The question: We're planning a getaway to Montreal this summer. On the agenda, a culture fix. Ideas?
The answer: You're coming to the right place. This city (which can make every night feel like a Friday) dishes culture in spades – whether you're talking the kind that involves a loop of digital art or a sketch of an intergalactic alien.
(Note: A word on the student protests. It's a big city. You may not see anything – or hear the banging pots. While demonstrators put a damper on the Grand Prix, all events are continuing as scheduled, says Montreal Tourism. And as Globe columnist Lysiane Gagnon speculated: Are they going to target the arts? Unlikely.)
Some summertime ideas for you:
Digital dinner: Climb the twinkly star stairs to the Society for Arts and Technology's Foodlab (SAT) (sat.qc.ca/foodlab). The creativity at this laid-back restaurant isn't only in the skillfully prepared grilled haloumi, but in the way the chefs change the menu every two weeks much of the year. Past menus have focused on "boreal Quebec," Japan and Russia; for the summer expect rotating Mediterranean themes. For dessert, head into the SAT's Satosphère, a 360-degree immersive film experience that in previous shows has incorporated olfactory elements or pulsating-stroboscopic effects.
Star wars Identities (montrealsciencecentre.com): This isn't just for four-year-olds and thirtysomething geeksters. The fun exhibit – backed by a panel of neuropsychologists and geneticists – reveals behind-the-scenes details of the Star Wars empire. For instance: How Chewbacca's voice was created by mixing the sounds of a cinnamon bear with a walrus, or the fact that Yoda's eyes were modelled after the wisest person the mask-maker knew (Albert Einstein). Beyond the trivia, it's an interactive exhibit that takes viewers on a journey to discover how we – along with Anakin and Luke – are shaped. And yes, in the end, you must choose sides.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mbam.qc.ca): If you haven't made it to Montreal recently, it's time to return to the MMFA and its award-winning new addition. The renovation took the 1894 Erskine and American Church next door and reconfigured it into an airy art space for Quebec and Canadian works. Highlights – pick from among 600 works on six floors – include Jean-Paul Riopelle's Ice Canoe, the startling The King's Beavers by Kent Monkman and the Sculpture Garden, which lines the street near the addition. And if you want to extend the art experience, check into L'Hotel Montreal, lhotelmontreal.com, a boutique property with a pop art fixation.
Festivals: Montreal, of course, is renowned for its many summertime festivals. There are the big ones – the Jazz fest wraps up this weekend, Just for Laughs runs July 12 to 29, and Nuits d'Afrique runs July 10 to 22 – and many small ones, too. Whatever is going on, the summer-pedestrian-only Quartier des spectacles ( quartierdesspectacles.com) is worth a stroll. On a recent visit, there were convincing life-size pigeons wandering the streets, an old woman knitting atop a suspended chair in a theatre act and a musical swing set for adults. When I inquired about these cool happenings, my local guide shrugged it off, as mais oui, that's what happens in Montreal.
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Special to The Globe and Mail