À vous de jouer: Random snapshots and superficial observations of Montréal

You fly in and plop into a setting without any logical geographical approach; obviously your impressions are superficial. So I do not pretend to delve into the distinctions between North American neighbors, Canada and the United States. This is a quick take from someone who has lived in Texas, a long way from that border, for all her adult life.

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1. How ignorant am I? Up until I climbed Mont Royal, I was clueless that was the derivation of the name of the city I was visiting.

2. Staying in the Mont Royal Plateau area, we were plunged into a land where everyone was youthful. Frequenting Southtown San Antonio, we’re accustomed to being the oldest one in a restaurant.

3. Montrealers are fit. They walk; they ride bikes; they climb stairs. While we were there, the marathon ended a few blocks from our house. We walked a lot. We were staying  in a Bermuda Triangle of metro stations, in the exact center of three stations, each probably a little more than a mile from our flat.

4. I bike-share in San Antonio all the time and threatened to make the Mister do so in Montréal. Stations are everywhere and highly used. I read the more people riding, the safer they are. It’s true car drivers are extremely alert and diligent about yielding to both pedestrians and cyclists in Montréal, but, be careful what you wish for. Although numerous, the bike lanes are crowded, particularly during rush hour. Someone like me riding would have tailgating traffic piled up behind. These people are serious commuters; they are not riding leisurely.

4. Canadians are incredibly calm and orderly drivers. No squealing brakes; no cursing; no birds shot; no screeching starts. Once in a great while, you might hear someone give an extremely slight tap to their horn.

5. Canadians have longer attention spans than I. In museums, they stop and read all the accompanying text in exhibits. They patiently sit through all related documentaries. They stay in their museums a long time. While I found the Samurai exhibit at Pointe-à-Callière interesting, I felt an unappreciative, uneducated bumpkin breezing through in contrast to the Montrealers devouring the detailed description of each warrior’s outfit.

6. The housing stock in Montréal is amazing. Miles of three-story, sturdy structures all being refurbished for young urbanites.

7. Living in a loft, I’m accustomed to hauling groceries up a floor to the kitchen. Staying in a second floor apartment in Montréal was fine. Loved the space. But my stairs are inside. Most of their stairs are wrought-iron and outside. How in the world do they manage maneuvering them when iced over in winter? Thank goodness this Texan did not have to try.

8. While I did not witness hoards attending mass, Catholicism is emphasized, if only to remind everyone this is not turf conquered by the Church of England.

9. Quebec is amazingly stubborn. French is dominant, but it has been hanging in there for a long time. The French were expelled by England more than two centuries ago.

10. My belated apologies to Dr. Wayne Reilly. I was pretty all-knowing while I was at Hollins College. Or at least I thought I was. I preferred the laid-back, liberal air of Dr. Henry Nash. I concentrated on important, real world issues; my thesis surely would resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Brought up provincially in then-little Virginia Beach, I totally dismissed Dr. Reilly’s focus on separatists in Canada. What a waste of time. When the secession vote came squeakily close in recent years, I felt my face redden in embarrassment for my attitude 40 years prior. Mea culpa.

11. You have to love a city where a piano sits on the sidewalk inviting people to play. Someone always seems to be playing, and an appreciative audience is always nearby.

To view more snapshots taken during our vacation in Montreal, visit shutterfly. The Mister shares photo credits. If a photo is taken at some wild angle, it definitely is mine. It really bothers some people, but I have this theory. People don’t always look at things geometrically straight on, so why should photos have a level point of view?

Or maybe, that’s just me. I’m the only one not pausing to see things squarely.

Maybe that explains a lot….

Magic of Lanterns in Montréal: But who invited the Monkey King?

The banquet we would all love to attend: The Feast of Peaches hosted by Xi Wang Mu. The menu is the main attraction because Xi Wang Mu, the Queen of the West, offers her guests peaches of immortality.

This feast is the theme of the 20th annual Magic of Lanterns display at the Montréal Botanical Garden. During the event, 700 traditional and 200 themed lanterns cast shimmering light throughout the Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden. While designed in Canada, these are crafted in Shanghai, where lanterns have been part of festivities since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.).

Wanting to find out more about the availability of those luscious-sounding peaches,  I turned to the Internet. There are numerous academically styled accounts of the Celestial Queen’s crop, but I prefer the less reverent one found on GodChecker:

Xi-Wangmu started off at the bottom. She was a plague-carrying tiger spirit at the time of the Han Dynasty and caused much trouble. 

But after offering the Emperor a bowl of magic peaches, her career really took off. Daoism came along and elevated her to Top Goddess. She married Mu-Gong, otherwise known as Mr. Yang, and became Mrs. Yin, the personification of Femininity.

Taking up residence in paradise, she began to be associated with immortality…. Xi-Wangmu now grows magic peach trees in her Heavenly Peach Garden. The most common of these take a thousand years to blossom — but the Golden Peaches of Immortality only ripen once in nine thousand years.

Eating one of Xi-Wangmu’s peaches bestows immediate long life and a host of other benefits. The Gods like them so much that Peach Banquets are a regular occurrence in Heaven.

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From the number of posts I have made, one would assume we spent our entire two-week vacation at the Botanical Garden. Unfortunately, however, we were not present in the evening when the lantern lights were not forced to compete with the sun. But here is one of numerous videos found online:

And, alas, we were served none of the Queen’s magical peaches. It was like visiting the Garden of Eden after the apple was bitten, thanks to that trickster, the Monkey King. According to GodChecker:

The last Peach Banquet was cancelled after Monkey ate all the peaches, but bookings are currently being taken for the next one in 5078 A.D. 

I hope the Monkey King’s invitation gets lost.

Update Added on October 17: Totally missed the news that this year’s Dallas State Fair featured a Chinese Lantern Festival. The home of Big Tex actually squeezed in more themed lanterns than Montréal.

Everything has to be bigger in the big-hair part of Texas, and the Dallas lanterns go one step farther with animation and blinking LEDs.

What else can you expect from the fried food fanatical land where awards are lavished upon such concoctions as fried bacon cinnamon rolls?

But even taken this far over the top, the lanterns look magical.

Update on October 20: I sure hope my mention of him is not what made Big Tex’s ears burn. Alas, Big Tex met the same fate as all the food in the booths around him. Fried.

Monarchs from Montréal headed for our milkweed

I am worried.

While we were visiting the Montréal Botanical Garden, we spent some time in the Insectarium. We found out staff only recently finished the tricky task of tagging and releasing monarch butterflies.

According to Global Montreal, the tags on the butterflies’ wings are 9 millimeters in diameter. That worried me at first, but only because I am mentally meter deficient. Nine is the equivalent of about 1/64 of an inch.

Even at that, the miniscule tag weighs almost 1/10 of a butterfly. Does that make it wobbly in flight? If someone removes 10 pounds from the stack of weights on the assisted pull-up machine at the gym (Without getting specific, let’s just say that is less than 10 percent of my body weight.), my arms notice. They cannot hoist my body skyward. Again, I guess I should not worry, because some of the monarchs monitored in past years have arrived safely at their Mexican destination.

On to my next worry. We, in San Antonio, are on the flight path. But, are we going to be ready?

I mean, I just made almost that same flight Saturday, and it made me really hungry. The mister and I bought a sandwich in the airport to split on the plane to Newark. But that first leg left us hungry still, so we bought two sandwiches to eat on the flight to Houston. Then we still had to refill a little in Houston. It took me a beet and feta salad and half a bottle of wine to be able to make it home.

So, we required considerable refueling to make that flight. And that was with complete pull-up assistance from the plane.

In case you are having difficulties following my illogic, after covering more than 1,700 miles, those fluttering monarchs are going to be plenty hungry on arrival.

This past spring, I watched the caterpillars along the Museum Reach of the River Walk, and they really pack it away. They decimated that milkweed patch. I walked upriver yesterday to inspect, and it has yet to fully recover.

So that’s why I’m worried. The monarchs are already on their way here, and the milkweed’s not ready. Hurry up and grow. You have a job to do.

Which all leads me back to the Insectarium. As with the rest of the garden, it took more time than we expected. We are even less “bug people” than “plant people.” But more than 160,000 specimens are housed there.

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That’s a lot of bugs, butterflies and moths. Obviously, we did not meet them all or we would be flying back way behind the monarchs.

The displays make bugs fascinating. Many insects are shockingly beautiful; many are shockingly horrifying, creatures created to star in nightmares. Why, get this, they have cucarachas even bigger than we grow them in San Antonio!

I’m just happy we were at the Insectarium on a September weekday and didn’t have to shove any kids aside to get our noses up near the glass.

Update Added on October 4: Not desiring additional recaps of last night’s presidential debate, I drowsily reached for the off button on the clock radio this morning when the story changed. NPR (TPR in my neck of the woods) ran a story on migrating monarchs captured in a new 3-D film for IMAX, Flight of the Butterflies, directed by Mike Slee.

The NPR story features some cuts, but the film is not migrating toward the Alamo IMAX very quickly. In the mean time, here is the trailer:

A San Antonio blogger obsessed with monarchs provides better informed posts on an ongoing basis at Texas Butterfly Ranch.

And, Monique Beaudin blogs about monarch adoption, birthing and releasing at home in Montreal.

Update Added on October 5: The San Antonio Botanical Garden has a seasonal list of bloomers you can plant to refuel migrating monarchs, and the San Antonio Zoo exhibition features 15 to 20 species of farm-raised butterflies fluttering freely in a walk-through enclosure from March through November each year.

Update Added on November 6: And then there was the monarch taking our migration shortcut by hopping aboard Southwest Airlines to the San Antonio Botanical Garden….

Update Added on January 18, 2013: The Native Plant Society of Texas is making it easier to plant more milkweed for monarchs to munch on during their long journey up and down North America:

Native Plant Society of Texas chapters, nature centers, schools, educational groups and others can receive small grants from the State Office to spend developing Monarch Waystations or Monarch demonstration gardens on public sites in their immediate areas.

The purpose of the program is to educate members and the public about Monarch conservation, to produce and distribute milkweeds that support reproduction by Monarch butterflies, and to restore Monarch habitats throughout the Texas migration flyway.

Grant sources are co-funded by Native Plant Society of Texas  and Monarch Watch. The total amount of monies to be budgeted for this program varies. Normally it is an amount that will provide for grants ranging from $50 to $400. Chapters and others are not required to spend their own funds to match the amount of the grant.