January, 2017, I was just 4 months past a bad break-up, sad, bored, restless…
and facing March.
Every year it seems the month or two before my birthday are the hardest months. If anything bad happens, its always in these months. May is like a rebirth for me, a new spring, every year. Fresh and strong, but first I have to survive those ugly months.
In March I also have 2 weeks vacation. The Chef closes down the restaurant for his wife’s birthday (March 9th, which I remember because of his joke, how his wife taught him to remember her birthday: count your fingers, then cut one off!) and usually they go somewhere warm.
March 2017. 10 years since my last real vacation. In March 2007 I went to France and Italy for 10 days on a school trip. It was a trip of a lifetime.
Also know, I had just begun to take french classes at Le Centre Culturel Francophone, as a supplement to the French I had learned from Duolingo (a phone and web based learning app), and the french I was now reading (Harry Potter, what CAN’T you teach me!?).
This class was set to end March 20th, 5 days before our vacation began.
So in a flash of shower-time brilliance, I decided this was a sign that was time for me to take another real vacation, and go back to Paris.
I excitedly told my family my plans. They seemed happy, and worried, as I expected. I tried to ease their fears with the false confidence that was ballooning out of my eagerness, which quickly dissipated as my classes took root. The teacher heard I was going to Paris, and decided to tell me stories of gypsies and pick-pocketing orphans, of police who give bad advice to lost travelers just for a laugh.
Paris… it’s over-rated.
Been there, done that.
Now I’m the person who is too cool for Paris, (not too scared, no really I’m NOT,) and yet still ready for a crazy get-away and to speak and listen to french…
Bonjour… à Montreal!
Three months flew by. I was busy planning, learning. I moved into a new apartment. I catered an 100 person charity event at a church. I was introduced to an amazing person, by a friend, and we were now dating. I was so unready for a vacation now it wasn’t even funny.
Its so good that I planned this 3 months earlier, because now I had to do it. Each time I tried to talk myself out of it, tried to get my family to talk me out of it, it backfired into ‘well I’ve all ready spent the money and invested…I all ready told people about it and how can I now explain why I’m not only not going to PARIS but also not Montreal?!’
Everything fell into place. My new boyfriend offered to watch my new place for me. I was going to Montreal whether I wanted to, or not. (Spoiler alert, I really did want to, I just didn’t know it yet~!)
March 27, 2017.
Two perfect flights and I landed in Montreal. Alone. Afraid. Excited. Surrounded by frenchies. After 27 years of white white Drayon Valley, and somehow whiter Kelowna, multiculturalism slaps you in the face. In a good way. I had seen the world before, but when your alone it seems so much more invasive. I didn’t have my little bubble of catholic schoolchildren to shield me. I was just one lone spec of white froth on the deep sea of faces. I was riding a wave of sheer exhilaration and energy that was being fed back to me from the normal airport hubbub.
I finally got a cab, in broken french I was able to communicate where I was going, even though I had no clue where that was.
We drove past the place twice. Its a tiny little staircase that leads up, in case you missed it. In the pitch dark of 9pm. In a cab driving down a foreign street.
The two men who greeted me were very friendly and very french.
Dominic, with a Quebecois french accent and an Irish english accent, was fluent in both and very accommodating. He showed me around the place, making sure I was comfortable and fed, (home-made quiche courtesy of his roommate Patrick, a very quiet, tea and slipper-loving fellow). He taught me a few words in french, (boyfriend is “un chum”, girlfriend is “une blonde”, I’m vingt-sept years old, not dix-sept as I accidentally told him.) He also introduced me to some good french music.
They sat together like an old couple, watching french news and making fun of the France accent, aka the only one I understood. I decided I wasn’t done scaring myself for the evening. I was going to go out for a walk.
Patrick said, “stay safe!”
I turned around in horror, “C’est dangerous, ou..?”
They both started laughing. Dominic rushed to assure me that the area was very safe.
I walked two quiet city blocks. It was dark. When I came up to the bus stop that Dominic had pointed out to me from the deck I crossed the street and began to head back. One block later I found a tiny bar. There were 5 people inside including the bartender. She asked what I wanted. I said MGD. Turns out after 5 bad translations that they don’t have MGD, so I got an Alexander Keiths. Now that everyone in the bar knew I was a “moitie anglais” I got lots of attention. I ended up speaking broken french to Joel, who spoke broken English to me. I learned more words, (“sous” means drunk), which areas of Montreal are “french”, and which are “english”, and that the Montreal accent is quite different than the rest of Quebec, who apparently have terrible accents! (I started to worry about Quebec City, my next destination. If this is the soft accent…)
Finally at midnight I floated back to my little “chambre” to collapse in awe and rearrange my thoughts to form one collaborative expression of joy. I was in Montreal. The surreal realization gripped me and I knew I was going to not only survive, but thrive. I went to sleep feeling content and ready.
My room, view from window, bed.