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olivia, weighed and weighted – month five

June 26, 2010

“I can’t believe they’re finally here,” my husband says when our friends appear at the end of Alicante airport’s long hallway.

Like all visits and vacations, it went from talking to planning to anticipating, and, conclusively, to “finally here.” For the next couple of weeks, we hosted some of our beloved Montreal friends. (Sidenote: In French, the word for “hosting” is “recevoir,” which means “to receive.” Doesn’t it say it better?)

It’s nice to pick things up from where we left off. It’s so easy with friends like these. You don’t really catch up, you just carry on.

One of our guests, Jono, asks me if I’m getting “the European bug.” In other words, would I want to live here, now that I’ve seen the goods. He pointed out that even if I did, our beloved Montreal is a very European city. At least by North American standards.

I’m not sure how to answer. Orihuela Costa isn’t a city, and it doesn’t feel like the rest of Europe. We’re in this new development in Torrevieja, Spain. It’s built exactly like a North American suburb. I’m not complaining, but that’s what it is. Just the same, I wish the sunshine and fresh seafood were things I could easily import to Montreal.

During the visit, we mostly go beaching. Each day, we discover a new shore, which you can’t do when you’re landlocked. Best of all, each coast is part of the Mediterranean. That’s another thing Montreal doesn’t have.

But then we go to Barcelona and I finally get what the bug was: I freakin’ love cities! Don’t get me wrong, I love the sluggish, mañana pace of Orihuela Costa and its cookie-cutter mini-villas (if you can imagine such a thing). I love the kind British folk who’ve welcomed us into the Via Park V community (it’s like a strip-mall where you’ll find a couple of British pubs, an Italian restaurant, and, of course, a curry joint, among other things). I love my gym’s panoramic view of the Playa Flamenca shoreline. And I love the smell of salty water. Goodness, how I’ll miss it in Montreal. And there’s the rub: given the choice, I’d sacrifice this lazy lifestyle for hustle and bustle. Anyday.

Like you’ve probably heard, Barcelona is an experimental playground for architecture. I can’t think of a place where buildings are more mismatched, yet all competing for Best in Show, and somehow all deserving. It’s also an amplification of this pervading, insurmountable grit that I’ve seen in the rest of Spain. It’s how beauteous building facades manage to cover up unsightly, chaotic courtyards. It makes absolutely no sense, but that’s your problem.

Barcelona is also very loud. So many cars. So many lanes for them. At least six on any small street, and you’d better have crossed that street by the time those loco drivers get the green light. Jaywalking isn’t just discouraged; it’s nearly impossible.

Then, the husband unit and I find ourselves walking along an unknown street (not for lack of trying to find a sign), where one building flaunts stone illustrations of figures from Marie-Antoinette’s court embedded in the brick front, and ornate balconies for good measure. The trees lining the sidewalks form an arch, which reminds us both of our street in Montreal. It’s something we only see in the summer, to be sure, but we willingly tolerate those harsh 5 months of winter for it.

Would I live in Barcelona so I can get all of this? Sure, but then I love Montreal for the same reasons, and Montreal also has the distinction of being my home. To me, my home isn’t just about having a place to hang my hat. It’s a whole life of friends, dinner parties, game nights, summer walks on Plateau streets just because, ice cream at Meu-Meu, Mile-End’s vintage clothing stores. I chose this life, and I morphed it into something that deserves to be missed for tangible reasons.

I’m driving the whole 6 hours back to Orihuela Costa, but I still get a glimpse of the scenery. Not surprisingly, Spain has a certain natural dissonance. It’s more mountainous than you’ve heard. The sunny side of the mound is desert-like, with a layer of sparse burning bushes and cacti. The shaded side is gushing with green, and responsible for most of Europe’s fruits and vegetables, not to mention wines. We see many old castles and watchtowers on top of hills and wonder how they got there. Sometimes it’s a church instead of a palace, and whole towns surround it on the incline. It seems impractical, but it’s also a hint at what made this conquering culture so successful.

I’m spellbound, but that’s not really a bug. A bug is something that nags at you until you either give in or take over. Either way, you’re required to make a decision. But that’s not what my experience of Spain is like at all. I appreciate it – love it, even – but always from a comfortable distance, waiting to get my Montreal back.

Almost as soon as we return, we get an e-mail from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and from our lawyer. Our case is being transferred to Quebec, which is what happens when you apply from that province. The next step is to send a few more forms with the Quebec logo on them, and from there, we’re looking at probably another 6 months. And there you have it: a concrete end. This is all going to be over soon.

Later, at the beach, I’m lying in the sun. Sand gets tangled in my hair and the taste of sea salt is still on my lips from an earlier dip. My skin’s gotten very brown in the last couple of months. People often think I’m Spanish, and if I could speak the language any better, I’d probably fool them. Maybe it’s the high winds or the crashing waves, but it suddenly hits me: Shit! This is all going to be over soon.

Olivia Collette

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