoxicating mix that is new and old, New World Americas and Old World European. Real cobblestone streets, lined with bright, cascading flowers, threaten ankles young and old. Rough stone houses nestle beside soaring towers of steel and glass. And the air is dancing with the enthusiastic, dramatic expressions of French.
This is Montreal.
My hostel is smack dab in the middle of Old Montreal, hidden inside a weary old soul of stone and brick. An eclectic community, with chalk graffiti on the brightly painted walls, bunk beds tucked into the attic dormers, and exposed wood beams gracefully bearing the weight of centuries of human stories. I step out onto the feisty street awash in color, people, language, crisp river breezes, and a promise of unexpected adventure in the teasing notes of jazz whispering out the cafe windows.
This is a city founded on the French fur trade, once a muddy pioneer town of New France, now a bustling, leading world city, graceful and wise. In a 30 minute walk, I encountered 17th century New France, a Gothic cathedral, bathed in dim, ethereal golds and lavender and blues, as if dropped right out of medieval Europe into a hammock of skyscrapers and neoclassical government domes, and the striding pagodas of a Chinatown, alive with the babble of Chinese and French as people shopped for their dinner on their way home from work.
Last night I indulged in some culture and discovered just how acoustically gorgeous the new concert hall at the giant Plac’des Artes complex (a performing arts complex ingeniously linked to Montreal’s expansive, swift, and easy-to-use Metro system. I literally walked off the subway train, through a hall lined with clubs, restaurants, and boutiques until I reached scores of concert halls and performing spaces all still underground. The beauty of the Underground City in the wintertime!). The Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (OSM), the city’s premier orchestra and one of the world’s best, performed Tchaikovski’s 4th Symphony. I was way up in the last balcony, but the sound was crisp, clear, full, and carried me away. And the performance was superb. They deserved the multiple spontaneous Bravos! that erupted at the earth-shattering conclusion.
And on that note, back out into Montreal I go.