“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”—Susan B. Anthony (my favorite Rochesterian would be proud of my new city. And thank you Carla for the quote!)
Just a few days ago I packed up all of my belongings and hopped over the border to the great wild north.. Canada. I’m sitting at my desk in my third floor bedroom, listening to the sounds of the city waft in from my balcony, which overlooks one of the main thoroughfares in Montréal, Boulevard Saint-Laurent. I think this blog is going to be equally for me and for you; I know I only moved 6 hours northwest from my previous home, but a foreign country and a new language make it seem much further. Keeping a public written accounting of my life feels somehow like an anchor to home. And I am eternally awful at keeping in touch with old friends, and while this can be no replacement, maybe some people out there will benefit from the opportunity to keep tabs on my life via the nets. One can only hope! In any case…
Montréal! Quelle belle ville. I feel so lucky to be able to live here for the next two years. For those who are unfamiliar, the city of Montréal is on an island in the St. Lawrence river, and on this island is a triple-peaked mountain, Mont Royal, from which all the inhabitants of the city get their bearings. I live northeast of the mountain, in a beautiful 3rd floor apartment with (so far!) three super nice roommates and five or six goldfish. School is a 20 minute bike ride away, much of it uphill because the Université de Montréal is on the north side of the mountain. (But that gives me a much shorter downhill bike ride back!) I’m getting used to biking in the city.. slowly. There are so many cyclists here! If you were just randomly dropped on any street in the city, there would almost definitely be at least one cyclist riding, probably a handful of them. So all of the street traffic - cars, buses, trucks - are extremely aware of the need to check for bikes always. This makes me feel better, but there are still times when a semi truck will whoosh by just feet from my handlebars and scare me half to death! The cyclists are fearless, though, and extremely attentive to the rules of the road. Hopefully I will be able to count myself among them in time.
School starts next week, so these past days have been international student orientation, which has been somewhat of a roller coaster. I’ve loved learning about everything to do with the school, which is huge -50,000 students- but it’s a francophone school, and many people speak English only haltingly. Some events I’ve understood better than others, but on balance, I’d say I’ve understood about half of what is going on during the various lectures and tours. Most of the international students are from France or other predominantly french-speaking countries (there are quite a few in Africa). I have yet to meet an American or British international student. I’ve been taking most of my difficulties with a good sense of humour, but a few times I’ve gotten really frustrated with my inability to communicate or understand. I knew coming into this that I would be a bit lost in the beginning, but it really is a different thing to experience that firsthand. They warned us in orientation about “le choc culturel,” and ladies and gents, it does indeed exist. I signed up for a number of extra assistance programs.. the jumelage interlinguistique is a language exchange program in which I will be paired with a student who wants to improve his/her english and we will help each other out. I also signed up for french conversation classes in which I will be practicing with other anglophones. Boy am I excited to meet them!
The language difficulties have really been the only sore point for me, and not too much of one at that - it’s really fun to be learning so much so fast! By far my favorite experience has been the Jean-Talon farmers market. I knew it was the largest one in Montréal, but that did not prepare me for the culinary ecstasy I was to experience. I live just on the outskirts of Little Italy, and the market is square in that neighboorhood, about a 2 minute bike ride from my apartment. There are rows and rows and rows… and rows and rows of produce, stacked high, gleaming and fresh, the vast majority of it grown in Québec. Beautiful tomatoes, roma, heirloom, san marzanos, for the most ridiculously low prices you can imagine. (My roommates just bought 35 lbs of tomatoes for $10.) One stand just had mushrooms. Every single type of mushroom you could ever need, fresh or dried. I bought a crêpe from one of the vendors and it was a gigantic mount of perfectly thin, bubbly crêpe piled high with fresh spinach and some delicious tangy cheese whose name escapes me, and plopped on top was a huge barely poached egg. I could go on forever, but I won’t.. just know that it is a miraculous place of bounty and color and aroma and everybody needs to go there now. To add to all of this, right across the street from me is a perfect french bakery owned by the nicest man from Algeria. I told him I was new in town and he gave me a free croissant with my bread, and I won’t even go into the buttery flaky details.. I’m just thankful for the 30+ minutes of biking I have to do everyday!
I could write much more, about the balcony gardens jutting off of every wall you see, all of the fathers pushing baby strollers and the adorable way children babble in french, the opportunity to find green space, even a small forest, a short walk from any location, the beautiful and incredibly healthy people of every age everywhere you look, but if I wrote about all of that then I would run out of things to write about much too soon! Instead I will leave you with a view from my balcony at sunset, with the promise of more pictures to come soon. À la prochaine, mes amis!