Sunday, August 20, 2017

Three Years and Three Magellan Projects

            When I chose to visit Washington & Jefferson college as a high school junior, I had not heard much about this small liberal arts college. In fact, the only reason I knew it existed is because it had aggressively attempted to recruit my brother into its ranks, and tried to lure Dylan in with the highest Dean’s Award scholarship they could offer. Obviously, their attempts failed to seduce him, but it is what put this college on my family’s map. I was interested in the idea that the school was relatively local (“far enough to prevent a surprise visit but close enough for your parents to run you down something if you need it” as one of the admissions officers put it) and had small class sizes. One of my great fears of going to a large school like Pitt or Penn State was being in one of those auditorium-style classrooms in which I would be taught by some TA. I did not want to be reduced to a number in the crowd, and the classrooms that looked almost identical in size to that of my high school appealed to me.
During one the admissions events, I asked my mother to take me to W&J to check it out. Considering how much she hated both the city and trip to Cleveland where my brother currently went, she was all too happy to oblige the fantasy of me going to a school a mere forty minutes away. While we were there, in the Media Room, they had a presentation on some of the unique opportunities available at the college. While they did the usual assortment of propaganda about study abroad opportunities and talked about their list of majors, they began to introduce the unique program of W&J: the Magellan Project. They brought in a couple students who told us about their trips. The trips they planned, the trips that were born solely from their own interest, and even to this day I remember the exact trip of one of the student presenting during that event. He had gone to the Vatican the summer prior to study the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and had been there for the historic moment of Pope Benedict XVI abdication of the papal throne. I immediately turned to my mother and told her that I would love to do that. I had never left the country before, and a college was essentially offering me a blank check to go wherever I wanted so long as I put in effort. Since I was thirteen or fourteen, I had said my dream was to go to the island nation of Malta sometime before I die. I know that sounds morbid, but it was more of a joke than the nihilistic tone is sounds like in retrospect. They had a reputation for business, a major in history, were a top producer of lawyers and doctors, and were willing to help me fulfill my dreams – W&J did succeed in seducing me. Also, the generous scholarship helped cement my first choice, but the Magellan Project is what pushed this college into my primary choice.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Another About Me and Another Magellan Trip

So, in an effort to condense I am simply going to combine these to sections into one concise post.

About Me

First, since my "About me" has changed a little bit since my first Magellan trip to Malta, I figured a new one was in order. I am now a rising senior at Washington & Jefferson College. I am a history major with concentrations in American studies and entrepreneurial studies with delusions of grandeur and law school ahead of me. I would not consider myself very adventurous, but I am also not foolish enough to let amazing opportunities such as the Magellan project pass without seizing them. Ironically, thanks to W&J, I have now visited as many foreign counties as states in the US, not counting field trips also taken though W&J (I've only truly visited Florida for Disney World, D.C., and Baltimore). Each time I have been able to gain more confidence in my travels, budget better each time, and maximize my experience from my grant money. I am proud to call myself a three time Magellanite and am confident that becoming a student at W&J to take advantage of this program was one of the finest decisions I have ever made.

About the Magellan Project

The Magellan Project is essentially an exercise in motivation created from the mind of former W&J president Tori Haring-Smith. The idea is to fund any interest, in any (safe) county, for any student with the motivation to plan, execute, budget, and partake in the effort to chase in their own dreams of foreign or domestic travel. The programs recently granted its millionth dollar to fund diverse trips and random interests of students from every walk of life inside and outside of their major. Whether you want to return to your ethnic home to enjoy traditional foods or rough it in Alaska for three months, W&J's Magellan Project excitedly funds these students to pursue their passions, grow as members of society, gain life skills such as budgeting, and build confidence above all else.

About this Trip

For whatever reason, for each of my Magellan projects this has been one of the last things I write.

The purpose of this trip was to study the history of a French city that has never lost its identity despite British rule for hundreds of years, and even through Canada's independence. Looking back to my previous projects, I am beginning to sense a theme of appreciating minority peoples or invaded peoples that retain their identity against all odds. The Maltese kept their language and customs despite passing through the hands of the Phoenicians, Romans, Holy Roman Empire, the Knights of St. John, the French, and the British. The Dutch Jews did a poorer job at surviving invasion and persevering than the Maltese did against invaders, but even still, many refused to recant their religion and their greatest synagogues such as the famed Portuguese Synagogue still stands. The French keeping their own culture strikes a similar vein of perseverance and a refusal to assimilate completely.

A little more focus was given toward the beaver fur trade, as I am personally amazed at the wealth and prestige the colonial French city of Montreal was able to obtain so quickly through the exploitation of a small animal's valuable pelt. The business, demand, and shipping apparatus that existed to ferry pelts to the Old World for massive profits amaze me in the day that international trade was especially risky, disease-filled, and wrought with danger by both nature and covetous men.

In short, my project's intention was to study the beaver fur trade in Montreal and the French identity and culture the Quebec Province has been able to retain despite all odds.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Learning Why "We Remember" and Learning More About the Fur Trade

In the last week of my Magellan in Montreal, I waited to go to Montreal's flagship museum of archaeology and history with a fellow W&J student who was completing her own Magellan focusing on the history of the city. The museum opened with a fifteen minute or so long video that detailed the vast experiences of the French colonial city that became usurped by the British, invaded by the American revolutionaries, and nonetheless prospered with its unique identity intact. Keeping their own identity is a mainstay of the mindset French Quebec as a whole. Even their words on their license plates "Je Souviens" means "We Remember" our identity, our French heritage. 

Other than the decently large number of language options available in the headset, the most striking thing about the presentation was how the video's narrator spoke as if she was the city herself, and that led to a slightly more emotional telling that allowed you to see the growth of the town through the city's personified eyes.

 After the video, you weave through hundreds of years of history starting in the lower floors and making your way up to modern times, and eventually to their current selection of temporary exhibits. Through dioramas of the town that the museum had built into the floor, one could see the quick growth of the "foolhardy venture" that Montreal undertook to become the wealthy and influential city it is today. Quebecois were unhappy and powerless as the upstart Montreal survived and prospered despite its proximity to initially hostile Iroquois tribes to become the premier Canadian city operating in the fur trade.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Surprise Closing and a Surprise Show

Unfortunately this has been sitting as a draft for about a month due to some laptop troubles with the laptop I took with me to Montreal. This day, I had a singular purpose. It was to visit a well-known and highly recommended fur store called Dubarry Furriers. The shop has a great story of being a passion shared by father and son and being a family-owned furrier for two generations. While that is relatively short span for a city celebrating its 300 year anniversary this year, two generations of performing a highly specialized and slowly dying business that competes against dozens of other boutique stores thousands of mass produced fake furs is still an accomplishment. Even better, their prices are superb according to everyone who has every recorded a customer review on the internet, and their quality is supposedly equally unmatched. With the great reputation, prices, and after checking their hours twice, I set out for Viex Montreal to visit their store. 

Along the way, I passed the Notre-Dame Basilica and stood in awe of its grandeur...and also had to constantly stop as dozens of horse-drawn carriages clogged the road shuttling tourists. I took advantage to take a few photos of the basilica's facade and the courtyard while I was there, and made my way to the shop. Only, when I got there, it was closed with no signs of life in the building. I had checked the hours twice! My first thought was "how unprofessional, a store in the US actually keeps their posted hours!" After my couple moments of anger-laced disappointment, I decided to try again another day, and after I talked to my host, I learned the trick is to always call the store to make sure since Montreal stores' posted hours are not as sacrosanct as they are here. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Magical Exhibit and A Magical Moment at McGill University

On this action packed day I went to the Redpath and McCord Museum due to their close proximity to each other in downtown Montreal. The Redpath Museum (which is not the Redpath Hall pictured in the next couple photos as I originally thought) is owned by and is part of the campus of McGill University. Unfortunately but interestingly, I accidentally chose to visit the university during its graduation ceremony for its students. I felt that I was intruding on a proud but private moment, but it was amusing to see the bagpipe player lead a procession of new graduates through the streets of Montreal. I actually got trapped for about twenty minutes on the steps of the Redpath Museum since I thought it would be incredibly rude if I were to try to break through a graduation procession. I treated it like a funeral procession and I refused to get in the way, and so I simply watched them pass by and snapped a few photographs and a video. 

After I escaped McGill, I felt bad and bought a hat from a student merchandise tent they had set up, and then it was on to the McCord Museum. Slightly less eclectic than the collection of the Redpath that included taxidermy animals, fossils, minerals, mummies, and even some Etruscan urns, the McCord had three exhibits at the time. Native Peoples and their culture through their clothing, a collection of magic advertisement posters from the Golden Age of Magic, and a collection honoring the forty-year career of a political cartoonist named Terry Mosher (more about him when you get closer to his exhibit's photographs).  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Invading Canada and Invading the Market

Yesterday, I visited the Chateau Ramezay which has a storied history of being the residence of Montreal's governor in 1717, Ramezay (for which the chateau was named), the home of subsequent French West Indies Company, British invaders and administrators, and even a seven-month stint as the wartime headquarters of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. As such, it has exhibits that explained the history of early Montreal and showed a diorama of the Iroquois village that likely existed before European settlement. It then moved on to the early founders of Montreal and those that transformed Montreal into a industrious colony of France that centered mainly around the lucrative fur trade, especially of beaver pelts. After the exhibits dealing with the fur trade, Montreal's first influential citizens, and how they dealt with and traded with the native people, they showed artifacts such as British officer uniforms and the like to show Montreal's invasion and subsequent surrender to British forces. Of course, being a citizen of the United States and going through the trouble of obtaining an American Studies concentration, I found it especially entertaining learning of the Chateau Ramezay's time in the possession of the Continental Army. According to the audio tour, the only thing that kept the colony loyal to Great Britain was Great Britain's own strategy of preemptively placating Montreal's main complaints against the crown in 1774. Alternatively, it may also have been the small pox ravaging the American forces attacking Quebec, but in either theory the result was that Canada did not become the fourteenth state of our great union.

While the Chateau Ramezay was my main objective for the day, I also happened upon two unexpected places while trying to return to my metro station through the labyrinth of city construction project, closed roads and sidewalks, and detours. First I encountered the Mache Bonsecours a building that has served as a public market, a concert hall, Montreal's city hall, and even the Parliament of Lower Canada. It became a permanent public market in 1859 and today it houses a dozen or so boutique stores, a tiny museum, and a few restaurants. Technically I visited this site second, but the first photos I took were with my phone and so you will have to scroll all the way to the bottom to see its beautiful grey dome. I visited each of the little boutiques and enjoyed a productive, if expensive, shopping day that included some handmade crafts from Canada's local native peoples and a special tea sold here called Icewine Tea, which I am excited to try when I return home. Luckily a quick call home prevented me from dropping a few hundred dollars on a fur scarf or fur "hat ring" (it wasn't going to be for me, but I thought it looked nice). Either way, I enjoyed walking through the trendy, narrow hallways of the boutique mall and I felt good about buying certified Canadian handicrafts rather than "Canadian" souvenirs made in China.

The third location was the tiny Notre-Dame-De-Bon-Secours (sharing the last part of its name with the market) whose beauty is better expressed by pictures, so enjoy!