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City of Festivals

Summers in Montréal are packed full of festivals celebrating art, cirque, comedy, music, culture. These celebrations take over public squares and private venues, but always a good taste of each is free and open to the public. This festival spirit demonstrates something I've come to love about being here, enjoying a concrete experience of "the public good."


Last month, at the Montréal Complètement Cirque festival, performers balanced on wires, hoops, silks, and towers of stacked chairs above us in streets and a park. We saw (what we could see for coming late to a crowded park) it with others, joining our reactions to the reactions of the crowd, even the silent attention we gave was shared. The experience of art in an audience amplifies a particular energy of appreciation unlike the experience I get on my own.


This kind of appreciative, joyful experience with others is supported in other ways here. In some parks, you'll find pianos, uncovered and unlocked in the daytime for anyone to sit and play. And as you walk through or picnic in these parks you'll hear young and old, soloists and duets, improvising or playing from sheet music.


In another park, you can search for, find, and then watch and even pet a small herd of urban sheep that roams the grounds, trimming back the grass and weeds and all the while have a lovely chat with one of the volunteer shepherds.


In a city where the majority of apartments and houses (like the one we are renting) are still clinging on without AC, a short 15-minute walk takes us to a pool where we can swim, free of charge. A 20-minute bus ride takes us to another. Kids ride city buses and metros for free in the summer and so even without a car the girls and I have gotten ourselves not only to the pool but also to beaches and museums.


And, yes, we have been jammed up against humanity in all its varied smells, sounds, and movements closer than we'd like on humid, lurching buses. We have stood through some crowded waits that seemed like they would never end. But I think we are made to belong to a community we can see and hear and bump up against, and the richer this communal life, the richer your one life. Longer travel time and some discomfort, as well as tax dollars spent toward opening access to these kinds of spaces and experiences here and at home, is a small price to pay.


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