I returned to Montreal in 2008 after fifteen years away and my homecoming has made me think about the idea of having a place that I call home. I admire those modern day nomads who seem to be able to pull up roots and live anywhere, but I until recently I haven’t fully understood them because it seems that they have either learned to live without holding some true home in their heart — and I can’t believe such a thing — or they have learned to carry the possibility of home with them. And by this I do not mean that they carry bits and pieces of their home with them — the idea of the business man travelling with a picture of his children to put on his hotel night table — but that we carry with us the power of turning where we are into a kind of outpost of the home we love.
When I left Montreal in 1992 the first thing I did after landing in Tennessee and going to my hotel was to sit and weep at what I had lost. Later in 2001, when I went to Fredericton, I spent my first full night there sitting and smoking outside the closed up bus station downtown because it somehow felt like the closest place I could find to Montreal. But eventually I found a way to call Nashville and Fredericton home. And now that I have returned to my true place in the world I understand how. My memories, my images of what was beautiful and what made me happy had been created and fixed in me long before I left Montreal, and so I went to find the spirit of Montreal wherever I could, even if that spirit were only a fleeting moment. The farmer’s market in Fredericton is no Atwater Market, but the sense of community was there, the happy overproximity of people, the crowd from which a friendly face could always emerge. In Nashville there would be concerts in Riverfront Park, and on certain warm summer nights filled with music the turn-of-the century warehouse buildings along First Avenue would make me think of walking down Rue de la Commune in Old Montreal. I found myself recasting the world in the colours and shapes of Montreal: the way a streetlight illuminated a doorway, a storefront that reminded me of a depanneur in Outremont, a dash of architectural brio in a Nashville highrise at night. And sometimes, even in this city to which I longed to return, I find myself remembering my adopted cities and those moments of happiness. And now I understand those brave souls who leave their homes to start afresh. They too find the unexpected flashes of their old home in their new one. They find those moments, give them space, and in the end, give themselves, or give themselves back, a world.