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In the flash of a meteor, winter's evil spell was broken

The meteor slashed across the sky at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday- and the evil spell that had hung over the kingdom of Montreal since December started to lift immediately.

Within 12 hours, the temperature was rising and Montrealers were starting to act normally again. They cast off their heavy clothing and rushed into the streets, wearing skimpy shorts and swimsuits.

They lay on balconies, theey snoozed on park benches, they are ice cream and stared lazily at the sky - behaviour that hadn't been seen in the city for nine months.

The wicked Witch of Winter was dead at last and the evil spell was broken.

Within two hours of the meteorite's landing, even the Stanley Cup series had ended and Hockey Night in Canada was finally over.

The most pessimistic souls knew it was finally safe to put away their winter underwear. I know that technically, winter ended March 21 - three months ago. But psychologically, I don't think Montreal's winter ended until the middle of this week.Ever since I returned home in early May, I've found the city suffering from a kind of post-winter syndrome.

People seemed depressed, crabby, divided.

I'd meet them on street corners and they'd start graphically describing every winter cold snap I had missed, like battle survivors recalling a bombing.

"Hey, forget it," I'd tell them. "Winter's been over for months. Think summer!"

"Yeah, that's easy for you to say!" they'd snap.

"I hear it snowed 16cm in Red Deer a few days ago - and there's a blizzard in Artic Bay that may be coming our way."

Even provincial politics, which normally evaporates in spring, hung in the airlike a cold front that refused to leave.

The city seemed to be wounded by winter, and I wondered if it would recover. Was it possible Montreal had developed PWS - Permanent Winter Syndrome?

Was winter now my country - even in summer?

Then the meteor flashed across the sky, like an omen - and the city's mood seemed to change overnight. You could see the shift most dramatically on the Main the next day, as the St. Laurent Blvd. Street festival started.

At noon, people were still wearing long pants and long faces, despite the staggering heat wave.But five hours later, the street looked like the beach - a sea of bikers, rollerbladers and pedestrians - all exposing their flesh and strutting their stuff.

Teenagers necked. Old ladies brandished ice-cream cones. A dozen African drummers sat in the center of the street pounding their congas and even the cops seemed to enjoy it.

No one was more pleased that Richard Bernett, owner of Ripples's ice-cream store, celebrating its 10th year on the Main. At midnight, Wednesday, Bernett stood amid a virtual ice-cream riot tallying up his night's sales and smiling with relief:

"Until tonight, this was the worst summer I'd ever had - no one was buying ice cream. When the heat wave started this morning, I thought - this is it! But still, no one came.

"There was a kind of delayed reaction until 5 o'clock - but then it happened. The crowds started coming and they never stopped.

"I served over 1,500 ice creams. In 10 years I've never had a day like it". Not only people reacted to the meteoritic arrival of summer. A friend had planted poppies in her garden over a month ago and watched them depressed:

"Usually they grow steadily all spring but this year they just sat there - they didn't grow a millimeter. The buds were curled up tightly, as if the flowers had decided the climate was too hostile to take the risk.

"Then overnight - whoof! I came out in the morning and there was this huge blaze of orange everywhere. My garden had turned into a jungle!"

There is an old joke about Montreal's having two seasons - winter and July - and this year it was true…….

The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, June 18, 1994.

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