Back from Montreal

My experience of Montreal this past week can pretty much be divided into two halves: things that happened before the Jane Austen Society of North America’s annual conference began, which mostly consisted of exploring Montreal, and the more academic Mansfield Park-themed pursuits that happened after.  I’m afraid I enjoyed the former much more.

Although I did attempt to get into a dance workshop Thursday, there wasn’t room, and until that evening I ended up completely at odds.  So Thursday morning, after mom had headed off to the Fanny Burney Society’s annual conference, which always happens in conjunction with the JASNA annual meeting, I headed out to explore.  It was a bit chilly out, but thankfully before that really started to get to me, I found refuge in Montreal’s underground city, apparently one of the biggest network of underground walkways and establishments in the world.  It was mostly a chain of connected shopping malls, one of which, the Place Montreal Trust, had a really impressive fountain in its food court:


Eventually, warmed up and bored by more stores, I ascended back to the street level, just in time to hit the Cathedrale Christ Church.  A banner on its steps called it “une refuge spirituele,” but I was struck more by the sheer number of homeless people taking refuge on its grounds, one of whom ended up in the photo I took, though his cart is more visible:



There were a lot of homeless people in Montreal.  Later mom and I would learn that the city has been corrupted and spent too much money on construction projects, until locals now joke about the city’s two seasons being winter and construction, and then made cuts to all the programs that actually give its citizens help.  Much graffiti also abounded, and all in all, I do not think this is a happy city.

I eventually made my way to the Grande Bibliotheque, which was an impressive place, a library of five floors of material, not counting the children’s area, mostly in French but with some English items as well, and an exhibition hall in the basement, where I saw an impressive exhibition on French-Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay.  I then headed to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, by metro, because despite not being far from the hotel it was some distance away from the Grande Bibliotheque, and also by then my legs were aching.  The subway reminded me generally of NYC’s, and the station below the library had some impressive stained glass decoration above the top of the train tunnel:


En route, walking down the sidewalk, I ran into a bench with a realistic sculpture on it.  In the DC area I’ve found little sculptures of birds on benchs, or of two men playing chess, but this one impressed me:


At the Museum, which being 30 years old instead of 31, I could actually get into for free, I saw a collection of items related to Napoleon, from objects to paintings to British cartoons to a lock of his hair owned by George Sand which I was able to tell mom about later.  Then I went into a long gallery that wound around an entire floor as it took us from medieval art to art from the Bell Epoque.  It was impressive, to start with only a few religious pieces from unknown creators, before the galleries opened up to have separate rooms for all the different styles of art that evolved in the different parts of Europe.  Although by then my legs were so bad I could only limp off to find something to eat, then back to the hotel.  In the evening I attended a session detailing the critical debates and internet flame wars that the character of Fanny Price has provoked, but I was not only tired but also thinking the speakers should brush up on their internet fandom history; they seemed to think is still a go-to website.

Friday morning I went on an organized tour to Montreal Botanical Garden.  On the bus we had a man giving us a guided tour of the parts of the city we drove through, including the Olympic Park, which is across the way from the Botanical Garden.  The bus even stopped at one point and let us get out to take pictures:


In the background is the leaning tower that uses cables to hold up the roof of the big Olympic stadium.  In front of that structure is the Montreal Biodome, originally built as a velodrome, then converted after the Olympics into a biodome that maintains displays of four ecosystems, and also is where the Botanical Garden stores those of their outdoor flora and fauna that wouldn’t survive the winter otherwise.  The tour guide, claimed, by the way, that while it did infamously take 30 years to pay off the costs of this construction project, this was partly because the money for it was drawn solely from revenues gotten through a cigarette tax.  I make no assumptions as to his honestly, though certainly enough people smoke in Montreal that they could’ve conceivably actually gotten all the money from that.

For now, however, everything in the Botanical Garden was in place.  We were split up amoung four different tour guides, and our group got the one who actually read Mansfield Park in preparation for us, and told us all about the famous real-life landscape designer that we are told is redoing the rich idiot character’s estate.  It was really impossible in the limited time we had to even beginning to explore the vast gardens they have, but she took us through a few of them, and especially gave us a tour of the Chinese and Japanese gardens.  The Chinese garden during the fall is heavily decorated with Chinese lanterns, though we didn’t get to see them light up because it was during the day.  They get new lanterns each year, and this year they were themed to pay tribute to a medieval Chinese explorer, so there were plenty of fancy ship-shaped lanterns in the garden’s pond:



We also learned that while the Japanese are famous for their bonsai trees, the Chinese actually were raising miniature trees first, which they call penzai, and the Chinese garden has some:


Although the Japanese garden had bonsai trees to:


The Japanese garden was accessible through a building with a kimono display in it, with a large window out of which we could also observe a rock garden:


The Japanese garden too had a pond, with a ton of koi in it, as well as a lantern on its shore:


Alas, we didn’t get as thorough a tour of the Japanese garden, because we were low on time, and the bus then took us to have a tour of a early 20th century house built by a very rich pair of brothers.  Honestly, I would’ve rather stayed at the Botanical Garden until it was time to return to the hotel.

That afternoon the JASNA annual meeting opened. There would be one general lecture for everyone, then two breakout sessions of different lectures.  I attended ones on the various plays mentioned in Mansfield Park, and then one about the great houses of the period and how the ones in Mansfield Park fit into general history.  The latter was much more illuminating than the former.  After dinner with the winners of an essay contest mom had been one of the judges for, at a place far too loud but conveniently close to the hotel, we went to see a play called A Dangerous Intimacy, which was mostly the theatricals from the novel rehashed, though it did generate laughs when the ending featured Sir Thomas Bertram returning from Antigua in a straw hat and modern Caribbean shirt, and the Prince Regent abruptly showing up as a deux ex machina.

Saturday was more breakout sessions, though I ended up skipping one in favor of resting a little after lunch.  The best lecture of the day I heard, however, was the general one before them, about noise and quiet and silence in Mansfield Park, which gave serious thought to what was called noise and what was called quiet in the book, and what that signified.  Though I also enjoyed my final breakout session, where I heard a lecture about the role and expectations put upon clergy wives in Austen’s time, and how suited all her characters who either marry clergy, want to, or are pursued by clergymen, would be for it, especially Fanny(would have her challenges but generally suited) and Mary Crawford(not suited at all).  In the evening was the banquet and the ball, though when I wasn’t able to get into a dance workshop I found without that refresher on Regency dancing I really couldn’t keep up at all, so I went to bed early.  Yesterday morning we flew home.

Definitely not going to the annual meeting next year, but year after of course is here in DC, which will hopefully be lower-stress for us, since we won’t have to travel for it.  Though by then, I also intend to have a book to hawk…



7 thoughts on “Back from Montreal

  1. This is very good –especially the observations on the true nature of Montreal city, what we see there — much poverty and endless smoking.

    I’ll share it with others who went to the JASNA conference. I love the honesty of it. Next time we go both of us must do a tour together. I hope also you can get into a dance workshop so you can join in on the dancing at the close.

    Thank you.

  2. Wonderful blog and astute comments on Montreal. As a resident here, I would definitely agree that people here are not happy; in fact, they tend to be very aggressive, often over language issues. The number of homeless has mushroomed since the depression here in the 1990s following the failed referendum. Ever since separation became a real issue in the 1970s, many businesses moved to Toronto and the economy here suffered for years. Once again social programs are being cut. The corruption here is quite mind-boggling, which is why it took so long to pay for the Olympic Stadium, referred to as the Big-O(we). Many pockets were lined in its construction; likewise, the director of the new super-hospital, slated to open next year, is now in jail. In Quebec, the various governments have continuously fleeced the public, so now we are faced with a fabricated need for austerity. As socio-economic unrest intensifies, I imagine separation will become an issue again, and they may actually succeed this time.

      • No, I don’t think separating will help, but it’s what many of the people of Quebec want, especially the politicians they elect. The last referendum was unbelievably close. We’ve had two so far.

  3. Thanks for your review. I want to add that the dances at the ball were unusually difficult, so that even experienced dancers had difficulty. There are many, many English Country dances with easy steps, such that the room could have been filled with beautiful unbroken lines of dancers relating to each other. A real loss, and I hope this is the last time that such complicated dances are attempted.

  4. Pingback: A second JASNA, this time Montreal | Under the Sign of Sylvia II

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