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I spent a couple of hours in prison this afternoon. Trust Montreal to transform a prison into La Maison Des Gouverneurs’ Wine Cellar, which I believe, means the Governors’ House Wine Cellar. Yes, the Quebec Liquor Board keeps a mere 50,000 select bottles of wine in the basement of the La Prison Des Patriotes – a historic site of the 1837 and 1838 rebellions. And why, you may ask, is this site described as both a prison and the Governors’ House? It’s not because any of the governors were thrown into the clink but because the guv was also the prison warden, and the wardens’ home, now restored, is beside the prison and connected by a tunnel. At least I entered the prison and popped out into the wardens’ home so unless I was hallucinating or transported by aliens, a tunnel seems like the most logical answer.
Where men once huddled in freezing cells chained by their ankles, now there are wine bottles keeping cool. Some bottles are the same vintage as the prison – the oldest bottle is from 1800. The most valuable bottle is an 1834 Chateau d’Yquem from France, a sweet desert wine valued at a mere $37,000 (and that’s a low estimate).
Back in the mid 19th century a prisoner could expect to last about 2 years before either the cold, the damp or the bread-and-water diet did him in. Today, in addition to a small exhibition about the prisoners and the rebellion (labels only in French but helpful staff speak English), there are wine tastings and private receptions held in the restored basement. Or you can rent out the wardens’ house for a function. It’s a weird world, isn’t it, when both the jailer and the jailed are sharing a memorial?
For a lot of foreign (or non-Quebec Canadians) the rebellion is something we don’t know much about, so in a way, combining parties and wine with a memorial of the patriots who were hung or imprisoned for their quest for freedom and democracy is a celebration of their life and their actions.
But it’s still bizarre. And so is a bottle of wine worth $37,000. It used to be that people would try to break out of prison … now they’d like to break in.
And on a different note, video shoot tomorrow. Eeeek!