Québec, je t'aime

(VERCHERES, Québec) — I like today’s morning chilliness and blowing rain along the small-town banks of the St. Lawrence River. On an unrelated note, I’m scared.

My amazing host, Françoise, watching ships as they power by her home on the St. Lawrence River.

My amazing host, Françoise, watching ships as they power by her home on the St. Lawrence River.

I’m actually surprised how long it took to get here, to the frightened place.  Months ago, I even romanticized the idea, as though my fear would signify that I was truly on my trip. In actuality, it’s just scary. A small but noisy part of me is afraid that I’m going to run out of money and motivation and emotional support. I’m afraid of exiting the cushy womb that has been Canada. I’m afraid that even telling you these things makes me sound less interesting.

But it is what’s real right now. Perhaps it is just the need to move on that’s making me feel so uneasy. Don’t get too comfortable, my fear is saying. Believe me, I’m listening.

It almost always takes something drastic to get me out of a lovely place. And rural Québec really has been a treat — far beyond the fatty pleasures of poutine, even. When I drive or ride my bike around, I feel as though I’m looking at the farmlands of France. I’m in a small town, only 30 minutes from Montréal, yet I’m in an alternate reality of tiny roads, cows and miles (excuse me, kilometers) of golden soy crops. Some of the houses here, made of stones or logs, are older than my country. Most residents speak a little English, but almost everyone I’ve met who is a few years out of school is pretty rusty. It’s great. Not only does that give me a chance to practice my pidgin French but it makes me feel as though I’m in a place much more foreign than Canada. No one even says “eh” around these parts. Amazing.

I have gone into Montréal, but only once, and my experience served as a gentle reminder that maybe I really am a small town person at heart. I liked being surrounded by solemn buildings and crowded streets, all with a lightly European feel, but it took me the entire day to act like myself. I have a love/hate relationship with cities. I appreciate their rapid pulse and dynamic intensity, but they do intimidate me. I think I look like a fake in them and that people can tell, just by looking at my mismatched clothes and make-up free face that I don’t belong. If that doesn’t do it, my driving certainly will. Trying to find a parking garage in the downtown area wasn’t just painful for me but also for most drivers near my truck, with its camper shell, protruding tow hitch and conspicuous, California plates. I became that person who cluelessly goes the wrong way on a one-way street and accidentally cuts off cabbies. It still hurts to think about.

A big sculpture and a tiny boy in Montréal. I had to convince this kid's dad, who didn't really speak English, to let me take his picture.

A big sculpture and a tiny boy in Montréal. I had to convince this kid's dad, who didn't really speak English, to let me take his picture.

Once I was able to ditch my vehicle, I was taken with Montréal, however. I just wanted to sit on a bench and watch everyone around me, and I probably could have. I adore that about cities. At one point, while I was entering a metro station, I saw a young, hippy couple say their good-byes. The guy, with his guitar strapped to his back, held his lady for about 30 seconds, and then they kissed and parted. The intensity between them suggested the trip was going to be a long one. He walked down the stairs, and she walked toward the exit, and I kept watching her to see if she would turn to get one last glimpse of him. She did. I smiled and furrowed my brow in appreciation and light jealousy.

Even in cities, human connection is all around. I know that’s obvious, but it’s easy for me to forget when I’m in a new, urban setting. It’s hard to keep in mind that, of course, there is community everywhere.

I got a small but tasty bite of that the same night, when I visited Concordia University’s radio station, CJLO. I was there for an interview, mostly, and some sharing of music. Since I have no sense of direction, I ended up taking two metro rides and a bus and then walking about 15 blocks. When I arrived at the station, I was disheveled, sweaty and more relieved than I can say. When the music director and my interviewer, Omar, offered me a glass of water and half his cookie, I melted. It was tiny act, but it made me instantly enjoy him.

I love to watch people who love what they do, especially when they have real skills to boot. From what I saw, that’s Omar. During the interview, he was prepared and organized and seemed to really care. He somehow managed to be himself on the air while staying professional and precise. I am such a fan of good radio that I found myself taking mental notes for the next time I happen to be rooted in a place long enough to host my own radio show again. I’ve done that both in Colorado and Utah, though I know I still have a lot to learn.

Omar Husain, CJLO's music director and the host of "Hooked on Sonics."

Omar Husain, CJLO's music director and the host of "Hooked on Sonics."

For my future reference, I think what made the interview so good was how easy it seemed. There was joking and self-deprecation on both sides, and I felt vital in a way I haven’t in a while. What a drug. Afterwards, Omar introduced me to the station crew and weighted me down with tons of CJLO schwag. I walked away from the school with postcards, buttons, a magazine, a T-shirt — and a bit of radio afterglow.

I had felt similarly after being on the air at CHUO in Ottawa and CHRW in London (thank you so much Sookie, Mike and Dave), but with this experience it finally hit me how much I want to do radio in my future. The discovery felt monumental. As I drove back from Montréal, I tucked that desire away in my mind with a promise that I will retrieve it, someday.

Now, it’s three days later, and instead of still feeling high, I’m scared. I don’t truly know what this fear means or why it has attached itself to me, but I’m going to try to work with it. I’d like to think that it is exactly what I need to keep me from staying forever in the faux French countryside. Being comfortable somewhere is a gift, but I feel I have to fight that so often in order to keep moving forward. Not yet, I keep telling myself. Not yet.

Maine is sounding more exciting by the moment.

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