Natasha Young recalls the fond but incestuous smallness of Montreal, and what it’s like to edit yourself DIY-style.
If ever in my travels I am asked what life in Montreal was like, I will answer only in anecdotes. Example: one summer day, my friend Charlotte invited me to meet at her apartment so we might take a walk in the alleys, their trees newly lush with aromatic flowers and the cats who either scurry or flop and roll when approached. I’d been asked out for a coffee date by a photographer, Christopher, which was meant to happen that afternoon. I entered Charlotte’s apartment and there, on the sofa, was the photographer, half-dressed. I hadn’t known he was her roommate. We greeted one another mutually stunned; he quickly shuffled into the shower to make himself presentable. As Charlotte and I stepped out, I explained to her what had just happened. She smiled. “That is so Montreal.”
Or, around an illegal campfire we’d kindled near the train tracks, L Ron said, You’re always welcome here. You’re one of us now.
Roben smiled at me, consolingly, and said I shouldn’t want to be one of them.
Later, I’m in a loft we call The Plant. Sheets strung up everywhere, one big blanket fort, with projectors projecting galactic loops, simulating a psychedelic night sky. A rotating cast of musicians drone away under sheets suspended from the ceiling or on blankets and pillows coating the stripped hardwood floor. Many in attendance are friends of mine. Some late-middle-aged men lay in Savasana on the floor. The musicians transition smoothly between half-hour sets, ceaselessly, from sunset until sunrise. I am set to play some looped tracks I recorded in advance of the rain falling outside, and also my guitar, tweaked through a space echo pedal. The space is a co-op live/work community of youngish anti-capitalist creatives, some freegans who proudly dumpster-dive around town, and some former McGill University students with world-class training who play music fabulously for no one but their peers. The Plant is tasteful, socially conscious co-op living, a third space and a second home. Nobody here has dreadlocks. Nobody smells like patchouli. Most everyone is presentable, normcore-adjacent, and clean-cut. A few are American expats, like me. There is little to no shit-talking behind the backs of others. I’ve never encountered such a generous social scene that was neither religious nor cultish.
But for its niche Anglophone creatives – we’re mostly cloistered in the Mile End, Little Italy, or one of the adjacent pods – Montreal is not always affectionately called a small city. Too small, according to anyone jilted by a once-lover who constantly runs into him thereafter, or keeps accidentally dating his similarly shitty friends.