Summer also spells festival season: the Montréal Jazz Festival, Festival TransAmérique, Mutek, Montréal Completèment Cirque, Just For Laughs. It’s a crazy time of year if you work (or just play!) in the arts.
I have my fingers in a few different pies here – I handle the communications for a well-known data visualisation studio and I’m also an arts writer and consultant on the side. Last week I was on a freelance assignment at the École National de Cirque, which is just next door to Cirque du Soleil’s world headquarters. I was interviewing a graduating tightwire student from Vermont and asked this kid what was great about training at ÉNC. He replied without skipping a beat: “Being in a city where there’s so much going on.”
That resonated with me because I feel exactly the same. Montréal is a special place.
Not too many people know this, but Montréal (like New Zealand) is an island. Not figuratively in that Two- Solitudes kind of sense, I mean it’s literally an island; a pocket-shaped piece of land at the confluence of the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. In Kanien’kéha, the Mohawk language, the island is called Tio’tià:ke. This place has layers of immigration and history built up over centuries like paint over embossed wallpaper. The past always shows through in spots.
I guess for this reason, among others, there are few places that can beat Montréal on the cultural front. On top of all the festivals, this city has four universities and countless galleries and museums. Montréal is also in the vanguard of VR and AI research internationally, and is an official UNESCO City of Design.
On the other hand, it’s not all curvaceous architecture and joie de vivre. When I moved here almost seven years ago, I didn’t speak French, which was pretty isolating. The official language here is resolutely français, and there’s even an organisation affectionately known as the Language Police that runs around town fining restaurants that use English on their menus and what-have-you. Google “pastagate” and you’ll see. Every few years the political/linguistic tension begins to bubble away, and someone in local government invariably suggests Quebéc cleaves itself off from the rest of Canada.
But right now, at least, things feel calm, pacifique. I’m looking forward to a long hot summer.