There's a crack in everything, and things fall apart


Napoleon of Montreal

Napoleon, Montreal, Musee des beaux arts, Quebec, history, art

To state the obvious, it’s been forever since I’ve posted to this blog. Adding a few more bytes of binary code to the bloated digital world we call the Internet seemed futile and I moved on to other things. It didn’t help I stopped travelling the ancient streets and monuments of inspiring Europe, settling into a steady Canadian journalism job.

I’ve since come to realize a few eyes and changed perspectives is all it takes to make a web post worthwhile. Some things are too meaningful not to share. It also helps that I now live in Montreal, a city bursting with culture and history.

The other day I visited Montreal’s Museé des Beaux Arts, hosting a collection of sculpture, painting, photography and artifacts going back to the Middle Ages. Having recently read War and Peace, I naturally gravitated to the Napoleon exhibit, a collection of items from his era and the person himself. You can see the Emperor’s famous bicorne hat, complete with the tricolour cockade emblematic of the French Revolution. Napoleon wore his hat in this distinctive fashion to distinguish himself from his generals; it was certainly a success, as nothing else in the exhibit was as symbolic of Napoleon as this piece of felt.

At the end of the long hallway was a small room with circular windows on three sides looking out over Sherbrooke Street. Inside this room was a bust of Napoleon staring blankly as you approached, held up by an eagle of state. The sculpture was lit from above by warm light, a striking contrast to the dark grey sky and buildings outside.

What got me was the reflection of Napoleon in the windows. It was as if he was floating ghost-like over the street.

Napoleon, Montreal, Musee des beaux arts

Napoleon’s ghost rises over Montreal.

The ghost of Napoleon in many ways still haunts the western world. Long after his lonely life ended on the little African island of St. Helena in 1821, the earth shattering changes he and his wars imposed on Europe continue to be seen in national borders, law and government.

This is perhaps more true in Montreal and Quebec than the rest of Canada. The emperor-general’s Code became the basis for the Quebec Civil Code, manifestly different from civil law in other provinces where they are based more on British Common Law.

As a living man Napoleon already had his mind on what legacy his name would leave behind. I am sure this tyrant-saint would approve of his grave face leering over a city still under the influence of his ethos, two centuries after the Battle of Waterloo.


Architecture that should be in space (or in the future) part II

The second part of my series on futuristic architecture is on Berlin’s Sony Center. Like a moth drawn to a bright light, I wanted to see this structure since Wikipediaing cyberpunk all those years ago.

The dome of the Sony Center glows bright and resembles a funnel, giving it the impression of a psychedelic tornado, frozen in time as it was tearing up Potsdamer Platz. The colours change every 30 seconds, causing people like me who love this stuff to tilt their necks skyward while enjoying a hot coffee in the center’s unheated square.

The Sony Center looks like a background from Blade Runner, or Johnny Mnemonic, and a dark, dystopian future has always interested me. I love Aliens, Terminator, those movies that validate the dark foreboding you feel about what is to come for us all.

Underneath the square there is a maze of tunnels and the U-Bahn isn’t far away. The whole center has the feel of a bunker, while it’s really an upscale shopping mall.

In honour of Sony Centre, I’ve created my first GIF. Watch while listening to trance music really loud to get the full effect.

Berlin GIF

London’s telespace transporter platform (aka bridge)

Long blue lights, aluminium walkway, cables angled upwards like an X Wing. The London Millennium Bridge looks like it could have been teleported from the year 3000.


This is especially true at night when the lights glow, forming what seems like a stationary laser beam across the Thames River, a laser you can walk on.

It was once known as the “Wobbly Bridge” because it shook when people walked on it, so they closed it … for two years. The Millennium Bridge spent the first year of the new millennium as an £18 million, useless piece of metal hanging across the river.

From pitiful beginnings the bridge has become a favourite walk for tourists and locals. Taking the bridge to the north bank of the river puts you face to face with St. Paul’s Cathedral, and south leads to the Tate Modern Museum, both unmissable landmarks.

I can still hear the metallic clangs of shoes on alloy as mine and a thousand feet ahead and behind me walked along, just a few inches of thin metal separating us from the brown silted water below.

Millennium Bridge facing St. Paul's Cathedral

Millennium Bridge facing St. Paul’s Cathedral

The forgotton fountain of Francis I in Prague

The train took me from Berlin to Prague and I discovered there why “Bohemian” came to be an adjective for artistic, because any trait you’d imagine being characteristic of a creative person can be found fostered in this city. It’s liberal, inspiring, ambitious and at the same time humble, poor but prosperous. Old and ragged but brimming with ideas that jump out at you every time you turn a corner.

I was walking along the river and found this monument. Couldn’t find any description in English – they don’t babysit tourists, which I respect – so I looked it up on Google Maps (shout out to Google. Bring me up in the search rankings yo).

This is the Krannerova Fountain, built in honour of Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor. He’s probably most famous for the women in his life, which included his wife, Maria Theresa, and Marie Antoinette, his daughter who was to be executed during the French Revolution.

This monument, almost anonymous to the tourists passing by it, struck me as summing up the city so well. It has such a deep history, but at the same time no pretensions to be anything more than a really cool looking piece of stone.

The figures around its edges symbolize the different trades. There is the soldier, the farmer, the blacksmith, the merchant.

Berlin trip and night photos

Circus at the Circus

London’s Piccadilly Circus is the location of the city’s most well-known corporate landmark, the big flashing illuminated advertisements you see as soon as you get up to street level. Those signs played backdrop to a very non-corporate gathering recently, a protest against restriction of migration by a group known as No Borders.

Protesters in front of Piccadilly Circus' famous signage

No Borders believes government laws controlling how people    can travel is a violation of human rights.

There is nothing specific in the United Nations Declaration
of Human Rights
that guarantees free travel between countries, probably because I doubt many politicians would want just anyone having the right to settle in their country as they pleased.

Article 13 of the Declaration states everyone has the
power to move freely within their own state and leave
their state with the option to return again.

Then comes Article 14, which states people have the
right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.
Persecution implies facing death or torture in the country
from which you came.

If you’re not facing death or torture, you have the human right to travel within your country, and leave that country to be welcomed back again. That’s all. There is nothing in the Declaration forcing a country to take anyone in, anytime, under any circumstances. No Borders advocates would like to change this.

I’m not sure how well the protesters got their No Borders message across to the curious shoppers and tourists who normally stroll through that area, but they chose a very fitting place to make their stand, for two reasons. They stood on a monument known as the Statue of Eros, which has become a symbol of this city, and appears on the masthead of the London Evening Standard, a paper that loves to “take the piss” out of radical groups such as No Borders and the ideologically-related Occupy movement.

The second reason they chose the perfect spot was that they named the event “Occupy your Hearts”, and scheduled it for a few days after Valentine’s Day. Eros was the Roman version of the Greek god Cupid, who we all know as the god of love.

The protesters stand at the base of London’s Statue of Eros

The protest seemed more like a gathering of Hare-Krishna-like New Agers than anything as serious and political as a rally against border control. There was a drum circle and a bubble machine, hula-hoopers and bizarre headgear.

V masks and bubble machines created a circus atmosphere

The eccentricity may have taken the spotlight off the politics, but won more positive attention and less police hostility than an angry sounding kid with a bull horn and a bandanna across his face would have done. Most people seemed amused by the spectacle during their Saturday afternoon shopping, and some even stopped to join in. Freddy Mercury, however, remained stone faced nearby, not feeling the Bohemian rhapsody unfolding beneath him.