Got home from Montréal a little before 2am and I am feeling pretty rough. Greyhound and I have never been great friends. I feel like their buses are designed to trick you into thinking that sleeping comfortably is a possibility, but the windows are just a little too far for leaning, so one just does the nap until the neck flop-and-snap-awake thing, ad nauseam, until giving up, looking outside, and trying, again, to remember on which side of the provincial border Casselman lies.

(It is in Ontario, but very Franco, hence my sleepy confusion.)

Not helping was the elderly woman next to me (there were empty seats behind me! Why didn’t she sit there?!), who, while tiny, was an armrest and buttspace hog. Even more confusing, despite speaking English earlier, she started jibbering at me in German when I tried to get off the bus at U of O. Even after I said ‘Pardon?’ and ‘Excuse me’ a few times, she kept on chattering. She got on the bus at Trudeau, so she’s probably just in fron Bremen or something. I hope someone picked up the poor dear at the station. Oy vey.

Still, I’ll take that over the guy who literally smelled of shit who sat next to me that one time about ten years ago,  despite the bus being 75% empty, and talked at me non-stop even though I was heartbroken (not a story I will share here) and trying to sleep.

So, yeah, Montreal. The shows were fun, the (plenty of) food I had was fantastic, and spending most of yesterday afternoon at he McCord was wonderful (one of my favourite museums now), and yet? The city still hasn’t won me over completely.

This is a conundrum that has plagued me most of my life. When I was in high school and university, I felt awfully left out because I didn’t have any interest in living there, even with the (then-) exceptionally cheap rents and dollar pizza. It just wasn’t a destination I sought out unless there was a show I wanted to see, and then I almost always left immediately afterwards, often because my Montreal friends didn’t have room in their $600/mth 3 1/2s where four other people lived.

I am not even sure why the appeal wasn’t (and still isn’t) there. In many ways, it feels more unfamiliar, and more uncomfortable, than any other city I’ve visited. I think it’s probably evident in my demeanor too, as I have never once been asked for directions in Montreal, but have all over the UK, in Gdansk, in Reykjavik, in Berlin, in Paris, and even in New York.  What is it? Are we fundamentally incompatible? Is there ancient bad juju that has tainted my soul against the place?

I haven’t a clue, and I feel guilty about it, but I’m not sure if it’s overcomeable, or whether it should be. I know plenty of people for whom Ottawa is hell, so maybe it all balances out cosmically/geographically.

But then, I don’t hate actually hate the place; I just don’t ‘get it’ properly. My vibe is not theirs. I haven’t mastered wearing a scarf for anything other than cold weather protection, nor (seemingly) partying 24 hours a day, nor not saying ‘are you fucking kidding me? $7 before tax?’ the first time I see a beer price list.

I suppose that if I spent more than an average of 10 hours there at a time (including this overnight trip in the mix), things would be different. Maybe it will be. Chances are I will be heading back to JFL next year, unless the more comfortable sock that is Edinburgh is a possibility instead.

One thought on “Hochelaga.

  1. Katy

    Montreal is weird. It’s intense and not always welcoming, what with the politics of language and the constant road work and the insane driving.

    I think you have to let it grow on you by seeking out the fun only-in-Montreal things, like the Canadian Center for Architecture, Jean Talon Market, driving by the big orange, and trying to order “black” bagels at the branch of St. Viateur that doesn’t sell them and having the guy at the counter say, “I’m gonna call across the street and have them set aside a bag for you,” and then you have to run outside and explain to your double-parked aunt what’s going on before you run across the street diagonally in the middle of the block to retrieve the second bag of “bagel.” I’m not sure I would enjoy Montreal the way I do if I hadn’t grown up seeing it through the eyes of people who have lived there forever and were still finding new wonders–like my grandmother, at the Rockland mall and every other public place in Montreal, waving her hand and saying loudly in a Julia Child voice, “We have everyone here! All sizes, shapes, and colors!”

    If it never grows on you, that’s fine too.

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