Siege Diaries 9/15/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Are you sizzle or steak?

This is a cautionary message, about adopting the tenets of philosophy mainly for show and for impressing other people.

Maybe that’s a thing when you’re younger, but I don’t think most of my friends would be impressed by tossing around big words and big ideas. I’ve got some really thoughtful and educated friends who continually challenge me to be better. You go into that arena, you better be ready to deal with the lions.

When I went to Montreal almost exactly two years ago, I focused mostly on the kind of things we’d do in any city with a well-documented historical past: We focused on the Old Town area, visiting the archaeological museum, a historical house, and spending some time walking around this very tight few blocks, before I attended the OSM concert in the evening.

This time it was different. This time, the entire trip evoked feelings of pilgrimage for me. The reason for the trip to hear the OSM, once again, this time with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony–a work laden with significance and meaning for me. But the choice of activities this time evoked my very first time in the city, in 1976, just after the Olympics, and also included an honest-to-god shrine (two or three, if you count some of our incidental activities).

I was nine years old in 1976, and I had fallen in love with the Olympics held that summer–particularly Nadia Comaneci, but I loved it all–all of the sports, the flags, the internationality of it all. The vacation, in August, 1976, a matter of a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the Olympic games, featured visits to Olympic venues–I remember the Athletes’ Village in particular, and a visit to the venue where the swimming events took place. I even was able to purchase still-available Olympic souvenirs, including a keychain and a t-shirt. The other highlights of the trip included a trip up Mount Royal via horse-drawn carriage, and my Dad’s stories from years after about how we’d been snubbed in a hotel restaurant for our lack of French skills.

Of course, there was much nine-year-old me missed. I had no idea what the FLQ was or that there had been actual bombings in Montreal. I had no idea how deeply in debt Montreal had gone to host the Games, or the level of corruption and mismanagement involved in constructing its venues. And I had an odd blind spot until–literally–today around Olympic Stadium. I’ve long appreciated its design, with its tower featuring that iconic 45 degree lean–the largest inclined tower in the world. (I’m currently working on a Cats of Brutalism embroidery featuring it). But–strangely enough–I had no memory of seeing the structure. Why? In doing the research for this post, I realized that the stadium was not done when I saw it. The tower wasn’t completed until the 1980s. And that swimming pool I saw? That was located at the base of where the tower was awaiting construction. We had actually toured the stadium.

So Tuesday was spent on a pilgrimage to see those sites of my youth, plus a few more. First up: The Oratory of St. Joseph. I assumed this was an old church (much like the one in the heart of Montreal we visited last time), and it is–but the massive structure we visited, I was stunned to discover, was designed in the 1920s and completed in the late 1940s. It has strong Art Deco/modernist vibes. It also had spectacular views of the city and a gorgeous Stations of the Cross garden.

Afterwards, we drove up Mount Royal, and as we climbed the road towards the summit, I got a strong flashback to that ride in the horse-drawn carriage. Such rides are no longer offered. The carriages, known as caleches, were banned at the end of 2019. We were in a bit of a hurry and had decided not to go to the lookout–until we realized–too late–that the view here was of a different part of the city. We’d come back later in the day.

We then spent some time visiting a game store that dated to 1981, followed by a brunch (French toast with fresh raspberry compote) at Tutti Frutti, which had moved since we visited in 2019 (it had been in the Old Town area but was now several blocks away). This had us driving through a lot more of the city than last time, and we got a sense of the city’s iconic neighbourhood architecture–and how very European it seemed, with its winding wrought-iron balconies and narrow streets.

There was also this–an actual Communist Party campaign poster!

We then drove up to Olympic Park to see the stadium up close.

These were some of my husband’s photos of the stadium and the Olympic Village buildings (the latter taken from our car).

After a stop at Fairmount Bagels (catsitting payment!) we came back to the lookout on Mount Royal. I had some fun with the new telephoto lens I purchased for my phone camera, and finally we got some really good shots of the stadium. I also was fascinated by the low, isolated hills to the north. These, I found out, are the Monteregian Hills (named after Mount Royal, or Mons Regius in Latin). Like Mount Royal, these are volcanic in origin, but these were not volcanoes; instead, magma intruded into sedimentary rock but never reached the surface–until erosion revealed the much-harder igneous rocks. Apparently by following the line of these hills, one can see how a single hot spot created this “range” over many years.

It was now about 3 pm. We knew we’d be facing outbound rush hour traffic, so we headed back to our hotel, had an amazing burger at a nearby restaurant called La Belle et Le Boeuf (the pun is even better in English: Beauty and the Beef). I got changed, and then it was back into town for the concert.

I think it deserves its own post, so it will wait until tomorrow.