I heart Montréal. Despite the lure of richer cities that list my mother-tongue as its official language, I remain true to the kick-ass French town where I was born: the cool, corrupt, culture-soaked, pot-holed, poutine-slinging, dancing, singing, music-ringing Mount Real.
When Monsieur Le Clown asked me to show him my take on the hot-and-bothered city we share, I decided to introduce him to my international cabal of friends. Like many of us, alongside family, my deepest connection to my island is through its ever-widening circle of bright lights. Montreal absorbs a constant stream of people into its population, and having grown up in the bound bosom of a dominantly Jewish neighborhood, I crave a mish-mash of voices, a multi-culti feast.
Le Clown arrives with his delight of a daughter, Tiny Geek. I introduce them around and we get down to business: home-baked chocolate cookies, strawberries from Québec and Middle-Eastern treats. Tiny Geek’s plate overflows as she runs upstairs to make some pals of her own.
My friends hail from some volatile places: Iran, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, the UK and the good ‘ol USA. They are artists and activists. I wanted to share a bit of their backgrounds and global perspective with Le Clown, to reflect on the sweetness of life in our infrastructure-challenged home-town. Here is a taste as one-by-one, we travel around the table. We have two hours so we get right to the point.
Meet the bloom that is Daisy. She grew up left-wing in a powerful, right-wing, political family in the American South. She says the increasingly psychotic Christian right shows vestiges of their loss in the Civil War. Daisy calls herself a psychological refugee and sees Montreal as a safe haven to write eco-friendly, musical theatre and celebrate life.
Amal was born in a tent in Israel, a Palestinian girl in a patriarchal and a segregated society. She has dedicated her life to women’s and minority rights and the creation of free spaces where people can focus on their similarities and learn what is positive about their differences. When she first came to Montreal for her Phd, this glowing Nobel Peace Prize nominee wondered how people who smile and are safe on their streets could call the language issue- a conflict, and then she realized that it all comes down to same root: the right to exist as who you are.
Andy grew up in the UK until his parents divorced and shipped him to Jamaica, the Bronx and Montreal. He cemented his foreigner status by breaking out in hives and was an outcast until he started playing soccer. Sports and music redeemed him. Andy is a legendary DJ, radio host, promoter and music archivist who travels the world, spreading the gospel of music. Alongside Berlin, he trumpets Montreal as the last Bohemia, where an artist can afford the luxury of renting an apartment to live and a studio to work.
When Tali was 5, her father had a messianic dream and moved her Jewish family from Miami to Israel to live in the desert and hasten the Redemption. He had two wives, nine children and a few followers. Tali resisted. She wanted to go to school and become an art educator, but was forced to get married at 16. As soon as she could, she took her three children and left her family and her life to start anew. She says that coming to Montreal saved her life and gave her the freedom to choose; to study, to work, to love.
Ehab smiles. Tali’s second husband is an Egyptian born in Cairo, the only child of an academic and feminist, single mother. He is an IT engineer who became an ardent human rights’ activist and poet. Ehab has lived in big cities all over the world and doesn’t glorify any of them. What creates interest, he says, is people stirring the pot.
Shirin grew up in Tehran. An outspoken activist in her youth, she was confident and happy until after the Iranian Revolution, at the age of 17, when her government arrested her. She spent five years of interrogation and torture in the notorious Evin prison. When she escaped her country and landed in Canada, she finally felt free. Shirin is a renowned singer who travels the globe, singing for human rights.
Tiny Geek runs down the stairs, ending the evening with an earth-bound cry. There is deep laughter and glistening faces all around. As we listened to each other in the comfort and safety of my home-town, it struck me that the world had merged at our table. People need to share their stories. What separates us becomes less relevant than what brings us together. I watched Le Clown’s happy-sad face as he took it all in and held his daughter close.
Brenda blogs with all her heart at Burns the Fire.