The last rent cheque

dsc_0031I had a flutter of joy today as I put the last rent cheque I shall ever write in my landlady’s mailbox. In just under four weeks, I’ll be moving into my own home, and as anxious as I am, there’s an overriding sweetness and awe in this life goal.

I’ve had good landlords and bad landlords, but this last one was a dilly. She’s stewing in so much anger, powerlessness and victimhood that she makes herself and other people unhappy over and over. I think the term for this is “boundary issues”, but my landlady has never been respectful in the way she treats me. And that’s a bit nutty, as I pay a mint to live where I do, and am quiet and tidy and do stuff like shovel my neighbours’ entryway as I’m doing mine.

I was surprised shortly after I moved in, to get a bill for the rental of a hot water tank. I called the company, and they told me that my landlady had put my name on the bill. It was kind of like getting a bill for the rental of a stove or a bathtub…I’d never agreed to pay for this, and hadn’t even known that the thing was rented. It took me nine months, and finally a registered letter, to get my name off the bill.

Next, my landlady moved her daughter and beefy boyfriend in underneath me. They started doing what turned out to be five months of renovations. They’d also have screaming, door-slamming fights at 3 AM during the week. I remember them slamming the door so loudly it sounded like a gun firing. I have to wonder how much the people downstairs from them were enjoying this, as it must’ve been 10x louder for them.

The big issue my landlady had with me is that I had that most terrible of objects, a birdfeeder. She would put “anonymous” letters in my mailbox, all in French, with words and phrases highlighted. I just kept on feeding the birds. I don’t suffer bullies gladly.

So when my landlady received my registered letter on Tuesday, telling her that I’m assigning the lease to a PhD arriving from London, my landlady had her normal temper tantrum and sent me a message, all in French as she does when she’s having a conniption. As the laws her go, she can’t refuse the lease assignment except for a serious reason, and there are none. The future tenant is formidable – I made sure of that – and won’t put up with any crap or merde from her.

So I had a little frisson of joy today as I dropped that final rent cheque in her mailbox, and noticed that she had a handful of junk mail sticking out of her mailbox, and a bag of garbage with holes chewed in it outside her door. Classy to the last.

I went down the street, 2 inches taller, to the marche on the corner, smiled at all the stockboys, got some tinned peaches down from a high shelf for an elderly couple, and let a lady go first down the crowded aisle I was trying to exit. “C’est gentil“, she smiled at me. Yeah, well that’s because I am nice. And when they started playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujiah” on the PA, I was singing along.


SlugfestDear Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for the wonderful treat in the mail! I lightly sauteed the snails and Gus said they were delicious! I’m starting to think that Gus is short for Gusto. For him and me. He has made me feel like being engaged with life again. I’m starting xylophone lessons next week! You know, I should, just to punish my downstairs neighbours for their endless fighting and renovating. Whenever they start yelling, I should play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the xylo.

But seriously, I have (again) bought a home. I started looking, in a not-so-serious way, and found a gem of a place. It’s a lot like the place I was going to buy, but significantly cheaper. My mortgage will be less than what I am paying for rent.

Slugfest 2

If you want to hear a bit about it, I’ll give you a bit of a description. If not, feel free to skip this paragraph. It is the top two floors of a 3-storey building, set back from the street. It has a great kitchen. The building was built in 1900 and although it was renovated quite a bit, they’ve kept a few of the charming old details, such as a door that’s set on trestles along the ceiling for the kitchen. Tons of counter space and shelves, a built-in island, double sink, and all appliances. It doesn’t have a gas stove, but a cooktop and wall oven. There is one big room downstairs, that’s a diningroom/livingroom. The living room has a fireplace – yay! The kitchen has a grey slate tile floor and the main room has a very new oak floor. There’s a deck off the living room, and a pretty big laundry room with lots of storage and a sink and toilet. There’s spiral stairs to the upstairs (I’ll be replacing these with a straight oak staircase, as the spiral stairs are a deathtrap.) Upstairs, it’s one big room, loft-style. It used to be 2 bedrooms, but they tore down the dividing wall, but left a built-in bookcase that runs halfway down. Off the bedroom, there’s a lovely, secluded deck with built-in flower boxes and a pergola. The bathroom was surprising; I wasn’t expecting anything this good. It was recently renovated with a plafform tub, and a skylight. It has a separate shower enclosure, and is a big room.

The cats are going to love it. I’m going to be returning to work soon, teeth clenched, but with a counsellor who is helping me navigate the snakepit.

Apartment showing angst

SilverHi Richard,

Here’s the usual photos of cats, squirrels and brightly-coloured objects on Montreal streets. Since it was moving day recently, there was lots of discarded furniture, so the whole city was a photo op.

It’s Jazz Festival time here, and I haven’t been to anything. I went to Place des Arts on Canada Day, but didn’t feel like being in huge crushing crowds of people. Fantasia will be starting shortly, though, and I’ll definitely go see some freaky films.

I’ve been a bit stressed because my landlady is completely not of this earth, and loves causing lots of drama, so she’s been a total pill about showing this apartment. I suggested at the get-go that she let me place the ad and show the place and she could interview people, making it more covenient for us all, but she didn’t go for that, saying she wants to choose the people. I reiterated that that is exactly what I’m suggesting, but she likely had another agenda of simply wanting to snoop around in my place. Legally she’s supposed to give me notice when she wants to show the apartment, and although she’s done so twice and it went smoothly, most recently she said the day before “I might bring somebody tomorrow”, and I said fine, just let me know what time, if you are going to show it. Then, with no notice she showed up with people and I wouldn’t let them in. I did that because she’s the sort of person who would then start doing that all the time, unless I maintain firm boundaries. She had a freak out. I started lining up people to be here when she comes, so now I think she’s intimidated because with the last visit she didn’t come in, but waited outside on the street. I think I’m going to enjoy having my own home just that much more because of this.

So anyway, that has short-term sucked a bit of the joy out of my normal mood, but this too shall pass. I’m still blissed about being in Montreal. I live here. It’s awesome.

A new chapter


Hi Linda,

I’ve been meaning to write you for the longest time, and the thought blips through my brain like a firefly and is gone… That’s pretty much my attention span recently. I think it’s a combination of fear/joy of having bought a home, and dread that my loathsome landlady will be coming by with people to show this flat to. I have my fingers crossed that she’ll rent it out immediately as I can’t bear having her in my space.

In the meantime, it’s gorgeously beautiful full-blown summer here. It was St-Jean Baptiste Day yesterday, and my neighbours had a rooftop party that went on until nearly dawn. I’ll know to have my own next year…

I see you’re reading Again Dangerous Visions, Vol. 2. I think I lent out my copy and never got it back, but I recall reading some of the stories in it with my boyfriend who I was pretty serious about at the time, and him raising an eyebrow at me, like maybe I wasn’t quite as innocent as he’d thought. Well, it’s good to keep them wondering.

I’ve had three really good friends visit recently, with their spouses, and it’s made me really wistful, as I’m still newly-back in terms of making friends. I didn’t realize I missed them so much, but I nearly died with gratitude for the feeling of continuity of being known while they were here. I treated them to decadent meals and loaded them up with goodies of cheese, chocolate, and fleur de sel so that they’ll come back to visit again soon.

I loved the pictures of your geode lamps. When I was in Germany the last time, I bought a salt lamp. The light for it has burnt out and it’s a European one, impossible to find here. So I’m looking for a North American light and plug to stick in it. Everybody has salt lamps in Northern Germany, and the pink glow is one of my happiest memories of being there.

Take care Linda, and keep writing

Crazy vacuum cleaner music

Hi Richard,

It’s the end of Mutek, and I think you would’ve enjoyed a lot of the artists. One of the performances I went to was Tim Hecker, who does drone music. He builds a wall of layers of sounds. The pieces he did were long – he builds them slowly, so you have to be in the mood for it. The pieces were about 20 minutes long each, or maybe it was just one long piece that took an hour. At one point I had to stick my fingers in my ears because the sound was so loud and intense that I thought I might have a seizure. But I really loved his stuff, and won’t be able to pass by a construction site in the same way again.

I met up with two friends of mine, an old friend and her husband’s who teaches video and new media at Medicine Hat College. I know she was disappointed with what they saw, as she left the performance during the middle, saying “Life’s too short”. It was actually pretty interesting but you had to be predisposed to that sort of noisy minimalism. I know you would have liked it!

Since a lot of these artists are not mainstream, or actually none of them are, it’s best if you get a pass and then go from one event to another and then stay if something interests you. I think this couple chose one performance per evening and sat through it whether they liked it or not. Oh well, I doubt they will return for another Mutek. I’m still jazzed, however.

This was a very rainy weekend, so I did the best things possible – eating, reading and sleeping. This morning I got up early and went for a brisk walk to St-Laurent. I went into the Hungarian deli I’d often passed by, and bought some wonderful poppyseed strudel, European cheesecake, which is light and not terribly sweet, and a sandwich of chicken schnitzel with hot sauerkraut spiced with bay leaves and peppercorns and bits of ham just like my grandpa used to make, on a floury kaiser roll with mustard. I also passed by the fresh fish market and bought a big piece of snow crab and two langoustines that I’ll cook later with steamed asparagus, and some gravlax. I got into a big conversation with the guy behind the counter because I could tell he was spoiling for a conversation, and we talked about how he’s from the Azores. Then I dashed home and made coffee and ate the schnitzel sandwich while it was still warm.

Anyway, that is my weekend, all while finding out about mortgage brokers and slowly starting to pack yet again, for the final time.

Crazy vacuum cleaner music

Last weekend was Mutek, and I went with a couple of friends who were in town for part of the week. I’m not sure they found it as impressive as I did, as they seemed to go to events that they found boring for the most part. My friend, left, saying “Life’s too short”on their final evening in town, so I’m not going to count on them enthusiastically showing up next year.

One of the performances I went to was Tim Hecker, who does drone music. He builds a wall of layers of sounds. The pieces he did were long – he builds them slowly, so you have to be in the mood for it. The pieces were about 20 minutes long each, or maybe it was just one long piece that took an hour. At one point I had to stick my fingers in my ears because the sound was so loud and intense I thought I might have a seizure. But I really loved his stuff, and won’t be able to pass by a construction site in the same way again.

Ici on parle francais


Mosaic: Quebec Flag, originally uploaded by caribb.

I start a French course tomorrow. This will be the third time I’ll have studied French, but hopefully this time it will stick. The first time was in public school, where I learned by osmosis, never studying, letting avoir and etre filter into my selectively-attentive teenage mind.

The second time was in college, and I was earnest and got straight As. I also never used it outside the classroom, and it soon faded into my mental middle distance.

Avoir et etre were soon replaced with haben und sein, as I did four years of aggressive German, studying a Living Language course and verb conjugations for two hours a day during my commute to work, listening to German web radio at work (I got good at understanding the traffic and weather), and taking evening courses at college, in between visits to Germany. Now, my head’s its own Franco-Prussian conflict. I start in French, but end in German, with “Quand vous parlez plus lentement, kann ich Sie verstehen.”

Well-meaning Montreal friends have taught me two useful things: how to ask for things, explaining that saying “Je voudrais…” sounds stuffy; instead we say “Est-ce que je peut avoir…” and have given me a working vocabulary of curse words. But I’m going to need more than that to really get by.

When I returned to Calgary for my year of exile, I decided to do things that would prepare me for returning to Montreal, as a way of keeping my cheese on my cracker. I lived close to the Alliance Francais, so I went in and asked about French lessons. When I was in college, my teacher was helpful with explaining some relevant variances between International and Quebec French, such as the use of “on”. I asked if there was anythiing similar that would be covered in the Alliance classes.

The secretary said, “You want to learn Quebec French?”, leaning forward. “I can teach you everything you need to know about Quebec French.”

“Really?” I said.

“Sure”, she replied. “Le ‘amburger. Le Pepsi. That’s all you need to know about Quebec French.”

Some people standing by started laughing and I walked out, thinking it was no wonder Quebec wanted to separate.

I eventually spoke with the Director of the Alliance, and he assured me that this was meant as some sort of joke – I guess roughly the equivalent of calling someone from Poland stupid, when they’re actually likely better educated and mannered than you are? – and assured me that nothing like this would happen in the classes.

Every time I unwittingly said something Quebecois, my teacher had a full body reaction of scorn, and told me I was “wrong”. After the fourth class I didn’t return as I felt a combination of heartache and wanting to punch the teacher. So I left promising that I’d take French lessons when I got back, and learn to speak in a Quebecois accent just to piss off anyone who goes to the Alliance Francais, who, I noticed, closed their branch here. Well, I know how to swear so that’s a good start.