Monday, September 06, 2010

Three Days in a Foreign City

Montreal as seen from a moving bicycle. Image via Flickr.

A small fan by the bed passes over me like a search light. Thin sheets flutter and the hair on my legs bristle. It is no relief. I feel like I'm slowly cooking from the inside out. A hot late summer night in Montreal. It's dark but light from the nearby houses is soaking through the room. Morning comes too soon and a heavy rain wakes me but at least the heat has fizzled out. Cooler air starts to penetrate the small apartment where we're staying.

It occurs to me that no other city confounds me like Montreal. I can never make sense of its cardinal points. Maybe it's because the city feels canted on the diagonal or that I'm always looking at the foreign feeling streetscape or the people or more significantly the Young Women of Montreal.

The Young Women of Montreal wear high boots and short breezy skirts. They wear large fashionable sunglasses, and snug, plunging v-neck t-shirts that reveal elaborate tattoos or unique jewelry or uncommonly graceful necks. Their posture and poise is remarkably upright compared to the common hipster slouch of Toronto. Theirs is a walk of confidence, ease and certainty. Like dancers versus sulking teens. Young women of Montreal wear little make-up while older women of Montreal wear too much. Though to be honest even the older people seem younger and move with same thrust as their youthful counterparts. Montreal feels younger, more energetic, more awake than Toronto.

Is it inappropriate that I've given so much attention to these Young Women of Montreal? Probably. I can't claim any anthropological merit like a modern bird-counting Audubon, who arranges his subjects in some taxonomically correct matrix. I'm no plotting creep either. Just an amateur enthusiast. In honesty, I do give many residents of Montreal more than a glancing consideration but Young Women of Montreal, have by their plumage earned my gaze. In some sense their presence only adds to a lifelong construction of personal inadequacy and my feeling of being an outsider in this city.

And we ride in this city. The availability of Bixi bikes and the freedom afforded by separated bike lanes makes you feel its energy and flow so much more. Not just riding itself, which always makes me feel like a kid but the presence of so many other riders allows you to feel like a member of a greater tribe. There was no fighting for your inch of pavement. There was no cursing or shouting, just riding sprinkled with a few pings of a bell.

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I don't know why, maybe it's just because I'm in a different environment and visits to art galleries fill the trip, but whenever I'm here, my mind is darting and thinking of the possible (and maybe even the impossible). The creative inner eye opens and I can actually imagine myself writing, drawing or filming. It's just a place where artistic pursuits seem pursuable or my mind ignores the mundane temporarily and temporally. Does that make sense? It does here. A city where I struggle with the language, where my neck suffers from a twisting strain (see: young women of Montreal), where I am the "other", it is a place that breathes new life into me that is both difficult to capture and sustain. That's why I love Montreal. It is a young woman and anything is possible.

That sounds like a horrible, misogynistic cliché therefore I cannot end there. Plus, the trip isn't over yet. Now we are on a train heading back to Toronto. The train car seems full not of Montrealers heading to Toronto but Torontonians heading home. I have a confession that I've said so often it's probably more of a slogan at this point. Torontonians remind me of Americans. Louder and more self-centered than anyone else I know. Not to mention that tin-flat nasal accent. I can't tell people apart anymore or maybe I'm too lazy. That's a good bet. I'm surprisingly lazy for a guy that has a full time job. For a guy that swims, runs, and cycles over great distances I can be shockingly lazy. So lazy that I find it easier to ride 80km than do something new. I'm not sure how that works? Am I too lazy to even think of a new idea? I'm certainly too lazy to act on any new idea I might get by accident. Maybe that should be my new approach. Just do something accidentally new. Maybe that would maintain the energy you get from a vacation. Allow yourself to make something accidentally. Sounds good. Make it happen by accident.

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