This is the English version of my French post about my recent extended weekend in Montreal. I tried to select different photos to illustrate this post. Pardon me if some are the same. In any case, if you like a touch of France in North America, Quebec is a place for you.
And if you like the energy of a city with a unique pace, you’ll love Montreal.
A rainy Montreal welcomed me for the extended weekend I would spend there with my husband.
Thanks to Montreal’s unique underground network (thirty-two kilometers or twenty miles of pedestrian galleries and metro), we escaped major downpours and were only drenched twice, a reminder of our lives in Normandy and Paris. I appreciated the loyal services of my umbrella Shit It’s Raining which I bought two years ago at the Marché Bonsecours and don’t use it as much as I wish in the US.
Originally my husband and I flew to Montreal to see the French singer Charles Aznavour in concert. He’s currently on tour and Montreal was one of his few stops in North America. I never bought a single album from this singer when I lived in France, although my mother told me that as a little girl I loved the song Je te Réchaufferai. In any case, I would have laughed if anyone had told me that I would someday attend one of his concerts. And if I had been told that his song Les Emigrants (the Immigrants) would move me to tears? No comment.
In Montreal, a city built by people coming from all over the world, in a concert hall packed with men and women who spoke essentially French Quebecois but also English, with a French singer of Armenian descent who can sing in several languages, opening the concert with Les Emigrants was perfect.
As for me, even though the immigrant’s experience has always moved me, long before living it myself, this song struck a more meaningfull chord in my heart.
All people who’ve moved away from their native land experience nostalgia for “something” left behind. For some it can be very specific: a particular food or tradition, a favorite café or a special street. For most of us, however, the craving is less palpable. The ambiance and the flavor of a place once called home rush back to our memory, triggered by a sensory emotion. The feeling can be so powerful that a ball grows in the throat and tears climb to the eyes.
Music has always moved me, and a particular French song can really touch me. So many rocked my childhood, mostly through the radio that my mother turned on whenever she sewed and that my father cranked up while he fixed his Renault. These countless French songs have made their home inside me and push the memory door when I hear them, decades later and thousands of miles away from the gardens of my girlhood.
Aznavour’s concert was a dive back into my French past, but the artist’s performance was also a slap in the face of old age. At ninety-two Aznavour made fun of his poor eyesight and hearing while offering an upbeat concert that blended hits, less known songs and recent work (yes, he still composes). The audience went wild with the first notes of each popular song. Despite the requests for encores, singer and musicians went backstage after performing the beloved La Bohème and never returned on stage. Maybe the only hint that the man described as tireless is getting just a little bit older.
This rainy and windy weekend would have still remained a lovely fall weekend. Every moment spent with my husband in Montreal is beautiful. We are both very fond of this city that occupies a unique place in our hearts, in comparison to other favorite cities, such as Los Angeles or New York. No doubt because a French person who has left France a long time ago for the United States is a little bit at home in Montreal, a city that blends to the perfection the best of North America and France.
But there was a sweet perk to this weekend: my lunch date with a blogger, born in Africa, who has lived in Europe before moving to Canada. Neither she nor I had ever met another blogger in person before we agreed to have lunch together.
I was pretty sure she wondered who was behind the French American writer. In the exact same way, I tried to guess who was behind Le Blog des Gaous.
I only knew Madame Gaou’s first name. Although she openly shares her personal experiences and opinions through her blog posts, her identity isn’t public, including her photo.
How will I introduce myself? What if I went to the wrong restaurant? What do I do if she doesn’t show up? Will she regret our decision to meet?
In fact, we knew right away who was who.
Even though we met in one of the countless brasseries of Montreal, none of us drinks beer and never alcohol for lunch. We ordered a tall bottle of Perrier instead, a beverage we both like. Three common points.
The list grew over our lunch.
When we scrolled through our camera roll to exchange our children’s photos we realized with shock that we had spent two hours and a half around our salads that we had finished a while ago. The bottle of Perrier was also empty and we ordered coffees to end our long conversation.
Our husbands, knowing us so well, had no illusion. Hers had taken the car keys. In case. I was supposed to meet mine at the hotel whenever I would be finished. Both knew that the so-called lunch hour had the potential to turn into dinner.
So what did we talk about for more than three hours? After all we had never met, right? In fact, we knew a lot about each other before our lunch. Our blogs are open windows on the houses that are our lives. And each of our posts a letter written to the people who choose to read us.
Beyond our immigrants’ experiences, my questions about Montreal, our children and education, the American and French presidential campaigns, while rain slapped the windows and while people around us spoke in both French and English, we also spoke of our lives as women in 2016, in a world that finally seems to take us more seriously and allows us to become who we want to be. Out of the box and without tags. Without a safety net, we are so much stronger and unique.
I was moved to know that Mrs. Gaou chose to become a French citizen. As France is debating immigration and national identity, the native French I am felt less French than this African woman who called herself Togauloise, blending to the perfection her native Togo and her adoptive France. How I wish to find such a funny specific adjective to describe my French American status.
As we polished our coffees, we also spoke of a mutual French blogger friend who lives in the United Kingdom and writes with a frenchglish sense of humor, an antidote to depression. I swear, Pomdepin, we only spoke highly of you.
Mrs. Gaou refused to ask for two separate checks. Through her convivial gesture I was reminded of my native France where people easily invite someone who visits their territory, knowing that the invitation will be reciprocated some day.
She also walked me to the metro and we rode a few stations together until our roads split and we stood on opposite sides of the subway. We waved at each other and the small gesture seemed to me more than a simple goodbye.
We had left the virtual world and met in person.
On Sunday, a timid sun poked its nose around lunchtime. By the time we boarded our cab for the airport the city had lost its grey appearance. I was happy for the residents of Montreal.
When one lives in a region where sun is a given it’s easy to forget its presence. In the heart of fall every ray of sun is a gift in the American Northeast.
The photos that my husband took while we walked through Montreal are my gift to each of you.
Despite the rain and the wind or perhaps because of them, these four days have been a real gift to me.