02 December 2008

"je suis entre les deux"

It's always while losing myself in some delicious bite of one delectable meal or another that I continuously fall in love with Montreal. The food culture here is truly unlike that of any other city I've lived in.

Even the most modest restaurant takes pride in presenting simple, fresh and delicious items, and they don't overcharge. Although there are many well-known eateries serving haute cuisine, for the most part going out for dinner is not prohibitively expensive. In fact, most restaurants make it affordable for anyone to have a nice dinner without draining their bank account.

I have become especially fond of bring your own wine places. I'm sure it's obvious why. And I'm quickly growing accustomed to being delighted by the array of cheap and amazing dining options that abound. It's unusual that I'm not impressed.

That being said, maybe it's the onset of the Christmas paraphernalia, or maybe its just been a while since I've home, but pre-holiday homesickness is definitely setting in. Despite being surrounded by amazing restaurants, chocolate shops and cafés, there is nothing I crave more than a home-cooked meal at my parents' house. I love cooking, and I try to appease myself with homemade soups, but it's just not the same.

This is my third December living in Montreal. I've slowed with the picture-taking of the city as, I suppose, I've become less of a tourist. But while preparing for a presentation on Griffintown in class (a historic Irish neighbourhood in south-west Montreal) and going through all the photos I've taken of it and other neighbourhoods, I realized how cool it is to look back on the ways I've seen the city over the last 2-3 years. It has changed shape as I've come to know it.

So I've decided to stay in the habit of taking photos when the moment strikes. For some strange reason, showing photos to my readers (many of whom do not live in Montreal) makes me feel a bit more connected to home. It's as if I can share a part of all this with you, even when I feel far away.

At times I feel I am starting to belong here, and at other moments* I wonder how any non-native can ever feel at home in Quebec given the political and emotional residue. I know that may sound harsh, but it's very frustrating that one's best efforts to integrate and to fully embrace a new space and its culture are met with a rebuff.

It's said that Montreal is an Island in every sense (and thus differs geographically, politically etc. from the rest of the province), and it is positioned as a bastion of tolerance. I have met wonderful people here, of course, just as I did in the Lac St-Jean region two summers ago. But in both places, as well as in Quebec City, I have also encountered great bitterness and faced ridiculous generalizations based on my first language. One man in Jonquière actually said, "Hé, les anglaises ne sont pas toutes laides," (Hey, not all English girls are ugly after all) when he met me. The rest of the evening, I had to sit at a dinner table while nearly all the guests alternated between insulting contemporary Anglo-Canadians and ranted about what les anglais did 200 years ago.

Clearly, I am frustrated today and yes, I get frustrated often for this same reason. But I also like to rise to a challenge. And learning French, despite being discouraged in one way or another, is my task au moment.

I was speaking to a canvasser who was raising money for HIV/AIDS research in Africa, who happened to be from Côte d'Ivoire. She was complimentary of my French and we chatted for a while. She told me that although she was born in West Africa, she has a Québécoise mother, and has lived here for 20 years. But, she added, most people tell her they do not consider her a Québecker. "Pour la plupart des gens ici, je suis entre les deux" (for most people here, I am between the two). For this reason, she finds herself identifying more with her roots.

If it's been 20 years for her, will I ever feel closer to belonging?

* like today, when I found out my French teacher waited until we three anglophones were absent to rant about les anglais to the rest of the class, even though she said "je ne parle pas de la petite Dallas; je l'adore! The fact that she refrained from speaking badly of anglophones in front of us shows she knows what she said was objectionable.


Eric said...

I think we all need to try to be little islands of tolerance -- with bridges in between, connecting us. My metaphor stops here.

Jess said...

Wow, your French teacher sounds like she needs a lesson in tolerance herself. Between that and the last explosive conversation in that class, it seems as though she has a few issues that should definitely be left out of the class discussion - particularly given the teacher-student dynamic she is taking advantage of.