By Sara Deloach
For all that Montreal offers to do and see, the winter has to be taken into account. Though I’ve been reminded unwaveringly by locals, this year has been kinder to its inhabitants than previous. Still, you become pretty choosy about where you’re willing to venture out to. Little nooks of the city can cocoon you like your warm bedroom but keep total reclusion at bay.
The best I’ve found so far is the exhibit in the BANQ (The Quebec Provincial Library & Archives): La Bibliotheque La Nuit. The library itself is massive and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to snugness but the exhibit has you in what can only be described as a hobbit hole. Separate from the bright expansiveness of the rest of the library, a little cabin’s been recreated, tucked away on the bottom level. It’s all warm lighting, faux bookshelves, and mahogany in this place.
The windows are set against backdrops of vines and there’s fake rain pattering against them. It’s wild. It’s like Kahunaville took over the Hobbit franchise. Kahunaville was an amazing King Kong Skull Island looking theme restaurant in Massachusetts that shut down in 2004 [You’ve just crushed my dreams, Sara. – Ed.], for those not in the know. But that’s what it’s like in here, plus armchairs. The strongest sense is that we should all be growing beards and drinking brown liquor (in an academic way).
Everything Is amplified when you’re handed a virtual reality headset (the future is now) and led into the next room, which essentially expands into the great hall from Harry Potter. There are giant trees serving as columns, with branches made of dangling books and bark made up of individual book pages. The tables are set up the same as any library but this is like a dimly lit book jungle. There are loose-leaf pages all over the ground. The whole place is riddled with kindling. It’s a warm, Canadian Jungle Book.
The virtual reality experience itself is bizarre in that it gives you a bunch of brief history lessons on libraries all over the world, so in one sense it’s a harken back to the past but it’s all happening via virtual reality and that is 3D-printing level, full speed ahead to the damn future. There are holograms. It’s sort of mesmerizing, like one of those ASMR videos on YouTube that are basically adult lullabies, but not cringey. One lesson takes place in space; another has you inside a Russian library while flames flicker outside its windows (riots, as per). It’s like a very pedantic kaleidoscope.
It’s such a comfortable setting and your eyes get so involved that it makes it hard to crawl back out into the world afterwards. You feel like you’ve been in some sort of optical retreat and no one out here understands the inner tranquility you’re wrapped up in. It does, however, remind you that there are pockets of coziness like this to be found. It’s important to know in times like these (the cold ones), it might make you more likely to leave the house.
There is serenity to be found in the outside world, even if it is virtual.