A CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF
The very first person I met in Montreal was my Uber driver – a Tunisian man named Nadim in his 50s who had moved to Canada with his wife in his 20s. I presented myself and he laughed: Irish- Greek? “You must like to dance.” If so, I had come to the right place. When I told him where I was moving, he responded: “you’ll fit right in, it’s the most polyglot neighbourhood of the city!” I later found out that 48 languages are spoken in this small area I currently call Home.
I’m not entirely certain whether it’s that I turned 20 this year and feel like I’m powering towards the peak of my coming-of-age year or just since moving to Montreal four months ago I’ve stopped having that little panic when someone asks me: so, where are you from?
Identity in Quebec, however, remains a very touchy subject and much of it has to do with language. The francophone independence movement argues that the (belle) province diverges from the rest of Canada because it has a binary identity as opposed to a pluralist one, anchored in its Franco-British history.
The local government goes to debatably absurd lengths to prevent the loss of French, my personal favourites being cafés being legally obliged to first speak to clients in French, and refugees having to learn French in six months. I personally find that last point especially jarring due to the fact that this First Nation territory was in fact colonised by the French, and that the latter’s languages are far more endangered than the former’s – but that’s a discussion for another article. Bref, Quebec hangs on to their language brimming with 17th century pronunciation and strange insults that my international friends and I playfully mock perhaps a little too much for how much we love it here.
Montreal’s DNA is different though – it remains a bustling multicultural island whose diverse song can be heard through the colourful streets of the city, a bit like a tamer NYC. Be it the Plateau, Mile End, Petite Italie or Chinatown, by walking just a few blocks you sometimes feel like you’ve entered a parallel universe, each marked by the sights and fragrances of a unique immigrant past and present.
One of the most touching moments during my exploratory weeks at the beginning of September was randomly walking into a place to get my haircut in the Mile End and the lady taking care of me started immediately speaking Greek to me after reading my name. She told me all about the Greek community in Montreal, which restaurants are authentic and where to go if I wanted to listen to some real bouzouki music or join traditional dancing circles. I had always been told that the Greek diaspora was large even outside of Europe, but it was different to be so far from home and have a community there ready to open its arms to me across the Atlantic.
Aside from the plurality of identities making the subject of origin so very banal for Montrealers, it also opens the door to welcome a true sense of self-expression. This goes beyond the full acceptance of speaking franglais with everyone – which I consider a particularly developed superpower of mine – I’m alluding to non-verbal assertion.
Circling back to the topic of dancing, people take up space when busting a move in this city. You close your eyes under the lights of the SAT dome, or the Barbossa disco ball and you are fully transported into a cosmos of your own. The onlookers are there, of course, but they’re likely admiring the quirky-alternative fashion, dripped out in thrift wear head-to-toe, no matter the generation, no matter the location.
There are a few places that I’ve come across since moving across the world that encompass the radiancy that I’ve alluded to above: the first is my dearest Concordia Greenhouse.
Found at the top of one of Concordia’s high-rises tucked away in one of Montreal’s downtown avenues one finds the oasis that is this plant conservatory. As you emerge into the space one is immediately met with a seemingly ever-expanding sea of trees, flowers, pots and studious individuals scribbling away at their desks. A fresh combination of dewy pollen, and coffee fills the air as you look up at the canopy of leaves overarching the rooms.
LIFE IS GREEN
Once the café closes its doors, the volunteering window opens, and the benevolent individuals willing to get their hands a little dirty pour in, and as the rest pour out. I fell in love with this greenhouse after the first time I planted my little pot of herbs and have returned almost every week since.
The space offers one of the most special party settings I’ve ever experienced. Combining the green canopy with light projections and talented people mixing on decks, all of a sudden you feel like you’re in a faraway jungle, miles from real life and the hustle and bustle of the city. You open your eyes and see everyone gliding through their private cosmos.
On a typical day, when it isn’t techno music floating around the ferns, the designated Greenhouse troubadour – the light and soul of the plant conservatory – Dominique, animates the place with his recorder-playing skills.
Another discovery of mine since moving across the Atlantic is the great Canadian outdoors. There was something about seeing those autumn colours that turned to endless snow-covered blankets which made me put things into perspective in regard to just how tiny we are and finding peace in the futility of it all.
Two moments, where this sensation was apparent to me, were on walks with people that I met in uni:
Back during my first few weeks in Montreal I went on a spontaneous hiking daytrip with a dear friend of mine Maxime and his housemates. This picture barely begins to encapsulate the freedom that I felt racing down those soon-to-be ski slopes, watching the colours change from bright green to deep red on our promenade through the valleys.
SEEING THE SEASONS
As your token city-dweller, having the privilege of seeing the seasons change in such an intimate form shifted something in my mind whereby I felt the least attached to the labels that characterised me than ever. Everyone on that ascension was on an even playing field with one challenge: get to the top and bask in nature’s glory.
I’ve always been afraid of the cold. Infamously shivery and cold-handed, when I announced to my friends that I was moving up north I was often met with a shocked: really? are you sure?
But lo and behold here I am, closing into February and I am a more weather-resilient woman than I ever thought possible. There is something ethereal about snowfall. Exploring a white forest with snowy-treetops as far up as you can see made me feel like I had stumbled into a fairytale – Narnia, specifically. Even when trudging up and down the freshly snow-covered paths, the light reflected all around makes everything feel a bit cheerier.
One of my warmest memories of last semester was frolicking in the snowy woods of Quebec with a bunch of exchange students – the ever-so slight fear of stumbling across a bear lingering as an afterthought. I’ve always been a cocooner when the temperature drops.
USED TO THE COLD
A self-proclaimed water baby, I used to dread the cold that I’m now used to. Being used to cloudy, dull, dreary and full of complaining – I was pleasantly surprised the people here embrace the season in a totally different way. It may be one of the most interesting culture shocks I’ve found to experience; from winter-hikes to igloo fest to sledding down mountains of snow or skating around lakes in the middle of the city: there is something child-like about the playtime. I’ve found myself embracing discomfort to the point where it becomes enjoyable, reaffirming my all-time favourite mantra of mind over matter.
I suppose the biggest feeling this city has brought me is a sense of empowerment, and to not shy away from things that I wouldn’t necessarily have imagined for myself. There’s something about this city that breathes acceptance of one another in between the sporadic whiffs of maryjane. It’s a city that allows you to not only be yourself as a young, playful individual, but explore your character because there is no particular Montrealer mold to fit in. I suppose Nadim was on to something.
About the Article
Reflections on life today for a young women in the dual-cultural English/French city of Montreal.