Giant Puppets Help Celebrate Montreal's 375th Birthday!
On May 17, 2017, Montreal celebrated its 375th birthday with major festivities in Old Montreal, including fireworks, concerts, and a visit by Canada's popular Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marking the founding of this beautiful city. Then May 22 was "Patriot's Day" Holiday (Victoria's Day in most of the rest of Canada). Filling the space between these two major events? 3 days of parading giants, what else?
For a weekend, we all got to be kids! Once I discovered--in my first week of French classes--that Montreal was to be visited by giant puppets from France's Royal de Luxe Theater, Will and I got to work carefully planning which day (Sunday, the final day) which portion (morning, just in case we miss it and need to resort to the final parade in the afternoon) and which location (the corner before Place des Artes where most of the crowd would be congregated) would prove optimal.
When Sunday morning came, we piled into the Montreal metro along with hordes of people, and then we simply followed the many families with children once we got out at the right stop. We figured that the parents of young children would know where we all should be going...
We staked out our space in a corner such that we would be able to see the approach of the giant puppets and be able to get a long look at them as they negotiated the corner. Then we waited. As the crowd got larger, the anticipation started to build--especially once the children and their grandparents started getting excited.
Not too long afterwards, we heard noise that signaled that the first puppet was approaching. Will--who had a better view than I did--told me a dog was coming. A dog? I'd seen pictures of a little girl (giant) and a sailor (giant), but a dog (giant)?
Indeed, it was a huge black dog, operated by dozens of assistants (ok, puppeteers). It lolled its tongue and wagged its tail as it got a bath--and you KNOW it wasn't an authentic dog since no real dog would wag its tail while getting a bath!--and it let its handlers brush its teeth as well. But even a puppet giant dog has its limits, and it closed its ears against humans wanting to clean them. It still got a large biscuit bone for a treat and was as cute as a gigantic, black, mechanical dog can be!
Then came the "little" girl giant puppet, about 5 stories tall, and walking along the streets of downtown Montreal with a stitched up face reminiscent of Frankenstein's creature. I tried to take as many pictures as I could to capture the magical moment. As she turned to face me directly, I clicked away, looking into the sun and not knowing exactly what I was capturing but hoping that something would turn out ok.
A funny thing happened though. While I was excited to be taking pictures--planning to share them with my young nieces and nephews at a future moment--I found that I wasn't actually looking at the giant girl coming at me. It turned out that she looked directly at each side and at every corner, but I missed that key moment because I was too busy trying to memorialize the moment in photos instead of experiencing it first-hand. Soon I found myself staring at the back of her head after she turned away from me.
So when the third puppet--the Deep Sea Diver--came along, I was better prepared. I took a few obligatory photos (after all, I live in the 21st century and thus glued to my phone) and then put the phone away so that I could appreciate the artistry and the magic. And I'm very glad I did.
There were details that I would certainly have missed had I continued clicking away instead of being attentive to the present moment. There were bubbles being blown around the sea diver's helmet, and his diving suit was spraying prodigious amounts of water, just as if he were really a diver who'd just come out of the water. Amazing!
I discovered afterwards that the story being told was of a little girl, accompanied by her dog, searching for her long-lost uncle. Each day apparently told a different stage of the story, and the part we saw celebrated the event after they were reunited and were able to walk together. I wish I'd known the story before the parade, but I can still appreciate the wonderment of the entire event.
Of course, there are already hundreds of great images of these giant puppets, and also numerous Youtube videos available on the internet (including this short and this longish one)--most of them much more professional than anything I have to offer. What made me so preoccupied with taking the pictures, as if I needed some proof that I was there? In any case, I've resolved to be more like little kids--and dogs, for that matter--and attempt to be more "present" from here on.