The Real Reason I Came to Montreal

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I’ve shared on my blog a number of times that in May, 2012, I crawled away from the rubble that had become my life in Winnipeg. I had a good life there for some years, just by the end it had all come crashing down around me. I literally couldn’t breathe. I had completely isolated. I was going down a very dark path and I had to get off of it before it was too late. I would have drowned when at the last minute, flailing uselessly as my lungs started to fill, I was thrown a life saver. What was my life saver? Sudden knowledge that I could lead a different life- that I didn’t have to cling-on anymore to the one that no longer felt like mine.

Back in Toronto I decided not to resume life as usual. I decided to take the broken pieces and rather than rebuild right away, I decided to fix each piece. I decided that the next time I build myself a life, it’s going to be with some really great building blocks.

Thus began my current life adventure. I am a work in progress. As are we all.

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I have long been a lover of travel and the personal growth that can spring from going outside one’s usual comfort zones. Many of my most memorable and life-changing experiences have happened during travels, from age 21 when I left New Brunswick for London, England, it was exhilarating to create a life starting with a suitcase and a CV, discovering who I was and who I could be along the way while having few ties to who I had been. I guess travel has become my comfort zone for periods of self-development, I feel so free to grow without the constraints of the familiar around me. It is true that not living somewhere in particular can also become my new comfort zone and eventually I may need to break that too in order to settle down. But, for now, travel presents me with situations and opportunities and meeting people that feels right.

Wherever I go my issues come with me, you can’t run away from yourself. But I want my issues to come with me, so I can work on them. In my travels, I happen upon people who become part of my journey. Notice that I don’t happen upon THINGS that become part of my journey. Life is not about things. I’m not about the sights and museums. I do like to look around me and smell the flowers and yes, even to notice the rotting rubbish and experience passing through all manners of lives. But in the end, I have no interest in writing a travel guide. My interest is in sharing personal experiences.

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I am working on my writing, I hope to more and more be able to share authentic experiences with a fun and entertaining tone. Some photos thrown in for context, looking around where the experiences are happening. But history and place are not the theme of my travels.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to spend some time in Montreal. I figured I’d find some stories to practice my writing and that I’d study and practice some French. But that hasn’t been my direction. I started with listening and repeating language lessons in my headphones everyday but then I got pulled away. Again and again. No, language is not why I’m here. In Montreal the life building blocks I am mostly working on are friendships. This is an area of my life in which I have always felt inept. No doubt that is surprising to many who know me (I am good at fitting-in), and unsurprising to others who also know me (fitting-in is not the same as belonging.)

In my severe and painful personal disconnection on leaving Winnipeg, connectedness soon after became a life focus that I realise needs to be life-long. First I had to deal with blockages. These were mostly anxieties and fears that had gotten out-of-control and were a large part of my isolation. These days I look for all sorts of meaningful activities I never would have before. In Montreal, meeting groups of strangers for dinner has been especially interesting. One thing leads to another. Suddenly I find myself drawn to Cape Breton after meeting a Cape Breton enthusiast. Bali reignites interest from hearing stories of adventure. Someone spends their winters in Panama. There’s no telling where an evening might lead. I didn’t use to be open to such evenings. Hardly ever with friends let-alone with strangers.

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After leaving Winnipeg I focused on regaining my health, which I had let deteriorate over some years. I started feeding my body the nutrition it needs, and giving it the exercise it needs. Today I’m 43 pounds lighter than I was in May, 2012. It’s not as easy as I make it sound, I often want poutine but more often choose salad as I’m walking the streets of Montreal. But I sometimes let myself have poutine. I try to nourish myself first, and then I crave the junk less. But if I want to indulge in ice cream, I probably will too. But I try to find balance. I’ve talked about food before and I will certainly talk about food again because we all eat everyday and our food system is a disaster. If it were a machine, it’s like it’s been set to “harm” rather than “nourish”. The world’s abundance is at our disposal and yet it takes a lot of self-direction to eat healthfully.

Food is our biggest drug. (My Mom said that so it must be true.) It is all processed by our body. Our body breaks it down and tries to use the nutrients to supply all of our functions, including our brain functions which affect how we experience the world. Your body needs various elements in real food to operate properly, if you’re not supplying it with some real food (especially fruits & vegetables that look like fruits and vegetables) you are punishing yourself. Think about your body trying to break down dozens of different chemicals that are foreign to it when you eat processed food from a box. Your body looks at Butylated hydroxytolueine and thinks, okay, what should I do with this? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just try . . . Food affects our mood and energy and life in ways we often don’t recognise or accept.

Our body is constantly rebuilding and it needs the right materials. Just like I’m trying to create healthy building blocks before using them to rebuild my life. No, in creating them I am rebuilding my life. My life doesn’t look like a house and a job. My life looks like a collection of healthy and loving relationships and meaningful life work. That’s what I’m building. Because too soon the pretty house became meaningless and eventually the work became without purpose except to earn money.

When I can eventually pull my journey into one story, that will be my book. First I plan to collate a book of short stories. Learning how to write – practicing writing and studying writing – is also a part of my journey. I am a work in progress and my work is also a work in progress.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone a lot over the past two years. There have been successes and failures but an overall movement forward. I’m always carrying about some self-help books and listening to audio books and as much as possible having authentic conversations with the people the universe puts in front of me. Which brings me to Montreal.

If you had told me that in Montreal I would make progress and healing to my friendship blocks, I would have told you that when your Mother dropped you on your head, she forgot to pick you up. She left you in a little pool of your own blood, the family dog licking where it was still coming out your ears. And then your Dad stumbled in reading a newspaper while he was walking and tripped over you, knocking you down a flight of concrete stairs, your delicate body tumbling end-to-end completely smashing your cute little face and skull and any chance you ever had for even a semblance of a normal life. In other words, I would have suggested you were possibly somewhat mistaken. But that your parents were probably to blame. As all parents are. Yours particularly though. That was pretty bad.

Before coming to Montreal, I had one friendly acquaintance here, and one casual friend who I knew with my former partner. So I did not imagine this to be a location where I would end-up focusing on healing when it comes to friendships. It felt right in coming; it had long been on my radar to see what it would be like to live in this major Canadian city and to do so while it was still in full swing with summer festivals and street life. I had expected to find a few stories and work on my French. Nope. My purpose of being here has surprised me.

Author, scholar, researcher Brene Brown agrees that we humans have an essential need for connection. She ties it in to spirituality and she breaks it down further. As people, we have a fundamental need for love and to belong. I spent most of my week studying her ideas. This will be my topic next time.

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Some views wandering around North of Mount Royal.

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This interesting roof is below the height of the overpass, so I look at it at length as I am walking to the gym inside the large building you can see in the background.

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I like urban graffiti. And it is proliferate in Montreal.

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Along Van Horne perhaps still in Outremont approaching Rosemont station. Outremont is actually an upscale Montreal neighbourhood but none of the fancy bits seem to have caught my eye.

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Yeah, this isn’t one of the fancy bits either. It’s just that the “fancy bits” look a bit normal and not so photogenic.

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This is my first view every morning while cat sitting, very cute! I moved to a friend’s place in Outremont for a couple weeks after my month in Le Village which was on Rue Ste Catherine near Metro Beaudry. KittyKins likes to make sure he’s the first thing I see when I wake-up. He does this sometime before morning by sleeping-on and clinging-to my chest as you can see in this photo – I was very careful to hold my phone out and to the side to capture this rare wilderness moment. This evening I cut his cute little toe nails to reduce the marks he leaves when I surprise him by waking up, as I tend to do every morning. Like most humans who didn’t die in their sleep that night.

Although his name is KittyKins he seems to prefer me to call him Mather Theresa. Which is bit of a girls name and quite similar to someone else’s name too, but it’s hard to explain that to a cat. You can’t expect a kitty to know who Mother Theresa was can you. And try explaining that although she did want the ill to die in peace, which is lovely, when there was a simple known cure she withheld treatment because she didn’t actually want her patients to live or to get better. So that’s not quite as lovely. You can see my blog postings from Calcutta (Kolkata) by looking through my blog index to the right, although I don’t remember what I said in them.

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A Month in Montreal

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Overlooking Rue Ste Catherine in Montreal’s Village. View from the living room window of my one-month rental.

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A group of slim, sophisticated women mingle on a outdoor patio (terrasse) in Montreal’s summertime pedestrianised gay district, known as “the village”. Most of them wear muted, tasteful slacks and blouses accented with jewellery. Black and beige the sensible colours of most, two of them punch up the scene with pink and red sun dresses. Their hair is perfect. Too perfect.

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A security person silently ushers me to walk past on the other side of a white screen as I approach walking along Rue Ste – Catherine, less than a block from my temporary apartment. The cameras are rolling. A film set or the scene for a television production. The actors, unfamiliar to me, are speaking English.

I cross the street to the Second Cup, which has become my preferred coffee spot after having tried the nearby competition. My apartment overlooks a Starbucks. I do like their coffee but it’s generally my last choice, only in the event that the other options have poor coffee or are uncomfortable.

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I practice ordering my coffee in French before leaving the apartment but then am greeted amicably and fluently in English. I’ve been here a few times now so they already know I’m an anglophone. I will need to practice when in more unfamiliar settings. The thing is, I have found more meaning and purpose in having routines in my travels. Meeting people once has it’s charms, but becoming a regular somewhere has a lot more feeling of purpose to me. Trying to fit into a community and have a sense of connection when I visit places for me is so much more interesting than simply viewing the sights, taking photos, and having countless singular experiences. Feeling more like I live somewhere rather than am a tourist is perhaps what distinguishes my travel experiences from others. I’m not saying this is better, but it is what I seek in my own travels. I will long remember daily coming in to this Second Cup. I will not remember the other countless places I stop in one time here and there as I meander around the city. Not in any meaningful way.

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I have not written for my blog since I visited New Brunswick in May. I was in a writing groove and then suddenly I wasn’t when I aborted my planned travels for that visit. And then for some reason I’ve felt like what I have to say is not interesting. Perhaps it never was. I know I’m not supposed to say that but it is how I am feeling. Nevertheless, I want to write and I want my writing to lead somewhere, so I need to keep at it whether it’s interesting or not. Because nothing leads to nothing. Something, even if not great, at least leads to something else.

Trying to get my groove back, back in Toronto I took a couple of writing courses that were exactly what I didn’t need. I want to polish and improve my stories. The journalistic rules I learned, when applied to my own writing, made them dull and without humour. I tested it further by applying them to some writing I aspire to. I discovered that even Sedaris stories could be made bland and pointless by blindly applying some formulaic rules learned from a successful journalist. It works for the journalist though. I need to read instructor’s bios more carefully when choosing writing classes in the future. The fill-in-the-blank and use only simple words approach is not what I want to do at all. When drained of all the “non-essential” information, my writing was also drained of all humour, connectedness, and personality. To me it was pointless, I would not share any of what I “achieved” in those courses. Just reading it irritates me. That is what goes in the junk pile.

I have continued to move my life forward having interesting experiences, but I’ve not been able to put them into words yet. The main purpose and meaning of my winter road trip was in the reunions I had with people who have been very dear to me in the past. I didn’t write about those experiences at all. These are the people who fall into the category of lifelong friends.

In my recent past I became very disconnected from most of the people in my life and being reminded that I have these pockets of friends who I love and who love me was very healing. It didn’t just happen, I had to plan it and I also had to step out of my comfort zone to arrive on the doorsteps of friends I had mostly lost contact with. The longest for seventeen years, nearly half my lifetime. I wouldn’t write specifically about my friends, but of my journey and experience of reconnecting. Reconnecting with myself and others.

Now in Montreal for one month I have goals for my time here. The main one is getting my groove back with writing. I will write everyday and hope that sometimes I will write things worth sharing and things to continue working on later. I will continue to work on learning to be connected. With meaningful interactions, by treating others with love, by reaching out to people, by staying in contact with old friends and new. By trying to make good decisions as to where to spend my time and who to spend my time with.

I may share some pics from recent weeks and months on here too. I am going to post weekly again, whether I have anything to say or not. Wish me luck!

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View of the film set from inside the Second Cup.

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Cameras rolling. I’ve seen this a few times now in the past week. The pedestrianised area of Rue Ste Catherine is very convenient for filming since they don’t need to shut down the street to cars.

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The beginning of Montreal’s Pride Parade.

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Was she the mascot of Pride perhaps. . . it was an enjoyable parade partially due to the wonderfully wide Boulevard Rene Levesque meant that crowds were not crowded. I’m not comfortable standing still for long and I was able to walk alongside easily which I did with and against the flow of the parade as I watched.

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Thank you for visiting Personal Travel Stories! See you next week!

My Colourful Home

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This was the last home I owned, the transfer of ownership happened a year ago on April 1st, 2012. I only owned this home for just under two years and completely transformed it (well, contractors did, but it was my vision) from what it was. Built in 1926, many ceilings and walls needed replacement as it had not received the attention it deserved for some decades. Also, I had both bathrooms gutted, built a rear patio and landscaped (there was not a single remaining tree/shrub when I purchased the property), and generally every room and corridor was repaired and upgraded.

Finally, when I got it exactly as I wanted, I decided it was time to re-start my life. This entailed selling my part of a business started with my former partner and leaving Winnipeg, a city that never felt like home to me even after 8 years. Certainly if I knew at the time that I would shortly-after feel the need to leave Winnipeg I never would have taken-on the renovation projects I did. I lost money on the home because I spent more on it than the neighbourhood market would support when it came to selling prices.

I was sad to leave my pretty little home behind. I wish I could have taken it with me to Toronto. But now, I’m not settled here in Toronto anyway. I plan to be a citizen of the world for a while before setting-up house again somewhere.

I love colour and I know many people prefer beige, so please, I do not need comments indicating that my decor is not to your taste preference. I’m just showing you more of my personal life, that’s all.

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With 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, it was bigger than it looked from the street.

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I had the front porch made into a sunroom by insulating the floor, walls and ceiling and adding a heated ceramic floor.

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Yellow is my favourite colour. It took a lot of hunting to find a Persian carpet with yellow as its base colour.

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That tv was stolen in a home invasion. Police got it back. But I was never comfortable in the house again. I was in bed upstairs when two guys broke in, all I knew was that there was more than one guy in my house since they were hollering to each other over the alarm system. They took their time and one even carved his name into a wood cabinet while I was shaking upstairs waiting for them to come up to my then unlockable bedroom, which thankfully they didn’t do. I had window bars installed soon after.

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I wanted to theme each room strongly leaning towards a monochromatic colour scheme. Clearly, the dining room is red. Not cranberry, just red red.

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I shipped some large items home from Thailand, they have great woodworking pieces available around Chiang Mai especially. Smaller things I’ve accumulated from travels here and there.

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I finally bought a piano when I bought this house, but I’ve barely used it. Someday I’ll have a home for it again, for now it sits at my brother’s house.

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The kitchen was the least renovated room. But, at this point I had to realise that I was giving gifts to the next owner since the property value had a strong ceiling I had already passed in my spending.

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I decided to do the kitchen and bathrooms white so that colour could come from changing accessories. (And because I was doing all the other rooms so colourfully.)

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My home office was really a bedroom on the main level. When I bought it, the house was a up/down duplex with 2 bedrooms on each level. Although I un-duplexed it, I did later start locking the exterior-grade door to the second floor when I slept. (It had a common entry-hall.). My invasion was very traumatic for me.

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This lime bedroom was actually my home gym. I only made it a bedroom for setting-up to sell the house. Chances are that it was not going to be purchased by another single guy living by himself.

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I did all white tiles in the bathrooms. I like the clean look.

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The 2nd floor landing. Somehow, this was a kitchen when I bought the house. This area took a lot of work to bring to a nice condition again.

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This blue bedroom was my bedroom. It was cozy.

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I did not stay with white ceilings throughout the house. Here, the ceiling is sky blue. The only white ceilings were in the white rooms. The others were complementary to the wall colours.

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Upstairs bathroom.

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I chose Japanese colours for this guest room. Japanese green and golden hay overtop.

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When I bought the house, this was a mud pit beside my double garage. I made it into a little garden oasis.

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Of course I painted this side wall of the garage my favourite sunshine yellow.

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I only got to see all my plantings through one season!

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Going back out to the street.

So there you have it, another personal post showing an insiders view of my life. If you enjoy my postings, please do share them with friends! Cheers everyone! http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com

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My Life – Photos with Narration – Walking to the Gym

My current home-base is in Toronto, Canada, with my brother and his family. I sold my own home in April, 2012 and became a full-time globe trotter writing about my adventures. This time I will be “home” for a few weeks, before going out East to visit family and friends in New Brunswick, where I grew-up.

I thought it might be interesting to show you my everyday, so you can see the lens from which I interpret and compare the world. We all make comparisons to what we are used to, it’s how we understand the world around us; how does this scene fit-in to other scenes in my life, how does this experience compare with my usual everyday experiences? Everyone interprets the world through their own viewpoint, and showing you a bit of my personal life will explain a bit as to where my interpretation comes from. I will show you my own former home in a separate posting.

I am not showing you my brother’s home, it’s not mine to show, but these are photos showing the 12 minute walk to and from the gym. It’s easier to walk than drive, it’s a pleasant walk anyway.

These photos were taken at the end of March, 2013, before the trees have grown their new leaves. The pictures will also show some of the variety which is my life, these are the streets I am walking down this week and next. The stark-contrast to walking down streets the past few months in India is vast, of a different world. This is not a neighbourhood I would choose for myself, although centrally-located, it does not feel urban. This is my tag-along life for when I am in Toronto and I am very fortunate that my Brother and his family welcome me here.

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The mature neighbourhood is not elite for Toronto, but neither is it typical. I don’t want to mislead my international readers by suggesting everyone lives in homes like these, this is an upscale neighbourhood with a great location. You can tell the location is convenient by the small properties. My parents in NB still find it odd how tightly together Toronto homes tend to be, but I find that to be the case in most large cities.

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Torontonians may recognize where we are now, I cross this ravine going towards Yonge Street.

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In a few weeks this will look completely different.

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The red and black electric streetcars are iconic for Toronto. I love them, although suburban GTAers (Greater Toronto Area) are apparently not as fond of this mode of transportation are are people who actually live in Toronto. People spend hours commuting to have bigger homes on bigger properties outside the city. There is definitely a different standard of thinking when it comes to what we “need” when compared to most other countries. It is much like the USA that way.

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A little stretch of Yonge Street. This longest street in Canada starts at Toronto’s waterfront and ends in Montreal. You would never go to Montreal that way though, it would take a very long time.

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Many of these homes are canopied by the trees in the summer. When I tried to Google Earth our home, I could see where it was but I could not actually see the house through the tree cover.

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This view of Toronto’s skyline as seen from my brother’s front yard will soon be obscured until November by all the leaves.

I hope you enjoy my postings. If you do, please share them with your friends! Cheers! Darren