Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bonjour from la Belle Ville

After having visited Montreal only once on a cold day in February, I decided that in the Fall I would make it my new home. Though I had funding from Western for four years I still tried to get away. Now that my funding has run out it was time to make the leap, or, as is the case, schlep. Of course, I could have opted to find a teaching job to pay the bills while writing, but I’ve seen what happens to colleagues who are outside of their funding window; they take a sessional gig teaching one or two classes a semester and then they get too busy to do their own work. I hoped to buck that trend, live in poverty for a year, and just get my shit done. Part of that decision involved moving away and having the relative isolation of a new city in which to get my work done.

My decision came as a surprise to many people; Everyone thought I would go back to Toronto an settle there again, nest, and write my dissertation. That was my plan until I started to do some number crunching. So, this move was precipitated by a variety of practical motives:

1. Montreal is a beautiful city. It’s also a very different city than any other in Canada. Of course, it prides itself on its difference (distinct society and whatnot). The cafĂ© culture, integration of the arts into the fabric of the city, the lush green parks, amazing restaurants, bike lanes (hear that, Toronto?), inexpensive public transportation, and home of the Bixi Bike Rental service. For as often as people like to compare Toronto to New York City, or Calgary to... I don’t know, Montreal evades comparison to those other places because it is just that different. Aesthetics aside, there are other reasons;

2. Montreal is a more affordable city. When I moved to Toronto I had the support of a couple very good friends who were kind enough to give me a break on rent, which made it easier to get settled in the first few months. Later I got a full-time job and could afford the ‘Toronto Lifestyle’ whatever that was–for me, it was spending a lot of time reading at Starbucks, going for walks late at night, and drinking cheap beer in dive bars with friends. No Martinis here, folks. As much as I wanted to go back to Toronto and be close to my friends, some of whom have become like family, I wasn’t sure how i could reconcile my Toronto lifestyle with my current employment status, ie: Unemployed with no substantial savings. As it happens, grad school funding doesn’t leave much at the end of the month for rainy-day savings. Rent in Toronto is astronomical and only getting worse. The vacancy rate is quite low, which doesn’t bode well for finding accessibly-priced apartments. Also, jobs that pay a wage sufficient to sustain life are few and far between; sure, I could work full time or work a lot of part-time hours to pay the bills, but that would defeat the purpose of wanting to have this year off to write the dissertation. I was assured that the cost of living in Montreal was much more accessible (it’s true);

3. I have family in Montreal. Not feeling alone is crucial in successfully relocating anywhere. My grandfather’s youngest brother settled in Montreal in the ’50s and started a family of his own. We didn’t really connect often, or well, with our “Montreal Family,” but we still stayed in touch at least once a year via calls, cards, or second-hand news from my grandparents. After my grandfather died in 2005 the two branches of the family started reconnecting; like diplomats from the US and Soviet Union making brief visits in each others’ countries during the cold war, so too did members of our families start visiting each other. I think it was the realisation that it was my grandfather’s generation who held the families together. Now, since only my Uncle remains, the younger generation has made the effort to reconnect. Since I really didn’t have any ties to Ontario, I thought it would be good to be closer to family, just in case;

4. Montreal is kind of central to everything. The city really is geographically situated as a convenient transportation hub. Flights to Toronto take just under an hour, flights to Nova Scotia take only about an hour and a half, the VIA train leaves once a day for Halifax (an overnight trip, no less) and it’s less expensive than flying to Halifax, there’s also an Amtrak train that goes to New York City should I ever have the time and inclination to visit the Big Apple. The bus, if I have to use it, also leaves for Toronto almost a dozen times a day. If need be I can get back to the Tdot or London in the space of a day. This will be convenient when/if I have to get back to Western for meetings, appointments, or to deal with university bureaucracy. I’m sure this will all come in handy at Christmas when I’m chugging slowly toward Halifax on VIA Rail while everyone deals with snow delays at Trudeau and Pearson airports.

Despite what I thought were rationale justifications for moving to Montreal, I got a lot of mixed remarks from friends, family, and colleagues. Some of my school peeps who went to McGill for undergrad or grad school raved about the city, the culture, and the food; my London friends didn’t understand why I’d want to leave London; some of my Toronto friends refused to understand why I’d not want to go back to Toronto. The rest of my friends there ‘got it’ and were happy. Many of them also volunteered to visit me in Montreal. My family’s reaction was more mixed: My Mom was, as per usual, overwhelmingly negative (“Your French isn’t good enough. Why would you want to go there?”), my Dad seemed cool with it, but seemed disappointed that he doesn’t have an excuse to visit Toronto anymore, my Grandmere didn’t really comment on it one way or another.

In any case, here I am. While I sip my hand-crafted lattĂ©, I’m tappetty-tap-tapping out my blog posts and chapters of my dissertation and hoping, against all hopes, that by this time next year I will be on track to defending and becoming Dr. Cushing.

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