Never before had I seen cords dangling from windows, attached to cars like tentacles, keeping cars from freezing. Never before had my breath formed ice in my scarf. Never before had I been to a place where people actually freeze to death.
In college, I spent a frozen month with my long distance boyfriend in an infamously dangerous neighborhood where I guess even locals fear to tread. I never felt unsafe; graffiti was hard to find and I never saw gang bangers...but then I'm used to how they dress in 80 degree weather....can you sag your two layers of pants? How easy is it to flash gang signs in thick mittens?
Really, I only feared freezing to death. Seriously, who decided a place that is -40c/-40f (counting windchill) in winter should be a great place to live? The village idiot? Walking to the subway at night meant your legs tingled with cold; it was rumored that you should not stay out exposed longer than 30 minutes or you risked hypothermia. Fully dressed. Ice went tinkle tinkle like glass, it was so cold. Rivers froze over- a novelty for a girl from the desert where rivers evaporated. People shopped underground, it was so cold a virtual gopher world. Everything was gray above and below ground, gray and cold.
I feared the laundry room, afraid some former Soviet Republic immigrant might yell at me in a strange language, for doing laundry during his time. I feared that my 4 years of French would fail me. when jhuh swee pehteet (je suis petite, I am small) becomes schweepeetee, does may day (m'aide, help) become mee way or something?
I feared bad gas. I was vegetarian at the time, on a major budget, and lactose intolerant. I basically ate nothing but bread, falafel, baba ghanoush, ramen, and cabbage for a month straight...but perhaps I kept myself a little warmer, farting the days away.
I feared depression because as mentioned, everything was gray, dull, cold and seemed to dampen the mood.
I never feared the neighborhood or its people. Even the subway prostitute was friendly.
I hope someday to return to Quebec, to see it in a livelier month. I recently google-mapped areas I am sure I had tread, I moved the little street view guy here and there around the NDG 'hood and beyond, and nothing looked the least familiar, covered in summery leaves and sunshine. Even my memories are kind of fuzzy, dreamlike. I don't even have a single photo from my month there, and I am that stereotypical tourist snapping a thousand photos. The only vivid memories are emotions and oddly, smells. The smell of dishwater, cabbage, diesel fuel, and snow mix together and say, Quebec. The feeling of poverty, loneliness, just eeking a surviving in a subterranean frozen world.