Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I am back home in a city 2600 miles from Square St. Louis. It was 72 degrees under partly sunny skies this afternoon. Remnant smoke from the Malibu fires blended softly into a gray to cafe au lait haze. I sit by the pool and read the Montreal Gazette online.
I have awakened too many mornings wondering where I'm sleeping. It's like I described to so many people, "Happy to be home, sad to leave home...." Like a guy who sees his ex-girlfriend in every face on the street, the most casual things remind me of my time in Montreal.
A hastily scrawled musician's list for the Sherbrooke Metro station is tossed onto my desk. My Montreal cell phone is on the kitchen counter. There are three leaves posted with magnets to my refrigerator. They were blown in behind me up the stairs and into my lobby on the one snowy afternoon I experienced. I look over at them and I can smell the inside of the 4 Freres Market on St. Laurent. "Pour La Monde" from Crowded House takes me to the narrow streets of Vieux Montreal and the Couche-Tard where I bought a diet Coke for breakfast when it was 38 degrees American outside. In Los Angeles, I hear it in a different car every week, where in Montreal, I heard it on my iPod walking to lunch at Complex Desjardin, or strolling along Laurier to the crazy, non-Mexican Mexican restaurant.
Like a radio station that suddenly changes formats one morning, I left my blog unfinished, incomplete. I think subconsciously I thought that if I finished it, it would be like locking the door behind me. I couldn't quite bring myself to do that, though I never admitted to anyone that that was the reason. During my last week, I could practically see the days like waves racing toward me, ready to send me under. So I kept paddling, boats against the current, as Fitzgerald said.
And then, suddenly, a week after I landed in Los Angeles, strangers found the site. "Guy" said I should be ashamed for not speaking French on my site. Others signed on and weighed in. Strangers were talking about me. My Secret Evil Plan to influence the Montreal Everyday was coming true. Guy, if I could have written in French, believe me, I would have been honored. As it was, I could barely order french fries in the lingua franca. But I'm working on it. And soon enough, someone, I don't know who, told Guy to zip it, and complimented the blog. It was like a kiss blown across a hallway, sweet and unexpected.
You see a lot when you're 2600 miles from wherever home might be. I worked on developing a good short answer for friends and relatives who asked why I went, why Montreal. It still changes every time someone asks. I do know that home can be wherever you are, and you can miss someplace new as hard as you miss your own doorstep.
Like a child who envies his new friend's toys, I spent a lot of time comparing the Canadian experience to the American. And the best description so far is, it's America Lite©. It's an America with purple mountains, vast prairies, deep green meadows and Wal-Mart. It's a funny version of football and a hockey team that's on the front page of the paper every day, win or lose. It's a trapper's diet without a country full of fat people.
It's a country that never invaded anyone, yet gave its young men to wars it never started. It's a land forged by hearty men and women with a huge helping of religion sprinkled on top. As I walked among the statues of explorers and poets throughout the city, I thought one day that this is a country without history. It was Boston without Paul Revere, and America without Viet Nam. But then I realized, unlike America, it's a country without a bloody history, and maybe that's all that historians use as markers.
I am no expert, but it seems to me the history of Canada was only written by families and not by soldiers. From the young women sent from France in the 1700s to help the Montreal colonists populate their new land, to the kids who populate the Pepsi Center on a Friday night, to the new Muslims and the staunch Quebecois, it's the American melting pot with French instead of Spanish. Cook slowly, and keep the flame low, we have learned over here.
The time until I return to Montreal in March will flash by, and I'll leave an LA spring for a Montreal winter. I won't pack as much this time, I'll practice my French, I'll walk the streets like I never went away, and I'll miss it twice as much when home calls me again.