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

Time flies / Le temps passe vite

The way spring bursts forth here, it doesn't take long for bicycles to be overgrown (a surprisingly common sight in my neighbourhood). Photo: Patricia Maunder

The way spring bursts forth here, it doesn’t take long for bicycles to be overgrown (a surprisingly common sight in my neighbourhood). Photo: Patricia Maunder

The older I get, the more time seems to fly, but never more so since I moved to Montreal. It’s partly because activities are so seasonal here – much more than in Australia where, even in the south where we actually get something approximating winter, you can pretty much do whatever you want, when you want. Except winter sports. For that you need to make a determined dash for the mountains in July and hope for a centimetre of snow.

In Montreal, if you want to do winter sports it’s basically December to February for almost-guaranteed snow and outdoor ice (though last winter it was considerably longer that that – except the very weekend some friends visited from Philadelphia for a taste of real winter, and we had a ‘warm’ spell with no snow!). If you want to sip tropical cocktails outdoors in your summer togs, make the most of those warm, humid spells, generally in July and August. Autumn colour comes and goes in a few weeks, while spring’s big burst is a two-week wonder. Continue reading

Bumpy highway to the danger zone / Route cahoteuse de la zone de danger

Flaunt your Toronto Maple Leafs pride in space all you want, just don't try it in Montreal! Photo: Courtesy of awesome astronaut Chris Hadfield's Twitter.

Flaunt your Toronto Maple Leafs pride in space all you want, just don’t try it in Montreal! Photo: Courtesy of awesome astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Twitter.

So far this blog has pretty much been a big hurrah for Quebec, and Montreal in particular. But like any city, no matter how complètement merveilleux it is, Montreal has some shortcomings that get right up your proboscis once you’ve lived here for a while (actually, there were some things that bugged me right away, but have faded as critical factors in a contented life, like the non-availability of tomato paste in squeezy bottles). Rather than risk writing about the wonders of the changing seasons yet again (which is tempting, because it started snowing a few days ago – yay!), I’m taking my cue from a style of list that’s trending on BuzzFeed at the moment, X Things You’re Only Afraid Of If You Live In …. like this one about New York. So, with tongue sometimes in cheek, let me warn you about a few things to be wary of in Montreal … Continue reading

Water / L’eau

I was recently in the Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’Est), a pretty region an hour or two south-east of Montreal that’s a popular destination for daytrips and weekend getaways. There are charming heritage houses and antique stores, wineries and local gourmet goodies, even a functioning abbey, where tourists can listen to the monks singing Gregorian chants before popping into the shop to buy the fruits of these gentlemen’s labour, from cider to communion wafer off-cuts (bizarrely enough). What fascinated me most, however, was all the water. This is a land of lakes, from the vast Lake Memphremagog, which stretches across the international border into Vermont, to countless smaller bodies of fresh, clear water that to the consciousness of an Australian, seems like an abundance bordering on excess.

North Hatley on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships. Photo: Patricia Maunder

North Hatley on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Most of Australia was in drought for a decade or more until a few years ago. It didn’t take long to get so bad that it wasn’t just farmers with dying stock and crops who were affected. Even big cities like my hometown of Melbourne were crushed by it, as water restrictions became increasingly harsh to the point that we could only water gardens – by hand – for a few specific hours a day, couldn’t water lawns at all, and were only allowed to clean our cars’ windscreens unless we went to a carwash that recycled water. We were encouraged to limit showers to four minutes. Gardens died, crops died, stock and wildlife died, even people died when the bush got so dry that on a viciously hot day in 2009, bushfires swept across my home state of Victoria like never before. Continue reading