What it has been like to live in Montréal

If this city was something I could bite into, it would taste like prosciutto and wine. Like bread ripped apart by our hands.

I find myself invited to midnight picnics in the park.

Dozens of twenty-somethings gather in circles to talk about our past lives. We unlace our language under the blanket of sangria and nighttime. The people here are so easy to tell my secrets to. Maybe it’s because I know I am only here for a short while, but I think it’s also because I am surrounded by good listeners. They nod, and repeat, and pass us crackers and cheese.

“But what was it all like?” they ask (about skating, about relationships, about the different places I have lived).

I try to find the best metaphors to make them understand—it’s a habit I haven’t been able to let go of, not even in this new city.

The people in our circles speak to us in perfect English, but they also slow down their French when we ask. They repeat lovely phrases, and our anglophone tongues trip over syllables that they have never had to know. These new friends are so patient.

“We are just glad you’re trying to learn,” they say.

“I am trying. I am trying. How do I say that in French?” I reply.

“J’essaie,” they say.

“J’essaie,” I repeat.

One man in our group tells me that the people here are very passionate about their culture, their language. He tells me this is the only French-speaking place in the world that experiences winter, or at least a particular kind of winter. I think this is very a good reason to love a place.

I look to the surrounding picnic blankets, and I see couples passing each other cups, plates. This city seems like the perfect place to be in love. I text my girlfriend promises that we will visit again together—maybe next summer, maybe next spring. I find that long-distance relationships are largely about indulging in endless plans. Dreaming up extravagant dates, months away, is the next-best thing to holding hands in the park.

The truth is, I don’t know when I’ll see Montréal in the summer again. This summer has gone by like summers of my childhood—with the keen awareness that it will end much too soon and with the nagging feeling that I will never get it back.

It’s easy to romanticize leaving. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. I spent years waiting until I could leave my hometown, and then years waiting to leave Colorado Springs, and then I took a job that meant leaving to a new city every week.

But now, I find myself romanticizing staying too.

I calculate the days I have left in this place. I try to add up how many different coffee shops I can squeeze into three weeks’ time, and how many parks I have left to visit, and how many chances I’ll get to practice my broken French with strangers.

Maybe I have only fallen in love with this place because I know I cannot stay. Before I’m even forced to leave, I catch myself thinking of the metaphors I will tell to strangers in other cities.

Montréal was an affair. A greedy summer I knew would end.

Montréal was a longing. A place where other people went to fall in love. A place where I went to miss someone.

Montréal was learning French words to talk about winter.

Montréal was prosciutto and wine. Bread torn apart by our hands.

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