Montreal’s Habitat, a legendary bit of architecture
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’ve moved around a fair bit — as every child in a military family knows well, like the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — it’s sometimes challenging to decide where home really is.
I’ve now lived decades in the same one-bedroom apartment in the same building in the same suburban New York town, by far the longest I have ever lived anywhere.
When my adult midlife peers lament the final sale of their beloved childhood home, I think: “Huh.” Not me.
I’ve moved a lot and have lived in five countries. But it’s now been a long, long time since I last changed residences, absolutely worn out after changing my home location six times in seven years.
It takes time to settle in, to get to know a place and its rhythms.
And, sometimes — despite all your highest hopes and best intentions — it’s just a really poor fit.
I did not enjoy living in Montreal, even with the nicest apartment anywhere ever (fireplace, 15 foot ceilings, spacious rooms) — the winter was too cold and long and snowy and the professional possibilities far too limited. Plus incredibly high taxes and, then anyway, a disturbingly high crime rate. Our building was broken into a lot.
Same for my 1.5 years in small-town New Hampshire, before the Internet, with no family/friends/job and an exhausted/absent medical resident for a boyfriend.
Born, lived to age two.
ages two to five, with my parents, while my father made films for the BBC.
The Ex, an annual event in Toronto
Toronto, ages five to 30
— a gorgeous huge house with a big backyard. Parents divorced when I was seven.
— boarding school Grades 4-9 and summer camp (four of them) ages 8-17
— a downtown apartment shared with my mother.
— a second apartment in the same building, shared with my mother.
— an apartment with my father and his girlfriend.
— a house (owned), also living with with them, in a lovely neighborhood, facing a park.
— a ground-floor, back alley studio in a bad neighborhood, until a man tried to pull me out of the bathroom window while I was in the bath. Lived alone.
— a sorority house, for the summer. Shared space, very comforting!
— a top floor studio apartment near campus; alone.
— a top floor apartment in a downtown Victorian house; with boyfriend.
— the top two floors of a (rented) house; with boyfriend, then alone.
— six months with my mother in a rented apartment, age 14
Montreal has some amazing buildings!
— one year, with my mother in a rented apartment in a downtown brownstone, age 12
— 1.5 years on the top floor of a luxury 1930s-era rental building in downtown while a Montreal Gazette reporter; alone.
Now that’s my kind of delivery! The Marais, one morning…
— eight months in a tiny student dorm room in Cite Universitaire while on an EU-funded journalism fellowship.
Lebanon, New Hampshire
— two years in a rented apartment on the main floor of a farmhouse, with boyfriend-later-husband.
Tarrytown, New York
— current residence; married, divorced, solo, now re-married.
I know people here now.
I run into D, the amiable Frenchman who helps choose stock for our local thrift shop and notice he’s still limping, months after he broke his ankle.
I chat with M, a hardware store sales associate I interviewed in 2009 for my retail book, and who works for a man whose great-grandfather started the company.
I say hello to Hassan, who hands me shards of ham and bits of candied pecans at his gourmet shop.
I bump into friends on the street and at the gym and the train station and the grocery store and at church.
When I return to Montreal and Toronto, I’m also delighted to spend time with old friends and to enjoy familiar foods and sights and sounds and all our shared cultural references that none of my American pals will ever get.
So I feel lucky that so many places have been my home. I feel as bien dans ma peau speaking French in Montreal and Paris as I do hablando en Mexico as I do ordering a bagel with a schmear here in New York.
Will we move again?
Where is home for you?