Someone once remarked that I fall in love with every place I visit. Yes, I am adaptable. I fall in love with a lot of places. I have walked the streets of Brooklyn and imagined leaving my beloved mountains for brownstones and bricks. I have built a home in Anacortes in my head that sits right on the edge of the forest lands so that my running shoes are perpetually muddy. Or put the plans for a farm in Cornwall in the back corner of my mind, so that every spring can be spent foraging for wild garlic and eating almond praline ice cream in the first warm days. I can name more places I’ve fallen for than places I have not.
When I arrived in Montréal I felt immediately uncertain. Had I ever seen pictures of Montréal? Surely, there was that movie I’d seen set in Montréal. That Michelle Williams indy flick about affairs with a trippy sex montage and that scene at the public pool of women young and old, their naked bodies with the folds and the flaps juxtaposed against one another–for me, the crowning achievement of that film. On second thought, that might have been Toronto.
I was forewarned that I was going to love Montréal. I wholeheartedly agreed. I would love Montréal. As we drove further into the city though, I still felt like a fish out of water. A tired and starving one. I was staying with new friends. Instagram friends turned real life friends. We danced that dance of cautious courtesy, each trying to not put the other out and ascertain how to meet the needs of the friend who’d we forgotten is still a stranger. We went to a market in search of food, a famous market but finding a vegetarian meal proved a challenge. I forgot to call my bank and could not withdraw cash and of course it was cash only. Canada doesn’t feel very foreign so my practiced traveler brain had not fully turned on. I forgot about currency, and cell phone service, and that I was in French-Canadia. I cannot speak French. And I was just so tired and just so not in love with Montréal. Why was there so much trash in the streets? Piles of it. Why did I feel afraid? I go to cities all the time. I run solo in cities all the time. And yet, as we passed crowds of boisterous messy and tattooed men I was feeling that misguided prejudice I don’t want to have as an intelligent, well traveled human. Especially a privileged white one.
The next day we took photos at dawn in a park that was beautiful and not beautiful. The effects of winter were still everywhere. The grass was dead. The bushes brown. There was magic in this morning. There was magic in our time photographing. It was meant to be just an hour in the park but then the lure of a hot coffee and a cozy shop took us on an adventure. I rarely wander new places with my SLR in hand, let alone two. This was a different way of experiencing a new city. And I had a friend who I forced to play model at times. ‘Here, go down that alley. Sit in this laundromat. I know this is so hipster, but we’re doing it anyways.’ Seeing Montréal that way, I was still caught off guard by the garbage, but I was now seeing the sameness that Instagram culture has bred through out the world (think about how you can get avocado toast just about everywhere) and this familiarity was comforting. The gentrification served as a calming placeholder for my mind. It was just enough different and just enough the same. I think my photos are a reflection of those two things. I was drawn to both.
I’m still not entirely sure what I think of Montréal yet it holds this weird place in my inner travelogue. It’s vivid. Alluring even. Yet, I’m in no hurry to go back. I’d get a bagel again, but just from the shop whose bagels are slightly less sweet. They make them round the clock and you can buy them 24 hours a day. There are two famed bagel shops and you’re typically on one team or the other. I’m team Fairmount. Get the sesame bagel if you want to be a traditionalist. I got cinnamon raisin. Ha! I’d go to Café Olimpico again just because it’s kind of ridiculous and so very Italian and the coffee isn’t that great but again it’s ridiculous and worth experiencing. Maybe I’d find my Italian friend from Argentina who was kind enough to let me take his portrait too.
The rest of what I have to say about this lingering city will be said with the visual vignettes I took away with me. This is how I saw Montréal.