À bientôt, Montréal!

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Taking a winter stroll on Île Sainte-Hélène, Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s been quite a few months since the previous post, because life hit top gear once I began packing up in Montreal. I’m now back in Melbourne, still a way off from life on cruise control but, busy as I am, never a day goes by without thinking about my second hometown. Photos from Montreal friends showing off the autumn colour and now the first snow makes me really miss my old life: the quotidian pleasures, the rhythms of the seasons, time with mes amis. Of course it’s great to be back among everything that’s deeply familiar, including many dear friends, and rediscovering how wonderful Melbourne is, but I wish I could clone myself and live here and in Montreal simultaneously.

Forming such a strong bond was not what I expected when I arrived in Montreal. I departed Melbourne in love with the city of my birth, so it never occurred to me that I could also feel at home in and indeed truly love another town. Sure, as a tourist I had fallen for places, from Venice to New York, but I didn’t anticipate how a city can snuggle into your soul when you live there for years. Continue reading

Weird and wonderful / Étrange et merveilleux

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Photo: La Presse/Olivier Pontbriand

It’s coming up to four years living in Montreal, and in that time I’ve encountered many aspects of life that I found, or in some cases continue to find, unusual if not downright weird. Some I’ve written about before, particularly about how the French language is sometimes enforced to farcical extremes by Québec’s Office de la langue française.

There’s so much more though, like police wearing colourful camo pants, the 20th century’s inexplicable persistence, and cats shaved to resemble little lions. Continue reading

Borders / Les frontières

Crossing the US border near Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Crossing the US border near Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Last weekend my beau and I went for a mountain hike a few hours’ drive from Montreal. Nothing unusual about that, except that Noonmark Mountain is in the United States. As an Australian, this is weird. My homeland is a huge island (yes, huge: it’s only slightly smaller than the US mainland), so you can drive forever without crossing an international border (and go a long, long way before crossing the insignificant state borders; the largest state has a landmass of 2.5 million square kilometres).

This most recent US border crossing wasn’t as weird as it used to seem, after three years living an hour’s drive from the line on the map, and visiting nearby American destinations such as New York, Boston and the Adirondack mountains (where I hiked last weekend). However, it was still unusual for me in that I was only across the border for about seven hours. In my former life, this was inconceivable!

Going by the large number of cars with Québec license plates parked at the foot of Noonmark Mountain, such crossings are probably quite common for people from Montreal and surrounds. It’s probably also true for most Canadians, as the vast majority of the population live within a couple of hours’ drive of the US border (the sometimes-warm southern strip of The Great White North!). Continue reading

Mind your language! / Surveillez votre langue!

"For Christmas, I want a complaint from the Office de la langue française" becomes "Pour Noël, j'ai eu une plainte de (for Christmas, I got a complaint from) l'Office de la langue française". Phone snap: Patricia Maunder

“For Christmas, I want a complaint from the Office de la langue française” becomes “Pour Noël, j’ai eu une plainte de (for Christmas, I got a complaint from) l’Office de la langue française”. Phone snap: Patricia Maunder

When I first visited Canada in 2003, I anticipated a thriving bilingualism given the country has two official languages: French and English. In this I was disappointed – except in Montreal, where everything seemed to be going on in French, but as soon as my stumbling efforts failed, everyone I met switched to flawless English, without ceremony.

After moving here, I soon concluded that this seemingly effortless bilingualism, which I have encountered pretty much everywhere in the city, is one of Montreal’s most impressive features. While in simple terms most of Québec only speaks French, and most of the rest of Canada (particularly the further west you go) only speaks English, this city is something like that bilingual utopia I had anticipated years ago. It’s all the more extraordinary because of the impediments to its success: the dominance of English in North America, and the world, on the one hand, and on the other some understandable but sometimes ridiculous laws that enforce the use of French in the province. Like when an Italian restaurant was told to replace the word pasta on its menu with the French word pâtes, or bilingual dog parks were introduced. OK, only one of those things is actually true … Continue reading