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 Local Foreigner

Moving Forward

A gentleman in his mid fifties holds a table while a beautiful young woman orders their drinks inside. He seems nervous. But also excited. Like a kid on his first day at school. All those unknowns just around the corner. I can see that he is a foreigner. Not to Montreal, but to this world he is finally introducing himself to.

Neither are coffee drinkers but they sit outside this coffee shop and watch the parade of mostly gentlemen wandering past along Montreal’s gay promenade. Strings of cotton-candy pink balls drape across this pedestrianised section of Rue Ste – Catherine for many blocks, a canopy shield blocking the real world.

There is a competition of music. A public piano tempts passers by at an adjacent parkette. It doesn’t often seem to tempt actual pianists; those most intrigued seem to be the ones who gave-up their piano lessons before reaching middle school. We are not often serenaded by classical pieces memorised for their conservatoire exams. Someone is just playing with music, playing with notes and cords. It is nice to hear.

Opposite, music spills into the street unabashed from the local barber shop. Bears and drag queens mingle to the sassy dance music.

“You got new sunglasses,” the young woman chirps, putting down two blended drinks and reaching out to take them from his face, to see them closer. “Ray Ban. They look nice on you, Dad!” He’s moving to a new world. Her encouragement is nice to see.

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I decided to not show the actual tarasse in case there was someone visiting the village who would not want it to be known.

Removal of the balls.

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View from my balcony showing the canopy of balls.


Click on the above video to see removal of the balls.

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And the view later.


Nighttime view sitting outside in the village on a temporary patio under the canopy of balls.

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View looking down to a patio.

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The patios bring removed to open the street to cars for the winter. So glad I was here to enjoy this transformed street!


Watching the end of a season.

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There are Different Ways to Find a Home

In Montreal I am staying in “The Village” and by now I have my favourite nearby spots to write and listen to lectures and to meet and observe the people around me. So that will be reflected in the stories I find here.

This story reminds me that a lot of people are one small step away from homelessness.

The fellow in my story knew how to use what he had to stay off the street. You know what, we can judge other’s actions, but I see no shame in it. I’m not living his life. If he’s not hurting anyone, he has nothing to be ashamed of. As far as I could see, he probably contributes to the lives of those he interacts with.

Humans used to live much more dependently. Our communities were stronger, communal in fact. We would take care of each other when one of us fell down. Our interdependence created a stronger sense of us, and we, and consideration for the other, and conscientiousness that so many people no longer show the stranger. Today we wander through the world more-or-less independent. If things go wrong, we might fall. And for some, there is no one there to catch them.

This isn’t a great story, it’s not a piece of writing I’m excited about or anything. But as I share it I am feeling very grateful. If you know where you’re sleeping tonight, I hope you might feel grateful too. It’s a good emotion to embrace.

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Montreal Characters
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Finding His Way

My regular view of the comings and goings of customers in this coffee shop of Montreal’s village is disrupted. My attention is pulled to a striking gentleman who bears resemblance to someone I knew in London many years ago. I Google the fellow I’m thinking of and discover that he has his own Wikipedia page. I knew his sister did. I look from his photo to the gentleman in front of me and think, yes, this is a younger version.

The fellow before me wears a vibrant red polo, perfectly ironed, and beige slacks. Not your average relaxed American staple, these ones look tailored, they fit perfectly. He stands out in a sea of muted urban colours. I figure he’s hovering around the age of thirty. He has a precisely trimmed chin strap – a perfect narrow line of beard accentuating his square jaw. On his sockless feet he wears loafers the colour of caramel.

He carries with him a large gym bag. Not surprising that he’d be enroute to or from the gym, his muscles bulge against his clothing. He doesn’t look like a body builder, his proportions are more natural. But we all know it takes some work to look that healthfully natural.

He needs to charge his phone. I don’t notice there’s an outlet beside me soon enough and he ends-up taking an awkward seat by some cheerfully friendly older men who jump on the opportunity of sharing his company and quickly they have the cord of this charger tethering him near.

We would have chatted easily, he has declared that his English is better than his French, that much I could understand. I would have been curious to know his story. But I also noticed something that has me thinking, perhaps it’s good we don’t meet.

When he opened his gym bag to get his charger, it wasn’t a gym bag. It carried all of his essentials, none of which were nearly the calibre of the outfit he was wearing. It instantly dawned on me that he was looking for a place to stay. He would use his appearance to get it.

I can see my apartment from where I am sitting. I have a spare room, I’d be happy for the company. He would need to do nothing for it. But what if he wanted more than a room. I don’t mean sex, we’re in a gay village and he is stunning, he can get sex whenever he wants. I’m thinking more along the lines of waking up to find my iPad and iPhone and wallet missing. Find myself having been drugged for him to have time to poke through my things, find my passport, cash, car keys . . .

I watch from afar. No, he’s not looking for sex, he’s looking for accommodation. He’s targeting older guys and plainer guys – guys who would be grateful to be with him. Finished with testing the waters with the gentlemen inside, he unplugs his phone and moves outside. He has grabbed a random book from the bookshelf and pretends to read. This is apparent because he approached the shelf from a distance took one without consideration, and returned to his seat with it. He didn’t ponder a few choices. Sure, he could be returning to a book started previously, but it doesn’t look like it. It seems like he opens it to a random page and then, like me, is just watching the people around him.

Before long he is sitting with an amicable looking fellow in his mid fifties. He’s wearing a boring checkered shirt that does not hide his mid-sized pot belly. An unkempt beard. A beige checkered fedora that suggests that he’s trying to look interesting but has no idea how. He looks middle-class suburban, probably has a few spare bedrooms in a dull quiet neighbourhood. I kind-of hope for my foreign friend that he will welcome some company without any strings attached. He does look hopeful, I can see that. They both do, but for different outcomes I am sure of it.

There may be disappointment, but something is better than nothing, isn’t it?

A few days later I see the young gentleman again. He’s dressed far more casually now and he’s holding hands with a new boyfriend. This other fellow is not not strikingly handsome but they’re around the same age. They make a nice couple. I feel happy for him. He looks content. Safe.

I didn’t feel compelled to offer him a temporary place to stay with me even though I thought about it, and in that hopefully he found the right situation for him. Sometimes if we feel obligated to help when it doesn’t feel right, we are robbing someone of finding the situation that would have been a good fit for both parties. I’m not suggesting that things always work out though, sometimes things fall completely apart.

Lets all be thankful for the good things we have in our lives. We all have something to be thankful for.

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If you are reading this as an email, click on the title (in blue) to open the email in a browser to see any videos. Click on the image below to view the short clip.

Grateful to be cycling again! First day exploring Montreal by bicycle, in the Parc de la Fountaine:

Grateful for my good health! I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge this week. It’s an awareness campaign where people post this kind of video on their Facebook, make a donation, and nominate three friends to do the same. Some have argued that too much money is going to this specific charity, but I argue that no one is taking that money away from other charities by people being moved to donate. They’re more likely skipping a few lattes and going with brewed coffee for a few days here in the first world. Other nervous system disorders could use the money too though, so if you’re feeling grateful and would like to make a difference, how about donating to MS? I’ll put a link below.

Share your gratefulness for living each day by making a donation. You just never know what support you’ll need yourself someday and it’s good for strengthening our world-community. It really needs strengthening.

http://mssociety.ca/en/give/

There are lots more things I’m grateful for today, but I’ll save them for another time. Okay, maybe just two more – family and friends. Spending time getting to know friends better here in Montreal is for sure the highlight of being here.

Lastly, feeling grateful for the comfy bed I’ll be sleeping in again tonight:

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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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