Last week, I left Montreal to go on vacation. Although I was heading to what some would consider a dream destination, I felt a little pang the night before departure: the city was bursting with the promise of summer and all sorts of hospitable little mushrooms had sprung up all over town. The Village au Pied-du-Courant - a community project that had transformed a decrepit industrial area/snow dump on the banks of the St-Lawrence River in Hochelaga into an urban beach resort (complete with an astronomical station) – had rolled out its red carpet, and Station FMR, an art and design (and food and music and beer) project hosted in four old metro trains had already been beckoning for weeks on the banks of the Lachine Canal. To make matters worse, the upcoming nocturnal cycling event, the Tour la Nuit, had traced a whole new route through a part of town I was still unfamiliar with, and I seriously thought: What the hell are you doing in Croatia, eating sardines and reading the tedious autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir, when you could be dancing the night away on a beach in Hochelaga?!
Yeah, I know: you can also dance the night away on a beach in Ibiza but you’re only thinking that because it’s exotic and far and famous, but it’s actually tacky, and when you’ve been blessed with the natural beauty of a Mediterranean island, dancing the night away goes without saying – or effort of any kind. But an urban beach resort in the place of a former snow dump? Now, that is something authentic and born out of true love!
A couple of years ago, when I was still looking toward 40 and a colleague had just crossed over, we discussed what we wanted the second half of our lives to look like. The question begged the sort of answer that took into consideration all the wasted time and opportunities of the first half, and, upon reflection, I concluded that what I yearned for was more of the same. At that point, I had been living in Montreal for seven years and found the city absolutely inexhaustible.
I had arrived with a Lonely Planet guidebook in August of 2009 and had since ventured from Schwartz’s and the Notre Dame cathedral into the unchartered territory of amateur wrestling matches in church basements, naked karaoke (only watched, did not perform!), New Age dancing extravaganzas hosted in chapels, as well as class actions and the drama of the Montreal Courthouse. Still, the city continued to proffer and to transform itself. I am not talking here about new bars and restaurants. I am talking about its innate creativity and lust for life – the kind of lust that constructs a beach on the banks of a smelly industrial area.
Asking for anything other than more of the same would have implied abandoning an ongoing urban exploration which was only becoming more interesting with time. In fact, my answer did lie, but only a little – because the city never was the same and thus held me in a constant state of rapture. When I left on holiday for two weeks last Friday, then, I thought: that’s two weeks less in Montreal in this lifetime. Such is the nature of my infatuation, and at this point, I think it’s fair to call it love.
It was love at third sight. The first two days were spent in an utter state of panic questioning the folly of my arrival, but on the afternoon of the third day, somewhere on shoddy St-Catherine of all places, I had sensed the warm yellow current coursing through the city, and thought: You did well to come here.
It wasn’t all good all the time, of course. Shit went down all over town. For a few years after my arrival, every outing in the Plateau Mont-Royal - where I had spent the first few weeks of my life in Montreal – reeked of dislocation. It seemed imbedded in the brick and mortar. I hated going to my then nearest grocery store – the PA on Du Fort - because it was full of other immigrants and we were all lost and searching - for kim chi and goulash. Somewhere along the way, some guy seriously wrecked my heart and I walked around the city for months thinking: you are loveless, Montreal! Some years later, I fell ill and thought: Good God, you shouldn’t have come here! But walking around that same Plateau proved to be medicinal at that time and the city gave me everything I needed to recover.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon a quote I really liked: “If you want endless repetion, see a lot of different people. If you want infinite variety, stay with one.”
We’ve been together for nearly a decade now. I’m not saying don’t go on vacation. I’m saying: I love you, Montreal!