February 20
Perfect day for the drab-vocabulary: dismal, bleak, leaden. Damp. Drizzle. Sleety rain speeding almost vertically across my window. Streets are dreary, bland, lustreless. Zestless. People scurrying along look nondescript, the same people who filled the sidewalks laughing and chatting through all of December during the sun-filled days when snow seemed to fall as champagne powder. The air was like champagne even at 20 below, prickly and bubbling, and everybody walking outside seemed exuberant. Tonight, after a mild day with warm winds that left deep puddles along sidewalks and street crossings (les francophones disent, “Il fait chaud!” as soon as temperature rises from 10 below to zero), Montreal is freezing over. The ground along the park is covered with black mirror-like ice, or with dirty jelly made of snow and salt. There is a narrow trail on the fringe of the trottoir that can be followed only in single file. I stumble over crusted snow chunks feeling as if I am hiking a mountain trail, pedestrians hurrying along in weatherproof anoraks, woollen hats, solid gloves, backpacks with a water bottle in the side pocket.

Do you like winter in Quebec? is one of the standard questions for newcomers. When I came from Munich to Montreal in February 1998, I replied cheerfully, buoyed by an enormous wave of new love: I certainly do! A radio announcer speaking in English with a strong francophone accent informed me that there would be some flurries. What he predicted sounded like fleuries, and I liked the idea that crystalline hexagonal sparkling flowers would fill the air and settle softly on our cheeks and eyebrows and eyelashes, and embellish the already greyish cornices with an unblemished layer of snow. Linguistically, everything about winter seemed poetic to me. My Montreal winter started when a radio weathercaster said: Snow will start to fall after supper . . . I laughed out loud. It assumed that everybody would have supper, and that snow would fall on them afterwards. And so it was. Snow started to fall at 9 p.m. and didn’t stop until the next afternoon. Magic beginning of winter. White soft ground on the streets. All the buildings took on different shapes, new contours covered with thick layers of snow. The streets looked like deserted ski runs with deep tire tracks that ended abruptly under drifting snow.

February 21
Wind chill factor: 30 below. Biting piercing bitter numbing cold. The wind hits my forehead like an ice pack and creates an unbearable, unfamiliar pain. The first time I heard the expression wind chill factor on the radio forecast, I understood windshield factor, and saw, in my mind’s eye, a huge shield of cold pushing relentlessly over everything, landscapes and cities alike. People are wrapped up in eiderdowns, pained expressions on their faces. Many faces with altered skin: former damage due to cold and alcohol consumption shows more in the cold, and bluish skin, cracked and reddened skin, skin that seems baked and frozen at the same time. In the dimly lit streets of late afternoon, I took the bus from Jean-Talon to Prince Arthur and stretched my neck all the way so as not to miss the stop. Prince Arthur Street reminded me of Kafka: the Golem could have appeared at any moment from behind a crepuscular doorway. Lumpy snow piled up at street corners, and everybody rushing home went by slush-slush-slush.

February 24
Glorious sun-filled day, impeccable blue sky. Cold. A day made of light and blue and cold, crisp air, quick walking pace at the mountain. Everybody is smiling, walking swiftly through the cold with ruddy cheeks, to take in the luminosity, the joyful cries of children who slide and spin downhill at Beaver Lake on bright-coloured snowboards and dishes. Tiny babies wrapped like miniature mummies are drawn along the ground on a kind of snowboard, their faces next to people’s shoes and near the exhaust fumes of cars. The forecast for tomorrow is rain, which is beyond imagination. They say that snow will fall overnight and tomorrow morning, changing into piercing ice pellets. Some freezing rain, the speaker goes on casually; temperature will drop. Since the ice storm in January 1998, the expression “freezing rain” is used with great caution. Winter and madness are connected in the literature of Quebec. “What titles come to your mind?” I ask my friend Mary. She replies solemnly in German: Schwarzer Winter (Black Winter), the German title of Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel.

February 25
Disastrous. Ordinary rain around eleven in the morning. An hour later, ice has coated twigs and branches and shrubs and given them a glazed-over look. Rows of tiny regular icicles gently swaying from telephone wires and clotheslines. A thick layer of ice on cars. More sleet pouring down.

February 26
Light. Even sunshine! A clean car: the icy envelope did the wash. A luminous day. Switch to light-vocabulary, to the light that washes, rinses everything, light that is gushing, pouring in through the kitchen door. I go out to buy greens and walk through Parc Lafontaine, but walking is slow, staggering over ice floes or wading in puddles. Piercing wind.

February 27
Bluest of all skies against the brick building across the street. No wind, but cold. The maple trees have taken on their striking end-of-winter grey and soon their flower buds will turn red. I am craving colour, searching everywhere for a hint of it.

February 28
Mild, bright morning, slightly covered sky. The middle of the street is dry. The staircase is ice-free, the sidewalk across the street is ice-free, in front of the house opposite mine there is even a patch of brownish grass. Heaps of melting snow in front yards. I remember hearing the snow break at Lac de Sittelle. Standing in the middle of the still frozen lake, I listened to the sounds of trickling water rushing down from the hills onto the lake. The surface of the ice covered with water. The sweating ice. Rushing heat waves over the ice. Blue hues in the water covering the ice. It was warm. Short sleeves, pants, rubber boots. The thaw . . . warm winds, the melting, the ice break. Is it really still safe to walk on ice? I kept asking. The sounds of water . . . Talkative ice, clicking, whispering, gurgling. Birds gurgling, too, chirping. Smells. Spring literally in the air. The auras of trees, mauve, yellowish, yellow-greenish, held the promise of the true spring explosion soon to happen.

March 3
Sunny and cold, sunny and cold, piercing cold at night. Street asphalt frosted over, deep-frozen. What is left of the snowbanks looks porous with greyish layers. These piles started to melt some time ago and are deep-frozen again. The layers look like watermarks on riverbeds. The streets are bathed in light, but it is impossible to walk in Parc Lafontaine. The main walkways have turned into skating paths. I stomped along the rough criss-crossed trails that pedestrians have been treading during the last months, trying not to break an ankle in the deep holes that some of their footprints have melted into. The glitter of sunlight on the snow. Glistening, glaring, glinting light. A perfect day for the luminous-vocabulary. Still cold. Still 15 to 20 below at night. Bitter cold. The cold attacks, mobilizing the body’s entire reserve of warmth. After three winters I have come to understand the local habit of wrapping oneself from head to ankle in a comforter camouflaged as a coat. My European friends shudder when I say “20 below” and ask, “Is it warm enough indoors?” Is it ever! Homes and restaurants are overheated. Women like to show skin even in 20-below cold. Montrealers have a winter culture not only of outdoor sports but of wine and dine, cultural events and fashion, a colourful, joyous, extrovert indoor culture. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops are noisy, full of laughter, storytelling and entertainment. This defiant attitude toward winter is quite contrary to the Nordic depression we know from Kaurismäki’s films. Overcast skies for tonight, and light snow by tomorrow. A storm battering the eastern seaboard of the U.S. is moving North, and it will be affecting our weather systems to some degree and to what degree depends on where you are . . .

March 5
Unblemished snow again. A white layer on cars, sidewalks, the whole street, front porch, staircase . . . a thin curtain of tiny snowflakes against the light of the street lamp. The intermittent snow will end tomorrow morning, the total accumulation exceeding five centimetres. Winds will be between thirty and fifty kilometres an hour and that will cause blowing snow locally. The blackish bumpy ice on sidewalks and around cars is softly covered. My indoor plants are thriving, the hibiscus with shiny new leaves. A severe winter storm continues to pound much of southern Ontario and the northeastern United States. Learning the words for uneven ground: bumpy, rough, ragged. Fissured, rugged, jolted. I will need a session with the thesaurus of Canadian English. A ragged person, a rugged face? Parts of Atlantic Canada are going to catch the tail end of that storm, Newfoundland and P.E.I. should miss the broad (? — or brunt?) of it but the edge of the system loading (looting?) up the Eastern seaboard will cause high winds and blowing snow . . . Taping several bits of weather forecast during the day, then rewind, listen, stop, take notes, rewind, listen, stop, take notes again and again. It brings back memories of my high school days, when we would flatten our ears against the (big) tape recorder, listening to British and American pop songs, to get every word right.

March 6
Serious snowfall. Whirling, swirling dancing snowflakes when I got up. Serious feeling of a cold in my system. Suddenly, overnight, I am feeling low with a stiff back, a stiff neck, tired of winter, of my narrow apartment. End-of-winter worn out. Everybody is tired of it. Beautiful afternoon light, very promising. The smell of melting snow, of spring.

March 8
Walked through Parc Lafontaine before noon in glistening sunlight. Alpine weather in the city. Open windows, the first ones I have seen. Frozen dog shit emerges from melting snowdrifts, news- paper pages scattered over the street, yogurt cups lying in front gardens, everything the snowstorms have whirled up from the recycling boxes during the last few months, and everything that was buried under never-ending layers of snow. Have you done winter camping yet? No. To sleep on a bed of fir branches. The radiant, expectant faces of people walking toward Parc Lafontaine. Drinking the sun.

March 10
It feels like spring. First walk in Hush Puppies and my lighter jacket. One of my neighbours sat in the morning sun on her balcony, writing in her notebook. A disturbance will bring some snow about our province tomorrow. However, sunshine can be expected . . .

March 13
Still messy, we’ve got snow and rain in the forecast at least through the afternoon rush hour, changing to snow as we head into the evening, at least five more centimetres possible . . . The good thing about winter is there have been no bugs for six months.

March 14
The streets are white, the sidewalks are narrow again. Branches of trees outlined loaded with snow. A woman listener complained bitterly on the cbc about the film she had seen on tv last night of people actually lying on the beach in b.c. She asked for comfort, compassion and some spring music. Well, yes. It is appalling, those people lying on a beach! That’s it for today. I didn’t listen to the forecast.

March 15
Sunny with icy winds, breezy for most of the day, as the weathercaster puts it. The list of euphemisms grows every day.

March 19
A sunny day and 5 degrees. Tomorrow ANOTHER sunny day and six degrees. Sounds like Gertrude Stein on grammar. The weathercaster’s voice is overjoyed and assertive, but then goes on to mumble something about the extended outlook and wet snow, or — snow — on Thursday. Cars queuing up at the carwash. A stroll through the park, past the curve of the lake, now a skating rink. Glaring sunlight. Glacier blindness. Everybody smiling. Farther up in the park, only the tops of benches poke up through the snow, with people sitting on them as if on fences. Cries of seagulls.

March 30
Clammy. Grey. Even rain in the afternoon. Sleety rain. “O! une petit neige!” says the clerk at the post office. We both burst into laughter. Everybody is making grim jokes. “Pire qu’un petit neige!” I reply. “It is sleet. Sleety rain. C’est quoi en français?” “Sleet?” she repeats. “C’est pas de la grésille, non? Mais oui, je dis, c’est ça. De la grésille.” Dark at four o’clock again.

March 31
Cold. Cold wind. Snow melted, though. Carson McCullers has been dreaming of snow all her life. So did Leonora Carrington: in The Hearing Trumpet she even reversed the poles in order to have a blizzard in South America. It was the only way she could fulfill the dream of her eighty-three-year-old heroine, Cristabel, to see snow.

April 2
Blue, glorious, luminous. More than that: I heard the cooing of a mourning dove this afternoon on rue Garnier, for the first time this spring.

April 4
Warm. Unequivocally warm. Open coat, light pants. Car heats up in the sun and will soon be too hot inside. Already looking for parking lots in the shade. Balconies bathed with sunlight. People walk slowly. They stop to talk and laugh together. Jackets, cardigans, sweaters, open coats. “We’ve had a lot of sunshine,” I say on the telephone to my friend in Stuttgart, who is complaining about too much rain. “It has been such a beautiful winter!”

April 11
Wednesday. Spring has sprung! Street cafés on St. Denis are packed. Everybody crazy, a bit tipsy and flapping ears like dogs. Spotted a bright yellow dandelion bud. It must have opened by now. There are two initiations in Quebec: burglary and winter. I have passed the test. I landed for good in Montreal when a sentence woke me at dawn on a hot summer day. A voice said: A snowball rolled through the front door and its sound woke me up. Dreaming I could see my open front door on the second floor, the lush maple green behind the banister, morning light washing the leaves, the spaces between the leaves, the open door. I saw a sparkling snowball roll over the threshold and down the slightly bent corridor. I woke up.