A Magical City Called Montreal (II)

At the St. Josephs Oratory I found wonderful flower beds and old-looking steps. Three flights up and I finally noticed a sign: “Reserve aux pelerins qui montent a genoux.” Meaning this section is reserved for pilgrims who will have to kneel their way up. At the far end I could even see two piteous looking women who were absorbed in their prayers and kneeling from one step to another. I couldn’t imagine this being the most comfortable way to ascend but it certainly looks impressive and worshippy.

A group of Indian tourists must have had thought the same. As I descended again, with a nice view ahead of me, they were on the bottom steps, praying towards the monument. I already found this rather amusing, even though I was able to hide my smile in the very last minute. The next thing I know another old lady decided it is time to kneel her way up the midsection. She goes down on her knees, ignoring everyone around her. The group of tourists, once done with paying their respects to such a foreign piece of religion, see how she goes about. At first they are a bit confused. Then the women of the clan start imitating her. They bend down, hold their arms out in worship and kneel up one step at a time. The children soon follow. So do the men. I can see their painful expressions when old bones rub against the what-must-be extremely uncomfortable stones. I am too baffled to intervene at first. Then I hold back. I feel stupid for telling another cultural group that this is not necessary to pay Montreal its respects. People are circumventing the group and using their legs to walk up the stairs. The Indian children look around, I can see the question forming in their mind: “Why do we have to kneel and everyone else gets to go up normally?” As far as I can tell, they followed the kneeling woman up all the way to the top. A total of four excruciating and painful staircases of stone, especially for the elderly. One observation I have taken from this misunderstanding is that their culture seems to be respectful of other nation’s rituals and that they couldn’t stand to make a mistake in public or disrespect the rites and passages of another group.

The rest of the day went by in a whim. Checking in at the hostel. More French dialects, a long line of young people. I felt that even though I am only in my mid-twenties I am among the oldest guests. This might also be because Canada has an official drinking age of 18. I was still a bit at unease. My room was shared with a variety of people: Two students from Boston. Three German girls from Stuttgart, who disappeared the next morning, not without knocking down a few beds and waking everyone up. A newcomer from Melbourne, who is scheduled to study in this city for one semester. A nice chick from New Jersey, who spontaneously joined her friends up to Canada. As you can tell, a nice intercultural mix making up for a typical hostel life. I really would not recommend staying in this accommodation in Montreal otherwise, though. The beds were pretty shaky, the bathroom was tiny, and the breakfast selection rather moderate (no free food).

While I had missed out on the Osheaga, the greatest music fest in Quebec county which took place only one week before, I did manage to stop by during a Heavy Metal festival. Supposedly, there was a concert series on Isle Sainte-Helene and many American and Canadian metallers had made it to the city to see Marilyn Manson and other icons. None stayed in a hostel though, as they camped out in the woods to defend their tough reputation.

The afternoon was well spent on Montreal’s main shopping street: Rue Sainte-Catherine. I had more opportunities to embarrass myself when ordering coffee in French and painfully noticing that my French skills have rapidly vanished within the past years I’ve been away from Europe and out of school. I’ve also had the chance to go into a real Canadian Aldo, to disappointingly see that their prices are still not comparable to New York sale bargains. It doesn’t make much sense to go on a shopping spree in Quebec, because even though the French-Canadian fashion style is different from what you find here, the prices are not too convincing. After all, the Big Apple is simply known for being a fashion mekka and for finding great deals.

Along the Rue Saint Catherine I must have ran across three different churches until I finally made a right down to Chinatown. This city has many churches, domes, and chapels, which make this town even more adorable. Le Quartier Chinois is small but quaint. Of course anything regarding Little China is disappointing after having been to New York and San Francisco. It’s still great to check out, maybe grab a bite, and then settle of towards the Notre Dame. And yes, Montreal has the same-named basilica Paris has. They even look alike, which makes matters even more confusing. The Canadian Notre Dame offers a light show at night and it’s also worth going inside during the day to marvel at the great ornaments and other decoration. It plays a significant part in Franco-Canadienne history and signifies a true milestone in this city.

After this rather eventful day I was too tired to explore Montreal’s nightlife on a Saturday evening out. I geared up for another day in little France and snoozed off for a good ten hours.