I took this shot at the Palais de Congres, a sort of convention center in the downtown area of Montreal, Quebec, in July of 2011. It is probably my second most favorite shot of the year, and I sat on the floor in this entrance lobby for over an hour waiting for the perfect situation to present itself. I’d actually been eyeing up this building for years as I drove past it on my way out of the city, and i finally took an opportunity to explore it with camera in hand. Incidentally, I shot this “from the hip,” as they say, and I couldn’t have been any luckier. The lighting was exactly as I’d hoped (it was late afternoon), and the angle was perfect. Every time I look at this photo now I wonder what this woman would think of me broadcasting her picture for everyone to see.
Montreal is one of my favorite cities in North America. I’ve been going there to escape the humdrum of everyday life since one of my closest friends from high school started college at McGill University back I’m 1998. Since then I have been enticed by the urban landscape of this very European city so close to the US.
There’s a sort of dichotomy that happens in Montreal that I haven’t experienced in any other city. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much time there, but I swear there is a small town hidden among the skyscrapers and asphalt built in the shadow of Mont Royal. I’ve never felt unsafe walking around this city, no matter what time of day, and late at night there is an eerie absence of automobile traffic like I’ve never seen in a place that is equally as loud and fast paced when the sun is up. Additionally, it is one of the easiest cities to drive in, and I’ve (mostly) never felt on edge while navigating its streets by car.
I have many happy memories of times spent exploring all that Montreal has to offer. I still remember my first taste of poutine, the real food of the gods, and I’ll never forget the first time I was cut off by several rude Québécois drivers as I found my way to my friends apartment in my 1993 Toyota Paseo (a very small car when you’re 6’5″) while slowly (too slowly) realizing that the blinking green light is equivalent to our traffic light turn arrow in a left turn lane. Who knew? I am still intrigued by the maze of underground shopping malls that wind through the downtown area allowing even the hardiest French-Canadian commercialized respite from the brutal winter winds north of the border. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius.
I’ve had plenty of people over the years tell me I am crazy for choosing Montreal over Toronto as best Canadian city, but I stand by my choice. I have too many good memories over too many years to turn my back on a city that’s been very good to me. Sure it may not have the hustle and bustle of some of its larger cousins, but I’m ok with that. Give me some culturally sanctioned cheese fries, people with just enough chip on their shoulder to make socialization a healthy gamble, and a place to buy Chinese pork buns or Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, and I’m in heaven. Je t’aime, Montreal. Je t’aime.