I thought that relocating to a new city would have me posting a lot more. It’s sort of like travelling, only it’s not a foreign country, I speak the language, I’ve been here before, and I don’t have rose-coloured glasses. OK, so it’s not really like travelling, except that I was getting lost on my way to work for the first few days, and there are a lot of restaurants for me to slowly discover.
And that is the key word. Slowly. I don’t have a day or a week to take in Toronto. I don’t need to cram in the best that this city has to offer in a short period of time. I have the luxury of watching it evolve, from spring to summer, and eventually fall and winter. I may watch the festivals roll in, smile at tourists trying to figure out a map, and take my time to get to know this place.
We’re in a courtship phase. This is not the one-night stand of Naples, that turned into a 4 day love fest. (I still love Naples. I would go back in a heartbeat and eat pizza all day at Gino Sorbillo’s, the source of many a food fantasy) This is the beginning of what may be a long term relationship, with no expiration date in sight. I’m here for the longish haul. But then, I thought Montreal was going to be a lifelong home for me, and it turns out, I was wrong about that.
In our courtship phase, we go out to restaurants. Some of them are fine dining. Some of them make us sick the next day. Some of them are just meh, and we won’t be back anytime soon. Sin and Redemption is turning out to be a favourite haunt. The cheap Chinese bakeries along Broadview, Gerrard East and Spadina are spoiling me rotten for only my pocket change. We go for long walks in the rain. We go to art galleries, and art openings. There’s even been a stroll along the beach. Typical courtship.
It’s rough meeting new people when you transplant your life. I had years worth of strong relationships that I left behind, and at least I work in a place where the majority of the staff seem young, fun, and easy going. Even then, it’s not a walk in the park. They have their own established relationships, and I am trying to figure out how I fit into the bigger picture.
I always said I would never live in Toronto. There is a culture of defeat that surrounds former Montrealers that end up in the 416 area code. I had a vested interest in Quebec. I was a member of a provincial political party; heck – I even ran for that party when I was 23. I thought I would grow old and wilt away on that island. Whenever former acquaintances would come up in conversation, we would roll our eyes and sneer. They moved to Toronto. We judged them, but the unspoken failure was clear – another old stock English-speaking Montrealer gave up and moved on to greener pastures where proper command of French wouldn’t be needed.
Somehow, I found the one position where I actually need French – where I was actually offered this position because I was from Montreal and had that proper command of the French language. I still can’t quite get over it.
And so I spend my days as a semi-outsider in this strange land. I explain to the intern from Rimouski how to change over her driver’s license and apply for OHIP. I say hello back to the neighbours when they greet me, but I never initiate the conversation. I explore the St. Lawrence Market, grow bored with the repetitive shops in Kensington Market, and gawk at the tourists foolish enough to swim down at the Beaches.
And I get carded so often by the same guy at the LCBO that he noticed when my license changed over from a Quebec license to an Ontario license. And yet… he carded me again a few days later. Go figure. I think the last time I was carded in Quebec, the clerk was most correct in carding me, as I was woefully under age, sporting braces and crooked glasses. Probably with horrendous acne to boot.
Slowly it becomes routine. I doze off on the subway, to instinctively jolt awake at my station. (On the first day I got confused by St. George, St. Patrick and St. Andrew all being on the same line, and got off at the wrong station on my way to work.) I know that local meet is purchased at the Carrot, that most other groceries should come from Loblaws, that Foodland is open 24 hours if I really need that can of soup at 2 a.m., and produce is cheapest at the fruiterie on the corner. And I still call it a fruiterie, not a vegetable or fruit stand. I know to call in advance if I want burritos, and where the closest cheap sushi joint is to the office.
I rejoice in the central air conditioning in this apartment, the included washer and dryer, the large deck.
And yet… I am not home.
I am homeless. As I can no longer define home. I went to visit my parents last month, staying with the for the first time since I moved out 8 years ago. I stayed in my old room, but my possessions long since left with me, aside from a few old Smashing Pumpkins posters and some stuffed animals. This place, as much as my mother protests, is not my home. I’m not sure it was when I was a teenager either, as I was so desperate to get out of there.
So how does one define home? Is it where your heart is? My heart is here, sitting in the other room reading over his lecture notes. Is it where your stuff is? Most of my stuff is here. Whatever didn’t fit in the U-Haul was abandoned, and I’m sure the person who took over my old apartment is cursing my name to this day. Is it where your roots are? Where your friends are? Where your job is? Where you want to live?
Or is it a perfect memory in time?