Toddling into Winter
Autumn came to the city of Montreal as a breath of fresh, cool, air. Such a relief from long days and nights wearing a slick sheen of sweat. This unwanted second skin could be briefly washed away in the shower, only to return by the time you emerged from the bathroom in a puff of steam. The end of the summer construction work was in sight. Also on the horizon was the possibility of finally resolving the many issues with our new apartment. Yes, we were ready to say goodbye for a while to those heady days of sun, light and mostly heat.
In an apartment with no air-conditioning and windows that failed to open, we had sweltered through the height of summer while the construction droned on forever on the street below. Renovations began in the commercial space underneath us. Even more banging and hammering in the early hours of the mornings. We lived in the midst of an actual construction site in a newly-renovated apartment with malfunctioning appliances and a multitude of issues to resolve. They necessitated keeping the children cooped up all day waiting on appointments that rarely fixed anything.
We never knew when we would open the front door to find it blocked by scaffolding – or whose scaffolding it actually was. For a time was no footpath left outside, and they neglected to leave a wooden bridge for us to get out without climbing into the gaping hole. If that exit was free, the diggers liked to drag barriers across the ends of the new footpath which was equally effective in barricading the pushchair in. The distaste of the construction crews for Anglophones was not hidden when they’d see me enter a fenced off area with children. They’d rant. I’d point at my apartment door and shrug. Were we supposed to magically transport ourselves home when they’d dug up and blocked off everything? They’d usually stop talking and strut off then, only for us to repeat the scene another day.
Let’s not forget the time I returned home with the kids to find the exterior brickwork of the apartment had been removed. The guts of the place laid bare to the elements as a few days of torrential rains and the odd hurricane began. A bedroom window had been smashed in (air conditioning unit never to be seen in one piece again), and a layer of construction dirt coated everything in the nursery. We still didn’t have a fully functional washing machine. The room was unusable. A pathetic layer of plastic did little to cover the window for the weeks before repairs were finally done.
Oh how we laughed in hindsight at the estate agent’s description of this ‘unicorn property’ and the promise of soundproofing above commercial spaces. Back then our knowledge of fair rental prices was sketchy, our temporary accommodation had almost come to an end, and construction was almost out of earshot at the far end of the street. Under pressure it had seemed that the best option was to overpay and finally settle in somewhere. Months later and there had been little settling done. We could laugh or we could cry. We laughed, somewhat hysterically… and marked a date in the calendar to hand in a (3 month!) notice of intent to leave at the end of the iron-clad yearly lease.
It had been one of the mildest summers in years if you believed the constantly complaining natives who were disgusted at the lack of higher temperatures after a long tough winter. There was plenty of cause for us to celebrate the arrival of Autumn even as others mourned the lack of summer heat. I looked forward to calmer, freer days of exploration before the end of the year. So much still to see and do before the season turned again.
A final burst of warm weather meant more pleasant evenings strolling the streets. Sitting listening to an impromptu piano/guitar session. People gathered around the outdoor pianos across the city. Typical Montreal. One night the baby and I stumbled upon a silent disco just a block from our apartment. It felt like anything that could be happening was happening somewhere in Montreal. People were taking advantage of the last gasp of summer. I dropped the eldest to camp once a week and explored playgrounds with the baby or roamed Mile End as he slept, slowly learning the grid of roads. The summer vibe lived on and I looked forward to a couple of months of neutral weather.
Alas Autumn had barely begun when the first icy blasts of winter weather hit. Catching us somewhat unawares. Despite two weekends of car-less shopping for winter clothing in unfamiliar stores with two unhappy children. This had only borne us one 5 year-old with coat and pants but no boots. The wobbler was too tall for a snowsuit but too small for kid-gear. Another weekend trek scored us a longer snowsuit. There were more excursions to suitably boot the walkers of the family because obviously no single shop stocked all our sizes. We slowly added hats and gloves and other necessary attire to the winter pile before the weather turned a little milder again anyway.
Already December and it’s time to brace for the icy months ahead. The days feel longer and duller compared to summer, but the daylight hours are so short. Thankfully they’re often bright hours with sunny skies. However you have to check the weather forecast carefully before loading up the kids and venturing outside. The same clear blue skies peer in the window on days when the temperature has plummeted to minus 7 degrees as when it creeps up to plus 7 degrees. A world of difference in appropriate attire.
It’s all relative. It’s a lovely mild autumn day here now when the mercury rises above freezing. Time to get out and enjoy the weather before it’s gone again. Thoughts are turning to stocking up the cupboards and compiling lists of indoor things to do during the inevitable period of cabin fever ahead. The idea of a few weeks spent indoors with a tantruming toddler and a well… tantruming five-year-old is not appealing. It’s this—not the new culture, or language barrier, or lack of family and friends in a new country—that might break us.
Yet the sheer excitement last week when the first faint dusting of snow decorated the streets was a hint that maybe it won’t be all bad. The grocery shopping took twice as long to do. The journey to and fro was constantly interrupted. Strangers turned to stare at the little boy, decked out in his best winter gear, bouncing and stomping on a pathetic smattering of snow on the ground. No matter how many times I told him that this, this was not proper snow. Or described how sick of it he’d be in a few months time. He didn’t hear a word. He was too busy revelling in the little things. No doubt the novelty will wear off long before the real winter snow melts away. First though, there’s so much Christmas shopping to get out of the way. Then perhaps things can slow down again. There’s the build-up to Christmas in a new city to savour, if we can only make the time to do so.
Winter is coming fast now. The weather is all harsh extremes in this city, but the sights… well, they are stunning.