Montreal is quickly becoming my favorite place to visit from Toronto. Last week I was there as the first real warm weather set in, we spent the afternoon in the park tossing the Frisbee and letting the sun darken us. For me it was a special moment because I was able to do something I had been dreaming of for the last few years. Something so simple and so normal here, but almost unheard of in the places where I have been living. I was finally able to just take my shirt off and lay in the warm, green grass of a park and enjoy the sounds of the Canadian summer.
We had to stay outside and stay active. We wanted to be full of this new found weather, we needed it to replenish us, like people lost in a desert who have finally come upon a water hole. The Bixie bike system is incredible, something that should lead the way for the future of all cities. It is a series of bike stands set up strategically throughout the city, and with a credit card one can rent a quality bike and conveniently ride it to another stand and leave it there. Riding through Montreal is a joy, with specific bike lanes on the major roads, and a respect for bikers that seems to be non-existent in other places. It is a vehicle after all, the only difference being that it is powered by our legs rather than damaging fossil fuels. I have heard of systems similar to the Bixie bikes being set up in places like Mexico city and actually working to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions significantly.
On Sunday, after a long night of drink and celebration with strange and interesting people from around Montreal, we headed to Mont Royal for what is called Tam-Tams. It is a grand music festival that anyone can join, and it takes place every weekend of the summer. Approaching the park there is a massive and towering statue of an awe inspiring angel, around which the crowds slowly begin to amass. Gradually the sounds of the drum circles grow, and more and more people begin to gather. Anyone can join the circles, and if they don't have an instrument they can still be participate simply by dancing. So it was that I watched people from all walks of life letting themselves go to the beat of the drums. One large and unkempt man who looked like he sat behind a computer in a dark room all day, beat at his drum with a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, burning away. Another man in rather fancy clothes who could have been a stock broker by day, closed his eyes and looked to the sky as he let the rhythm carry him away. The drum master in the middle of the circle, with a magnificent looking djembe, smiled deeply and bounced around, his dark skin shining in the sun. The lone guitar player sat on the fringes, twanging to the different sounds, demonstrating his soul with the slow shake of his head side to side. The only thing these very different people all had in common was that they were there to escape, to let themselves go through music, and the satisfaction evident on their faces could be felt in the air that day, spreading across the park.
We sat on the grass as the area filled up, by mid-afternoon there was easily thousands of people. At one point we strolled up the hill to check out the medieval battles that I had heard of. We had seen random people walking through the park earlier donning shining armour, so my curiosity was at a high. As we entered the tree line it was like I was suddenly watching a scene from Braveheart. There were two long lines of people clad in armour of different shapes and colours, brandishing padded weapons of all sorts. They faced off preparing for battle, and when it began they moved toward each other quickly, slashing and spearing. Apparently it was on the honour system, where if you were hit directly without shielding you would lose that limb. So people would be down on one knee still swinging madly with their sword, others would be holding one arm behind them. Eventually they would be struck down with a blow to the body and one side would be victorious.
The spirit of Montreal truly showed itself that weekend, and the following day all of Quebec decided to vote for real change in Ottawa, a huge majority favoring the progressive NDP. It was like that vote simply reinforced the impression that I was feeling towards the people of Quebec, that they are truly a social people that understand the value of human compassion and of shared human experiences.