Montreal

La Fontaine Park on a crisp Sunday afternoon.

Montreal is a very clean city. More than that, it is a very approachable city. Even though my French is rusty, and Richie’s is nonexistent, we managed to get ourselves around without incident (except when Rich somehow knocked out an entire POS system by clicking on the wrong button at check-out). The food was great, the coffee was great, it wasn’t quite freezing. What more could one want?

I will say that it does get dark early. At half-past six, you might as well be on the dark side of the moon. I’d be curious to know what the depression stats are like in the winter and how many houses have tanning beds just to boost morale. It was the kind of dark and the kind of cold that encourages people to go home and stay home—though, there seemed to be a popping nightlife. R and I kept trying to go to this tiki-themed bar near our apartment but met a line out the door every time. Without a heater overhead, there was no way we were going to make it. Maybe in July. But November? Forget about it.

In all honesty, we didn’t do too much. On Saturday, it was dreary, and I felt a bit stick, so we stayed in bed to watch Squid Game and ate bread. Neither of us is very good at relaxing. We tossed in turned between episodes, throwing the other a furtive look to make ourselves feel better. Why are guilt and rest so intertwined for Americans? Hm, I wonder.

On our first night in the city, we found our way to a large, slam-packed brasserie. After waiting outside for ten minutes, our vaccination cards were reviewed, and we were seated near a window. Despite the crowd, the glass partitions put up during COVID made our table strangely intimate. We reviewed the beer and wine list, found an alcohol-free option for R (which there are a lot of in Montreal!) and a pilsner for me because I’m trying to train my palate away from sweet flavors, and placed an order for fries and hot honey chicken because we are children.

I won’t lie to you; Canadians don’t mess around with fries. Those puppies slap. The chicken? Divine. The pickled vegetables? Forget about it. And for $40 for both of us, it was a steal.

Montreal-natives have a lot in common with their French cousins. They like to congregate in groups of four and drink a bottle of wine before ordering their dinner. Servers don’t rush anyone either. A meal that would have taken an hour to eat in a fancy restaurant took two in a mid-scale one in Montreal. Why rush food when life is already so hard, I guess.

The next morning, though, a pressure headache avalanched me. I’d say it was a hangover, but I’d only had a beer the night before. After a coffee and half a baguette from the closest bakery, my brain fog lifted enough so Richie and I could go to the Jean-Talon market where stall upon stall of grocers, butchers, and fromageries stand side by side in harmony. We bought all the sliced meats, cheese chunks, spices, breads, and lavender sachets that one could ever hope for. As we walked home with bags full, it was a pleasure to imagine a life in Montreal. What a life it would be.

Later that afternoon, we bundled up and set out for the nearest shopping center where thrift and record stores abound, both of us struggling with the language and laughing at ourselves because of it. We enjoyed a subpar (and this is only in comparison to all the other meals we had) lunch in an American diner that gave us free coffee and put too much smoked meat on top of the poutine. It took the rest of the night to walk that off before piling back into bed before ten.

On Sunday, however, the weather took a turn for the better. For the first time in days, we saw the sun. Armed with fresh coffee and pastry, we made our way down to the subway (Metro?) and took it south, where college students roam. We found more thrift stores, bought hats, chased fat squirrels in the park, and stood in line at La Banquise for an hour just to have a chance to eat some real poutine (even vegan curds for R!), and I’ll tell you right now that the wait was well worth it.

Three hours later, when it was dark, and we were walking home with bellies full of fries and bags full of charcuterie goods, I again felt that sense of “What would it be like to live here?” What would it really take to live in a different country? Richie and I would need purpose, be it school, work, or a long-term project. More than that, we’d need a place to make our independent groups of friends. That’s the real challenge of moving to a new place, isn’t it? Making new friends. Coupled with a language barrier?

Our smile lines are getting deeper. I don’t hate that anymore.

There’s a difference between challenging yourself to grow and making poorly planned life decisions.

Before we get too serious about moving anywhere anytime soon (to be honest, Richie is the one all for the move), we’ll need to practice our French and spend more time in Montreal. Well, we need to spend more time in more places all over. I have the feeling that he’ll feel the same way about France and other places in Europe. We’re currently planning our honeymoon with our eyes set on France and Japan, so who’s to say where we live in a couple of years?  

The hardest part about traveling to a non-English speaking country is that you run the risk of embarrassing yourself about twelve times an hour. If you can manage that, be polite, and at least try to speak the language, then you’re good to go. Most people in this world are kind—remember that.

To Montreal: We’ll be back soon.

bam

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