In praise of Terrasse Day, and other unofficial Montreal holidays
CBC/QWF 2017 writer-in-residence Sarah Lolley describes the unofficial holidays that mark the year
Of the thousands of scenes my grandmother Mona Barry painted in the course of her long and storied life in Montreal, there is one that I love above all the rest.
It is a scene of urban domesticity. A woman leans out from her second-floor balcony, pegging laundry to a line.
The ground is covered in snow and the trees are bare, but in the distance, the sky is the watery blue of spring.
I swear I can hear that laundry line. The pulley creaks after a long winter of disuse like a fanfare of trumpets announcing the change in season.
Since moving here from Ontario, I've discovered a trove of what I consider to be quintessential Montreal holidays.
They don't appear on any official calendar, but for me, they mark the passage of the seasons in this city more reliably that the rowdiness of Saint Patrick's Day or the revelry of la Fête Nationale or the eerie quiet of the construction holiday, when the city all but empties the last week of July and the first week of August.
I sometimes wonder: Do other Montrealers have invisible calendars, too? And if so, what holidays are on them?
Maybe that's why I love this painting so: it's a hint that my long departed Grandma celebrated Creaky Clothesline Day, too.
After Creaky Clothesline Day, I start counting down the weeks to my next Montreal holiday: Terrasse Day.
This is the first truly hot day of the year — the first day of t-shirts and sandals — and it puts everyone in a ridiculously good mood.
My body thrills with pent-up giddiness when I wake up to its sun-drenched glory. I scrap all my plans and seemingly so does everyone else.
By midafternoon, offices are deserted and restaurant terrasses across the city are teeming with elated Montrealers — the city united in bonhomie.
The counterpoint to Terrasse Day is the first really frigid day of the year. This is a day of mourning for me.
Much as I love roaring fires, woolly socks and hot cocoa, I dread the duration of Montreal winters.
When I step out of the house and the snot immediately freezes in my nostrils, my heart sinks.
I call this Scrunchy Nose Day for obvious reasons, though it probably goes by other names: Cold-Induced Cough Day for runners, maybe, or Hunched Shoulders Day for yoga instructors.
Now that I own a car, I never miss RI-ER-RI-ER-RI-ER-RI-ER Day, that day on which my neighbours and I are reminded of just how earpiercingly loud the snow-removal tow-truck sirens are.
We drivers all suffer a collective heart attack as we scramble to see whether our vehicles are safe, while the car-free among us smile and put up our feet.
With older age comes a greater sense of responsibility, but no matter how carefully I plan, I am always forced at some point or another to observe Unprepared For The Weather Day.
This is the day on which things take an unseasonal turn — a sweltering day in February or a dump of snow in October — and I tear through our closets, scrambling to get myself and the kids all properly equipped for the morning dash to daycare and work.
Forgetting and remembering are big in my Montreal calendar.
Nevergreen Day is the day on which I look out over the dreary grey late-winter landscape and wonder if this city has ever had any colour to it.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Forgotten Festival Day can come at any time. Sometimes I celebrate it more than once per annum.
It's the day on which I glance at the calendar and realize that some cool-sounding festival I had every intention of checking out has just ended and won't be back for another year.
Strawberry Fields Forever Day is the day on which I sink my teeth into the first perfectly ripe Quebec strawberry of the year and think, "My gosh, that's right! That is what a strawberry tastes like!"
It's hard to imagine it now, what with the long winter and the dismally rainy spring still at the forefront of my memory, but my favourite Montreal holiday of all is approaching.
Every year, I think it can't possibly come again, but every year, it does.
Sometime in the thick of the summer, when I am thoroughly drunk on the surfeit of daylight and high on the onslaught of heat, magical thinking takes over and I find myself living Midsummer Dream Day.
This is the day on which it seems like anything could happen. Anything!
I could jump up onto a passing gust of wind and surf it all the way to the park.
I could get to that park and find my grandmother Mona Barry seated at her easel, glasses perched on her nose, brush dabbing at the paper.
On this day, when my daughter and I dig spoons into riotously coloured gelato, or when I double over the picnic blanket I'm gathered around with friends, laughing so hard that my sides ache, it feels like Montreal has been so bright and so hot and so green for so long that winter might just have been something I dreamed up once, long ago, and that is never coming back.
This is the fifth and final installment in a series of blog posts by the 2017 CBC and Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, Sarah Lolley.
Other essays from CBC/QWF's 2017 writer in residence:
- How far is a Montreal mile?
- A gallery with a toddler? The fine art of parenting in a Montreal winter
- Unearthing Montreal's hidden gems
- The curious insights of my Montreal 'frenamies'
Do you have your own Montreal holiday you'd like to share?
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