Montréal, midwinter 1975. I’ve just finished dinner and I’m sat in front of the TV for the nightly Pulse newscast on local channel CFCF. Watching the supper-time broadcast was always a bit of a family affair and in the lead-up to the 1976 Summer Olympics the big local reports were about overspend, missed deadlines and whether the whole thing would even happen (sound familiar?). Earlier in the day my teacher had suggested that we keep an eye on the weather forecast and should think about extra scarves and hats for school tomorrow as a big snowstorm was expected.
I didn’t require much prompting: CFCF’s weather segment was one of the highlights as it not only involved weather systems across Canada but also a spin around the world with temperatures in London, Miami, Havana and Beirut. Each city was depicted with a little illustration of a local in the appropriate get-up. I think the Beiruti had a headscarf and a rifle. Or was it Casablanca? Judged by today’s moral codes the whole channel would have been shut down long ago but if it wasn’t for the exotic city names and fancy outfits I don’t think I’d have paid much attention or even moved into journalism.
When it came to the regional outlook we were promised a proper dumping of snow with all the trimmings – cancelled flights, delayed commuter trains and possibly closed schools. By the time I went to bed the snow was already gently fluttering down in the glow of the streetlamps and my father had been outside to ensure the cars were plugged in. No, he wasn’t a pioneer in e-vehicles; plugging your car into an electrical current is still standard practice along frigid latitudes.
The following morning the cars had vanished under a dense duvet of white and were little more than gentle mounds in the driveway. I believe my mom was prepared for the school to be closed but the call from the teacher never came. The school bus must have been doing the rounds with a snow-plough escort and that meant that I had to shovel my porridge, pull on my snow pants and boots, and make my way to the end of the driveway for the big yellow bus. The door swung open a few minutes late and when I got on it was quite empty. Were kids being kept home? Had parents assumed class wouldn’t happen? And who were these hearty souls who felt that they needed to press on and not a miss a day of grade one?
Ten minutes later we pulled into the school forecourt. Tunnels were being built, snow was being shoved down the back of trousers and mittens were being pulled off of the unsuspecting and thrown onto the roof. The key targets were always the poor losers who had their mittens on “idiot strings” as these were easy to throw up into the snowy branches and would require rescuing by the janitor. Due to all of the excitement on the playground and the latecomers who had to be shuttled by the parents, the first bell rang 30 minutes late and we arrived in class all red-faced, socks pulled off, corduroy dungarees soaked and with everyone sporting staticky hat hair.
My class was only half-full but thankfully it was mostly the fun crowd that had bothered to come in. The sniffly pigtail and denim jumpsuit girl was, of course, at home. Her friend, who always wore bobbly ponchos, was also not in. The strange twins with the dad who worked at the spooky-looking pharma plant on the way into central Montréal were also not present. Good! Our teacher had clearly had a tough time getting in from her horse farm and was a bit grumpy to start but soon her mood lifted because she decided that it was a write-off anyway and sent us outside again while she made us a big pot of hot chocolate. The rest of the day was spent drawing, listening to stories and enjoying the muffled, strange atmosphere brought on by all the snow. Everything moved at half-pace; all was soft with the edges removed. The world was only part-functioning.
Two days ago I had a flashback to my winters in Montréal when I awoke in Zürich and could barely leave the apartment, let alone make my way down to the train. The city was weighed down by over 30cm of fresh snow. With branches snapped and trees toppled across the region, the transit system struggled but kids still made their way to class and those that hadn’t already transitioned to a home office (60 per cent of the workforce?) trudged in to work. At Monocle’s HQ on Dufourstrasse, the office had a similar feeling to my grade one class with a gentle, easy mood and a sense that all was in slow-motion. For sure, part of it can be attributed to the times we live in but it was as if we’d partaken of properly prescribed opiates: the world was without concerns, it was soft, it was all going to be fine. It’s now Saturday evening, the snow has stayed and the mood is mellow, still and relaxed, but somehow uplifting. Just what’s required at this point in January.