One of the best parts of moving out of Toronto and into a small(ish) town, is being that much closer to Montreal. No offense to my many friends who continue to enjoy urban life in T.O., but there are a great number of things that are wonderful about not living in the city…and this is just one of them.
Even though we absolutely do not have the time or mental space to go on a weekend getaway, we decided to do it it anyway. In a blaze of early fall optimism, we booked a room, unrefundable of course, and a dogsitter, and so here we are, at first stressed by leaving behind work undone, house uncleaned, and a dog with a possible ear infection (now clearing up, thanks to our wonderful dogsitter who took her to the vet in our irresponsible absence). And we’re enjoying it. Loud traffic outside our lodgings, a broken pair of reading glasses, and a couple of other small disasters aside, it’s impossible not feel inspired and sophisticated in Montreal, at least in my experience.
Montreal is a city of the imagination for me. Again, no offense to my not-so-many friends who still live on the prairies who love it there, I knew from an early age that I needed to get away and live out in the world, somewhere that was not Regina. Constant, escapist reading and a number of cross-country trips with my family fed my understanding that my real life was elsewhere. The problem was that I was not sure where that life would or even could happen. Plus, I was afraid – of many things. Afraid that I would be a bumpkin, afraid that I would fail, afraid that I would always be afraid. I’m happy to report that I did escape and although I certainly was afraid many times, I managed to conquer those fears and create a life for myself that fit, more or less, with the nebulous vision that I nurtured as a teenager.
That vision was shaped by a handful of people who, clearly, came from elsewhere and brought that elsewhere into my life – an elsewhere in which people drank delicious coffee, ate delicious food, suspended judgement, made irreverent jokes, and did not consider the somewhat rigid and dour rules of my childhood to be the standard by which one should conduct oneself. In particular, my friend, Gazelle, who I’ve recently reconnected with, dropped into my high school and my life, from this mythical place called Montreal, which I’d visited in my childhood but had, clearly, not fully understood or appreciated. Gazelle, like me, was mystified at the mores and rules of life on the prairies, but, unlike me, knew that she was only there very very temporarily and had immediate plans to get out and go, if not back to Montreal, then somewhere equally cosmopolitan. We bonded.
Gazelle’s stories of her previously hilarious and sophisticated social life in Montreal and her hilarious and sophisticated friends fed my certainty that if I could just get to a place like the one she described, my own warped sense of humour and desire for experience and real education would be rewarded, rather than judged and derided. It took me longer than it should have to test this theory out, and, luckily for my sanity, it eventually it did prove to be accurate; the bigger world out there actually was more welcoming and I actually did find my people. However, in the intervening years, Montreal became a symbol of everything that my current setting wasn’t: a “live-and-let-live” place of effortless bohemian cool.
Because I’ve never actually lived in Montreal, and only visit for a few days at a time, I’ve been able to sustain this impression of a city that, for other people, is probably just as pedestrian and workaday as anywhere else. But, to me, it sure seems like a place of greater freedom and acceptance, a place where I, for some reason, feel immediately at home – probably because I lived there for so long in my imagination.
So, now, when we travel to Montreal, we do so to walk its streets, listening to its languages, eat its food, and absorb some of this effortless cool. If we both spoke better French, we’d probably live here, and maybe we will once we don’t have to work anymore. But, for now, we’ll just periodically eat our way there and back, once or twice a year.