Wednesday, July 06, 2016

My Montreal Journal

As I'm about to publish this excerpt of my Montreal journal, I realize I've included almost nothing about where we walked or what we saw (the McCord Museum of Canadian History, for example, the Parc Jean Drapeau, which overlooks the city, the Marche Jean Talon where we stocked up on lunch supplies for a picnic). It's all about me and language. Not even sure what to say about that.

I left out the lovely park on Rue Beaubien Est across from the cinema, I left out the birreria where Mike lounged two nights of our stay after Leo went to bed. I left out the Basilica of Notre Dame and the view of the city we glimpsed from the island park where we had our picnic (and visited a science museum that was not the science museum we thought we were visiting).

I also said very little (in the entries below) about the market, which is such a key part of any vacation we take. The Marche Jean Talon (see the picture above -- we had the most delightful Quebecois tomatoes there).

And Little Italy! Just a quick mention. Three days, as you will see from my gush of emotion, are not enough to explore Montreal. Not by a long shot. Just enough to give you heartache.
June 30, 2016
9:03 a.m.

This is a city that inspires -- probably everyone -- but definitely me. A city I’d like to call my own (in the way, as a traveler, I collect cities around the world).

1 p.m.

Visits today to the Marche Jean Talon and Petite Italie

We are skimming the surface. A relatively quick, disorganized, disjointed shopping excursion followed by the pedestrian equivalent of a driveby to Little Italy. A cultural fusion that even just briefly left me sbalordita. An American Italophile in an Italian bastion within a French-speaking city of a largely Anglophone country. Whoa! Anyway you sliced it – Bonjour madame or buongiorno, I was good!

All of these glancing encounters temporarily fire up my brain and lead to brief intellectual explorations that must be aborted. To wit:

*What’s Quebecois culture all about?
*How to understand the fight for instilling the French language as the dominant form of communication in Montreal
*How does Quebecois Italian culture fit in?
*What can the U.S. learn about relations with indigenous people?

*Click on continua a leggere below to

When we visited Little Italy -- Petite Italie -- I wandered into a bookstore ('Librarie Italienne' look like magical words to me), and the proprietor said, "Buongiorno. Cerchi qualcosa di particolare?" You know, as if the shop were in Rome. Another shop sold the Italian newspaper and a recent copy of L'Espresso (which I bought because Renzi was on the cover with a very clever hashtag headline).

This morning when we woke up, the kittens belonging to the duplex next door were lined up on the patio and suckling milk from the Mommy cat.

6 p.m.

Out in our neighborhood in Montreal and from across the street I peer into a salon where a small boy is squirming in the arms of his father, crying, scared, as a hairdresser hovers about his head, trying gamely to snip a few lock. A scene of uncommon yet everyday tenderness that draws me into Montreal and a mere 36 hours into my stay convinces me I’m a part of the city and it is a part of me.

Quotes for the Leo journal: “Rain is like a shower for animals,” and “It could be funny if chickens knowed how to drive!” Oh dude it already is funny!

June 29
6:20 a.m.

A word about the houses…they are lovely! They are two story apartment buildings that sort of look like homes you’d expect to see in New Orleans perhaps because they have prominent outdoor stairs linking the upper unit to the sidewalk. Stairs that people sometimes paint pretty colors or adorn with plants. Bikes grip the railings of every other bottom unit’s front gate. Touches of home, touches of personality, the sense of home pride….everywhere, everywhere on the facades of these apartment homes.

8:20 a.m.

Montreal journal update: I’ve learned to say bonne journée” as opposed to “bonjour” at the end of transactions, as I’m saying goodbye to merchants, and given the hum in my step, you’d think I’d discovered the cure for cancer. Really: big whoop since it’s the same in Italian. Buona giornata or buona serata (note the suffix ‘ata’) when you’re taking your leave. But whatevs. I’m re-learning French! Bonne journée!

8:45 p.m.

A walk after dinner as the sun prepares to set, casting my new neighborhood in a golden glow, as if anything more were needed to render these days in sepia tones. The sunset’s palette adds texture to an already dimpled urban French neighborhood. The duplexes, each different, each an opportunity for human contact – not that I would necessarily be talking to anyone but for research purposes. I try to divine something or instill some sense of kinship because I see a flower pot, a bike chained to a railing, a wreath on a door. As if the eye were begging for variation. Even when the nuance or variation is a vacant storefront (rare) or a cluttered porch. Somehow these somewhat unpleasant variations set the stage even better for tender displays of picture-perfect flower boxes, a family of cats supping on a patio, an aged but stately stained glass window in a home.

The sky becomes purple as I walk and I crane my neck to see more of the sunset. I even cross the street to improve my vantage point. I know this moment, occasioned by the decision on a whim to take a walk when otherwise I would be reading or working, is special. I was meant to fall in love just a little more with Montreal, and the sunset’s colorful blanket thrown so perfectly over the neighborhood is doing the trick. I see people pass me on bikes in the street, while others push personal fold-up shopping carts along the sidewalk.

I catch a glimpse of soccer players on a sliver of parkland I spy between duplexes. I’m writing an ode to something simple yet lived-in, loved-in. Ode to the basic architecture of a neighborhood that has a bit of everything – as good city nabes do – a church, a corner store, a grocer, an off-license, a hair salon, a book shop, a toy emporium, a real estate office, the tax attorney, the plumber, the driving school (automatique et manuelle). Plus a glance down an alley is repaid as if a glimpse into a diary: those back decks stuffed with people’s lives that one spies between duplexes and humble neighborhood businesses.

Once again I’m beggared for a reason I get to observe so much. How a five-minute walk is a passage into the sublime. Nothing wrong with the suburbs or the countryside. But the myriad impressions of the human stamp become a feast of plenty. One more pang for someone who’s always searching for the perfect city and who knows it’s stitched together with a 1,000 imperfect but highly imaginative, highly personal strands (no cookie-cutter cul de sacs here).

Ah Montreal, after all these years (~three decades), oui oui je t’aime.

June 28, 2016
8:41 a.m.

Montreal absolutely deserves a week, in addition to a repeat visit. The people are lovely, the city – especially this neighborhood with its rowhouse duplexes – is a place to settle into, the food a dieter’s nightmare, which is so good for a foodie vacation spot. I listen now as the family below us – the family renting us our apartment – is playing out a Tuesday night. Dinner, familiar yelling between the main house and an out building where they appear to hole up when this apartment where we are is occupied. My view from the kitchen a cozy, leafy enclave framed by back veranda. It gives onto the bowels of a residential neighborhood where 'bowels' means how we live and love and cook and vent.

My Montreal Journal. Here it is. In dribs and drabs. So overwhelmed, so caught off guard, so trying to hold it together so I'm not submerged into another intellectual obsession.

5:03 p.m.
On trips like these, I see everything through the prism of whether I understand or not, whether I make myself understood or not.

Yes, it’s dangerous to drop an aspiring writer, such as myself, with an incurable addiction to Romance languages, into a proud Francophone city like Montreal. Within hours, I’ve hatched half a dozen projects in my mind, including translating a French Canadian book that would illustrate the culture’s fight against English-language hegemony. All because I was able to say "Bonjour" and "je voudrais" and "comme ca" a few times.
If I look back, as in if I think for a moment about the days that came before, I realize Bennington is over. I realize I have my Masters (which for better or for worse means I’ve now shifted the goal posts so it almost doesn’t mean what it used to mean). I realize one of the most incredible experiences of my life has concluded, has changed my life and I’m left watching it recede in the rear view mirror. Not unhappily – I'm in Montreal and it’s awesome.

But in some ways I won’t really be reckoning with it until I return home to Atlanta at the end of next week. I see it as a the real-life equivalent of staring at the blank page. No work at CNN. No other work of any kind, save one freelance article assignment. The actual start of the rest of my life.

Nice to be on vacation!

June 27, 2016

It’s dangerous for a writer to go to a foreign city….and by dangerous I mean, there’s a very real peril of the writer going insane from a linguistic orgasm…especially if the writer knows even jut a little of the country’s native language.

I’m here in Montreal dumbfounded and ecstatic about being surrounded by French and I think, almost instantly, what would it take to become fluent? Or semi-fluent? Without having spoken French since visiting Luxembourg in 1997, I’m able to tell the waiter that I do want to speak French but I’ve just arrived and need a moment to get myself acclimated. Then I order my dinner at La Boulette, a nice neighborhood restaurant in Rosemount-La Petite Patrie ('Rosemount, the little country'). Later, I order ice cream.

And I soak in the surprisingly foreign vibe of Montreal. A city surrounded by the English language and its serpent-like hold on communications world-wide. And yet I feel as though I am in a French version of London. Every sign is in French and French only. Every transaction is presumed to be in French until you signal you’re an idiotic American who can’t step up.

And the architecture of this neighborhood (again, called 'Rosemount-La Petite Patrie') – a Montrealian’s Montreal nabe, I would say – is just delightful, duplex apartments with second floor balconies and front stoops overflowing with flowers and bikes and the odd pair of running shoes oh and personality.

It would take nothing to be sucked into the allure of French-speaking Canada.

June 27, 2016
3:30 p.m.

On the highway, the signs as we near Canada say “hebergement” – lodging! I'm giddy with excitement!

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