On leaving Montreal
Yesterday morning I woke up in my bed for the first time in almost a week. Upon waking to the sound of The National’s Apartment Story, I needed a moment to reorient. By the time I recognized the hushed gurgling of boiling radiator water spurting out of ancient pipe-seams and the cushioned prance of the terrier living in the apartment above me the malaise had already set in. “Why does time pass so quickly in Montreal,” I asked myself.
My story is a conventional one. I lived in Montreal for a year while completing my Master’s degree. With my studies complete, and with funding run-out, I had to depart. Financial pressures and language barriers more-or-less forced me to retreat back to the bridges I had built back in Southern Ontario. I think that I am happy here, with this slower pace of life, most of the time.
Montreal is a transitory place, and many experience it during a liminal period where transition is the only certainty. Despite being fully cognizant of the impermanence of it all, and even cursing its unforgiving winters and (sometimes) unfriendly citizens, I still developed feelings for Montreal. And when I allow myself to reminisce I feel as though I’ve been replaced. I think that another person is reading History at McGill, sitting in the same classrooms and having similar conversations in that room that overlooks Mont Royal. Another person is in my 300sq.ft. apartment, rearranging the the few pieces of furniture I sold to her for pennies on the dollar. Someone else is eating the Mustard Pork Chops at Le Grand Comptoir, drinking what would have been my house wine. Someone else is making plans with my friends, maybe to see the new collection at the Musee de Beaux Arts, or to hammer back a few subsidized pitchers at Thomson House (knowing my friends, probably the latter).
I took it for granted, naturally. There were days, maybe weeks, when I would question why people even settled in Montreal in the first place (did not engage with historical reasons). But over time, as autumn became a frozen hell and that hell became summer, that cold, cultural capital grew on me. I recall navigating the subway and bus network with a tap of the STM card and a mumbled “Ca va bien?”; my dwindling level of patience as I lagged behind groups of confused tourists; mastering the penguin walk across thousands of meters of icy sidewalks; falling on those icy sidewalks; the drinking, and the thinking.
Last week I spent five consecutive days in Montreal and I am grateful. Amid hanging out with dear friends—old and new—and participating in an inspiring conference, I found time to walk the icy streets of downtown and the Plateau. Much has not changed. I did not emerge from the McGill-College station at the exit that I had intended; and, as if preordained, I slipped and fell on the corner of Mont Royal and l’Esplanade, just like before. I suspect the soreness in my thigh will fade well before my longing for Montreal will. Onwards.