December 30, 2011, Montreal: This is Westmount, technically its own city on the island of Montreal. According to my criteria, it’s a great place to live: It is walkable, it is lovable, it is cultural, it is social, and it is just a couple minutes walk from the heart of downtown Montreal. In 2002, Westmount was forced to become part of the city of Montreal. In 2004, Westmount and 14 other nearby areas voted to “demerge”, officially regaining independence again in 2006. Since then, changes in the island’s tax structure have kept this area intricately tied to the city of Montreal despite its official status as a separate place. Maybe this is where I got my independent streak.
December 28, 2011, Montreal: If there’s one thing I’ve heard over the years about what it means to be from Montreal, it’s that Montreal winters don’t get you down. Nevermind the weather; those from Montreal get out. They go about their days. They are outdoorsy people passionate about winter sports. The evidence is clear in my parent’s photos from the 1970s of sledding by Beaver Lake, playing hockey in Westmount, and meandering between ice sculptures downtown. To visit in summer and declare you understand what it’s like to live here would make you a liar. You need to see for yourself that a little snow and ice isn’t enough to shut in the residents of Montreal. Despite many years spent south of the Mason-Dixon line, today — well, I guess that includes me.
“I want to paint Montreal as a rather fantastic city, which it was, because nobody knows today what it was like. And I’m one of the last survivors, or rapidly becoming one.”
– Christopher Plummer, actor
December 28, 2011, Montreal: Nick’s Restaurant has been a staple on Greene Avenue since Nick Alevisatos first arrived in Montreal from Greece in 1920. At Nick’s place and in the surrounding neighborhood of Westmount, Nick and his wife poured their heart into the restaurant and raised five children, most of whom would later carry on the family business on this bustling street. It’s the same street I’ve seen for many years depicted in the painting above. It’s the scene of memories for our family, too, ever since my father arrived on Greene Avenue from Chicago in 1972 to begin work a few doors down from Nick’s place.
December 27, 2011, Montreal: What do you remember about your birthplace? Is it a place you stayed? Grew up? Learned to love? Loved to hate? Is the place you were born one you know well? Do you still call it home? Are your roots still there or did you dig them up long ago, letting them trail along behind you like a stick in the sand?
I returned today to Montreal, the very first of my many hometowns.
“What is home if the road that draws you away from it is more familiar, more comforting? Home is what you find when you get there.”
-Colleen J. McElroy, A Long Way from St. Louis
December 23, 2011, Washington, DC: And so it begins for so many people. This annual trek. This long drive home for the holidays. Nobody wants to see a photo of the New Jersey Turnpike. No one wants to be reminded of that short stretch of Delaware that’s inevitably oh so long. Instead, picture a cheerful Woody wagon venturing out for a happy surf trip, playing Christmas tunes through a piney wood of sparkly white lights. There. A much more pleasant depiction of holiday travel.
And yet what would this annual ritual be without planes, trains and automobiles? It’s hard to remember what it was like to stay put for the holidays. For those of us who don’t live near family, this is routine. This is comforting. This is part of the holiday experience. We pack our bags and we head out. It’s what we’re used to. It’s what we do.