End of winter semester wrap up

Harry at McGill in Montréal

Hello from the second-to-last compulsory blog entry I have to write for Manchester on the road. On the other side of the last hurdle of the year that is finals I write this with a breezy light-spirited attitude and as so all my reflections will be horrifically bias and rose-tinted since the stress of exams an work will have been purged from my mind.

In the previous blog I recall mentioning that my summer plans were the only thing that were available as motivation to keep me in the library. However they did not prove sufficient and given the cheaper cost of living in Canada a few friends and I thought it best to plan a trip to New Orleans over reading week.

This reading week is essentially the Canadian spring break however unlike practice in the states it certainly is not an opportunity for everyone at McGill to dip down to Miami. A lot of people used it as an opportunity to return home or indeed work. We all had midterms before and after reading week but we considered it somehow more detrimental to our wellbeing to stay and study for them.

There was a 40 degree difference in temperature between Montréal and New Orleans and so the first thing we did landing was just walk the streets in the lightest of clothes we had even though it was nearing midnight. We found a small diver bar with all its doors and windows open to the street where we were welcomed by bar staff that were far drunker than any of the clientele. Playing pool and eating fast food here it soon became clear this was fairly representative of how the city operated: in a remarkably laid back fashion.

It was only on Bourbon Street where things ever got hectic (for perspective Bourbon Street is probably the equivalent of Boulevard Saint Laurent/Prince Arthur in Montréal and Canal Street/Princess Street in Manchester) and that’s because there is bar after bar adjacent to one another each hosting live jazz bands night-after-night. Other than getting shouted at to flash in exchange for beads from people on overlooking balconies the whole thing is pretty civil.

Despite only a couple of us being 21 we did not really have any problem getting in anywhere and we concluded this for a few of reasons: a) they were confused about the day/month placements in our European IDs, b) they took too long to work out how old we were and didn’t want to seem incompetent or c) they didn’t care because there were so many bars they knew we’d get in somewhere.

Although drinking and dancing were not the only past times of our trip. Interested to learn about Katrina and its aftermath we saw some of the more residential areas near Frenchmen Street parts of which were still not repaired. Buildings of historic interest still had chunks missing or scrappy paint work. The sort of neglect New Orleans experience was epitomised for me when I went to a small photographic gallery run by a local artist. Talking to the manager of the store I mentioned that it was interesting that there was a distinct break in the artist’s work as he changed from film photography to digital. She explained that after Katrina there were no public darkrooms left and apparently an absence of materials, or at least a market, in the area to set a decent one up. Indeed after when I re-examined his work with this in mind I began to notice all his digital work was after 2005.

We went straight from a night-out via the hostel to the airport and were checking in at 2 am to discover that half of us couldn’t get on the flight and this culminated into a fitting haphazard summary of our time in NOLA. Would highly recommend if you can make it work.

A little before reading week I stumbled across a meet-and-greet one of the student newspapers (The McGill Daily) was running in an attempt to enlist some new photographers to contribute to their publication. Have to say that the few events I covered were very rewarding and my only regret was not taking the initiative and finding them at the beginning of the year.

I was the official photographer (reading that back it is hard not to indulgently cringe) for two stories: the winter general assembly and the McGill divest campaign sit-in outside one of the administration buildings. Now my main gratification was being issued a press pass and being allowed to wander freely everywhere. It reminded me of a time when I was an event photographer for student residence socials in Manchester and just because I had a camera the club bouncers just waved me through. Top tip: cameras get you places.

Obviously though it was satisfying in a much more substantial way as well. Building on the sentiment I verbalised last blog, working with the Daily put me in contact with some pretty cool people. Additionally because of McGill’s reputation a lot of the stories that the student papers ran with were also covered in local newspapers. In fact if you were to search ‘McGill winter general assembly 2016’ you would likely return a fair bit of information.

Continuing on with chatting about photography for a university that doesn’t even offer fine arts programs it caters fairly well for those artistically orientated. There are a number of societies that take it upon themselves to organise exhibitions that give said budding creatives to display their work. Somehow I managed to get my work displayed and, I’m not going to lie, it is ridiculously fun. There is wine and cheese and people wear turtlenecks and you stand in front of whatever you contributed and people ask you questions and your head inflates slightly. I recall at one point there were three or four people avidly listening to me tell the story behind of how I took one photograph whilst all the while in my head I was thinking ‘lol what the hell am I saying’. For the record said societies include Scrivener Creative Review, Visual Arts, Fridge Door Gallery and McGill University Photography Students Society (MUPSS for short) and a couple have an exhibition for each semester. Get on it.

One of the most rewarding things I have done, and I am going to give them a massive shoutout so that if you’re reading this you do seriously consider checking them out, but I got into the McGill Student Street Dance (MSSD) scene. I’ve always enjoyed dancing but it just never occurred to me to try street dance. After some gentle encouragement from a friend we started going to their lessons and all of a sudden for three hours a week we were learning popping and locking (and a little bit of breaking).

Montréal has as an active dance scene and some quality nights and battles on all over town. I got the impression MSSD had worked hard to give back to the community and as such we regularly had guest teachers who were ridiculously good. For a whole semester it was $20…! Due to some unfortunate timing a lot of execs are graduating this year and so I putting this here so that people coming on exchange from Manchester (or anywhere else I’m sure I’ve got a huge readership) do give it a go so that it stays as big as ever despite some quality people leaving.

Credit to Evenements Montreal Nightlife/Party Montreal Nightlife who came to document the last big event MSSD ran which a session was held on the top of Mont Royal at the chalet. You can check out some of the videos and photos they took to get an idea of what street dancing at McGill is about: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.917192411759301.1073741857.523416687803544&type=3 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OokDf-Fj48&feature=youtu.be.

That essentially wraps up my second semester at McGill. Finals came thick and heavy but since it is continual assessment I found a lot of my final exams were only worth 40% or 50% so it was not too stressful. If you are really clever as well you can pick your modules so that they’re coursework based and so you have a shorter exam season. Longer holiday. I was lucky enough to secure a summer research placement here (which if you are interested in you should look into because there is enough money at McGill they throw around placements like confetti) and so I’ll be knocking around for another six weeks in Montréal. Next time Manchester Word Press hears from me it should be an update on the gorgeous weather and the myriad of festivals Montréal has over summer.

Hope everyone at Manchester is enjoying end of year exams.

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