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Country mouse, city mouse

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.

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Mike Gasher

Mike Gasher is a former newspaper reporter and editor and taught for two decades as a journalism professor at Concordia University in Montreal. He has published several books and academic articles on journalism and the media, including the textbook Media and Communication in Canada. Now retired, he lives in L'Orignal.

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