I just spent two weeks in Montréal, and it has left me perplexed and frustrated. Not the place itself — I absolutely loved it. Which is exactly the problem.
Prior to this vacation, I have been to various places around the world as well as to 48 of the 50 United States. I wouldn’t say I’m a super-experienced traveler, but I’ve been around. I’ve been to many places that I thought were quite wonderful, many places I didn’t want to leave: Joshua Tree, Ireland, and Kahuai, for example. But I never saw another place I could really see living in other than Oakland — until I saw Montréal.
Montréal appeared to have everything that Oakland had, and more. It had the down-to-earth people, the diversity, and the arts that I love about Oakland. In addition to that, it had very low crime, a lessened discrepancy between rich and poor, cops without guns, a truly bilingual population, and the lovely knowledge that taxes did not fund endless, futile wars. I have to consider for the first time that there might just be a place better than Oakland.
Now, one thing Oakland has that Montréal is a perfect Mediterranean climate and great natural beauty. This is the quality of Oakland that makes me feel most at home. When I walk through our hills on just another perfect, beautiful day (like today), I feel completely attached to and part of the surroundings. This is a feeling I don’t get in other places. The East Bay hills feel like home in a way nowhere else does, even though I didn’t grow up here.
I also live in a place where murders happen almost every day, and where the government also chooses to use violence and murder as its main tool to deal with disagreements with other countries. We are fairly unaware of the level of stress we live under because of the violent nature of our world. I saw in Montréal an ease among people that one just doesn’t see here. People thought nothing of going into a darkly lit park at 11pm, sitting down on the grass, and sharing a bottle of wine. I’m not just talking about young people, either. I experienced this myself with a ground of ten people ages 35-65, and was just amazed that this issue of safety did not even come up.
Part of me now fantasizes of moving to Montréal, and part of me knows I could never leave my home. K and I have often discussed leaving the U.S. when things get too bad, but what is “too bad”? We’re already spied on by the government, and no longer have any rights in terms of being searched or imprisoned if our government decides we are a threat. Getting on a plane means being treated like a hardened criminal. And it’s only getting worse — here come the drones!
I am so far unable to resolve this issue in myself. I’m going to have to think about it a lot. For now, I just feel pretty uncomfortable in a strange, existential way that leaves me a little bit sad.
Here’s an article (written back in 2008) about Canada that touches on some other issues:
How Canada Stole the American Dream