My Autumn Journey, Part One

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Feeling the Love in Montreal!

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Where’s the Kitty? Oh, there he is!

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Kitty likes to remind me that he’s here.

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In case you missed it in an earlier posting, I was cat-sitting for two weeks in Montreal during month two.

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“Oh Good, you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. On your chest.”

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“I brought some of my food into your bed to share. You’re welcome.”

Is part of why we love our pets so much because we feel their love and acceptance no matter what? We don’t feel judged by our pets. We don’t feel shame with our pets. They love us as we are and we love them. All we have to do is share a bit of affection and all is perfect. Our pets don’t care about what flaws we have. If we feed them and love them that’s all they need. Our shortcomings don’t matter to them.

Why can’t we do this with other humans? I think we can. I don’t care how much money you make or what you have achieved, I only care about how you interact with me. I don’t judge you if you suffer depression or anxiety, I’ve had those human experiences myself. I hope you won’t judge me for having more than you or less than you, but I can’t worry about that if you do.

Most of us carry shame that is not serving us. We let it needlessly separate us from others. Sometimes we may be too proud to reveal a weakness. Or we fear judgement if we are too open.

Montreal became a place where I have practiced being more open. I have often over-shared. Sometimes it has been a bit messy. But in the end, it has felt good.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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I’m healing my life one building-block at a time. Thank you for joining my journey.

I came to Montreal for four weeks on August 13 and I eventually pulled away on October 8th, making a total of eight weeks to the day. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s not where I live and it’s not where I want to live. Maybe someday, after studying French somewhere else, but not now. I developed some really great friendships and was having meaningful experiences so I just didn’t want to drive away. Home is where the heart is and I am leaving a lot of my heart in Montreal.

I always knew that I suffered a lot of shame growing-up and carrying into adulthood, but in Montreal I really looked at that and faced it head-on. I have carried a lot of shame for a lot of things, none of which was deserved or warranted or served much purpose.

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I was very fortunate that these issues surfaced for me while visiting new friends in Outremont and that I was able to dedicate as much time as I wanted reading and researching about it. I had heard shame researcher Brene Brown through a Ted Talk and I knew that her work was where I needed to go. “The Gifts of Imperfection – Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” would be my guide for this segment of my life journey.

The following ideas are not my own, but are things that I gleaned through presentations of Brown. I highly recommend this Ted Talk and I will recommend another later. Click on this link to open in your browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame#t-1313554

To be happy, Brown concludes, people need to LOVE and BELONG.

She also discovered that the greatest single predictor of whether one feels they are loved and belong is whether or not THEY FEEL WORTHY OF BEING LOVED AND BELONGING.

That is the magic trick! To find love, feel worthy of love! To belong, feel worthy of belonging. Simple! Now we should all be happy! Yay!

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This raised a major question for Brown. If people need to feel worthy of love and belonging to achieve love and belonging, what are the blocks causing so many of us to feel unworthy? She found the main answer and ended-up dedicating the next eight years of her research, with thousands of case studies and interviews, to SHAME.

SHAME is basically the FEAR OF BEING UNLOVABLE. The fear that others will reject us. The fear of not being good enough as we are. It’s cousin is perfectionism- attaching being good enough with our actions being good enough and taking it to the extreme that only perfect is good enough. We can be ashamed of being fat, of not accomplishing expectations, of not being perfect, of not having a nice enough or clean enough house, ashamed of where we come from. We can even be ashamed of how successful we have become, of having more than others, and we can even feel shame of our greatest talent. It knows no bounds.

Shame is a nearly universal emotion, the only people who don’t experience shame are our sociopaths and psychopaths – those who also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Imagine Dexter except in his case he was taught to focus on “those who deserve it”, his own code of right-and-wrong. For most people, the shame of having killed someone (by their own volition, I’m not talking about war) would be pretty strong.

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Shame differs from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that I DID SOMETHING BAD. Shame is the feeling that I AM BAD. So guilt is about our behaviour, and it serves us well to not repeat poor behaviour, not to repeat a mistake, not to intentionally cause harm. Shame is about who we are and it does not serves us well. I AM A BAD PERSON BECAUSE I CHEATED ON MY TEST, is not a healthy response to cheating. IT WAS BAD THAT I CHEATED ON MY TEST, I SHOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN, is much more appropriate.

When parents use shame to teach children what’s right and wrong they are teaching their children that they are inherently not good enough and not worthy to be loved. This was more common in the past than it is today, many parents today are much more aware that they should address specific behaviours in isolation. “I am very disappointed that you hit your sister,” is not a great way to teach but is much better than the crippling, “I am very disappointed in you,” said in a very stern and serious tone. Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” (WRONG – you should be ashamed of something you did, not of who you are, of yourself.) Add to that, “now go to your room and think about that all evening, I don’t want to see you again today,” and you have a kid focusing on the fact that they are a disappointment to their greatest source of love. Nurturing the fear of being unlovable. Shame.

(Side note to parents, when correcting behaviour it is often a great opportunity to teach empathy or consequence, “Think of how your sister must feel”, or “What would it look like if everyone made a mess and didn’t clean-up?” and actually have them describe the mess. Guilt has a role but don’t teach the child they should feel shame. Separate the behaviour from the person. Because when a person identifies as being a bad person, guess what happens on top of being set on a miserable path of low self-esteem – behaviour does not improve.)

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Some sights around Montreal. I cycled past this old warehouse often.

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“If we paint cute things on the bridges, maybe no one will notice when they collapse!” Good idea! Spend your money there!

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I thought it was cute, a pig encouraging you to buy more pork at the butcher. It would be like McDonalds having a cute animated cow character as their mascot. Hmm.

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“I found you!”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part Two of my Autumn Journey. This will be a four to six part topic I feel is important for everyone to think about and talk about.

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The Shame of not speaking French in Montreal

Hi readers! Thanks for visiting my blog as I continue to enjoy the rich and vibrant city of Montreal.

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Oops, I got my arms backwards! Nice pic taken by friend Naomi.
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I wrote two blog postings last week, but decided not to publish either one. They were both about language tensions I’ve experienced in Montreal and how different neighbourhoods seem to differ greatly regarding that. The thing is, I don’t want to focus on that, nor to I want to pull anyone else’s focus to it by describing the situations at length.

What I will mention relates to my main topic of inquiry the past couple of weeks.

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One of the varieties of Montreal row houses.

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Another variety of Montreal row houses.

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It would seem that in the recent past many French speakers were shamed by English speakers. The English tended to hold the top jobs, afforded the most expensive homes, and it was felt or experienced that many of them looked down on the French. Even though French is firmly in place as the first language of Montreal today, there is some hangover from that previous era. That is to say, an English Canadian who speaks French very poorly is not always embraced with enthusiasm.

I know there are many Canadians who feel that Canadians should speak both official languages, whether they need both or not. Feel free to write that on your blog. Here, I’m sharing my perspective. In my life, I have not experienced enough necessity to learn French as to dedicate much resources to it. That is just true. It’s not a personal thing, it’s just not something on which I have chosen to dedicate my focus.

For me, language is a means to communicate. It’s not a status symbol, it’s not a means to judge one person better than another, it’s not a measure of someone’s place in society, it’s neither good nor bad. That fact that learning French has not been a priority in my life doesn’t mean I dislike French, or have any ill-will towards French. I don’t think English is better than French. But, for an international traveller I think it it has to be agreed, English is a very handy bridge-language. In Korea I heard Japanese people speaking to Koreans in English (rather than in Japanese or in Korean); in Thailand I heard Germans speaking to Thais in English (rather than in Thai or in German); in India Indians conversing with other Indians in English rather than learning the over 200 languages in their country alone. (Twenty two of them have more than a million native speakers each.) This happens in many countries and across many cultures around the world. English is a very convenient language to know. So much so, that studying other languages can become less of a priority when one’s interests are multifold. I do not have a fixation with one particular country.

I spent some time in Montreal with a new friend who is a polyglot. It was fun wandering around Chinatown watching people’s reactions to her being a Quebecois who is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin, among other languages. She is gifted linguistically, and has a strong interest in learning languages. Like most people, we tend to enjoy the things that we are good at (such as one’s interest in music, sports, math. . . ) I put a good effort into learning Japanese when I lived there, but someone with a natural talent may have learned three times what I was able to with the same effort. Music makes natural sense to me, so I pick-up musical things more easily than does someone for whom it is a challenge. We’re simply all different with our strengths and weaknesses. These are not moral issues, there should be no shame involved.

I will make an effort to learn polite greetings as I travel the world, but if I were to focus on learning one language well, it would probably be Spanish, due to it’s usefulness in quite a few countries. Worldwide, there are only about 200 million speakers of French. If I decided to live in Montreal, I would certainly make a push to learn French. But I wouldn’t do it here, I would need to come to Montreal with an intermediate ability to be able to practice it without people immediately replying in English or with rapid-fire French responses I can’t comprehend. Bringing me back to my topic.

I have sometimes experienced shame in Montreal for not being able to speak French. When someone asserts, “You should be able to do this”, that can inspire feelings of, “I’m not good enough.” Especially if that feeling is already lurking just below the surface. This mostly happens when I’m trying to speak French here. What does that do? It makes me stop trying, as to avoid the shame. Instead, it is easier to play the role of ignorant tourist who doesn’t care. That makes it easier not to care. Easier to shrug-off a negative reaction to someone not being fluent.

According to shame researcher Brene Brown, shame is basically the fear of being unlovable. It is more global than guilt. Guilt is about our behaviour – I did something bad. Shame is about who we are – I am bad. And according to Brown, the problem with forcing ourselves to “not care”, is that when we are doing that, we ALSO do not have the ability to fully connect with others. That is what happened to me in Le Village. In the past 7 weeks I’ve made a number of authentic friends who I am grateful to know here in Montreal. Both Francophone and Anglophone. During my four weeks trying to do so daily when staying in the village (which is East), I connected meaningfully with only one Montrealer. I’m very thankful I was able to extend my stay and continue building friendships here from my new location with friends in Outremont.

Shame is a universal emotion experienced by all humans with the exception of sociopaths/psychopaths – those to also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Guilt can serve us purpose – to do better in the future, to make a better choice next time, to not repeat a poor behaviour. Shame does not serve us well so we need to learn the tools of shame resilience.

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Wandering around Old Montreal.
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Join me next time when I will continue talking about shame resilience and finally deal with the question posed in my last blog post too – what can we do to feel loved and accepted?

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My Deep Inner Life in Montreal

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A view from wandering around Montreal.
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Efforts to Make Friends in Montreal, and My Deep Inner Life

I am feeling a bit lonely and am excited to make some local friends my first week in Montreal as I walk through an open door labelled 309. To the left of this door is 309A. I am looking for 309B. The lights are off. It’s an odd place; I can’t tell if it’s a business or a residence. For sure it has served both purposes and it’s in a commercial/residential area.

I’m standing in what is like an open concept, basic, urban kitchen. To the right of the door is about an 8-foot span of wall with makeshift open shelves, a basic counter and sink, a stove and a fridge. The usual details for preparing a meal but not really cooking so much. The shelves are fully stocked, colourful boxes and packages and dishes and cooking implements. Otherwise the room is grey. Grey industrial carpet, grey walls.

There are several tables with chairs pulled around. I feel like this would have been a small living room. It’s an odd space. Do people work at these tables? Are there bedrooms made into offices and this is the common area? I notice a cycling helmet and a jacket have been tossed onto the table closest to the entrance. I can’t say why, but it seems like they were just tossed there moments ago. Perhaps I perceive settling of the jacket but not consciously. Where is everyone?

“Hello? . . . Allo?” I call into the darkness. I hear a stirring but no one answers. “Allo?”

A middle-aged man pokes around the corner, friendly and curious. He is not expecting me. “Roberto?” I ask. “Qui?” “Um, I emailed with Roberto and he said the group would be meeting here?” We stand for a moment, staring at each other. He’s clearly thinking. Who is this Roberto and why would he be having a group meet in my space?

“Oh, you want that one!” he says after a moment and amicably, turning me around and pointing to a third door outside. It is labelled 309B, but was not noticeable when facing the direction of these doors, it corners the left side of 309A.

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Door 309B leads directly down a staircase. Seems to be the same grey industrial carpeting as in the previous unit. I can hear laughter and friendly voices. It seems more obvious now that this is a commercial space that had perhaps previously been residential. I go through a living room cum storage room following the voices around the corner.

Four large brown rectangular tables are pushed together making one big work surface. The room is brightly over-lit by fluorescent tube lighting so I choose and dawn the appropriate eyewear before even entering. (I am highly photosensitive.) Around the tables sit naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt.

“I’m here to volunteer?” I say with some uncertainty to the first person who looks towards me. A stocky, well-built shorter man wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans jumps up to introduce himself. He is happy to try a bit of English and I am happy to finally try the only French I know, which is only a tiny bit. Oh, and I was kidding about the naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt. I mean, how would I have even known if they were legal or not.

“I’ll take him over here,” someone calls over, “I’ll show him what to do.” The first guy looks unsure, he was happy to welcome me too. But this other fellow wins-out with English fluency, calling again until the first guy relents and gestures me to go ahead. I have no idea how this works so I just accept being called over. He seems to be the guy in charge.

Well, he wasn’t in charge, he was just bossy. And interested in me. And he doesn’t want to share. Me. He shows me what to do. We chat in English and very quickly I lose all hope of ever conversing with anyone else in the room. I have found much the same in coffee shops here in East Montreal, people shy away from English. They may speak a little but generally prefer not to. And when I try my little bit of French they also reply that they don’t speak English. In this case they may have made an attempt to communicate with me, had I been the lone Anglo guy in a room of Francophones and happy to struggle communicating in my barely existent French some of them might have playfully interacted with me. The desire to communicate can easily outweigh language shortcomings, I have experienced this all over the world. But not in this case, not with the Brazilian fluently conversing. I very quickly became invisible to the rest of the group. The “welcome” switch flicked to “avoid”, perhaps even, “invisible”.

“Where are we going for a drink?” he asks after we emerge into the urban Montreal street. “I’m still going to Chapters, I don’t want to go for a drink,” I reply. I had told him of my plan to look for some specific books this evening after volunteering. He clearly wanted to spend the evening together but I didn’t. “I don’t really drink either,” he says, ignoring my lack of interest,”you know the village better than I do.” That’s just stupid. I’ve been to two bars and anyway, he doesn’t know how well or not I know the village. “Are you going to Beaudry Station?” I ask at the corner of Rue Ste Catherine, gesturing that this is where we part. “No, I’ll walk with you to Berri.”

He walks with me well past Metro Berri and some distance later we come upon a fashion show around the Plaza Des Arts. We wander in and there I leave him, which I have to do pointedly. I am feeling very crowded by this fellow who, in his head, seems to have already settled down and had babies with me. “There’s a station here?” “Yes, right there.” “Okay, I’m leaving you now, it was nice to meet you,” I lied. We farewell and I continue to the bookstore where I can find travel guides in English. I need to start reading about Southeast Asia.

I felt like my chance to meet some locals was hijacked by this friendly Brazilian. “It’s the first time in months that I came to help-out here,” he had exclaimed, suggesting the destiny of our meeting.

If we were meant to meet, then I guess I wasn’t meant to make some new friends that night after all. A group of friends where I was the token English guy would have been fun. That’s what I was hoping for – accept me in your group even though our communication is limited. I might not want to go to a German film with French subtitles, but there are lots of other activities I would be happy to join. I’m used to being in groups where I don’t understand what most people are saying, being the white guy in China and the only non-Japanese in my schools in Japan, I’d be happy to catch a word or gesture here and there. “Ah yes, a tree, I understand fully. . . ” (Really? They’ve been talking about a tree this whole time?) “Yes, tree, ha,ha, you speak Japanese very well!”
(He thinks we’re talking about a tree?)

Happily I have a “very deep inner life” that allows me to enjoy such situations. Sometimes I even do that with English speakers. Some might call it “zoning out” and see it as a defect of having ADHD, but I prefer my view. My internal world is quite developed and I am someone who rarely gets bored. There are strengths to be found in any attribute. I think my former partner may not have fully appreciated that I substituted, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, what did you say?” with, “Sorry, I have a very deep inner life, what did you say?”

The men in my family also seem to share a delay in attention change. If you start suddenly talking to us, don’t expect us to have heard the beginning of what you said. Because it takes a moment to shift our focus from our very deep inner life over to you. We need some advance notice that you are about to speak, how else are we to know that we need to listen? You will most always have to repeat the first few lines unless we were already presently engaged in conversation. Except there’s no guarantee in my case, “Sorry, I forgot you were talking to me for a moment.” Don’t take it personally. Unless you want to, I know that some people love to take things like that personally, keeps life more excitingly dramatic or something. I won’t even talk about our inability to multi task. Another time.

I was very much happy to be alone again. Thankful, in fact. Perhaps that was the purpose in our meeting; I had been feeling a bit lonely. And now I’m just grateful. More space for my deep inner life again.

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Some views from cycling around Montreal’s port.

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Click on the videos below to play them.


Cycling across the Jacques Cartier Bridge:


I had one song stuck in my head all day, so you might notice me humming it in these videos. The next one, for sure. (Maybe called, “This Land is Mine”, I might share the video sometime but some might find it offensive even though it isn’t.)

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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!