Scrapbook #10: Au revoir.

Cozy(Andrew & I at our first place in Montreal)

Our first apartment in Montreal was a huge, sunny loft just east of de Lorimier and Sherbrooke. It was beautiful and impractical. Our landlord had installed a whirlpool with LED chromotherapy lights in the bathroom because somehow that change of colour was supposed to be good for your body. The whirlpool must have used up his home reno energy because he never got around to putting in a proper bathroom door. Instead there was a curtain. It was heavy, but it was still just a curtain. But it was our first place in Montreal and the rent was cheap compared to Toronto and from our deck we could see the Jacques Cartier Bridge and, in the summer, fireworks at La Ronde. And the light that streamed through the big windows was vivid, amazing. Who needed a bathroom door?

IMG_5437
(Bedroom wall at the new place.)

When Andrew and I came to Montreal almost six years ago, we didn’t think we would stay for very long. Maybe a year? It was just to try something different. But then that year passed, and another, and we left the loft and instead of renting, bought a condo straddling the Plateau and Mile End. It was tiny, but the ceilings were high and the bathroom had a door and the neighbourhood had every single thing you could ever want in a neighbourhood. One of the best parts about the condo was the deck in the back, and if you stood in a certain corner you could just make out the cross at the top of Mount Royal.

DSC00338

We didn’t have air conditioning, so in the summer we would sleep with all the windows open, and sounds would leak through. Bells from the church at St. Joseph every Sunday morning at 9:15. The thud of dance music from the crappy café across the street that mystifyingly turned into a wedding reception hall on the weekends. Drunken laughter from people coming home after a night at the bar. Neighbours having sex. The occasional person practicing opera arias as they walked home alone in the dark. And these days, at 8 pm, you’ll hear someone, somewhere, banging on casseroles.

Pasta dough(So much cooking.)

I guess I learned about food in Montreal. It was impossible not to. Jean Talon Market is best in the thick of summer when everything is open and busy and fruit and vegetables are sold not just in pints and pounds, but in bushels and flats. I made my first batch of jam after buying an overripe flat of strawberries one Friday night before closing time. I liked Atwater Market for the canal, and one of my favourite mid-week meals was a slice of pizza and a bottle of wine from the market, eaten by the water.

Bushels of tomatoes at Jean Talon market
(Summer at Jean Talon.)

I learned that the best time to go to Schwartz’s was on a weekday evening, say around 8:30, when there aren’t too many tourists. And, anyway, if the lineup is too long, you won’t be disappointed by a sandwich across the street at The Main. I pledged my allegiance to Fairmount bagels over St. Viateur. I had foie gras poutine from Au Pied de Cochon, many roast chickens from Romados, too many butter chicken thalis at Bombay Mahal, lobster truffle ravioli at Holder, meals composed entirely of cheese purchased from La Fromagerie Atwater, many summer ice cream cones from Kem CoBa or Bilboquet. Andrew and I had picnics in almost every park within a 15 minute walking radius from our home. We didn’t get married in Montreal, but we had champagne with our friends at Parc Lafontaine a month later.

Birthday cheese plate

It was excessive, all of it, but it was good.

Another group shot(Caro, Les and me New Year’s Eve a few years ago.)

One reason why moving to Montreal felt so natural and easy was because my best friends were living here. On average, I’ve probably seen Caro and Les once a week since September 2006 and I probably shouldn’t think about how many bottles of wine we’ve shared. I also don’t want to think about what it will be like not having them just a few blocks away. It’s one of the hardest things about moving, leaving these people.

Group shot

I have the sweetest group of friends here, and over the years we would take turns hanging out with just the girls, or with the boys too, mostly congregating around a kitchen table to eat meals that would last hours, multiple conversations happening at once, the occasional French/English debate, and so much laughter.

Polaroid of girls on a sunny Sunday morning in June
(The girls one sunny morning.)

Montreal is too easy to romanticize. It’s the kind of place that calls the hill in the middle of the city a mountain – everything is heightened. Something about the exposed staircases and all those lovely people riding around on bikes and the fact that the depanneurs sell bad bottles of wine. It adds up.

xmas16

It makes people wonder how anyone gets any work done here. But work happens, I promise. I started off working at an accounting firm, and then I quit, started a new job, then another, then went back to the one before that. I got used to that particular Quebecois-style type of conversation with my co-workers where they would speak to me in French and I would reply in English. It was just easier to communicate that way.

Montreal launch!(My book launch at Drawn & Quarterly.)

And I made things. My first book, my first novel, some zines. And I watched Andrew build up his photography practice too. I remember darting into a dep to pick up a copy of the Saturday paper to see one of his photos on the cover, I remember spending a freezing cold Nuit Blanche in the Old Port, hanging out at a gallery to watch people’s reactions as they looked at his art projected on a huge screen. I can’t even list off how much ground he’s covered here in Montreal, often with our dear friend Nel, the two of them discovering parts of Montreal I would never think to bother with. I am still in awe of everything he has created while we’ve lived here.

Cover star

There is that cliché of an Anglophone moving to Montreal for a few years in their twenties to go to university or grad school. Maybe they’ll hang around for a bit after graduation, using the city as an excuse to stave off impending adulthood. They work on their art, they get their heart broken, they pay the lowest rent they’ll ever pay in their lives, and then they leave and get a real job. Sometimes I feel like I did Montreal a little backwards. I came here long after I had left school, and I didn’t so much stave off adulthood as grow into the kind of adult I want to be with the kind of relationship I want to have with the city I live in. I’m sure I would’ve figured this out if I had stayed in Toronto or if I had moved to a different city, but because I did it in Montreal, I will always associate it with this part of my life, these tentative half-serious, half-silly early adulthood years. They were so much fun.

habitat1

As much as I am excited about rediscovering Toronto and starting a new phase in my life with Andrew, I’m sad to leave this magical, beautiful city. There is so much I haven’t done! I never went kayaking in the canal or cross country skiing on Mont Royal or bumped into Leonard Cohen or got over my bike phobia to be one of those girls biking around the city.

snowed1

But I did so many other things, and I will always be grateful and nostalgic and sentimental for that. Merci, Montreal. Merci, merci, merci.

12 thoughts on “Scrapbook #10: Au revoir.

  1. Sobbing in a coffeeshop right now.

    Well, close to sobbing, anyway.

    Even though I never lived in Montreal, this post is giving me so many Calgary feelings. I so know what you’re feeling right now!

    However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t more thrilled for you to be here! Welcome back!

  2. Beautiful master piece honey! So emotional and well written. Welcome back to T.O. with your parents even just for while. Mom

  3. love the whole post, will miss your energy in the city and reports of life-living that I miss out on now in the country. However my favorite part of this post may just be Archer’s little ears poking over Andrew’s shoulder in the first photo.

  4. Congratulation !!

    Well written and so beautifully expressed .

    Happy for you and Andrew ,

    best wishes today & always

  5. I was one of those people who went for University and left afterwards. Although, truth be told I went for a guy and decided that both the guy and the city and myself were not compatible. While I was there though I tried to really explore the city – we prided ourselves on just getting on the metro and getting lost in random neighbourhoods.

    This was a lovely post – and your first apartment was beautiful! At least, that photo is. My apartments were always so sketchy looking.

  6. What a lovely post, such a love story! Montreal will always be here for you – sometimes you gotta leave a place just to be able to come back and do the things you never got around to doing when you lived there ;) This has been my first year living off the island and I’m glad I’m close enough to get back there when I can. Happy settling in to your new life :)

  7. Just caught up on reading this, and it made me emotional, too! Even though I still live here! :) (And even though I know you’re already happily ensconced back in TO.) But you really capture something about the city. But Anile is right…Montreal is always here for you.

  8. Jeez, I was so wrapped up in moving in the summer that I never got the chance to respond individually to everyone’s comments. If any of you ever see this – thank you for your kind words. They made me feel warm and fuzzy back in June, and they still do now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>