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Letter 8: Virginie, My Former Landlady in Montreal

January 10, 2011

Sometimes a relatively small accumulation of details changes the course of your life in a major way. In my case, it made me meet Virginie. She is enormously important to me. She is the closest thing that I have to a grandma in Montreal and I often turned to her for guidance or an understanding ear when I faced a problem or a difficult situation. Yet, we owe our relationship to a series of small decisions working well together.

When I first arrived in Montreal, I set out to look for an apartment (it was not a challenge that scared me but I did not know the best places to look for, like craigslist. But I digress). I found an ad in the newspaper that really spoke to me (if there is such a thing). It talked about a former journalist who had travelled a lot, was renting two rooms in her house, and liked to cook for her residents. I guess what I read was: “Interesting person, my own room, and a home-made meal once in a while. Great let’s go!”.

In Montreal, you’re never far from a park!

So I tried calling the person (Virginie), but I never got any answer in the first two days. After some persistence I eventually managed to get a hold of her and arrange a visit. I liked the room and the place but it was out of my budget and she had other visits scheduled. It was no big deal, as I was going to move in with a gay couple with whom I got along well. Everything was in place for me never to see Virginie again.

But when I came back to my youth hostel she had left me a note, saying that if I liked the room, she’d keep it for me. She even cut a hundred bucks off the monthly rent! And she offered to come by the hostel with her car to help me with my stuff.  I did not know exactly why she had gone so much out of her way for a stranger like me, but I soon found out that she behaved like that on many occasions. That kind of altruistic behavior is just a part of who she is.

That’s the first important lesson I’ve learned from Virginie: when you do good things to someone, you feel much better about yourself. Incidentally, I tried to apply this principle with various results: I felt great helping an old man crossing the road, not so changed after giving a homeless guy some money and a meal, and worse after stopping for a pedestrian that did not thank me… nevermind, it’s still a good way to live (and another subject entirely).

During the three years I lived at Virginie’s place she’s really helped me grow, reflect on what I wanted in life, and taught me a lot on how to live a happy life. Maybe not happy but at least more fulfilling. Even after I moved out we saw each other regularly. My friends and family have all met her and said the same thing: she looks fifteen years younger than her age and she is incredibly smart and educated.

We're eating at Virginie's, yay!

The thing I enjoyed the most, and the way I learned the most, is when she cooked a nice meal and invited me to share it with her. She would tell stories of the famous people she interviewed, like Edith Piaf, or one of the many challenges she faced and how she dealt with it. When experiencing a tough situation, a break-up, or an occasion to celebrate, it was always nice being able to talk to her and listen to her stories. I also learned a lot about Quebec and its culture, which is very interesting.

I could write a post twice as long about all the things that make her a great person and why I’m thankful. But for now I just want to leave you with three other lessons I took from Virginie:

  1. Life is a bumpy ride, there will be ups and downs. But it is important to live every moment of it. Some of the worst moments of your life will actually help you later, you just can’t know it at the time.
  2. Life is fragile and short. The persons who are most important in your life might not be here tomorrow (I haven’t talked about the stories behind this lesson because they might be too personal). So cherish every moment.
  3. It is very important to be unconventional and take risks. Virginie has a rebellious mind, kinda like Harry Potter when he breaks all the rules. From being among the first Canadians to travel to communist Russia, to taking the Canadian flag down at a reception in France, she’s created some pretty awesome memories for herself and the people who were with her!
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    6 Comments
    1. waitingforastart permalink

      She sounds like a dream landlady to have. Having lived in rented accommodation for last 10 years, I know only too well how rare it is. I never got that lucky.

      LoL at the pedestrian who didn’t thank you comment. In theory, doing a good thing for somebody else should be a reward in itself. In practice, most of us get annoyed if our effort doesn’t even get a thank you. I guess we still got a while to go till the real enlightenment. 🙂

      • Haha, I agree with you on both points. And that’s probably why we really admire those few good people who do good deeds just because they want to.

    2. I love your blog theme! I can’t wait to see more.

    3. Great letter as usual. Loved the three extra lessons as well. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      • Thank you for the encouragements. It’s very nice to see some of the first readers of this blog still come by from time to time 🙂

    4. Beautiful story, and I have been to Montreal. It’s lovely.

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