I was raised to dislike the Québécois. Friends, family, co-workers, the media and the pro Asian populace on the west coast contributed to my acquired prejudice against fellow countrymen. After nearly 5 decades of being focused on west coast ideology, a general mistrust and suspicion of those who I suspected of plotting to dismantle our unified country, I moved to Montreal. It was a spur of the moment decision and one I was momentarily regretting (ever so slightly) but which I can confidently claim is the best move I could have made. Time and place take on a whole new meaning when you arrive in a new city.
I’ve lived and worked around the world and while I left my heart in Venice Beach California, Montreal is jockeying for second place. Of course I haven’t experienced the harsh winter or been caught in a summer thunder shower without an umbrella, but weather aside, Montreal is a very friendly city. No one has been rude to me for not speaking the language. It seems like almost everyone speaks English. I haven’t ventured outside the confines of the city so I may be in for a rude awakening… But for now I have been received warmly.
The history of Montreal seeps through the bricks and stone of majestic buildings on gently curving streets lined with giant oak and maple trees. It’s easy to forget you are in Canada since the feeling is much closer to a European city with its rich culture and flair for festivals and entertainment. Even the Occupy movement possesses the common sense, maturity and purpose found lacking in Vancouver. I was impressed with the diversity found in the Student Manifestations (protest marches throughout the city) which included all ages an ethnicities chanting as they proceeded with orderly purpose along streets lined with well wishers and to cheers of shop owners and staff from local eateries.
I was fortunate to arrive before the annual celebration for St Jean Baptiste Day. Considered a National Holiday in lieu of Canada Day (July 1st) the french gather for music, food and bonfires. After a dramatic stage production (all in french so really don’t have a clue what it was about, but the costumes, dance and lighting was amazing) we were handed the biggest marshmallow I’ve ever seen to roast in barrels set out by the fire department. I was exhausted by the activities and barely made it home since my feet were complaining about the 8 hours of trekking through the heat of the day. I had been so engrossed with the sights, smells and sounds of this vibrant new city that I didn’t even notice my feet swelling from the humidity.
Yesterday I attended the world-famous Jazz Festival. The city has invested millions on permanently installed lights, sound and staging equipment and it’s proving to be worth every penny. All day long we were treated to impromptu performances by acrobats, comedians, and the venue stages had an endless run of jazz acts from around the world. A fellow former Vancouverite, Designer Atoosa Keihani and I picnicked on a shady grass berm above the promenade in Place des Arts and watched as thousands of attendees traversed the expanse between the various stages. We finished the night with an amazing concert from Rufus Wainwright.
Wainwright at Montreal Jazz Festival July 28th, 2012
While my intention was to arrive in Montreal, find a job and write a book, I’ve modified and reshaped the plan over the past 10 days. I’ve been working on the idea of a novel for some time now and the stimulus derived from my arrival in a new land has given me plenty to mull over. The diversity and rich culture has inspired me to investigate further. Attitudes, styles and patriotic differences aside, this is a uniquely European flavored city in the heart of the Canada. I can’t imagine a better place to spend the summer writing and exploring. One thing for sure, the uniformed bias I held since childhood has evaporated. I have wholly embraced the opportunity to learn a new language, connect with my fellow Canucks and hopefully capture an incredible story as it unravels before me along my way.