Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

Raccoon dogs and romantic vistas at the Palace of Prospering Virtue

One of my favorite experiences on my recent trip to Korea was a visit to Changdeokgung, otherwise known as the Palace of Prospering Virtue. Changdeok is one of the five grand palaces in Korea, the others being Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, Changguyunggung, and Gyeonghuigung.

I had actually been to Changdeokgung many years ago, but that was a rain-plagued visit, so I was looking forward to a more thorough visit.

If you’re looking for big and expansive, then I highly recommend heading up the road to Gyeongbokgung. However, in my opinion, what Changdeokgung offers is a more intimate and romantic experience. The fee is only 3,000 won (less than three US dollars).

Some history

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, Changdeokgung was originally built in the 1400s by King Taejong, during the Joseon dynasty. It was the site where rulers and ministers hammered out affairs of state, and where the royal family lived. Changdeokgung was burnt down, like all palaces in Seoul, during the Japanese invasion of 1592, but was rebuilt in the 1600s.

changdeokgung_lee_courtyard

Go early!

Changdeokgung features a “secret garden” tour, so we booked spots for the first English version tour of the day, which was around 10:30 am. We arrived in advance of that to do some exploring of the rest of the grounds and that was definitely the right decision; there were hardly any visitors at the palace, which gave us beautiful views, uninterrupted by the hordes of people you usually find at tourist sites.

Take water

You’ll know this anyway if you visit Korea in the summer, but definitely make sure you buy a bottle (or two) from the onsite store before you embark on the Secret Garden tour. You’ll need it!

An impressive main gate

This is Donhwamun Gate, the main palace gate. It’s a two-story structure and is the largest of all palace gates in Korea. It once houses a giant bell and drum. The gate was destroyed in the 16th-century Japanese invasion.

changdeokgung_lee_gate.jpg

Below, are pictures of the main courtyard and Injeongjeon, the main hall. As I mentioned above, the courtyard was mostly empty and we were treated to one of those awe-inspiring moments where you can slip into your imagination and wonder what it might have been like to tread these stones in a bygone era.

changdeokgung_marcie_palace

You can also get photo-bombed by your own wife!

changdeokgung_marcie_lee_palace

So many doorways

As my friends and students know, I love doors and details—and there’s no shortage of them to be found at Changdeokgung.

An ornate access panel to a chimney:

changdeokgung_chimneydoor

Decorate roof tile:

changdeokgung_decorativetile
I loved coming across doorway views like this during my maundering:

changdeokgung_doorwaytocourtyard

Traditional (and weathered) door:

changdeokgung_greendoor

Happy tiger sculpture:

changdeokgung_happytiger

The traditional Korean buildings were heated from underneath. This opening shows where servants would have placed fuel below the floor, accessed from the outside of the quarters:

changdeokgung_heatingdoor

I adored the many shapes, patterns, and colors that could be found as we explored the labyrinthian network of buildings:

changdeokgung_lee_walls

changdeokgung_marcie_doorway

I never tire of the swooping rooflines you see at the Korean palaces:

changdeokgung_marcie_roofline

Doorway with sign written in traditional Chinese characters above (can you see the sweat dripping off of me?):

changdeokgung_lef_reddoor

Another doorway:

changdeokgung_old_browndoor

Stunning detail and color on the roof beams:

changdeokgung_roofbeams

Window shutters:

changdeokgung_shutter

Magnificent doorways:

changdeokgung_three_doors

Not that secret garden

After exploring the main grounds, we headed to the starting point of our tour of the Secret Garden. Obviously, it is a very evocative name, reminiscent of the famous children’s book, but the true explanation of why the garden has that name is far less magical. As our tour guide explained, the name in Korean is “Biwon” and comes from the office of the same name that existed in the 1800s.

The garden has actually had many names, but during the Joseon period, was mostly called “Huwon.” The garden was originally developed for use by the royal family. It offers stunning views, featuring a lotus pond, pavilions, and meandering pathways.

The Lotus Pond

The first place we arrived at on the tour was the gorgeous Lotus Pond. You can see the gate on the far side of the pond. The main doorway is for the king; the two flanking it are for his ministers. These doors are lower, forcing the ministers to crouch (bow) as they enter, emphasizing their servitude to the king.

changdeokgung_lotuspond

changdeokgung_lotus

changdeokgung_lotuspond&pavilion

I loved this face peering over the water. The last time I visited the garden, water was streaming out of its mouth.

changdeokgung_creaturerainspout

Raccoon Dog

While I was off taking photos of the pond, my friend Stacey was at the other end and got to see an animal I’ve never heard of: a raccoon dog. Here’s her photo:

changdeokgung_raccoondog

The tour guide told her that the animal is “not cute” and that she preferred cats. She also warned Stacey to keep her distance; the raccoon dog is wild and could have rabies. It seems to resemble a fox more than a dog, but gets its name from the distinctive mask.

Nature by design

The rest of the tour took us through different portions of the garden, though some areas were closed. Along the way, we were treated to many scenic views, all purposely designed.

changdeokgung_lagoon&pavilion

changdeokgung_paviliondetail

changdeokgung_rock

And I thought I was old

The tour ended with a stop by the Hyangnamu (aromatic) tree, which is believed to be over 700 years old. As you can see in the photo, it is propped up in places, but you certainly can’t blame it. Many visitors see different shapes and creatures in the curving branches of the tree, the most common being an elephant.

changdeokgung_700-year-old_tree

As I mentioned off the top, Changdeokgung is well worth the visit. It may hover in the shadow of Gyeokbokgung, but you can easily see both palaces, as they are within walking distance of each other.

Designing a doorway to Storyville

kelowna2017-doordesigns02

I’m just at the tail-end of a tour of schools in the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna. The schedule has been intense, as I’ve been often delivering four workshops a day spread across two different schools.

At each school, I delivered a different brainstorming project, depending on the age of the audience and my allotted time. For the youngest students (the kindergartens and Grade 1s) I led a round of Monster Design 101, while for the older students we either mapped a hero’s journey across a fantastical landscape or designed a magical doorway. Any of these activities serve as an excellent springboard into a story. In each case, the students complete their own individual brainstorming sheet while simultaneously contributing to an overall group one.

The result is always distinctive and unique . . . and always a concoction of wonderful ideas.

kelowna2017-map

kelowna2017-doordesigns01

Even though part of my brain was exhausted by week’s end, another part was percolating with ideas. In my very last visit of the week, the students and I group-designed this particular door:

doorclaw

I decided to take inspiration from it and write my own story, which I present below. It doesn’t match the door design exactly, but, as I always tell my workshop participants, brainstorming isn’t your boss. It’s just your guide and you need to feel free to veer off in different (and hopefully better) directions.

* * *


Time for Dinner

Tom raced down the street, school bag clattering on his back as he headed home. Coach had kept them behind for extra time and now he was going to be late for dinner. Again. And tonight Mom was making his favourite: spaghetti.

He was salivating over the thought of those home-made meatballs when he passed by the alley and came to a screeching halt. His older brother Daniel had warned him to never go down there, but that was Daniel for you. He thought he was the Boss of Everything. Besides, the alley was a shortcut home. Tom didn’t hesitate—meatballs were waiting for him!

He scampered into the alley and found himself in a narrow space with moody shadows clutching at him from either side. But other than that, it really wasn’t that scary. It was even pleasantly—and surprisingly—warm.

He was halfway through when he came upon the door.

That brought him to another stop. Because this wasn’t the type of door you encounter in everyday life. To begin with, it had a peculiar shape. The bottom was normal enough, starting in a rectangle, but at the top it branched off into different directions before tapering into five distinct points. Taking a step back to gain a better view, Tom realized it looked just like a claw. The door’s slats of wood appeared as if they had been once painted a bright red, though now very little of the color was left—just a tattered and peeling curl here and there. Otherwise, the door was mostly bare and grey, though two ornamental hinges danced whimsically across the wood in the curling shapes of dragon tails. They looked like they had once been a bright and proud black, though now they were so corroded by rain and time that long streaks of green dripped from them like poison tears.

There was a small doorknocker set in the middle of the door. It was in the shape of a face and was clenching a heavy ring of metal in its teeth. It had a wide-eyed expression; Tom decided that it looked surprised to see him. Then he looked down at the door handle. It had a round knob with a curlicue pattern.

Tom reached out for the knob, only to hear, “Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

Tom dropped his school bag and leapt backwards, eyes darting. Who had said that? The alley was completely deserted. Then Tom’s eyes wandered back to the door and he saw the doorknocker quivering, its lips contorting desperately around the heavy metal ring its mouth.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

It was as if it was trying to talk—though all too ineffectually.

Tom tugged at one of his ears. This can’t be happening, he thought. He stared down towards the end of the alley, where he could see the sun beginning to set overtop the rooftops in his neighborhood. Just around the corner and down the street was his house. And spaghetti and meatballs.

Better to just go home, he thought.

“Mrphymmmhhh . . .” the doorknocker said with a sigh.

Then again, spaghetti and meatballs happened every week. A talking door? That could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

No wonder Daniel warned me to stay away from here, Tom told himself. Maybe he wanted to keep this magical door to himself.

He reached for the handle again. The doorknocker grunted and grimaced, still trying to talk, still making no sense. Tom turned the doorknob and yanked. It screeched in complaint and held fast; no one had surely opened the door in ages. That’s when he noticed the keyhole below the knob.

“Hmm,” Tom murmured.

He stepped back and contemplated the door anew.

Suddenly, there was a metallic creak. It came from a metal letter slot that Tom had not yet noticed, set a few inches below the doorknocker. Something was working its way through the narrow flap. Tom furled his brow and watched in curiosity as a piece of paper edged out. When it was all the way through, it fluttered to the ground.

Tom stooped to pick it up. It was old and thin, scorched and torn around the edges. In ragged writing, someone had scrawled in dark red ink: HELP ME.

“What the!?” Tom gasped. He let the paper dropped back to the littered ground of the alley. “Who is me?

He tried to open the mail slot with his finger, but it didn’t offer any view of what lay beyond. He put his ear to the surface of the door and felt heat radiating from the wood. But he could hear nothing except for the desperate pleading coming from the doorknocker.

I guess it’s asking for help—that’s what it’s trying to say, Tom thought. He could see a very intense look in that doorknocker’s eyes—well as intense as you could get for something that wasn’t exactly . . . alive.

Tom began to pace the alley. What to do . . . what to do . . .

He was just about to give up on the whole venture when he noticed the oddly-colored brick in the wall, next to the door. Most of the other bricks were grey and rough. But this one was blueish. Upon closer scrutiny, Tom decided that it was even glowing slightly. He reached out, hesitantly, and touched the brick.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

The brick slid outwards, coughing with dust as it did so. Tom had to stand on his tip-toes to see the top of it. There, nestled in a perfect coffin-like hollow, was a large brass key.

“Cool,” Tom murmured as he reached in and tugged the key loose. It was heavy and old-fashioned, and felt cool in his hands. Tom decided to not waste another moment. He plugged the key into the door and cranked the knob, allowing himself a self-congratulatory smile as he did so.

Yes, he was very clever, he decided. He had discovered the hidden key in the bricks. Could Daniel have done that? Well, he hadn’t, because otherwise Tom would have heard about it. For once, Tom was going to be the hero. For once, he was going to reap the reward.

Slowly, the door groaned inward. Craning his neck, Tom peered inside. All he could see was a murky black tunnel.

It did not look inviting—certainly not as inviting as spaghetti and meatballs.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!” came the muffled cry from the doorknocker from what was now the other side of the open door.

Tom took a step backwards. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. Then, from the depths of the tunnel, came an unearthly, sibilating rumble. A sharp and stinging odour reached his nostrils; it smelled like soot or burning metal, like a car trying to screech to a halt with warn-out brake pads. Tom took another step back, only to suddenly feel the door whack him in the back as it slammed shut. Tom tumbled forward, into the pitch black, and landed roughly on ground littered with what felt like pebbles and sharp sticks. He could feel the tiny shards digging into his skin. He clutched one of the sticks and held it up to his face for closer inspection, but he couldn’t discern any detail in the darkness.

Then he heard the growl again. It came thundering through the tunnel, so loud and ominous it was like being grabbed by the pit of the stomach and turned inside out. Tom quickly scrambled to his feet and pressed himself against the now-shut door. He was still clutching the stick in one hand, but with his other, he reached behind him and fumbled for the doorknob. His hand found it, jiggled it, but it was locked shut.

Then, out of the blackness, a pair of amber eyes, appeared. They were shot through with red veins and punctuated by two knife-blade irises. Tom gulped. He may have even tried to scream, but no sound left his throat. Those eyes grew larger, closer. They cast a dim light in the cavern. Tom slowly lifted the stick he was clutching in his hand, as if it might somehow protect him.

It was only then he realized that it was a sliver of bone.

* * *

A few moments later, a wet and satisfied belch reverberated out of the alleyway and through the streets of the neighborhood. It was so loud it could be heard all the way to Tom’s house.

“What was that?” Tom’s mother wondered as she sat down at the dinner table.

“Who knows in this town,” Daniel replied as he plowed into his heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. “The better question is: What happened to Tommy this time?”

Tom’s mother sighed. “Late for dinner. AGAIN.”

Though, from a certain point of view—and, for the sake of argument, let’s just call that the point of view of a certain doorway lurking in a certain alleyway—Tom wasn’t late at all.

He was right on time.

Favorite doors of Shanghai

During my trip to Shanghai, I was able to find a lot of inspiration from the gardens, the architecture, and the overall sights and sounds of the city. Most of all, I found many wonderful doors!

Students, friends, and colleagues know I have a bit of a door obsession. I photograph them, write about them, and collect door knockers. I even have a trunk that is made out of an old door.

Here are some of my favorite doors and details that I was able to find during my recent trip to storied and exotic city of Shanghai. These come from Old Shanghai, Ancient Town in Qibao and the French Confession . . . or, otherwise, just here and there throughout the city.

oldshanghai-doorknockersquare

oldshanghai-doorlock

qibao-reddoorswithlionknockers

qibao-red-door-lionknocker

frenchconfession-door-swirls

frenchconfession-old-door

qibao-temple-exit-door-knocker

yugarden-doorwithtrees

yugarden-happydoorknocker

yugarden-exitdoor

yugarden-traditionalbrowndoorway

yugarden-traditionalbrowndoorway-detail

yugarden-traditionaldoor-square

old shanghai - gremlin door handle.JPG

yu-garden-door-knocker-sun-lion-01

Exploring Québec ~ Day 4

oldquebec-marcie-thinking

Day 4 was actually the final day of my time in Québec City. Since it was a truncated day, with part of it spent getting to the airport and flying home (which actually also turned out to be a better part of the night—but such are the risks that go with trying to make flight connections across a giant country such as Canada), Marcie and I did not do a great deal, other than visit the Museum of Civilization, have a final lunch, and then wander the old streets one last time.

The Museum of Civilization is in the lower old town, but in a very modern building. The main exhibit chronicles the history of the province and is brimming with all sorts of interesting relics from the past. I highly recommend it.

Well, one thing we learned about this place is that people are extremely convivial, full of love, and very proud of their beautiful cities. And well they should be! Even wandering through the time-worn streets of Québec City one last time, Marcie and I discovered many lovely doors and details.

How did we miss these previously? I’m not sure! But here are some of the final things we noticed.

oldquebec-yellow-door-flowerhandle

olddoor-reddoorstones

oldquebec-55-door-marker

oldquebec-bienvenudoorbuzzer02

oldquebec-doorbuzzer-gray

oldquebec-facedoorknocker

oldquebec-gray-door-handle

oldquebec-liondoorknocker

oldquebec-windowlattice

oldquebec-wooden-door-winebottle

Well, my next adventure, will be sticking my nose into my sketchbooks and laptop to work on the actual “writing” phase of my writing projects—and to teach some creative writing courses. One involves the theme of family history . . . but that’s a post for another time. In the meantime, I’m fuelled up with inspiration and ready to spring into a fall of creativity!

Exploring Québec City ~ Day 3

We woke up on the morning of our third day in Québec City feeling very sore, our legs reminding us of the amount of trekking we did yesterday. According to Marcie’s app, over 26,000 steps! So we decided to have a casual day.

Marcie spent the morning exploring the shops on Rue Saint-Jean, while I stayed in the hotel room, at the window seat, doing some writing. I had a goal to finish a particular chapter of one of my books before the end of this trip. The scene I’m working on is set in an old museum, a sort of cabinet of wonders, so this whole trip to Old Canada has been very helpful and invigorating. I’m not sure if I’m actually going to be able to complete this chapter before I’m back in Vancouver, but I’ve outlined the whole scene and now—ha, ha—just have to write it. Well, maybe I’ll complete the chapter on the flight home and that will give me some sort of sense of accomplishment. I tend to be a slow writer anyway, and am not one of those who forces myself to achieve a certain word count each day or week. It’s just not the way I create.

In any case, after Marcie returned from shopping, we headed out to the provincial parliament building and registered for the free tour. We had 45 minutes to spare, so we wandered around the neighbourhood, which we had some familiarity with from the previous day. We came across an old church on Grande Allée East that was for sale and discussed whether we would ever consider buying in it and living in it. We thought the turret at the top would make for a neat studio—but it would be one laborious walk each morning!

abandonedchurch

It was actually sad to the church in a dilapidated state. Tall weeds were sprouting from the sidewalks and many of the windows were boarded up.

oldpillarwithdandelions.jpg

Of course, the cost for renovating and up keeping such a building would be exuberant and, of course, we don’t have the money for such a venture. So we left behind our whimsical moment and took our tour at the parliament building.

Like so many of the provincial parliamentary buildings in Canada, it is a beautiful structure—and a little better maintained than the old church up the street!

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parliament-fountain

parliament-fountain-frog

parliament-marciestainedglass

parliament-chamber-clock

The 45-minute tour was excellent and we enjoyed the beautiful stained glass windows and magnificent chambers. Many of our fellow tourists were Canadian, so the guide made sure to keep testing us on Canadian history. (I feel like I did pretty well.)

After the tour, we decided we needed a leisurely lunch and headed back towards our church and enjoyed a couple of hours at Le 3 Brasseurs, which is a chain I was first introduced to in Montréal. I encourage Marcie to try the flammekueche, which I had tried previously, while I had poutine. Because, you know. You can never have enough poutine.

marcie-flamekueche

3brasseurs-poutine

Well, of course you cane have way too much poutine. I certainly have while I’ve been in this province, but, hey, I convinced myself that I deserved my poutine indulgence after walking 26,000 steps the previous day before. I’m not sure how we convinced ourselves that we also deserved a refreshing pitcher of sangria. We just did.

Well it was Monday, and that was the last day of the long holiday weekend in Canada, and we certainly noticed a difference in the city as we walked around through the afternoon and night. The streets were sedate, and we had many of them to ourselves! We enjoyed the frantic hustle bustle of the weekend, but now we were privileged enough to enjoy a more romantic experience of the city on a warm summer night. In particular, we enjoyed all the stunning lighting of the buildings, both modern and old.

hotelpurplelights

pridebuilding

oldtown-nightview-streetfromwalloldtown-nightviewturret

oldtownnight-chateaufrontenac

oldtownnight-squareturret

As is always the case, I’ll end with a few doors and details that I espied during the day. My particular prize is the lion doorknob! I’m pretty sure this a portal to Narnia—but I posted it at the bottom of the photos, just so you don’t shun the others!

greendoor-crookedhandle

horsepost02

olddoor-rottenkeyhole

pillar&stones-oldchurch

parliament-liondoorknob

Exploring Montréal ~ Day 3

stlawrence_view_from_notre-dame_de_bon-secours

Day 3 in this city was my last full day, so I decided to try and make the most of it by swooping in on anything I might have missed.

I began by visiting the Marguerite-Bourgeoys museum at the Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours chapel. We had paused here during my ghost tour, so I thought it would be worth it to come back and explore the inside of the chapel. Once I found my way around the construction (I’ll repeat, Montréal seems to be currently under siege by every construction company in eastern Canada) and through the door, I learned that there was both a crypt and an upper balcony to explore, so decided to pay the fee and explore.

I was not disappointed!  The museum is focused on the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys, a famous daughter of the city. She founded the first uncloistered religious community in the Catholic church and was instrumental in educating girls, the Amerindians, and the poor in New France.

I won’t say too much about the life and times of Marguerite Bourgeoys—you can read up about her! But I will post this picture of, which is her “true” likeness:

Portrait_de_Marguerite_Bourgeoys

The portrait was painted immediately after her death in 1700. The picture was painted over, and so there was a contentious time in the early 19th century when people argued over the authenticity of the likeness. Eventually, the painting was painstakingly restored and the true likeness revealed.

My two favourite parts of the museum were the top and the bottom (this is always the case with me when I visit old churches). In the crypt below the chapel, you can see the early foundations of the original chapel, which was destroyed by fire in 1754. Photos were not permitted in the crypt, but I could take them from the top, where I stood by the angels and the belfry and gazed at the Saint Lawrence.

angel-stlawrence

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nd_de-bs_belfry

After a quick lunch, I carried on to a second museum, which was at Pointe-À-Callière. This is the “birthplace” of Montréal, for it is the site of the original fort. Actually, many different buildings stood at this point. Now it is the museum, which looks like this:

pointe-a-calliere

The exhibit is mainly underground. After watching a very good multimedia show detailing the history of the city, I descended into the exhibit and wandered the early cobblestone streets. This is an authentic archaeological dig, so the floors are uneven and all the stone foundations and accompanying fixtures you see are the originals.

pointe-a-calliere-ugfoundations01

pointe-a-calliere-chimney

I saw remnants of the old sewer system, the ancient fort wall, and even the exhumed graveyard.

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pointe-a-calliere-pump

pointe-a-calliere-sewere

pointe-a-calliere-wall

It was very neat to explore the foundations down there while the modern city bustled above, unawares.I like to spend a lot of time on world-building in my books, so this experience was very inspirational, helping me to imagine how a city and a culture evolves.

The exhibit featured a lot of relics from the past. My favourites, by far, were an old key and elephant escutcheon.

oldkey

elephantkeyhole

I confess that I did desire to possess them. So it was probably a good thing they were behind glass and under . . . er, lock and key.

At the end of the exhibit, I climbed the stairs and explored a temporary show that the museum was hosting: “Des Chevaux et des Hommes” (Horses and Men). This exhibit features some 250 objects on loan from the Émile Hermès Collection in France. The grand finale was a GORGEOUS life-size sculpture of a pegasus by Christian Renonciat. The detailing was incredible, especially in the wings.

emile_hermes_pegasus

After this exhibit, I wandered around Old Montréal some more, taking in Rue McGill and Rue Saint-Jacques. I visited the Bank of Montréal headquarters. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest bank in Canada.

bankofmontreal

bankofmontreal_plaque

Everything inside was quite luxurious, include the front door and the ceiling . . .

bankofmontreal_door

bankofmontreal-ceiling

bankofmontreal-interior

There is a small museum inside that is worth visiting. You can learn about the history of Canada’s first bank and also see some old equipment, such as a telegraph machine, a cheque writer, and a heavy-looking “pencil pointer” (sharpener).

A kind local told me to check out the Aldred Edifice, which is an art nouveau-style building located on Place d’Armes, near the bank. She advised me to go through the door and check out the elevators. So I did!

edificealrded - entrance.jpg

aldred-elevator02

aldred-revolving

aldredbuilding

Right next to the Aldred Edifice is the brick NY Life Insurance building—otherwise known as Canada’s first skyscraper, with all of eight floors. It looks dwarfed these days, but it still is a pretty building, especially with its distinctive red bricks.

nytimelifeinsurancebuilding

The day ended with meeting up with some good friends who are also visiting Montréal from back home. Rob and Sarah are dropping off their daughter Brianna at Concordia University, so it was neat (and a little surreal) to see good friends we see often, but in a city on the other side of the country. It’s their family tradition to take a “bad” selfie, so I obliged:

bagshawsselfie.jpg

We ate at a really good gluten-free restaurant called NINI Meatball House. Obviously, the speciality is different styles of meatballs. I had the buffalo chicken with blue cheese sauce, and they were divine.

This was the moment I especially wished Marcie was here! But she is on her way and will get to spend a half-day with me in Montréal before we take the train to Québec City and spend a few days there. So the trip is soon about to get “Marcified”—which means a lot more quirky and fun (because that’s how my wife rolls).

Well, as usual, I collected a few details from throughout the day: doors, sculptures, windows . . . so here they are:

chateauramezay-whitedoor

courtofappeal_door

lapointemagne-woodendoordetail

rosettewheel-stonewall

wingedlion.jpg

ruesaintpaul-woodendoor

ruesaintpaul-woodendoor-letterslot

stpaul-whitedoor

stonereliefs02

nd_de-bs-stainedglass-m

 

Exploring Montréal ~ Day 2

After a busy day exploring Vieux-Montréal yesterday, I decided to head in the other direction today and go explore the Museum of Fine Arts.

It was a bit of a trek, but I love exploring a new city that way, so off I set up (or down?) Rue Sainte-Catherine. The main problem with walking is that you can continually be distracted, so inevitably delay arriving at your destination.

Such was the case today; many doors, gargoyles, and other whimsical details called out to me as I traipsed along. Of course, you have to be careful with gargoyles; they don’t often have anything nice to say!

The first place I paused along Rue Sainte-Catherine was St. James United Church.

stjameschurch-rosettewindow02

stjames-door&lantern

I especially adored the impish poses of these little dragons:

stjames-gargoyleleft02

stjames-gargoyleright01

Next, I came upon Christ Church Cathedral. It had a beautiful red door:

ruestcatherine-reddoor

ruestcatherine-reddoor-detail

ruestcatherine-reddoor-hinge

It was guarded by these dog-like gargoyles. They looked very earnest.

doggargoyle01

I also discovered this door, somewhere along the street. I can’t remember exactly where; it might have been at the diocese behind the church . . .

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And then there is this face, and I can’t remember exactly where I caught him, either. I just remember wandering through an archway and discovering him tucked away in a corner.

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Well, I eventually arrived at the fine arts museum. Like everywhere else in Montréal (or so it seems), Rue Sherbrooke, where the gallery is located, is under complete siege by construction crews. Eventually, I figured out how to navigate my way inside. My original intention was to only view the main collection, but once I was at the ticket booth, I decided to cough up for the special exhibition on Pompeii (it was only an extra $8).

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I’m glad I decided to do this; it was an extensive exhibit, with many relics and artifacts recovered from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The thing that struck me the most were the moulds taken of many of those who perished in that disaster. A layer of fine ash fell on the bodies, hardening and encasing them in a porous shell. The bodies decayed and leached away over time, leaving behind perfectly preserved cavities in the rock. By pouring plaster into these holes, archaeologists were able to capture the postures of the victims. They have many of these moulds on display—you can see men, women, and children all . . . but for some reason, the one that struck me the most was of this dog caught in its last agonizing moment of life:

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Seeing these moulds, really hammered home the reality of the disaster—much more so than the various animations and immersive films they showed.

After exploring the Pompeii exhibit, I continued on to other parts of the museum. I studied art history, and especially Italian Renaissance art, in university, so I eschewed the Canadian wing of the museum for the European galleries. I enjoyed the works by all the famous international artists—I saw plenty of Picassos, Monets, Gainsboroughs, and Latrecs—but afterwards I still had some energy so decided to trek down and ferret out the Canadian works.

I’m sure glad I did. In fact, this was my favourite part of the gallery, probably because my familiarity with most of these works is so lacking. I didn’t do all the floors in order, which meant that the very first painting I saw was this amusing, whimsical piece called The King’s Beavers, by Kent Monkman:

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In Canada, I think we are self-conscious of having this little critter as a national symbol; we adore him, but perhaps think of him as a bit comical, especially in comparison to the intimidating bald eagle to the south of us. Perhaps it is the same with this painting; I found it to be both ridiculous and profound at once. It captures a lot about Canada, I think, speaking to the violent iniquities of colonialism, and the legacy that it has left behind. Notice that this is not simply a depiction of the harvest of beaver pelts; this is an extermination! One poor fellow has been tied to a stake and summarily dispatched execution style. Furthermore, the artist chose to anthropomorphize the beavers, showing them in human acts; a pair is caught in a moment of supplication to the heavens, while others languish in their water-bound prison. Still, others float in the clouds, presumably on their way to some sort of beaver heaven! There is also an environmental message here. Sky, water, and land are all depicted, yet we soil them with our behavior; as the human figures slay the beavers, symbol of Canada, we slay ourselves. Look to the far left, and you will see the trinity of human compulsions depicted by the blade, the money bag, and the cross.

Here are the some of the other pieces I really enjoyed (in no particular order):

The Ice Cutters, by Horatio Walker

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Le Champ de Mars, by William Bremner

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My Mother Talks About Cariboo, by Mattiusi Kyaituki

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Shepherdess at Vallangoujard, by Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

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Eventually, I made it out of the museum, but not until mid-afternoon. I had been so entranced inside, that I had lost track of the time and realized I hadn’t eaten. So I decided to head to Schwartz’s Deli to grab a bite. If you ever mention to someone that you are going to Montréal, they will most likely respond to you by telling you that you must go to Schwartz’s Deli. In fact, I think it might be some sort of municipal law that tourists must go there. So I decided to make the fairly long detour from my route back to my hotel.

Along Rue Sherbrooke, I discovered a few more interesting details. Because of the protests from my rumbling stomach, I resisted all of them except for this blue door:

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I had heard about the long line ups at Schwartz’s Deli, so there was no doubt that I had found the right place up on Saint-Laurent Boulevard when I spotted the crowd. Since I was on my own, my wait was only about ten minutes; as a “single” I could take my place at the diner’s bar. Here I got to enjoy my sandwich and watch the cooks slice and prepare the giant slabs of meat.

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Yes, it was delicious . . . and I guess that’s why everyone says you have to go there.

After a few hours’ rest at my hotel, I headed back into Old Montréal to get a late dinner. I decided to go to Le 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) because on the previous night the guide on my ghost tour said the building was haunted. Apparently, there was a fire in a previous age and 20 people leapt from the top-story windows to their agonizing death . . .

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Nowadays, there are stories about restaurant patrons hearing people making noises from the floors above, even though those floors are now completely abandoned and empty.

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I didn’t detect any ghosts during my meal, but I did enjoy my “flammekueche” which is a traditional dish from northern France. It’s a lot like pizza, but with a delicious thin crust.

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Afterwards, I walked back to the hotel and admired the beautiful lighting of the historic City Hall; a pretty way to end the evening!

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