i found it so weird being
at home, because
nothing had changed,
and it was like canada
was this weird fantasy world
that i surely hands [hadn’t]
lived in for four months
but totally had
like when the pevensie
children spend their
whole lives in narnia then
come out and it’s the
moment after they went
which is comforting but
also so so strange espies [especially]
when we link identity with
space and development
with travel idk
speaking shit as per
Yeah I guess it is
sometimes nice because it gives you
the confidence that you can always leave
but it also kind of reminds me that life
there isn’t always everything life can be,
because someone else, somewhere is in the wardrobe.
I’m sat on an amtrak train, breathing mist on the window pane (I definitely did not draw a penis). The scene plays out on mute. I’m staring out at a lapping lake that cradles the upturned sky. Branches reach out of its surface; water rings form a vortex. The spine of these branches stretch out from a previous time, their brambled fingers splaying like a baby’s fist. Hushed rods are cast, waiting patiently for the catch while birds glide overhead in weightless flight.
I slurp a luke-warm Tim Hortons coffee until the liquid line is low enough for me to no longer be considered a universal liability. There’s already a coffee stain on my right thigh. I’ve just bookmarked my page on page 350, chapter 18 of Sapiens, a book that I was given at the 3653 rue University Secret Santa Christmas bonanza by my dear and disciplined housemate, Tyan. I’ve just finished a section on very basic economics and I feel blistering steam puffing from my ears, which means it’s time for a long, well-deserved break.
It’s a clichéd parallel really, reflecting in the brain and the train window. On the way down to New York for a post-exam getaway, the first four hours of my journey were spent sitting in an armchair of thoughts, cushions in which I sank deeper and deeper, trying to process the people and the place that I had just left behind me. The locomotive as a liminal space between destinations, physically and/or mentally speaking, allows you to take a glance backward, with the knowledge that you’re moving forward. Trains are pretty sympathetic in that way, I guess. They allow and contain remembrance.
I’m heading back to Montréal for the last time for now. Sunset’s approaching and I’ll soon see the high rise on the horizon line. Montréal simmers with a variety of life, a melting pot of cultures, making it a very kind, considerate and welcoming city; even immersed in the fast-paced rush of the downtown city-scape, I never felt suffocated. The heart of the high rise sprawls outwards in vein-like, tree-lined streets, quaintly shaping plateau and old port. The architecture, the houses, the very bricks of the city, stand in testament to Montréal’s social diversity.
Soon I will stumble up University street (the well-trodden road that never got easier), and McGill will lie to my left, cheering me on as I clamber to the top with a slight sweat. A few years and panted breaths later, I will nod to the faded sign of 3653, then I will look up at the porch roof from which icicles used to salivate. I will finally peak through the door which will open to a bursting and bouncing melange of memories; I will wonder when exactly this house became my home. Because, at that moment, it will feel as if it’s never been any different.
sorry definitely did not
intend to send the
Did you find that that
changed how you saw your home
it didn’t necessarily
change how i felt in my
home, it didn’t feel less
like a home but it felt like
there were so many more
places that could be and
bristol is kind of another
home anyway, but it was
a slow burning
attachment, canada was
so much stronger
but i think thats because
of having a whole world
crowded into one exciting space
or at least a lot of one
Yeah that makes sense
We did fit an awful lot
Of the world into that
On my last day in Montréal, I was taken to Leonard Cohen’s house, at 28 Rue de Vallieres. It’s one of the houses lining the Parc du Portugal. It’s just opposite Rue Marie-Anne, which a fan so brilliantly edited to fit the spirit of the square:
The windows are covered in photos of Leonard throughout his life, and it’s a peaceful celebration of a man whose music has breathed life into the lungs of Montréal. Though this house is certainly Leonard’s house, I think it’s his music that made this house, and his Montréal, a home.
His lilting tones have underscored my time in Montréal; the changing seasons seem to mimic the way Cohen’s voice transformed over time, from the higher toned lethargy and alluring charisma of a young and passionate poet, then melting into the rumbling gravel of the “man with the golden voice.” He, like Montréal, snowed you under as the years went by. He made Montreal’s mad weather actually make some sense. He always brought a warmth to mind, even when my body was freezing cold.
(And, seriously, it was f****** cold. My second term felt like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when it’s always winter but never Christmas because Christmas had already happened yet it was still bed sheets for miles. It was tricky, but Montréal prides itself on efficient management of extreme weather conditions. You get a single snowflake in England and it might as well have heralded the apocalypse. So good on you, Montréal.)
A number of us went to the MAC exhibition to mark a year since Cohen’s passing, as well as the tribute concert organized by his son, Adam Cohen. My theatre professor at the time was certainly not exaggerating when he remarked that Leonard’s spirit was indexed, alive and present in his son’s performance that night.
The museum, the bell center, and 28 Rue de Vallieres have all housed Cohen, yet the home he made of Montréal surpasses walls, doors, floors and ceilings. His spirit, his music and his words linger in the kind-hearted life on street corners. The enveloping counterpoint and tidal chord progressions of Suzanne do really “take you down” the winding streets of Montréal; the streets carry you through a spontaneous meandering while staying in the assurance of grid form; it was always easy to find your way back home.
But realising that you
can have more homes
but also like, people can
Seasickness kind of sucks. Because it’s not immediate, it’s not over and done with once you’ve chucked it all up. It’s underlying and enduring and will last for however long you’re out at sea. But seasickness is also kind of magical. It’s cured as soon as you reach the mouth of the river, or set foot on shore.
I think homesickness is similar to seasickness. That too is a more deeply ingrained sense of nausea (called nostalgia), where the cure is only found in being elsewhere. I was certainly homesick when I came back across the Atlantic to England as, although I was returning to my first home, there was another newer home that I was leaving behind.
Homesickness makes up more than the sum of a few houses, for houses are just vessels; real homes are made of people, friends, and family. I am not simply homesick for Montréal, but I am homesick for everyone who kindled the flame of 3653 and who kept one another warm, throughout summer blush, autumnal bruising, winter blankets, and the weather-torn aftermath. And that feeling is wanting to (as Cohen again so eloquently puts) laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.
But if homesickness is made out of multiplicity, then surely that makes it incurable, because there’s no way to recapture the geographical, temporal and personal context and composite complexity of what made Montréal the home it became. Yet I don’t feel like I’m lacking or emptied. On the contrary, I feel full to the brim.
So perhaps homesickness is actually a positive pull. I may not be able to go back to a particular home right now, but there is still a literal world wide web of homes that are now scattered all over the globe (Ireland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Netherlands, Mexico, Chile, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, gah). And that’s pretty exciting if you ask me.
What’s important about homesickness is not to allow yourself to get dragged under by the nostalgic undercurrent. It can be so easy to try and live in and through the past that it stops you from enjoying the present moment. As with most things in my life, I can usually find the answer in Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh (and the Te of Piglet), one of the best books in the whole wide world:
“Then what day is it?” asked Owl, “Its today!” squeaked Piglet, “My favourite day,” said Pooh.
See, Pooh wields some pretty good wisdom here. A critical comparison of days and eras and times in our personal lives can be disgruntling; the glorification of an ostensibly “golden age” will ultimately lead to an unsatisfactory and unhappy present. But if this past is used productively, say like the Italian humanists transformed their nostalgia for antiquity to fuel cultural innovation (yeah I studied Renaissance history this year and what), then the past can be used as armour, a shielded means of protection within the forward momentum required to make new milestones for yourself. To quote Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: “the world only spins forward.” So I will use my thankfully incurable homesickness as ammunition for my final year of my university and beyond.
And even if too much nostalgic immersion can be damaging to one’s sense of mindful presence, I don’t think there’s any harm in dipping your toe in the waves every now and then. And that sensation never fails to be sparked by this song: the soothing sound of homesickness:
and that’s a nice thought
because then you don’t even need a house
but houses are also ncie
even the rat-infested 3653
My slightly sweaty hand closes around my student card and I pull it out from my pocket.
Laura and I brush past me, on their way out to dinner and DMCs. They cross Holly and I who reenter the heat of the house, after another trek and breather up Mont Royal. I see Sophie and me, wet-haired and tired out from yet another granny swim and gossip.
I see myself stomping down to the basement, missing a step as I go, occasionally using the banister to see how far down I can fly.
I see Siubhan and I collapsed in hysterics on the staircase, our shrieks resounding and rising to the top floor.
I hear the Whatsapp notification letting us know that Keno’s baked us Pretzels and that they’re ready on third, and I hear the scheduled rush of Sarah ascending to salt-sprinkled heaven.
I run into the basement and see handstands and cartwheels and opened blue ribbons and broken tables and snails on leaf plates and Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Holly gracefully falling into left-leg splits; I’ll never forget the look of horror on Tyan’s face when she did that.
I walk up the stairs and see a sticker on my left inscribed with “Chris Chile,” already full of blessings and sideways glances. Red balloons creep around corners, and I still hear the night-time swing of Ed Southall’s hefty punch.
Opening the door to my floor, the second floor, (the best floor), I see the gaping hole in our ceiling as well as rusted mousetraps set and still ready to pounce.
I see all the porridge oats and podcasts and (p)Nicolas Laloux that have been consumed over the course of the entire year. I see many lucky pots and philosophical Sunday chats, and Prince Harry and Meghan nestling in a pine nest of the Christmas tree. I see happy meals and I see depressing meals (and I’m mainly looking at Daylin). I see Morgan Clark (the best medic ever to be) helping me to time and to punctuate the rhythms of my 20 hour poetry exam. I see chess games with Harry Bett on it and I see my birthday decorations and a shit load of washing up to be done. I hear the diminuendo of a saxophone and favourite moments of films buzzing around brains.
I see Lenin, Marx, Mao, Castro, Stalin and Johann Sebastian Bach.
I walk into my room, number 23 (shit I’ve just turned 21), and watch movies, popcorn, pages and people. I hear an incomprehensible tenor voice coming from the shower room. I see myself frantically finishing an essay at my desk before packing in a panic (for my spring break getaway where I would ski for the first time, and stay in an auberge ran by a man called Maurice and an old pup called Lily who made us feel so at home. I feel Laura’s sprained ankle). I hear too much singing and sometimes too many thoughts (or a lack thereof), but I also hear many peaceful nights, hungover sleepovers, and a whole lot of excitement for the days to come.
I go back to the kitchen, nodding to a dead cockroach along the way, and turn the second-floor tables upside down. I read the story we left behind. I wonder if anyone will ever find it again.
I let Leonard lullaby as I grab the sharpie Anna left for me on the counter, pocketing thirty Icelandic krona while drinking a korona, and start to write the names of the 3653 veterans of 2017-18 on the underbelly of the other table. To let these ghosts live on.