I’ve lived in big cities and small villages, and I have to say I’ve liked both. The only place I never want to live again is in between – in the suburbs.
Some people have very strong preferences, I know; they’re city mice or country mice, as the parable goes.
My dream is to live where I am now, in the country, by the river, where there’s no traffic and plenty of parking, but have a pied-à-terre in the city. Ideally, more than one. We’re dreaming here, remember. It would be like having a cottage, but in reverse.
A friend of mine had one. He was living in Aylmer, working in Montreal, so he rented a nice place in Plateau Montreal for workdays. A colleague lived in a farmhouse outside Alexandria and kept an apartment in Montreal for the occasional night out. The closest my wife Dianne and I come is our son’s apartment along Ave. Beaubien in Montreal, amidst restaurants and bars and cafés and boutiques and one of the best-stocked dépanneurs I’ve ever seen – it even has a wine-tasting bar.
Although I enjoy the calm of Bay Road in L’Orignal, where I can sit peacefully on the dock staring out at the river or jump in the kayak – when it’s not hunting season – or hop on my bike for a ride to Lefaivre or Vankleek Hill without risking my life, I certainly miss some aspects of city life. Not traffic. Not parking.
What I miss most, on a daily basis, are the cafés. I love coffee, the ritual as much as the beverage. For me, a café represents a chance to escape the house, be around other people, to chill with a book or a magazine, or visit with a friend. I love restaurants and wine bars and pubs and bookstores, and just walking about busy streets, people-watching, gazing into store windows. When my wife Dianne and I travel, we rarely use public transit, preferring to meander, even if we’re exhausted and footsore by the end of the day. Time to find a café!
In Montreal, my ideal grocery shop is a late-summer morning at Marché Jean-Talon, when all the local produce has arrived, in all its bright colors, and as I stroll about – weighed down with my shopping bags – I take in the sights, the sounds, the smells: the lemon being squeezed on the raw oysters outside the fish market, or the alluring pungency of the cheese shops.
If you get the impression by now that I like Montreal – our kids tease me about it – that’s not the only place I crave. I discovered New York City late in life, and while I didn’t warm to it at first, subsequent visits have unveiled to me the parts of Manhattan where I can imagine spending some very pleasant time. Some friends once rented an apartment for a month on the Upper West Side; I want to do that too. Another option would be Lisbon. Maybe this surprises you – it surprised me at first – but our one visit there, particularly to the fascinating Alfama district with all its idiosyncratic laneways and street art and friendly people, charmed us. Being invited to join a community Fado festival, with tasty petiscos and cold beer, had something to do with it.
Of course, there are places around here I love equally well – the very reason I prefer to straddle the urban and the rural. There’s a craft brewery with a welcoming terrace in Vankleek Hill that you may know, and a little restaurant on the main street which makes an ideal destination for bike rides with our friends. There’s a dépanneur in Grenville with an astonishing selection of craft beers. There’s a menswear shop in downtown Hawkesbury that, if I don’t stay away from, will necessitate a bank loan. And did I mention no traffic and lots of free parking?
There are fall fairs and festivals – baked beans, cheese curd, potatoes, rubber ducks – farms where you can buy directly from the producers, and quiet country roads that I prefer to the highways, and eventually lead to the same places.
It all adds up to why, in fact, that I can’t choose, that I can’t be either a city mouse or a country mouse. Of course, if the pied-à-terre is ever going to happen, I’d better get at it. Maybe I should find a café and leaf through the real-estate ads.