You can take the girl out of the city but you can't take the city out of the girl.
I first realized this about three years ago when I made a clean break and moved halfway around the world to Melbourne. People had told me that Melbourne was the "Montreal" of Australia so I figured that I'd fit right in. It would be Montreal without the drama, social obligations, terrible winters and that pesky bilingualism.
I felt that living in Montreal had made me lazy in all areas of my life. The low cost of living made it easy to go on frequent and often excessive nights-out, my small social circle had become too insular for its own good and I had lost my motivation to do all the great things that I had wanted to do. It was time to dive into unknown territory, to prove to myself that I could ride the wave of uncertainty and come out on top.
Melbourne is, in fact, a lot like Montreal: Funky, hipster-centric Brunswick Street is reminiscent of Saint-Laurent Blvd., ACMI (the Australian Centre for the Moving Image) is like our own Ex-Centris, and cafes and cute little boutiques flourish everywhere-the similarities go on and on. I spent the first few months embracing my newfound home, but after the initial honeymoon period wore off, I started to crave the very things that I was running away from-namely my large network of friends, my close-knit family, my intimate knowledge of the city and everything in it and, surprisingly, the French language. I even went so far as to volunteer for the Melbourne French Theatre so I could keep a connection with the language, culture and people. It's amazing what 16,000 kilometres can do.
My need to leave this city wasn't (and isn't) unique. We all love our home, but there comes a time in most Montrealers' lives when we ask ourselves, "Is there more out there?"
Director and editor Rosella Tursi compares Montreal to a 90-minute mix-tape: "There are two or three really bad songs that you don't want to hear, but all in all it's a good mix of music. 90 minutes is a good chunk of time but eventually, the more often the tape plays, the more you feel like you're just hearing the same songs over and over again." That's why she left Montreal-it's why a lot of people leave. But, like Rosella, they eventually come back. Montreal has a funny way of pulling you back in.
The Living Is Easy
Being away from home, we learn to appreciate the little things that we usually take for granted. It's about "spontaneously bumping into people and then going to a terrace for a drink," says Jen Morris, a Montrealer living abroad. "And I love the fact that we are not very classy as a society-we say 'tu' to people rather than 'vous.'"
Indeed, Montreal does have an exceptionally relaxed and informal atmosphere, created in part by the fact that it's relatively safe and cheap to live here. According to the CCMM (Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal), Montreal's cost of living is one of the lowest in North America--we can live fairly well on little income. It's also a pretty safe place to live. "Among the twenty-six largest cities in North America, Montreal has the fourth-lowest rate of violent crime."
Add to this the endless choice of amazing restaurants, our beautiful green spaces, our thriving music scene and our vibrant multicultural communities, and it's easy to see why Montreal is so hard to leave. When we're used to living the good life, most other cities just don't compare.
Elias Hatzepetros has been living in London, England for twelve years now. As he explains, his great escape began as a quick European jaunt. "It was totally by accident," he says. "I did a three-month student work-abroad program and fell in love with London. I remember thinking, 'I am just not done here.'"
But after all this time, he still misses Montreal.
"I miss the sense of community for such a big city. London can be soulless and you never know your neighbors or the people around you." Asked what he misses the least, he responds: "The same thing that I miss the most ... Montreal is small enough that you can't 'get lost' and the wrong people always end up knowing your business."
Writer and actor Talya Rubin has recently moved back home after six years in Australia. "I left (Montreal) because I couldn't stand the weather anymore and I felt like the city was getting smaller and smaller. After six years away, I actually missed what I had hated ... the weather, the incredible change of seasons, the two languages and unique culture, and the way Montreal is not a typical city. It's not a corporate city and it's a little off-the-map, so it feels kind of small."
Another thing that people love/hate about our city is that nothing ever changes. Sure, some businesses close down while others pop up, but in general we know what to expect when we get back from an extended trip. This is comforting but also slightly depressing.
I remember the first time I went back to my favorite coffee shop after my Australian adventure. After a year of living more-or-less anonymously, I was overwhelmed by the warm "welcome home" greetings the café's owners extended to me. After a few minutes of friendly chatter, I ordered my usual latte and sat in my usual spot, reading the paper. It was like I had never left.
There's No Place Like Home
After being back for eight years, Rosella Tursi is once again ready to move on, this time to New York, where "anything goes!"
"I fear change but at the same time I crave it," she says. "But I'll never leave [Montreal] forever-I have a deep connection with this island. It is, after all, where I was born. The winter alone is not enough to drive everybody away crying and screaming, and that says a lot about what this city has to offer."
In the end, Montrealers and their city have a relationship similar to that of an old, married couple. We complain about its bad habits, we get bored with its predictability and we sometimes even think of cheating on it with a new, more exciting prospect-but at the end of the day we can't deny our genuine affection for it. Whether we leave forever or decide to come back, we will always feel right at home.