I just finished a week long stint in Montreal. I was there covering Festival Nouveau Cinema, though I’m saving all the specifics of that for my dispatch tomorrow. I will say though how lovely the folks at the festival were, making a homeless boy feel anything but.
But I’ll admit that of all the stops on this now nine-week long suitcase-a-thon, this was the hardest. The second I saw the skyline I thought “shit, maybe I shouldn’t have done this.” It was my first time back since I moved, and the first few days felt sort of like when you see an ex-lover too soon after things ended. And specifically when things ended not because they weren’t working, but because of circumstances beyond your control.
I’ve always had a serious problem negotiating my own personal nostalgia. I’ve usually found it either depressing or extremely sentimental, both states I don’t usually fare well in. When I moved away from Toronto after over four years there, I hated the state of mind going back put me in. Except the relationship I had with Toronto ended much differently than the one I had with Montreal. I had lived there in my late teens and very early twenties, and mostly left so I could run away from the vulnerability and embarrassment I’d spread all over the city. So when I went back I mostly was just afraid of how much the city knew about me, so I’d shout civic put downs to anybody and everybody to shield myself from it (I still do).
But me & Montreal always got along. A festivalgoer who didn’t know the city well asked me what it was like living there as an English speaking person and a great fact about me & Montreal came out: I’d never immersed myself in the culture and scene of the city, mostly because it wasn’t available to me as a lingual outsider. So I was able to create my own world, free of everything I disliked about Toronto, and in a really beautiful (and cheap) surrounding. And it was clear going from festival party to festival party last week how little I’d really been a part of the film scene there. People kept assuming I’d know people because I had lived there for two years, and most of the time, I knew no one. Which after back to back stints covering the Toronto Film Festival and New York Film Festival, was remarkably refreshing. And reminded of how much I missed that anonymity.
When I was having dinner with my now ex-thesis advisor, she said something to me that just brought me to a greater understanding, as simple as it was. I was whining about feeling strange being here and she said: “You did grad school here. It’s over. The city made sense then, it doesn’t now. You probably would feel lost being here if you lived here still.”
It was a very simple idea, but I think I’d really been hanging on to the city since I started the hobo tour, and thinking about how much I wished I was still there. And of all of a sudden, that idea just didn’t make sense anymore. So with that, I enjoyed my last few days in the city with no depression or sentimentality, and me & Montreal came to terms with our parting.