First (and lasting) impressions of a new city

Could I be one of the few people in the world who can change planes twice, change airlines once, travel for a cumulative total of 25 hours and yet still manage to feel fresh on arrival? I think even I was surprised. I don’t really want to brag much more, but I spent each flight in a middle seat and an elbow cast, a consequence of an ill-timed fall on the soccer pitch just a week before my flight from Australia.

Why go through such bother? Why did I decide to come to Montreal for grad school?

There is no single answer, but for reasons I will cover in later posts, Montreal, McGill and the Institute of Air and Space Law were the right fit for me at the right time. What are my first impressions of Montreal? Though these are now changing as I get to know the city like a local (I’ve been here for over two months now!), what struck me first about this city is its walkability. I spent the first week here (Orientation Week, the week before Fall term started) in a hostel near the Berri-UQAM Metro stop, and took the opportunity to walk everywhere I could to find my bearings and to take in the city. I advise everyone to take this approach, not just in Montreal but whenever travelling to a city you haven’t been to. By all means let your map guide you, but also let your feet, your eyes and your other senses direct you.

I walked to McGill for the first time. With the exception of Service Point, everywhere on campus during Orientation Week seemed eerily quiet. Upon reflection, I came to realise that this limbo time would have served as the best time to prepare for the upcoming term. It was then that I took my first look around the Law Library. We have become great friends since then.

There is something about the smell of books and libraries, and in particular, law libraries, that brings out the true bookworm in me. When I go to libraries I instantly feel like an explorer or a treasure hunter. It is an exciting feeling that amongst the tens or hundreds of thousands of books and millions or billions of words on offer there are little gold nuggets of information just waiting for you to sift  out. Or perhaps I just prefer to focus on the second limb of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said: “We are too civil to books. For a few golden sentences we will turn over and actually read a volume of four or five hundred pages.”

I’ve noticed something else about Montreal, unfamiliar to me.  At times it seems impossible to turn a street corner in this city without getting a full whiff of a certain recreational (and for some Canadians, a possibly medicinal) drug. I remarked on this to a friend who recently visited and has been living in New York for the last couple of years. She chuckled and referred to it as the ‘scent of New York City’. So perhaps it’s an East Coast North America thing.

I often find the greatest clarity in my first impressions, yet Montreal is difficult to define Perhaps the already unhealthy periods of time I have spent in the library since I have been here  are clouding my perspective. Or maybe it’s those clouds of smoke congregating on street corners affecting my perception. It is clear enough to me already that Montreal is a multicultural city of many layers. I look forward to peeling them away to find more little gold nuggets before I leave.

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