Chasse-balcon in Mile End, and a five-year anniversary

We get an early start on summer festivities here, because after our long winters, Montréalers are starved for life in the streets. On such evenings, the air buzzes, the city lifts—because everyone is out.


On last Friday evening, the kickoff to the first of the spring-to-Labour Day long weekends, the delightful Chasse-Balcon drew us and scores of others to a street-corner in the Mile-End neighbourhood. An ensemble of musicians led by the warmly hospitable Catherine Planet gather to play traditional music in Montréal neighbourhoods, a different one every weekend from May into mid-June. Inspired by a similar event in Louisiana, and making use of Montréal's winding outdoor staircases, the musicians played reels and jigs for about an hour, and enjoined the crowd to serre les mains, two-step, sing along, and play spoons.

It's a particular interest of Planet's to build community though shared musical experiences, and you could definitely feel that happening among the convival crowd.


You could listen, dance... or kiss:


Montréalers—or those visiting by mid-June—can learn the location of the next several Chasse-Balcons through their Facebook page, which presents clues, treasure-hunt fashion, but does confirm guesses, so you'll end up in the right spot even if you don't know the city.

Then, we strolled along Avenue du Parc toward a tiny taquiera, where the warm evening showed what women are wearing once out of coats. This seemed to be a bachelorette party, with several young women in the wide-legged cropped pants that are showing up everywhere, and one, background, in the runner-up, the knife-pleated midi skirt.


I was charmed by this dress in the window of Éditions de Robes, one of the best of our local designers: bright, heavyweight lace, a spring bouquet to wear. Notice how the lace finishes at the sleeve and skirt, using the natural edge, not a hem:


I also admired her vintage-looking skirt printed with travel posters, worn with a pink tee. 


A golden evening draws flâneurs of all ages. This arrondissement, among others, has installed new street furniture, already in enthusiastic use, especially by elders, who appreciate a place to sit to catch up with friends.


We picked up a half-dozen sesame bagels straight out of the oven:


and walked home in air scented with just-blooming lilacs, to the apartment into which we moved exactly five years ago this weekend. An evening like this, full of music, lit by diverse, vibrant street life, and ready access to food from so many cultures, from the swank to the simple, reaffirms the decision.

Never mind that last week (May 16) we saw snow in the air, this is the north—and when the weather breaks, there is nothing as exhilarating as Montréal's massed joy.

10 comments

LauraH said...

Thanks for the foretaste!

Barbara Schieren said...

I like your impressions of celebrating your Summer in Montréal with it's french Charme.
Today our spring/summer paused, it's raining cats and dogs.

Living in Munich in Bavaria, we often meet with friends in on of our beloved beergardens.
It's common to bring your own food and plates in a basket and just to buy the beer and large Pretzels, fresh and warm from the oven. It's lovely to share "Schmankerl" like Obazdn, Wurstsalat and Radi with others.




une femme said...

One of the nice things about living in a city is being able to explore on foot and feel like part of a community. If we ever move from our current house, that's what I want. Thanks for sharing more of your lovely city, and congratulations on the five year mark!

Madame Là-bas said...

I enjoy your neighbourhood posts immensely. Montréal is such a cosmopolitan city of music, history and food! When I first visited on a student exchange in the 1960's, I was amazed that such a European-flavoured city existed in Canada. Thanks for taking time to share your arrondissement.

Kristien62 said...

My introduction to Montreal was on my honeymoon-only three days long because my new husband had to return for the start of graduate school. That was 45 years ago on June 26th. I wish we could return this year for the anniversary, but family obligations keep us here. Maybe soon.....

Margie from Toronto said...

What a wonderful time! We had similar weather here in Toronto - snow and sleet last weekend and up to 27C yesterday (29C today)! We've gone from winter to summer in less than a week and it's wonderful. I live in the west end of the city near to High park and another along the Humber River - strolled all along the river with a friend on Sunday afternoon and everyone was in such a good mood - even treated ourselves to an ice-cream cone after the walk (first one since last summer)!

I haven't been to Montreal in nearly two years and I'm thinking that it's time to think about another visit.

materfamilias said...

Wonderful! I'm holding your example up like a beacon right now, so cheered to think you're already five years settled in your new city in what had to have been a wrenching move in many ways. (also cheered at the possibility that I may make it back east with P in mid-June, right after the moving trucks deposit our goods in storage -- he has to be in Ottawa, and I may come along and make some side trips. . . Montreal, top of list!)

Susan said...

I can't believe it has been five years since you moved! I remember your posts from that time. I am so glad that you are happy with your decision. Your enjoyment of your city is so evident.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'm looking forward to catching a "chasse-balcon" soon; I'm sure there is a tweet to find where they are.

Barbara, Munich is also a beautiful city, and less austere than some northern German cities - I guess it is the Catholic touch. Here it is the opposite: we have restaurants, at many price levels, where you can bring your own wine (or beer).

I'll tell people other than materfamilias and la Duchesse that Ottawa and Montréal are not very far apart, and that it is a short journey by railway, bus or car - we won't mention by air; once I had a flight from Amsterdam that had an Ottawa-Mtl leg, which is ridiculous.

Leonard Cohen, from his early novel Beautiful Losers (the losers are the "French and Indians") and of course it is also about sex:

"Spring comes into Quebec from the west. It is the warm Japan Current that brings the change of season to the east coast of Canada, and then the West Wind picks it up. It comes across the prairies in the breath of the Chinook, waking up the grain and caves of bears. It flows over Ontario like a dream of legislation, and it sneaks into Quebec, into our villages, between our birch trees. In Montreal the cafés, like a bed of tulip bulbs, sprout from their cellars in a display of awnings and chairs. In Montreal spring is like an autopsy. Everyone wants to see the inside of the frozen mammoth. Girls rip off their sleeves and the flesh is sweet and white, like wood under green bark. From the streets a sexual manifesto rises like an inflating tire, "The winter has not killed us again!" Spring comes into Quebec from Japan, and like a prewar Crackerjack prize it breaks the first day because we play too hard with it. Spring comes into Montreal like an American movie of Riviera Romance, and everyone has to sleep with a foreigner, and suddenly the house lights flare and it's summer, but we don't mind because spring is really a little flashy for our taste, a little effeminate, like the furs of Hollywood lavatories. Spring is an exotic import, like rubber love equipment from Hong Kong, we only want it for a special afternoon, and vote tariffs tomorrow if necessary".

That was written 50 years ago, when there were still deep traces of a reactionary sort of Catholicism. The madness of spring remains, but it is not exotic; it is deeply a part of the culture. Nobody will vote tariffs against its sweet embrace.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Thank you for posting that heady passage. Cohen distills Montréal in spring perfectly, especially one as warm and lush as this year's.