We have just had three days in Montreal
, just as a test run for a possible move, since they have already given me an offer. The salary is good and it is tenure-track, the start-up package is okay but not great - really the advantage is the work/life situation in Montreal.
Work first of all - we spent Friday getting a tour of IRIC (the Institut de Recherche en Immunologie et en Cancerologie, at the Universite de Montreal) by Claude's newly graduated PhD student, Marie-Eve (very bright, I think she'll do well in her post-doc at Oxford). I love the set-up of IRIC, it is bright and shiny, all new and high technology. The building is designed for research, and lets natural light into every part of the building.
Best of all, all the students and post-docs in the building look happy, talk to each other with smiles on their faces and interest in their work. The mouse house is great (although I cannot imagine it staying helicobacter free at the current level of entry barrier, they should really divide it into two levels) with an amazing transgenics facility and best of all - lots of empty space! This is a place I would enjoy working in.
To our unexpected delight, one of the admin staff, Robert Turgeon, happens to be President of Heritage Montreal in his spare time, and organised a walking tour around the parks of Plateau with himself and Dinu Bumbaru (key advisor to World Heritage, he was sent to assess the damage of Dubrovnik after the war). We had a very pleasant stroll, discussing world heritage and the pleasures of being in a city where people enjoy life.
They then dropped us off at Little Italy, so we could visit the Jean Talon Market and have a beauutiful Italian meal. How different from the United States that fourth generation Italian immigrants still speak Italian as their first language (along with French and English, of course). Montreal is so heterogenous, with multiple groups all living together and all respecting each other's culture. And for me, cities are more analogous to ice-cream than microarrays.
We spent Saturday with Sylvie, Valerie and Loic. Sylvie and Marc are really the inspiration for me to move to Montreal. Beyond simply Sylvie encouraging me to apply, they provide an active example of life in Montreal - they are the happiest family I know. Both endulge each other's whims, they enjoy their work and throw themselves into it, but take all the time they need to play with Valerie and Loic and to be together (a difficult task indeed for a scientist).
A nice house, good food, a city easy to raise children in, this is where Montreal excels. We spent the morning playing bubbles with the kids (with the bubble trumpet we brought them from the Ukraine - they play so well together, sharing and looking out for each other), and then drove to the Old Port. There we ate crepes, walked around, tried a local ice-cream Sylvie touted as better than Ben and Jerry's, and enjoyed the blue skies and stunning architecture. Afterwards we went to one of the many festivals that grace Montreal every summer, this one "Just for Laughs". It is a street comedy festival, with the typical giant head people walking around, distorting mirrors, clowns and carnival games. Not really funny, but certainly enjoyable with everyone out and about. We looked after Valerie and Loic while Sylvie moved the car, we didn't have the guts to tell Sylvie that while she was gone they played a game together where they licked their lollypops, tapped it on the sole of their shoes and then licked it again.
It is no wonder kids bring illness. In the evening we had an extremely enjoyable dinner with Claude and his wife Claudette, an experimental psychologist at Le Meac. The food and wine was supurb - a lingering dinner with great food and fascinating company, isn't that what life is about?
Sunday morning we had brunch together at Tutti Frutti, with mounds of fresh fruit. We then watched WALL-E at the movies (all movies are screened in both English and French, Valerie and Loic were quite happy to watch the English version for us), and Lydia taught Valerie and Loic how to make fairy bread before we flew out, onto our next choice. Overall, I think we would always be foreign in Montreal. It is far more French than either of us expected before our first visit, 70% of the population speak French as their first language, and 30% speak no English at all.
If I teach undergraduate at the Universite de Montreal it'll have to be in French (luckily I can teach Masters and PhD students in English). Still, it'll be a challange and a life ambition to learn French, and it would grant any children the amazing gift of bilingualism. And Montreal is one of the best places in the world to be slightly foreign, accepting and respectful of cultural diversity. Somehow they have managed to pick up all the best traits of the English, French and Americans, and allowed all the newcomers to keep their own cultural community while embracing that of Quebec