Yesterday can certainly count as one of the more interesting days I’ve had in Montreal thus far. The Russian has been pestering me to go out and shoot photos for the past couple of weeks and finally this week I had some time that didn’t involve setting my alarm in the single digits. A few days earlier, bored and looking for something to do I hit up crackbook and scoped out what my friends were up to. A Girl Named Montreal was bound for a flash mob it said and that I thought would be an excellent opportunity for photos. I met The Russian and The Korean in the confounding maze that is UQAM Metro and we set out to locate the event.
We wandered for a bit, witnessed a car crash (sorry about your axel dude, oh sorry about your… face) but didn’t see any flashmob, just lots and lots of cops. Seems the fuzz didn’t know exactly where things were going to go down either.
We kept taking pictures – amusing graffiti, satellite dish gardens and a Hitleresque Santa Claus, but still no flash mob. Then we noticed the cops moving away, or rather towards something – and followed them. What we found was more of a protest than a flash mob. Seems my reading comprehension in French needs a bit of tweaking. Still, a couple of hundred people with signs and… giant red cubes deserves a few photos.
The students at UQAM – the University de Quebec A Montreal are on strike. Not being up on student politics I don’t know the exact grievances but I know universities and can guess. Higher tuition, lower quality of instruction. Its pretty amazing actually. Out west we have one of the crappiest schools in the country and the highest tuition, out here they’ve got the best schools and the lowest tuition. You’d think there’d be riots out west, but no. Reading the protester’s signs, Satre, Hugo and other French writers and intellectuals you see some of the differences between French and English culture. In French revolution is valued, an important agent of change and democratic power. In English… well let’s face it, the English suck at anything involving passion.
As the students marched through the streets, carrying their giant cubes and shouting out slogans the police cleared the way. There were no beat downs or angry confrontations, their right to protest and express their demands was not only respected, but facilitated by the police. Bus drivers honked in solidarity as construction workers stopped their work and shouted in support of the strike. I looked into the crowd, most of them young twenty-somethings but I also saw people in their middle age and one old man, long white hair whipping in the wind like a lost in time socialist Gandalf. They were the revolution, and they were proud.
It used to be that revoltion, protest and activism was an unofficial but essential part of university life. Marching 101, Banner Making 235, Puppets 300 and 301 and graduating thesis 415 – Megaphone Techniques. You were supposed to smoke cigarettes and write manifestos, write letters and chain yourselves to doors, believe that you could make a difference. To quote a hero of mine; “You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”
Somewhere along the line we lost that in America (and I speak of America as a continent, not a whiny, pig headed, self obsessed nation we shan’t mention by name), everyone that is except for the French. They’ve held on to it, and thus become the least backwards of these opportunistic little puddle jumpers we call North Americans. Despite being one of the poorer of the provinces Quebec has some of the highest quality education on the continent. Montreal is an international hub for scientific research, art and culture, and its in no small part because the students go out and protest in the streets.
We took photos for a couple of hours, following the procession around. As I snapped photos of the protesters I made sure to stick my camera in the faces of the media as well. Nothing quite like getting the whole story, especially when it involves making the parasitic chin wagglers swallow some of their own medicine. Eventually we broke off from the mob and went out in search of food. Happened upon a vegetarian buffet that charges by the ounce. With a healthy stomach full of vegetarian lasagnae and ten kinds of salad we went our separate ways, them to whatever they were up to, me to the second event of the day.
If you don’t know the word SIGGRAPH you probably aren’t a computer nerd, game geek or film freak. Fair enough. They are (quoting from their website); “The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.” Meaning? They’re all about cool computer graphics, mostly for applications in movies and games. Well last night the local Montreal chapter put on an expose of the best of 2007 in computer animation at the Societe des Arts Technologiques, which in English is “a really cool place with a bar, half a dozen big-ass video projectors and cool digital art.” The screening was free and featured some excellent short films, demos and excerpts from all over the world. Did I mention it was free?
Sadly I’m currently broke so I didn’t stay for drinks afterwards, but amazingly this wasn’t their only even this year – it was their fifth free event. Shit. Montreal is so full of cool happenings and goings on I’m going to need a second job just to keep up with the associated beer consumption.
The screening left me feeling inspired and excited, not just by the technology being showcased, but also the creativity that was lurking out there, around the globe and, just down the street. I met someone in the game industry the night before at the November Bruleurs meetup and he’s not the only one. Montreal is literally crawling with animators, game designers, digital artists, filmmakers, you name it. All of the things that fascinate me are here and within reach.
I took a new route home from the theatre, connecting more dots and adding more pictures to my mental map of Montreal. Its all coming together, starting to make sense. I didn’t climb the Cartier Bridge, though I thought about it. Opportunities will be few before it gets too cold to climb frigid steel I-beams. Maybe it isn’t time yet. Or maybe the only time is now. I guess you just need to watch for the photos.