Thursday, November 10, 2005

"J'ai peur, j'ai tellement peur!"

I saw these words posted in the window of the local artisanal ice cream shop on St. Denis. It was under their regular announcement that they would be closing for the winter. People love their ice cream in Quebec and there are ice cream shops open only in the warm months in most neighbourhoods. I guess they get enough business that the store can be closed all winter. The words mean, I'm scared, I'm so scared. It made me laugh when I saw it, but it was one of those hollow laughs that are used to mask one's own fear.

For the winter is coming. The temperature has dropped significantly in the last two weeks. No snow yet, but hard cold rain and some overnight freezing. Snow is threatening in Quebec City. I heard the clicking of snow tires as I rode my bike on St. Urbain yesterday and there was a huge crowd outside the Kanuk outlet store. Kanuk is a quebec made brand of winter clothes, especially jackets. They are insanely popular among the french, almost like a uniform. I find their designs look kind of '80s and cheap, but they are quite expensive and I imagine quite effective. You don't see as much of the MEC, North Face gore-tex look here as you do in the west coast, though there is a bit of it among the outdoor set.

To be cool in Montreal, you have to dress as if you're not cold. So you see lots of guys in jeans and thin leather jackets in freezing weather. People go without gloves and toques way late into the season. You can always tell an anglo or an out-of-towner because they are rocking the huge down coat, toque and gloves in December. It really gets insane when you're on St. Laurent in mid-February and it's mad brick out (in the -20s and -30s) and you see women in mini-skirts, their knees dangerously red, walking to clubs.

Definitely some of it is trendiness, but I think that like the Inuit, the people of Quebec have some either genetic or developed ability to withstand cold. You can tell that some of them aren't trying to be cool. They are just comfortable in 0 degrees without gloves. Their hands aren't red and they don't seem to feel the need to stuff them in their pockets. Many of them love the cold weather, even prefer it. This is just a mindset that I don't have. I'm getting into it, though. I love the big snow dumps, all the plowing and I've taken up cross-country skiing (since I'm blessed to have Parc Mont-Royal two blocks from our apartment).

I think it is the end of summer that is truly difficult. I felt kind of frightened, oppressed and a little depressed when the weather first turned cold in October. Than we had another nice week and it felt so ephemeral, fleeting. I was already planning vacation ideas, desperate escapes to the west coast. But now that we've had a couple of weeks of the grey and wet, I'm starting to look forward to winter. Summer is behind me and I've let go.

The word from all my québécois friends is that it is going to be a brutal winter. When pressed, they say that you get a tough winter after a really hot summer, or you get a tough winter after a mild winter. Though they all agree that the general trend has been winters getting mellower and mellower. The science of this prediction model is clearly sketchy. But that doesn't make me doubt it it. I think that their common prediction is a result of some kind of cultural osmosis. They just know. We shall see. I hope that we get tons and tons of snow and not too many really cold days.

And just to put this all in perspective. The rest of Quebec thinks Montreal winters are mild and that we are all a bunch of wimps.


Olivier said...

I used grow a beard for two or three months sometimes... I learned, somewhere, somehow, that those month were not to be July or December. July is obvious, but December a tad less. A beard is a remarkably effective (and, at times, disgusting) device in winter; but once you shave it, you get frostbitten (those parts of your face just aren't cold hardened). I was pretty impressed when I discovered that; I'm as cold hardened as they come; when winter comes, hotter than -10 is flat out uncomfortable, so getting frostbitten, on my face, at what, -15?

So the lesson is: don't overdress as soon as you are cold. Let your body (and brain!) get used to it. Everybody's dead cold at -25, but over -15 will be fine if you learn to let your body get up to speed in November and December.

Don't you just love to go out when it's around -25 and feel the cold seep through the soles of your boots... Helps me keep a good pace :-D

Oh, and everybody's always predicting a brutal winter. That's the trick. And Montrealers aren't whimpy (those summer smogs can be pretty brutal too), they're whiny, nuance...

OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks for the advice! I'm going to give it a whirl. I rode to school yesterday with no gloves (that might have been a bit much) and I'm going without gloves and toque for as long as possible. If this toughens me up for the later winter, I'll be grateful.

Jason L said...

Grow a beard. I dare you.

WeSailFurther said...

Yay winter. I'm sure it's not going to be as brutal as they say, and certainly not as brutal as you'll have up there, but I for one am glad it's finally cool out. I like it cold. If the hottest it ever got outside was 50, I'd be ok.

Having said all that I hope it doesn't get too cold. My plan right now is to keep my sailboat in the water over the winter. I want to keep sailing throughout, and get a consecutive months streak going.

When we come up in early December I'll bring my toque, just in case...

meezly said...

First snowfall hit Montreal today but it was wet, slushy and eventually degenerated into rain. That didn't deter me from biking to work either. It ain't that cold yet, and i'm gonna keep riding until it gets damn near impossible to!