A Good Book at the Right Time.
by Renée Layberry
When I was twenty, I had a frothy dream that I’d discarded right when I was on the cusp of acting upon it. This dream haunted me over the ensuing years as I struggled within an unhappy, ill-advised marriage and the exhaustion of parenthood. What was the dream? Well, I’d wanted to move from Toronto to Montréal, live in an apartment that had a wrought-iron balcony, learn French, and live a fabulous Montréal life. Instead, I’d married too young and ended up in BC. I’d think of my old dream sometimes whilst drinking a glass of red wine, feeling maudlin and listening to Blue Rodeo’s Casino album as the rain pelted the windows.
Disoriented from the eventual death of my fourteen-year-old marriage, I journeyed from rural Vancouver Island to Toronto as I stumbled back to my hometown, seeking the impetuous version of myself that I’d left behind in 1990. The autumn of 2005 found me back in the city, but the young waif I’d been was nowhere to be found. She was gone for good.
My new friend Warren (a writer and bookseller in Ottawa whom I’d met in an online writer’s forum in the summer of 2006) listened patiently as I waxed poetic about my old dream of cobblestone streets and the inherent sexiness that permeated all things Montréal. He was such a good friend, in fact, that he took the train from Ottawa to Toronto one day and helped me load up my U-Haul for the drive east, only two days after Christmas. I was finally moving to Montréal, albeit sixteen years late.
Once in la belle province, I crashed temporarily in a cramped, roach-infested bachelor suite in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. It was so cold that my face hurt. My honeymoon with Montréal was turbulent, but I was in love with the city despite being broke, frozen, and clumsy at communicating in French.
Soon it was spring, and Warren attended an author’s brunch at the Black Tomato in Ottawa where he met Montréal writer Yves Beauchemin, author of Charles the Bold. He described how I’d finally followed my dream of moving to Montréal and had him sign a hardcover copy of this book—specifically for me—which he surprised me with shortly after. Suffice it to say that Warren found Montréal exceptionally sexy during that visit.
I devoured Beauchemin’s book and identified with the protagonist, Charles, who was born in 1966, just three years before me. Through the story, I saw Montréal in a new light, one that made more sense than my soft-focus, music video fantasies of old. It was then that I first learned what “two solitudes” meant, and it defined the next few years of my life.
A month after reading Charles the Bold, I moved out of anglophone Notre-Dame-de-Grâce to francophone Villeray, where I finally had my wrought-iron balcony. My French improved, and I walked to and from the Marché Jean-Talon on a daily basis. Four months later, Warren relocated from Ottawa to Montréal; by then we’d fallen in love and moved in together, exploring the city and loving it all exactly as it was. We froze together; we took the Métro together; we bought baguettes and fromage from the marché together; we took French classes at an employment centre in Little Burgundy together—though, admittedly, he alone was the one who shovelled the snow from our wrought-iron balcony and winding staircase.
A year later, we were engaged to be married; two years after that, we exchanged vows on a beach on Vancouver Island, where we now live relatively snow-free.