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A city for people from elsewhere

I was talking with a friend the other day who was worried about her accent. Being from a middle-eastern country, she was concerned that people might not take her seriously, or might secretly mock her voice. I think Montreal has to be the last place in Canada to worry about that. (more…)

Poinsettias and Panettone: Chasing the holiday spirit

Since my previous blog post, I have fully accepted that Christmas is coming. By now, I am ready to embrace the holiday spirit and to feel my senses rejoice with all the simple pleasures this time of year brings along with it.

When I lived in Europe, this pre-holiday season would make me giddy with wonder and happiness. Late-November in Milano meant the massively tall Christmas tree would be set up — with the help of mega-cranes — in front of the Duomo (Cathedral) and the most wonderful lights and building projections would liven up the grey, fog-cloaked city. The cobblestone streets would be made all the more narrow with Christmas markets selling handmade arts and crafts, and after only a two-minute stroll, I’d suddenly be overwhelmed with the desire to fill my already-overweight suitcase with handcrafted Italian Christmas tree ornaments. Shopping for gifts in tiny, artistic shops (or even gorgeously decorated department stores) never felt hectic or crazily consumerism-driven, and the way the clerks would gift-wrap everything for you automatically with the most amazing paper and with such classy flair always left me smiling. Late-November in Milano was the season of outdoor markets, of Christmassy musical concerts in churches, of poinsettias and panettone, and of the scent of roasted chestnuts permeating the crisp foggy air.

Photo credit: Kristina Kasparian


Festival du Nouveau Cinema

Autumn is my favorite season.

Not only because of the picturesque beautiful orange tree leaves and the burgundy panorama that give me goose bumps every time I pass by them, but because of the amazing film festivals happening in Montreal: the Festival des Films du Monde, and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema (FNC). The latter one is ongoing right now, it ends tomorrow on sunday. It showcases films from all over the world, with particular emphasis on the selections from big movie festivals such as the Cannes Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival.

Among the films they were screening, a few have sparked my attention.

First, there is “l’Appolonide: souvenirs de la maison close”, by Bertrand Bonello. In the dawn of the XXth century: L’Apollonide, a house of tolerance, is living its last days. In this closed world, where some men fall in love and others become viciously harmful, the prositutes share their secrets, their fears, their joys and their pains…

Then there is “Melancholia” by Lars Von Trier. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is heading towards Earth… Lars von Trier creates a spellbinding, visually gorgeous and often-moving alloy of family drama.  

Last but not least, “Snowtown” by Justin Kurzel. The story revolves around a 16 year-old boy, Jamie, who begins a friendship with a charismatic man. His world becomes threatened by his loyalty and fear of his newfound father figure, John Bunting: Australia’s most notorious serial killer. An absolutely mesmerizing, uncompromising movie masterpiece.

So go ahead and watch some movies at the FNC, if you have not done so already. You still have two more days to catch up !

Choose Passion. Choose Dreams.

Choose Passion. Choose Dreams.
Passion and Dreams. Two words that should be constantly circling in a loop in our minds. They should be the motor that fuels our daily lives, the oxygen we breathe and the philosophy we adopt. Simply because without them, life would be meaningless and flavorless.
Follow your Passions. Doing a phD in Astrophysics or a Master in Mathematics should not forbid you from doing the things you love as well on the side. For me, grad school has been a discovery of my talents and their exploitation. McGill offers incredible and endless resources to its students, from clubs to NGOs to career centers, etc. My first exposure to that was at the Activities Night at the beginning of the year. It was like a beehive. Things were in constant movement, representatives from all sorts of associations your mind could possibly imagine, from fundraising to volunteering to Acapella to photography to Fine Arts. They have it all. (more…)

At McGill but not in Montreal

A spring sunset on Macdonald Campus. Credit: Mohsin Bin Latheef

I go to McGill, but I do not live in Montreal!

In fact, I never have lived in Montreal. That is because I go to the ‘other’ campus, the Macdonald Campus. Yes, I will get annoyed if you are from McGill and you spell it as MacDonald. 🙂 And no, it is not on a different planet, we are very happy at Macdonald Campus, thank you! Most people at McGill will tell you the wonderful things about Montreal, of which I only know a few.

I will use this post to tell you what I know: the favorite five things about Mac Campus and Sainte Anne de Bellevue, my lovely little village for the last three years:


My non-academic to-do list

When I lived abroad during my Master’s degree, I used to keep a list of all the non-academic experiences I wished to make time for during my stay. Sights I wanted to visit, cafés and restaurants I was craving to try, names of streets and parks deserving a stroll, weekly markets in different parts of town, art exhibitions that were calling out to me at various points of the year… I would jot them all down on an ever-growing and ever-shrinking to-do list that I kept quite separate from my “academic to-do list”, usually folded into a small square and tucked into the front pocket of my purse, or the first page of the small journal I’d carry around with me everywhere.  (more…)

Hearing yourself for the first time

Hi, everyone. This is my first post and I don’t want to bore you (yet) by writing about my amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. Instead, I thought I’d share a video I stumbled upon while perusing the Huffington Post. In internet time the video might be a little dated but maybe some of you haven’t already seen it. It’s powerful and heartwarming; what more could you want during a cold Montreal autumn day?

29 year-old Sarah Churman was born deaf. She reads lips and has used hearing aids in the past. However, her auditory deprivation was apparently severe enough that she has never heard her own voice before. A few weeks ago, Sarah received an implant that allowed her to finally hear her own voice and her response is overwhelmingly emotional (at the 0:20 mark she hears herself say “It’s beeping.”):


Dancing beams of light

I had a bit of an off day today. No particular cause for it. It was just the way I woke up, and I couldn’t shake the feeling all day long. It must have been the cloudy sky. After so many consecutive days of glowing sunshine, a grey sky hanging much too low overhead can have that effect – at least on me.

Wednesdays are my long days; I usually co-lead a seminar on Academic Writing in the morning (which I am likely to tell you about in future posts!), spend the rest of the day at my desk working towards my PhD, and then I attend a course in the evening, from 5.30 to 8.30 — roughly the time when most others are crowding the metro and rushing home, making supper, unwinding after their day. The course is a bit outside of my comfort zone, too. My research interests are in the area of neurolinguistics (a combination of “language” and the “brain“) and specifically about bilingualism. How do children and adults learn a second (or third, fourth) language? How are different aspects of a bilingual’s languages stored and accessed in the brain? How does a bilingual’s mother tongue affect the learning of other languages? These are some of the questions that fascinate me.


Janet Jackson’s Number Ones tour kicks off in Montreal August 1st.

Ms. Jackson, I’ve been waiting to see you forever. As a child I’ve loved Janet Jackson until now. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I love her more than Michael – but definitely comparable. I even adore the Control album. Tonight was the first Janet Jackson concert I’ve ever been to. It was held at the Montreal Bell Centre. Only half of the theatre was open, as it was supposed to be an “intimate” show. Intimate, it was. With about 10,000 fans – that’s about as intimate as it gets with Janet Jackson. The tour is called #1s – so she plays 35 of her hits and it’s “all for you” – all for the fans.


Where did summer go?

Where did all the time go?  This summer seemed so immense only a month ago, and all of a sudden we only really have a few weeks left until it is time to start thinking about fall again.

What have I accomplished so far this summer?

  • I have profited from Montreal.  I attended the Jazz Fest, the Francofolies festival, random street festivals that I didn’t know existed before, gone to a free tango class, biked all over the island at all times of day and night, had poutine, did yoga on the Lachine canal, got bagels from St. Viateur so often that I am now friends with the employees and get my bagels for free, went to house parties, climbed the mountain, tried the flying trapeze, attended Tam-tams and Piknic Elektronik…. and Much more.
  • I have gained amazing exposure through singing in the metro.  The amount of social and musical confidence I have gained through this experience is unmatched.  I have never in my life performed so often in such a short amount of time.  I have been featured by a small TV station, met agents, recording engineers, other musicians, circus performers, and music lovers.
  • I have built a very healthy lifestyle.  I have found a way to eat mostly local, organic food, exercise consistently, and know when I need sleep.  Hopefully I’ll bring this skill into the following year.
  • I have rekindled my desire to make music, learn, and work hard in this amazing life.  After a hard year of papers and study, sometimes the last thing you want to do is continue to study.  But there is so much to learn in this world.  And, most of the learning is experiential – all you need to do is step outside your comfort zone, and make ‘Yes’ be your magic word.


*This is cross-posted at*

“What I knew for sure from this experience with you is that we are all called. Everybody has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it. Every time we have seen a person on this stage who is a success in their life, they spoke of the job, and they spoke of the juice that they receive from doing what they knew they were meant to be doing. …Because that is what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. And that is what I want for all of you and hope that you will take from this show. To live from the heart of yourself. You have to make a living; I understand that. But you also have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world.”

-Oprah Winfrey, Farewell

I am currently living the 25th year of my life as Rebecca.  These past 25 years of my life have been wonderful, full of discovery, philosophy, and experimentation.  I am young and full of potential, but I am no longer a child, and it is time for me to start putting all my youthful passion and dreaming into action.  It is time, as Oprah says, to ‘get about the business of doing it’.

Alot of people talk about ‘what they do’, especially in the business of art.  In fact, there is alot of talk in general, and I suspect not nearly as much actually ‘doing’ as there is talking.  The reason I suspect talkers talk more than they do is because I am one of those people.  I paint – but do I really paint?  I dance – but how often do I really dance?  I sing – but do I really put in the daily time required to be the best that I can be?


Things to do if you’re spending summer in the city #2: Lots of Yoga

Image courtesy of

There are a ton of excellent yoga studios in Montreal. My personal favourite is Moksha Yoga (I go to the NDG studio, but there’s also one on St. Laurent). Moksha is a hot studio, and from November to March it’s pretty much the only place I feel like the permafrost on my inner organs actually melts away. In summer, heavy sweating for 90 minutes is a fantastic way to detoxify after too many nights spent having “just one more” glass of wine with your friends out on the terrasse. Also, today (June 15th) is the last day that you can pick up Moksha’s 3 month unlimited summer deal. Check out their website for contact info.

If you’re the kind of person who’d rather escape than chase the heat, however, I’ve had friends recommend Studio Bliss on St. Laurent, which is offering an inexpensive introductory rate (30 days for 40$), available to students until tomorrow (June 16th).

I’ve also heard great things about United Yoga Montreal, which is just a short walk from campus (for us poor souls who are still here) and which offers a 3 month introductory deal. What better time to improve your practice than now, when your supervisors are (thankfully) too busy enjoying the summer months to ask you about your research progress?

Things to do if you’re spending summer in the city #1: Support local farmers

Sometimes I think the only reason I suffer through the abuse of Montreal winters is because of its summers. It’s no secret that there are a ton of great festivals to check out, that the nightlife is great, and that once stripped of parkas and galoshes, Montrealers suddenly seem happier and more attractive.

Beyond the typical stuff on tourist lists of hot spots and urban attractions, however, there are also many things about summer in Montreal that are worth looking into if you’re not on holiday, but simply living your life as usual. A warmer, sunnier version of life, perhaps, but one in which you still have to cook dinner, maybe feed your kids, and get to work on Monday morning, even if you get there in flip-flops.

One excellent thing to do (in my opinion): Sign up to receive seasonal vegetable baskets from local family farmers, which you can pick up weekly at one of the many drop-off points in the city arranged through the Équiterre network. You’ll not only be eating the freshest of the fresh, but you might also discover that you have a new found appreciation for rutabagas, or a hidden talent for making tomato jam. A pantry stocked with tomato jam might not preserve the feeling of a summer night spent on a terrasse surrounded by beautiful people in sundresses and shorts, but at least it’ll help stave off scurvy once January comes back to whup us into submission.

Summer Job

I don’t want a summer job.

All year, I was supported by my Teaching Assistantship, my scholarship, grants, and bursaries, and my *ahem* parents.  I am in the mood to make music, to be a poor artist, to declare my passion and refuse to do anything else.

What to do, what to do?

I have no idea how much money I can make in one week just by busking in the metro, but this is the current plan.  If I absolutely must, I will look for a part-time job, but how fantastic will it be to make money doing what I am actually certified to do by McGill University?


iLove iBurger

So let’s side track.  I haven’t written in a little while and here’s why:  I’ve been working on my…yes…thesis. And no that’s not up for discussion, not on any online forum.  Nowhere.  That’s it.  The mention of the word is there, and that’s it – so what was I saying?  Yes.  iBurger. (more…)

Must love dogs

When I left my hometown in the fall of 2009, to pursue graduate studies at McGill, I left behind friends, family and familiarity. Most importantly, I left my dog. (more…)

I’m not like them, but I can pretend.

If you went to high school in the 90s you know those lyrics.

Even if you go to high school today.  You know those lyrics.

And why am I alluding to them?  Why do I want to remind us of high school? Well, simply because in the past week CNN has had a lot of coverage on the topic of bullying and cyberbullying.  And so have many other news channels.  In fact, on the cover of People magazine, they’re talking about cyberbullying and bullying. “Teen suicide tragedies: Deadly bullying.” it reads.

Mapping the Flaneur

I know it is a long time until spring break, but the story I have to tell is more about being new to the city and feeling lonely and having a project to do (which I had no idea how to actually do).  What I usually do in situations like these is walk.  Walking, for me, is essential for thinking.  It keeps things fresh, a change from all that stagnant, go-nowhere indoor thinking.  In the case of my spring break of 2008 predicament (new to the city, lonely, stressed) that’s exactly what I did. (more…)

The metro is the measure of my grad student soul

I use the metro to measure my progress as a graduate student.  I admit this is a subjective procedure.  What I mean by progress needs some clarification.

There are a number of concepts that go into defining ‘progress.’  The first is my comfort level on the metro.    In the winter my comfort on the metro is compromised by the fact that I have to bundle up against the cold in order to get to the metro, but once I am in the train itself, in that hot underground tunnel, it is hotter than any summer.  In summer, it is simply hotter than hell, many days.  Winter or summer I sweat in great streams which soak through my thin clothing or soak in under four layers of wool, cotton and gore-tex. (more…)

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