Despatch from Montreal

“At times I’ve cried with despair having lost feeling in my fingers, and wished that I had gone to New Zealand so that I could go lie on a beach”

By Kyle Hoekstra

Montreal. The food is expensive – my phone bill is insane – but rent is really cheap and I’ve got a lovely place. It’s the top floor of a three-story apartment in the Plateau, the hip area of the city east of the mountain, which I share with two students from France. I’m just a couple streets over from the Main, the street that used to bisect the city into its anglophone and francophone districts.

In winter Mont-Royal is clad in white. It’s perhaps the defining landmark of the city, and I walked up it for the first time the other day, passing cross-country skiers, in -9 degrees C. Without leaves on the trees, the city is rendered naked. I can pick out my university, the Jacques Cartier bridge, and the island where I spent a night in September at Piknic Électronik. The St Lawrence flows by the old town, which in the humid heat of summer is overwhelmed by tourists, musicians like La Bronze putting on free shows in front of Basilique Notre-Dame.

In the snow the city’s transformed. A few times I’ve been charged with a childish thrill at the sight, grabbed my camera and vanished into quiet streets masked by untrodden snow. Other times I’ve cried with despair having lost feeling in my fingers, and wished that I had gone to New Zealand so that I could go lie on a beach.

Until November I was spending a lot of time dwelling on the what-ifs of quitting. Valuable time not occupied by uni work was becoming predictable and boring, and I remember reading a satirical blog “10 reasons you should NOT come to Montreal” and I agreed without humour to half of them. But while Montreal’s winter and, by the way, the Metro etiquette, leave a lot to be desired, my real issue has been in making lasting companions.

We all sort of think we have an innate way of making friends, maybe because we have in the past led fairly successful social lives, but this assumption makes the failure to make those connections almost crushing. I know that I haven’t tried as hard as I could have: when it comes to it, I’m not assailed by panic when I’m staying in with flatmates, so I decide not to go to that Meet & Greet where the thought of mingling makes me slightly nauseous. The rhythm of life becomes a sad one of film consumption and whatever thin satisfaction is offered by the internet (shout-out to Royal Memeoway).

Coming back in January, I look back at my Fall term partly with disappointment. While I’ve seen the city – and Burlington, and Boston too – I feel like I haven’t really engaged with it. But I’m reassured by the interesting people I’ve met already and the many opportunities to meet more. The real lesson is learning to care less, shamelessly tagging along when necessary and rising to the sometimes grueling challenge of participation.


Featured photograph by Kyle Hoekstra

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