Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jean's Excellent Montreal Adventure

Jean says: I went to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal and maximized my time when I wasn't at the track by hitting the museums and restaurants around town.

The Musee des Beaux Arts de Montreal's show -- Tom Wesselman Au Dela Pop Art (Beyond Pop Art) -- is amazingly extensive, covering his paintings, three-dimenional installations, stainless steel "sketches", drawings and models, and country western songs.


The huge banner outside the museum featuring one of his reclining female figures from his Sunset Nudes series really set the stage for the show.


His paintings are large-scale and colorful, blatantly combining tongue-in-cheek nodes to artists from Matisse and Monet to Warhol with references to everyday objects. What blew us all away was the fact that he also penned 400 country western songs which, judging from the soundtrack in the gallery, were pretty fab.


This was my favorite of favorites in the show. The museum's gift shop featured some wonderful large scale postcards of Wesselman's work. I purchased several -- AND found a present for Valerie's birthday (shhhh!). You, dear readers, and she will just have to wait til next month to find out what it is.  (Valerie says she is mad with anticipation.)


Wesselman was amazingly thorough. For every painting, he did extensive drawings. For his 3-dimensional pieces, he did sketches, followed by small scale models, followed by the final installation.Some of his works had three to four iterations. Despite the laborious process, he was prolific, working right up to his death in 2004. The show catalogues the entire breadth of his career. If you can get there before it closes in October, you won't regret it.


Another show in town at the same time is Samourais, for which I ran out of time. Open until March 2013 at the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, Samurai - The Prestigious Collection of Richard Beliveau, showcases some 200 warrior items dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries.   


The Basilique Marie Rene du Monde (Basilica of Mary Queen of the World), located right next to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, has wonderful artwork, paintings and sculptures. And admission is free.


Downtown Montreal:

Montreal is eco-friendly, with lots of bike rental kiosks all around the city, and an efficient subway system.


The Grand Prix draws car enthusiasts of all types. This 1957 Thunderbird with porthole windows and wide white walls which was parked outside our hotel on race day was a show-stopper.  (Is this Valerie's gift?  How cool would that be, hints Valerie, who already has the perfect hat to wear with it.)


The Hilton Hotel Bonaventure:

 The Hilton is constructed of cast concrete that almost looks like corrugated cardboard - very futuristic and reminiscent of the Montreal 1967 World's Fair. In honor of the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, the hotel displayed large oil paintings by artist Louis Hebert which featured race cars and drivers.


The race track is named after the late Canadian race car driver Gilles Villenueve, the father of former F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, and the subject of this Hebert painting titled "Vainqueur" (Victor).  You can see the Hilton's corrugated cement walls around the painting.


Although the Hilton is located in a gigantic cement building, the hotel itself is located on the 10th through 13th floors, with a lobby, palm tree-surrounded pool and man-made stream with koi and ducks on the 10th floor.   It is an amazing urban oasis, far above the noise and bustle of the city. The three musketeers (Ken, David and Greg) are long-time friends and fellow race fans. They escort me to and from the track, and I carry the big bag to hold all of their extras (umbrellas, programs, sunscreen, glasses cases). They are my entourage and I am their den mother. We had breakfast outside on several mornings under an umbrella overlooking the tiny waterfall.  Ken, David and Greg relaxed for a moment before heading to the track.


Two of the mallards paddled around the stream. With the exception of say a hawk, there are no predators in their cement castle in the sky, so they spend their days hanging in the pond or sleeping in the grass on man-made islands under small bushes and ground cover. The females and chicks stay hidden for most of the day, but are a hilarious sight when they take to the water.

Magnificent koi ranging in size from a couple inches to about 18 inches like this bad boy also inhabit the stream.  They like to congregate near the waterfall - possibly because of the turbulence in the water or maybe it is close to their feeding station.  I almost created a feeding frenzy when I casually tossed in a piece of croissant to this handsome devil. That night, I dreamt of being in a small boat on the Amazon surrounded by voracious piranha.

On the other side of the roof is the pool, surrounded on one side by beach chairs and on the other (under the trees) by tables and chairs with an outdoor bar and restaurant. It was the perfect place to unwind after a day sitting in the sun in the grandstands at the track.


We were sitting at a table by the pool late on Saturday afternoon after the qualifying session, surrounded by young men in shirts and hats with the logos of their favorite F1 teams. I of course felt totally invisible. Can I confess that I was more than a little thrilled when this adorable young woman left her beach chair on the other side of the pool and approached me to ask if I was in a movie about fashion? She was referring to the Advanced Style video, news of which had obviously reached Montreal. That made my day. I was suddenly no longer invisible. Her name is Sabrina Roy.  She had been an independent handbag designer until her biggest client declared bankruptcy during the recent economic downturn.  She bounced back and is still working in fashion, for Dreizehn Agency (sales agency for Vince Camuto, Canada - footwear, handbags and accessories).  Lucky for me, she and her girlfriends live nearby and have gym and pool memberships which allow them to use the Hilton facilities.

Here is one of Sabrina's Sas handbags -- as practical and chic as it is beautifully constructed. I sense we'll be hearing more about her again soon. (

Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada: Ferrari fans are a staple of Formula 1 events, and Montreal was no exception. This die-hard fan wore a model of the car as headgear. (Geez. Valerie and I remove our hats when we are seated in an audience, so no one behind us has to suffer. Can you imagine having to be seated behind this gentleman in the grandstand?)


David and I stopped to buy souveniers. David purchased the shirt he is wearing and I bought ear plugs. The sound of the engines is deafening. (Note my large bag -- all the better to carry programs, cameras, glasses for the group.)


What did I tell you about those Ferrari fanatics? They're everywhere.


Greg and I posed in front of a map of the track. Unlike NASCAR races which are run on an oval track, Formula 1 car races are run on a long winding track, each one of which is a different length and shape.


Ken poses in front of a blow-up of his favorite racer, Kimi Raikkonen. Don't you love how the orange details on Kimi's racing suit seem to point to Ken?


Of course, David and I couldn't resist getting in on the action.

If you think Bugattis are fast, you ain't seen nothing 'til you've seen a Formula 1 open wheel car driven around a curving track accelerating and braking and turning with a G-force that would put jet pilots to shame. I mentioned the noise. You can actually feel it in your chest. Your diaphragm vibrates with the rumbling of the engines. There really isn't anything like it. I don't know how I got hooked, but for the past 16 years, I have been watching and attending races. (Thank the lord for Speed Channel on Time Warner Cable.)


Our seats are in the grandstand at the bottom of the hairpin turn, so you can see the cars coming toward you, pass you and then speed up on the straight away. When they accelerate is when the engines roar the loudest. We also had a jumbo screen to keep us up-to-date on the various drivers' positions during the race.


Of course, I have fashion ADD and am so easily distracted. I loved this woman's terrific grey hair and had to take time out to photograph it.


The race winner was my favorite -- Lewis Hamilton.  He also won the race when we were here two years ago.

Pop culture fans may also be aware that race car driver Lewis Hamilton is also the boyfriend of Nicole Scherzinger, who used to be a member of the Pussycat Dolls and was on Dancing with the Stars. (See? I told you I carry around about a ton of this F-1 related mental ephemera.)


In the grand tradition, the top three finishers take to the podium to receive their trophies and then celebrate by dousing each other and their team with champagne. Mumm is currently the official champagne of F1. (See? I retain all of this mental F1 ephemera and I can't remember what I had for breakfast or lunch.) Second place finisher Romain Grosjean, third place finisher Sergio Pedro and winner Lewis Hamilton celebrate a hard-fought race.


At the press conference after the race are Romain Grosjean who drove for Lotus and came in second; Lewis Hamilton who drove for McLaren Mercedes who came in first; and Sergio Pedro who drove for Sauber who came in third.


On Friday evening, we dined at Maison Boulud, chef Daniel Boulud's new Montreal outpost, inside the newly remodeled Ritz-Carlton, which just underwent a $150 million makeover. The executive chef is Ricardo Bertolino who has worked for Boulud restaurants for the past four years, including Daniel, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Cafe Boulud and db Bistro Moderne Singapore. The restaurant serves what its website calls "refined yet soulful contemporary French food" and what I call "divine". There were no "new restaurant" slip-ups. Everything ran like clockwork and our dinner was outstanding. The three musketeers (Greg, Ken and David) and I joined our friend Joao Penido for drinks before dinner in the lounge next to the brand spanking new kitchen. After dinner we retired to the garage on our magical mystery tour led by Nathan Gildersleave to view the Bugattis I raved about in last Wednesday's blog.


On Saturday night, the three musketeers and I made our pilgrimage to Toque, Chef Normand Laprise's mecca of wonderful food (900 Place Jean Paul Riopelle). We have been eating at his restaurant since 1996 and have managed to worm our way into Normand's heart. Over the years, he has treated us to tours of his kitchen and his wine cellar. He is the most charming man and truly wonderful host. He joined us for the photograph (left to right: Ken, Jean Normand, Greg, Tony and David), along with Tony Cole, another F1 fan and friend of David's.


My appetizer of asparagus, lightly boiled egg and grated cheese was so fabulously delicious, it was my main course. (Had to leave room for the fab desserts.) Needless to say, we all walked back to the hotel to work off the amazing food.


On Sunday evening after the race, we went to Quartier Generale on rue Guilford for another memorable meal. Tony Cole joined us for dinner but had to leave to meet friends at Opus before I took this shot of Greg, David and Ken.  The food is described as "upscale bistro" and take my word for it, it was absolutely fab. The restaurant is BYOB.

Ken obliged with this photo of me with Greg and David.


On Monday, before we all flew home (me to New York and the three musketeers to California), we had one last meal together at Normand Laprise's new Brasserie T!  With skylights and huge windows looking out on Place-des-Arts, it was light and airy. I had a delicious soup and cafe au lait and grabbed my bag to head to the airport.


But not before splitting one last dessert with the three musketeers. See how rich the vanilla ice cream looks in this profiterole? Trust me, it tasted even better! .


Can't wait to go back.


  1. Through this entire post I kept wondering, "why isn't Jean wearing a hat??" Seeing your silver bob sans chapeau was odd, like seeing someone who wears glasses for the first time without them - you know it's them, but at the same time, something just isn't right. Anyway, it looks like you had a wonderful time, and some awesome meals. I've only been to Montreal once, but this inspires me to make a return visit soon.

  2. Love all your posts!

  3. I know a lot more about Montreal after reading your thorough and delightful review. It was so fun to know that you have a fan in Montreal! How exciting is that! The races, the restaurants, the museums! I loved it all.

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