the single/montreal years (pt 2)
The Universe works in mysterious ways.
The story begins in the Mile End, on the last Saturday of July, with my friend Sylvia, who had recently rented an apartment in the area and claimed that it was the best quartier in the city.
And so it is that I found myself on the corner of Park Avenue and Fairmount on that particular day, at that specific time, searching for a place of my own. I remember saying, as I got out of the car, “Listen, Universe, if you want to help me find the perfect apartment today… geez, that sure would be great” (yes, that’s how I talk to the Universe). Syl reminded me, in the kindest possible way, that the search for an apartment could be quite arduous, a long and painful process. It had taken her a month to find a spot that wasn’t either totally crotté (disgusting), infested with rats, overpriced or the size of a closet.
Five minutes later, I opened a brown gate that led to a court-yard that led to a building that I was drawn to, for no particular reason other than it had a certain Wes Anderson feel to it; a whimsical, salmon-coloured apartment complex. I checked every window for an À Louer (for rent) sign. No luck. But as I turned to walk away, a woman opened her door and asked if I was looking for a place to rent. YES! Yes, I am!
She (Fabie) was heading up North to teach in Natashquan and was looking for someone to sublet her gorgeous flat for a year. The place came completely furnished, with all utilities included. It was perfect. The price, however, was way beyond my means and so I left with a heavy heart and her email address in my pocket and while I looked at a couple of other crotté places, I became découragée. Despite Sylvia’s warning, I had expected, somewhat naively, to just snap my fingers and find a pad on the spot.
I went back to my cousin’s flat, took a pity nap and then took matters into my own hands. I drew up a budget, emailed the lovely lady with the lovely apartment, told her about my situation and asked if it was at all possible to knock $100 off the rent. She said she would think about it and in the meantime, I asked to see the place again with my cousin.
The next morning, Amy and I visited the apartment. It was just as perfect as I remembered and became even more enticing once I saw the phenomenal rooftop terrace.
Me: Wow! It’s beautiful, but I have to think about it.
Amy: Jeanine, seriously, what is there to think about? This place is unbelievable.
Fabie: Écoutes… if you tell me that I don’t have to worry about cleaning the apartment before leaving, I’ll knock $100 off your rent because I like you and I trust you and some things in this life are worth a hell of a lot more than money.
Call it serendipity, happenstance, coincidence… Fabie called it les atomes crochus (hooked atoms) bringing us together –- the pull of energies, everything lining up just for that moment. Being in the city when I should have been in the countryside for the weekend, Sylvia getting lost on her way to picking me up, the parking spot we found… everything led up to me being at that exact spot at the exact moment when she happened to peer out of her window. Only later, as I signed the lease and had a beer with her, did I find out that Fabie’s partner had broken up with her in March, hence why she was escaping as far north as she possibly could for a year. Her and I were in the same boat. Les atomes crochus.
I spent that year sipping a lot of coffee at the café across the street. And drinking wine on my rooftop, watching the sun set behind mosques and church steeples, and then the moon rise over Mount Royal. I lived on a street lined with fruiteries and boulangeries, terraces filled with happy people enjoying happy hour, the YMCA and library a few blocks away.
In the fall, K dropped off some of my boxes. We had a moment of weakness; loneliness can make you do regrettable things. But the thing is, I thought it would be this amazing thing. I thought maybe it would be the end of the end and the start of something new, but it wasn’t. Turns out, I was over him.The idea of him all those months had been far more appealing than the real thing. And I knew it from the second he arrived on my doorstep, but I followed through anyways. And then I found out that he had a girlfriend back home. Let’s just say what’s on everyone’s mind, shall we? What a douche move, eh? Some things never change. Any shadow of a doubt that might have remained had now officially vanished.
After saying good-bye to that last glimmer of hope that I had held onto for so long, I finally felt free. And to celebrate my newfound freedom, I booked tickets to Europe. I took six weeks off work to backpack across England, Spain and Italy. It was scary as hell but also the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. That decision and those six weeks would change the course of my entire life.
I unleashed a whole lotta Jeanine on that trip. And I kept unleashing when I got home. I was like a high school kid jacked up on hormones. I went out. I had FUN. I wasn’t a harlot but I made up for some serious lost time. Montreal was my playground. Good old Universe sure did come through for me in the end. I couldn’t have asked for a better spot or a better city to help me through that chapter of my life.
Casgrain Avenue, Montreal, Quebec
July 2009 – June 2011
Soundtrack: Future Islands – Tin Man; The Walkmen – In the New Year; Arcade Fire – The Suburbs; TV On The Radio – Love Dog; Calvin Harris – Disco Heat
Fabie came home and I was, once again, on the lookout for an apartment. I found my flat on Casgrain through a friend of a friend of a friend. The place needed some serious work. Every single wall was painted blood-red (even inside the cupboards) or dark turquoise. It felt oppressive. Like maybe someone had sacrificed chickens in there. But the location was fantastic and the rent was reasonable and my postal code sounded like something out of Star Wars (H2T 1X2) and it was right by the tracks (I do love a good train track) and there was nothing a bit of paint couldn’t fix. It took weeks, a ton of help, quite a few cases of beer and many yard sales and garbage finds to get that place in tip-top shape but I got there in the end.
I loved my apartment on Casgrain. It was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere that was my own. Not me and a roommate/friend/boyfriend. It was all me. Which is why it’s strange that I hardly have any photos of the place, either before or after. The only ones I managed to find were taken with my friend’s fisheye lens when she came to visit one December evening and we drank waayyyyy too much wine (see drunk eyes above, yikes) and maybe even had an impromptu dance party.
Life on Casgrain was good. I took writing courses at Concordia University, had my first ever article published, went to Squam, bought a film camera, spent a lot of time on Skype with my main squeeze, saw my favourite band play a surprise free concert in a parking lot outside of Montreal, snuck up on countless rooftops, went to Osheaga and the Jazz Festival and a hundred gigs in between, and cycled everywhere on my beat-up bike with the milk crate on it.
And I developed a friendship with a coworker that made my time in Montreal the special time that it was. Roma was a bit of a stray cat, mistrusting of other humans. Ours was a long and slow road to what is now a life-long friendship. When I think of Montreal, I think of Roma and I on rooftops, drinking Jameson’s, listening to music; or wading ass-deep in alligators at work and stopping at our favourite dive bar La Petite Idée Fixe after a day of wading ass-deep in alligators; popcorn and weird g-chats and too many cigarettes. I can’t imagine Montreal without her in it and that’s why even if I went back, it would never be the same.
And I wouldn’t be who I am today without those two years on Casgrain. They were two of the best years of my life. It took a while, but in the end, I found my way back to myself. And I liked that girl. But I was also madly in love with a man who lived across the pond, 5,218km away. Dilemma.
In April, I made a decision. In May, I quit my job. In June, I sold most of my belongings. On June 21st, I waved good-bye to Roma from a taxi cab, took a massive leap of faith across an entire ocean and moved to London for the next crazy chapter of my life.
If you want to read about other places I’ve lived, check it here.