"So, how is it there?"

Montreal staircase in the Plateau
This is the question I'm asked by everyone, from close friends to Dave the Mac tech.

I've held off writing about Montreal, aware that my observations will be those of an impressionable newcomer. But... I love this city.

Le Duc had lunch with a colleague who has recently moved back from Toronto, and Olivier nailed the difference: "It is at once more dynamic and more laid-back", he said.

Charming bike panniers
The dynamism does not refer to the business dealings of the respective cities, but to the rhythm of human interaction, most noticeably on display via summer street life. The three colours of winter (grey, black, white) give way to bright skirts, mounds of market produce or accessories like commenter lagatta's flowered panniers.

The laid-back sense comes from the noticeably longer time people take to acknowledge and transact everyday tasks. It's the half-beat, the half-minute or half-hour, depending what's happening, that allows some breath and human contact.

A place for us

One film solidified what I was looking for with this move, Louis Malle's documentary, "Place de la République", in which he deftly captured the essence of an atmospheric but populaire part of Paris.

His film became my playbook. I knew, at 62, that I wanted to live–and would need to live–in a neighbourhood with life and colour, with a square in which to sit and a bus stop at my door. 
Scene from "Place de la République"
My father, a native Chicagoan, always said "When I get old, I'm going to live on State Street." By moving to a lively neighbourhood in the midst of a culture unique to North America, I've achieved his wish, which is also ours.

The bakeries!

Navarino bakery; photo by C. DeWolf
This is the City of Bakeries: from ethereal mille-feuille to hearty olive bread, bagels to cannoli; it's all here, vast, varied and fresh.

A bakery is a metaphor for the city, yeasty, open late, always beckoning, sometimes decadent.

Christopher DeWolf's photo of Navarino Bakery says "Montreal", with its French signage, bike at the curb and welcoming wide windows. (The photo was retrieved from his compelling blog about cities, Urban Photo.)

Photo by Christopher DeWolf
I have not set foot in a mall. (For those who like them, there are plenty, including about 25km of connected underground territory in the centre of downtown.)

There is a deep sense of neighbourhood, with local businesses doing okay, if not achieving prosperity, in sections of the city that have seen worse times.

I miss our friends in my old city, but have been delighted to meet what my mother used to call "shirttail relatives"–second cousins and such–of Le Duc's here, and my Toronto  friends have graciously introduced me to their Montreal friends.

I'm eagerly awaiting lunch tomorrow with bloggoddess Rubiatonta, visiting Montreal for a few days. Wonder what we'll get up to!

August Holidays

Passage des perles closes today for the month of August, as usual.

See you on Sept.1 with more style, culture and life. I wish you a glorious, sweet August, wherever you may be.

I leave you with Jean Leloup's infectious Franglish tune, "I Lost My Baby". You might get it out of your head by the time the Passage re-opens!


Anonymous said…
I love Montreal, it's always felt like home to me - when I was living in New England I would go up there whenever I felt homesick for Europe and that horribly anxious sick feeling would just melt away.
Susan said…
Great song! Have a wonderful August. Your readers will be awaiting your return.
Susan B said…
Montreal is on our list of must-visit soon places. Being able to meet you in person is at the top of the list of reasons.

Have a lovely "vacation" and give Rubi a hug for me!
coffeeaddict said…
I enjoyed reading this post. There isn't a lot about Canada that I'm familiar with, besides the general geography and some cultural traits. But nothing really about the everyday life and the particularities that define the country and the people.
I wish you a wonderful August!
Anonymous said…
I haven't been to Montreal in years but always think of it as more European and laid-back than Toronto (where I live).

To your point about knowing where/how you wanted to live at your age. I'm only in my early forties, but often wonder how/why older people retire to the country. It seems counterintuitive to me considering it is a time of life when you certainly don't want to isolate yourself from society, proximity to quick medical care, bigger hospitals, being able to buy groceries nearby without having to drive, going for walks in a vibrant neighbourhood with lots of people around.

My husband and I (and two kids) live in the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood of Toronto and I often think to myself that after we've done the house/backyard thing (still working on it, still in a condo) and the kids are gone, it would be a great place to retire. There are many older people in my neighbourhood who enjoy all that the city has to offer.

Sorry about the long post... Caroline
LPC said…
Bonnes vacances! And I too hope to move to this city, some time in the next few years. Just so that walking out the door becomes an adventure.
Susan Tiner said…
I am so glad you love Montreal, one of my favorite cities. In the early 80s, when my former husband and I were raising kids in Albany, NY, we used to get up at 5am on a Sat to drive 4 hrs to Montreal then drive home about 9pm, with the kids sleeping in the back seat. We could have driven to NYC instead, a 2.5 hrs drive, and sometimes did, but we preferred Montreal because of the culture.
materfamilias said…
I love Montreal and should be due for a visit there by next summer, when you're nicely settled in. Sounds as if you're making a very good start at nesting there, and we're all getting the benefits.
Have a lovely August, and we'll meet back here in September. Now I'm heading off to iTunes store to investigate Monsieur Leloup and do some downloading. Thanks for the tip!
laurieann said…
Shared your post this a.m. with my husband who responded "Have a wonderful time in Paris dear, but I want to visit Montreal!" Both, spouse and I, who have lived all of our lives in small, rural cities' are very intrigued by the idea of a living in a true urban environment in his post-retirement years. Unless one is very attached to other families, suburbia can be very isolating. The idea of being able to exit my building, walk to a neighborhood bakery or grocery, exchange greeting with familiar faces, dodge a child's game of jump-rope on my way to a language class or art film sounds very invigorating to me.

You are a wonderful role model for me, Duchesse. I really admire how you are asking yourself a version of 'what is right for me now.'

Bonnes Vacances!
Have a lovely vacation Duchesse.
I am happy to hear that you are settling in and enjoying Montreal. It's been years since I visited and must go back sometime soon.
Jill Ann said…
I will miss reading your posts! But have a lovely month off, and I will look forward to your return. I would like to hear more about your new environment; I am at the age where I'm pondering a retirement location, and being able to walk or bike to the bakery (or store, or cafe) sounds wonderful to this car-dependent suburbanite.
Lovely! And I hope Rubiatonta enjoys her trip - I really enjoyed visiting Chicago when I went there.

Admittedly the panniers were bought in Amsterdam but there is a lot of cycle chic hereabouts. http://montrealcyclechic.com/

Like some who have posted here, I wouldn't want to retire to a small town unless it was possible to run errands on foot (or by bicycle or elder tricycle, weather permitting) connected to a larger city by train and not too far from medical care. I do have a friend who has retired to a small, compact town in the Laurentians north of here - there is a train link and the supermarket has wisely remained in the old town centre.

Christopher de Wolf does lovely photography and commentary about cities - he had also recently been living in ultra-urban Hong Kong and has looked at many other cities. You will find his insights and those of others at Urban Photo as well as Spacing Montreal. Outremont writer Mary Soderstrom also has great urbanistic insights at her blog Reinventing Eden.
Duchesse said…
Bourbon&Pearls: It's been said that Montreal feels like Euproe to Americans and the US to Europeans!

Susan: Thanks! I like to spend August as unplugged as possible.

une femme: Will do and excited that you might be here. (See materfamilias' comment- maybe a meetup?)

coffeeaddict: Big country- hope you can visit one day.

Anon/Caroline; That is a wonderful neighbourhood; Toronto is also a very liveable city. Before moving, I had met some people who had moved from the far suburbs to the Market area and were delighted.
(We lived in Leslieville.) And long replies are always appreciated.

LPC: That's it exactly. I grew up in a small town and did yearn to see a different face every day.

Susan Tiner: That's a great image, car full of sleeping kids. We used to wake our kids to do that, we called it "being kidnapped by your parents". They loved it.

materfamilias: I would love that- and see Pesu's comment.

laurieann: The NYT ran an article a few years ago about seniors who had retired to Florida and then returned to NYC. That was their word too, "invigorating". Though not quite senior by our government's definition, anyway, I did want that effect.

hostess: My gentle joke with my friends from Vancouver Island is that the place must have a giant magnet under it as they rarely want to leave. Another very special place.

Jill Ann: There are many good reasons to loosen the grip of car-dependency. I've always been an urban type even thought I grew up in a town of 6000.

lagatta: Rubi is coming *here*. The link to Urban Photo is on the post, hope it introduces others to de Wolf's writing and photography.
Yes, I know. Thought Rubi lived in Chicago...
Tiffany said…
Have a wonderful break! Montreal sounds fabulous - you are firming my resolve to get myself over to Canada before too long.
frugalscholar said…
One of our favorite cities and one to which we would love to retire. Lucky you.
Duchesse said…
Tiffany: Many Australians visit Vancouver, but since you'd come that far, travel on to Montreal!

frugal: It is not beyond the realm of possibility- remember, I emigrated!
Anonymous said…
I have had a long held dream to travel around the world. When I mentioned this to a colleague recently and doubted that I would ever be able to afford it, he suggested that I could accomplish this dream simply by spending time in Montreal...
Mardel said…
I absolutely adored Montreal on my one and only visit there, which was unfortunately bittersweet and I have not gotten back in all the intervening years. Perhaps someday.

Your description of the kind of neighborhood you have found, and Malle's documentary, portray the kind of neighborhood I have been dreaming of living in someday and hope to find as I get older. Luckily that is a few years away yet so I still hope I will find a similar spot of my own, should that still be my dream when the time arrives. In the meantime I am looking forward to my next adventure and giving my spouse the time to fulfill a few of his dreams. Odd that I grew up in a small town and yearn for cities, my spouse grew up in Vienna, Paris, and New York and yearns for isolation; it is one of the very few things about which we differ.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: An interest in proximity to services is not solely for elders; it also interests persons of any age who wish to decrease dependence on cars and who want to live in a diverse community, closer to their neighbours. I'll be most interested in how you find our new community!
Duchesse said…
Madel: Oops, that was "your" community.
Mardel said…
That is exactly what I am interested in, a community, and although I would prefer one that was more urban, where I can walk places, the simple fact is that my spouse will really not be out walking, probably even if there was a park across the street, so I respect his wish for a porch and a yard and even a few feet of green space separating us from the nearest neighbor.

The place we are moving is certainly more accessible and easier to get around than where we live now with everything close by, although a car would still be necessary. I am getting rather excited about the possibilities.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: Sounds like a good compromise.
A bit of yard and a porch are very pleasant and relaxing. We live across the street from a square, a small park with a gazebo where people practice tangos on Thursday nights in summer.
Maggie said…
As a young girl of 14, I visited Montreal to attend a cousin's wedding. His brother, a wild and crazy 17 year old, took me on an exciting nightime tour. That those memories have been placed in that special place we reserve for those "once in a lifetime" experiences, in some small way relates to the vibrance you describe. It's been 46 years and I think now after reading your post, I have the perfect reason to return. Enjoy August...as the song says...see you in September.
Well, I am a little sad...I just discovered your site and I featured you today on the front page of mine...only to get you at vacation time...but I will return in September as a regular reader. I love Montreal..use to travel there for work and I miss it! Enjoy your vacay!!
Duchesse said…
Pam: Thanks for the link! With 672 older posts you might have a little reading between now and Sept. See you soon!
I have not been to Montreal in over 20 years, but I loved it when I got to travel there for work!! It is such a fabuous city...so beautiful. This weekend in my area of Texas we have heat advisories and each day has been over 106!! Dreaming of Montreal helps....just a little!
NewMe said…
I lived in Montreal from age 18 to age 44. Though born in Toronto, I was and remain a Montrealer at heart and 11 years later still miss that wonderful city.

I totally agree with your perception of Montreal as both more vibrant and more laid back.

There's a saying in French: Qui prend mari, prend pays. Since I've just come across your blog, I don't know whether you speak French or not, but for others who definitely don't, the expression means that basically one follows one's husband wherever he goes. And so, after 26 great years in Montreal, my husband got a job that he could not refuse in Toronto and we moved.

We used to go back at least twice a year, for summer vacation in the Laurentians and to visit the MIL. The MIL died two years ago and the kids are teenagers now and so it's harder to find a time when we can all travel together. I haven't been back in two years.

I'm looking forward to a few weeks from now when I'll be in Montreal for a short business trip. I hope to see some old friends and maybe mosey up rue St-Denis.
Duchesse said…
NewMe: Bienvenue, and thank you for your reminiscence. Glad to hear you will be back, autumn is so beautiful here and seeing old friends is always s great pleasure.

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