Lonely in London

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So many times I have packed and unpacked, moving along to new cities in a effort to constantly feel alive, to make my dreams come true and to fulfill my inner free spirit. Every time I move to a new place to live, there is a big reality check coming along with it. Effectively, I need to learn how to live all over again. I need to understand the city and its culture. I need to meet the right people with which I will have meaningful relationships. I need to know the spots to buy cheap and tasty groceries, the cool cafés, the best parks, the splendid street art. It might seem easy and of course, it is blissful to stroll through new cities to discover new haunts. Alas, it is quite another thing to settle down in an unfamiliar place.

I just arrived in London, Ontario to start a Master in Journalism. I will stay here for one year and I already knew before leaving that it would be quite a challenge for me as a big-city girl that feels comfortable either in the countryside or in the city. I’ve always had trouble being in a small town or a suburb, as I feel that difference is more or less accepted. Despite having lived in London UK, Vancouver and Erlangen in Germany, moving somewhere else is always a challenge, even if it is the tenth time you’ve done it. It always means starting over.

Before leaving Montreal, I felt heavy, as though my past was weighing on my shoulders. As I was sifting through drawers of stuff from my twenty-five years on Earth, I reflected upon the fact that in life, nothing is forever and objects eventually have to live another life or disintegrate. I also pondered upon past trends, old friends, and my very identity.

It took weeks to sort things out. I had to make sure that I didn’t throw away useful stuff, or worse, keep too much. I have been moving apartments every year and downgrading in size, but I knew that this was my ultimate move. I’m going away to study now but I don’t plan on coming back to Montreal after I’m done. We’ll see where I’ll find my true calling (New York?).

Right now, I feel torn between missing my friends and my city and knowing fully well that I need to move forward in life and that my time in London will not exceed twelve months. I am now living in an apartment without internet (a devastating misunderstanding with the girl I rented the room from) which makes me feel insanely alone, helpless and empty. It makes me realize that this is a wonderful opportunity to stop and breathe but especially, reflect.

When I arrived in my first apartment in Vancouver at seventeen, I had constant insomnia despite being an usually sound sleeper. I could not fall asleep because I was highly receptive of the melancholy and sadness of life, and the fear of being alone and starting anew was keeping me awake at night. I felt miles away, physically and psychologically, from my loved ones. I still feel the same kind of restless anxiety years later as I’m trying to calm my nerves by myself, without being able to call anyone or say anything. In that case, writing is the only thing that really helps, in an effort to open up a conversation.

I remember when I was living in Erlangen and my bedroom was by the window. Evidently, as it was summer and that there were picnic tables just outsides, engineering dudes used to drink beer and speak loudly when I was trying to sleep. A similar pattern was happening last night, as my apartment was vibrating from loud music and that shouting from drunk dudes was coming across. When times are though and that I feel grumpy, I’m trying to be grateful nevertheless, otherwise life would be too melodramatic.

Yesterday was rainy and I walked kilometres in the windy and rainy weather to go downtown. I stopped at the river where I watched the geese swimming and listened to the water flowing down. I also saw street art under the bridge. I kept walking to see a clothing store that I was surprised had an outlet in London. I was in much need of retail therapy although it had to be a cheap session, given my financial circumstances. I got a new shirt, earrings and a badass women of hip-hop colouring book. I paid for my items and left the store to spot, right across the corner, a lady in front of Wine Rack with a sign written ‘‘Free Tasting’’ on it. What better way to invite people in? I came in and started talking to Megan, as her name tag suggested. She made me try two wines and a cider and listened to my newly-arrived desperate tale. She helped me with directions and encouraged me to come again on my way back.

I kept walking with the humidity making my bones shiver. The mix of bad weather, sadness and poor architecture was putting me in a bad mood again. In a shop window on which was written ‘‘free henna tattoos’’, I saw a girl rocking multicolor dreadlocks. I thought she looked cool but especially, that she looked like an individual in a city where people tend to look the same. I was tempted to go in but she was busy with somebody else. I thus kept walking, failing to find a grocery store.

I was downtown and there was a lenghty line-up to enter a comic book store. People were either disguised or wearing normal attire, and it made for quite a scene. As I kept walking, I ran into heaps of hobos, and I felt that I had hit rock bottom for the day. Despair was seizing me, and I knew that I had to head back. Walking on the same street again, I finally entered the elusive store, where I was greeted by two sunny ladies. I sat down with the dreadlock girl for a henna tattoo and we started to chat. It did not take long to realize that we were both from Montreal and felt quite different here. That conversation brought about a much-needed feeling of acceptance and relief. I knew right then and there that I was going to be friends with that girl. We spoke French and it was so comforting to let my guard down. She invited me to an 80s night tonight and even if I have school tomorrow, I’ll probably check it out.

Following that moving encounter, I went to the Covent Garden Market and got quite long-faced when I realized that organic food in London was way more expensive than in large cities such as Montreal or Toronto. Upon talking to a lady in the store, I got a list of other organic stores in the area. She winked at me when I was walking around, and I was so thankful to her for understanding the situation and sending positive vibes my way. It calmed me down to realize how people could be lovely. I know that I will make friends here, but I’ll just have to find my tribe, like anywhere else. I might be alone right now, but it’s an occasion to reflect and open up headspace for new experiences.

If I do feel lonely, I can open up a box of photographs, look at the pictures on my walls, or else at the henna tattoo on my hand. I’ll have to be brave, but I’ll be able to go through this, once again. Hopefully, the dudes downstairs did quiet down around eleven and I slept like a baby for twelve hours. I woke up to a sunny morning. As a French saying goes, ‘‘après la pluie, le beau temps’’.*
*After rain comes beautiful weather. 


Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Autoroute 10, 2013 by the talented Olivier Gariépy. http://ogariepy.tumblr.com/

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Misfortune Cookie?

Interesting

I cracked it open with the expected curiosity one has when handed a fortune cookie. On New Year’s Day with the annual need to reinvent myself I guess I was hoping for something really inspiring to emerge from the sweet interior of that cookie and there it was. “You will always live in interesting times.” Was that a fortune or a curse? The week leading up to the cookie I was without power for five days. I lost one of the most important presences in my life, and did I mention I was made victim of a New Year’s Eve flasher. That’s right, while waiting for a designated driver to pick my friends and I up; a man approached our parked vehicle junk in hand and just stood there exposed in negative 30 degree cold. I don’t know if I was more frightened or concerned. Frost bite can happen.

I will always live in interesting times? Do I have to? Can’t I please get a resting period of normal? Normal isn’t really something I have ever experienced. To me, “normal” would be super ‘interesting.” By that I mean another person’s level of normal. My normal is abnormal.

The strange thing is I don’t know how “Interesting” happened to my life. I remember I started out normal. I remember being as young as five wanting a baby doll because when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was “A Mom.” I thought it was the best job. Taking care of a family and making sure they’re happy. I loved that. The response I got from grown-ups were along the lines of “I mean for a job.” I really thought that was an occupation. When I found out it wasn’t, I spent years deciding what I wanted to be when I grow up. In fact I am still figuring it out.

I mean things that were considered normal have all evolved past that. I really wish that wasn’t the case. Sure women are now given freedom to vote and work, but any woman who just wanted to have a family is now considered crazy, clingy and the admission of such wants mean those wants will not come to fruition and that woman in question will spend many years accumulating large number of pets to nurture, like rabbits or gerbils so she can be around come sort of babies. This result is also not normal.

I want to know why submitting to our base desires and purpose is considered shameful. We live in a world where a woman can twerk on a douchey beetlejuice impersonator and that is considered hot and the sentence dream girl can be applied to such a person, but for a woman to say I want stability, I want a real job. I someday want marriage and babies is the new taboo?

Now after reading that I assume you’re imaging matronly women psychotically planning their wedding pinterest board, but that is not the case. To have a solid idea of what they want in a certain timeline is an admirable and brave quality. I want to stop waking up and wondering where the shirt I am wearing came from. I want to not have 3 am text messages from guys named Steve asking if I have ever heard of a Cincinnati Bowtie! I want to be a good girl with a plan. I want to be proud of knowing what I want. I want people to not be afraid to say that they have had enough adventure. I’m not saying that I want to settle down right this second but I would really like to see it in the distance and know that one day this wild ride will take me down the freeway of carefree happiness with a super amazing car filled with love.

I’m not afraid to say this. It’s what I want. If you don’t like it, get out of the car. Who knew a fortune cookie could bring on such an epiphany?

Andrea Holz is a Toronto-based award winning writer, actress, comedian and coffee master. 

New York, New You!

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I grab every chance I get to whisk away on an escapade. I tend to plan out big on a tiny budget (and also, unfortunately, to max out my credit card) but nevertheless, I make a lot of mileage out of my trips. This summer, my vacation was short and sweet: a total of nine days. The first part, and the one this story is about, concerns a fabulous four-day trip in New York City, where I was heading to see a queer show performed by a couple of great friends and to stay with a friend of my best friend’s.

The following Friday, my exhausting work week finally came to an end. I went straight from the car of my cool-cat colleague to a gigantic red van packed with luggage and five colourful individuals: three French girls, a French young professional as well as our dedicated driver, a Belarusian piano player undertaking a Ph.D. in music. Given the plethora of my fellow passenger’s visa situations, we were held in the stark little gray room with stinky lavatories known as the American customs. An hour and a half later, we were handed back our passports and our verdict (the French had to pay seven US dollars to cross the border), and we were finally free to go and grab the van’s keys. We rolled through the idyllic hilly Adirondacks with the sun slowly fading and the sunset creating undertones of pink and orange. We made it to the Big Apple at the very classy time of 2: 30 AM in the heat wave on garbage day, which made me smirk: I forgot about New York City’s difficult density. We were dropped off on the Upper West Side at 163rd Street station/Amsterdam Avenue. I had to go all the way down to NoHo (North of Houston) but at least I had company: the three Frenchwomen, who tried elegantly but surely to find their way by pointing on the Subway map (as French tourists tend to do anywhere in the world). The lost tourist effect worked like a charm. The following stop, an ultra-glamorous black woman came into the wagon, wearing a long red dress and a bejeweled turban of the same cloth. She assured us, in a very elegant French (she was from Benin, Africa) that we were in the right direction. She talked to us in that soothing voice of hers for a couple subway stops until disappearing into the night, wishing us a fantastic evening.

A couple minutes later…

I start to feel fabulous despite my exhaustion and I am psyched to be here. I am already in a New York state of mind (talking to everyone and being willing to see and be seen) when I get out of the subway station around 14th street with one French lady. Drunk boys keep bugging me and my new friend, asking obnoxious drunk questions and saying silly sexual sentences like ‘’oh, you are French! Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’’ . Seriously, dude!

I cross wonderful Washington Square, feeling knackered but insanely free and awestruck by the massive white arch, a very common feature in large European cities (Paris, London, Barcelona, to name a few) but very special nevertheless. I am on my way to Gregory’s apartment, my new host, a man I have yet to meet and greet. The only information I have from him thus far comes in the form of a text-message on my new friend’s cheap phone explaining that he is gone to an after-party in Brooklyn and that I shall find the keys under the rug. Next thing I know, I am in the hall of an apartment building rummaging under the carpet looking for keys. I am worried that some tenants will think that I am a hobo (cue the traveller’s backpack, the bandana and the double denim short-and-shirt combo) trying to break in, but there is no one around. I find a single key, which takes me into the block. I find the apartment’s door and I push it slightly to find it unlocked. The apartment itself is a classic New York City closet apartment. It consists of a small kitchen and a large bedroom filled with amazing drawings, paintings and collages. There is art material all over the place and a library well stocked with a myriad of contemporary art books (from Drawing with Children to Street Art in Berlin). It smells of weed interlaced with Air Conditioning and I have a feeling that I am going to like this guy. I am just falling asleep on the badly inflated mat on the floor when I hear the door opening. I get up to greet my new host and we hug instantly. He tells me about his night

‘’-Oh! It was terrible. We went all the way to Brooklyn to this warehouse party and it was fucking empty and I just spent about sixty dollars on cab and tickets… But whatever, it’s over now. Now, do you smoke weed?’’

The next day, we start the day with a healthy breakfast in Washington Square. We grab coffee and watermelon, food we eat while people-watching and listening to some fellows playing percussions. Our initial activity of the day is to go on the hunt at flea markets. My mission: to find a decent soul record (by a black artist, specifically) for my co-worker. We get lucky right away: there is an outdoor flea market with milk crates full of records. I find one produced by Quincy Jones, so I assume it is mind-blowing: Right on Time by the Johnson Brothers. We are on our way out when Greg runs into somebody he knows: a very stylish black guy around his mid-thirties. The reaction is sudden: ‘’this record’s good!’’ I know I made the right choice right there and then. I am thankful I picked a quality record and I return the compliment when I see that he is wearing dapper black leather boat shoes.

”I love your shoes! Very dapper!”

”Thank you!”

As we are on our way to the second market of the day, I am walking with Right On Time on top of my head. Two handsome and muscular black men, the packing crew, are chilling in front of the opened garage doors where the market takes place. One of them yells: ‘’now, walk back!’’. I walk backwards and do a 360 degrees turn to everyone’s cheer. Without missing a beat, I ask them: ‘’are you guys able to do this?’’. I show them the panda face, where one’s hand go around their eyes upside down like funny-shaped glasses. They do it instantly, and we all share a belly laugh before entering the market. This moment is so fun and these men make me very happy with their wonderful enthusiasm. This is exactly the kind of moment that underlines the sense of no-frills encounters that permeates New York City life.

Leaving the second market, we stroll along the Highline, a unique perspective of the city where sidewalks and skyscrapers are seen from a different perspective: for once, one is between high and low. At some point, we go down the track to wander around the Chelsea gallery district. We pop into this gallery with a desk dedicated to ‘’create your own mandala’’. Being the super-crafty people that we are, we sit down and start drawing. Both our mandalas showcase our personality: Greg incorporates graffiti art and I leave a love note ”from a Montreal lady”. We wander around a couple more exhibitions, read artist statements and comment on the technique used: it is a pleasure to check out galleries with an amazing art connoisseur.

As the sun is slowly fading out, we stop by Greg’s pad to subsequently go out: we decide to do a bar tour to go drink and dance. First, we go to this cool bar full of young professionals where I try the Blue Moon for the first time, a refreshing white American beer, then to a gallery where we watch art and dance to Get Lucky by Daft Punk (among other joyful hits), and finally to this low-key bar filled with pool tables and young people. We meet two enthusiastic cousins from Queens and we kid around with them, sipping on two dollar beers. We finally get back to the apartment knackered and pleased with our entertaining evening. We talk some more and finally fall asleep at five o’clock in the morning.

The next day, we take over Brooklyn (We Go Hard). Given Greg’s appreciation for markets, we stop in a few where I get great items: a beige blazer for 1$ and red snakeskin sunglasses for 20$. It is time for a pee and an afternoon drink, so Greg makes me discover Sand Bar, an awesome place where sand covers both the indoor and outdoor floors and tiki influence reigns supreme. While drinking our Mexican beers, the waiter accidently spills sauce on the floor and my leg. As a non-fuzzy customer and an ex-waitress, I totally understand. It turns me and Greg’s conversation to past jobs, recalling mishaps and mistakes. The waiter, a funny and sweet fellow in his mid-twenties, comes back with a beer ”on the house, for being so cool about it”. Here’s to having a positive attitude!

That night, Greg goes to his brother’s and I head back to Brooklyn. I get off at Carroll Gardens and walk endlessly. I am strolling, without realizing it, in direction of the Hudson River. I need to pee (story of my life) so I enter this gorgeous vintage-looking bar with sand squares for playing petanque. I change my mind and decide to stop for a beer: the bartender is handsome and they have organic beer. I sit down on a velvet couch to look at my pictures taken during the day when this young and gorgeous Russian lady starts talking to me. She is with her husband, Ivan, and they are both absolutely elegant and soft-spoken. They want portraits of them as a couple, but unfortunately I am leaving soon. We chat for a while and I do manage to take a lovely picture of them before saying goodbye.  I stroll down to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, where I get breathtaking panoramic views of Manhattan. I have had dreams of this exact image before, even thought I never walked at the exact same spot. It is a vivid impression of déjà vu. I see a well-known visual artist, kids, lots of families and an early-thirties black father who gives me the widest smile and the cutest hand wave.

Culturally, people in New York have the reputation of being quite jaded since they see it all on a daily basis. I found this to be a false assumption of people who have to navigate a crazy city and all its packed energy every single day. New Yorkers are actually quite enthusiastic and quick-witted. They are intelligent, sharp and funny as well as street-smart and professional.  The only time I found people in a bad mood, it was all related to one trait: impatience. In New York, people are not avoiding each other because they simply can’t, it is super packed (especially Manhatttan).

I met many more people in New York City that did not make it into the present story, and each and every one of them inspired me to move there and become their friend. They enlivened me to keep working hard with humour and love while staying true to myself. These couple of days completely refreshed my perspective; they made me feel whole and energetic, ready to fight the fight and live the dream. As I am slowly ascending my career ladder, I know that I need to prepare fully well to prove my uniqueness and necessity in a city packed with young hopefuls but walking those streets, I just knew: this is where my career will blossom. I am fully conscious of the harsh reality of the place, but its electric feeling is undeniable and the universe is calling me in New York City. In a couple years, I will learn all the words to New York, New York as sung by Frank Sinatra and I will carol my way out of Canada and into the cultural centre of America. Start spreading the news…

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Photo: Gregory Moncada