Travelog Part 10 – Quebec City

Quebec City is our next destination. The freeway parallels the St Laurent, but comes within sight of it only occasionally. We take one side trip to Joliet, see the benedictine (?) dominican (?) monastary (?) as we drive by. It is a samll town with a university. There is not much else to say. We just turned around and went back to the freeway. Passed through Trois Rivieres, a town that does figure in Duane’s family history as does Joliet, Quebec does not. Along this stretch of freeway between Trois Rivieres and Quebec City, water stands in the fields and there are a few ponds. Suddenly the water is covered by large white birds. They are too far away to know what they are for someone without ornithological knowledge. They rise up off the water in one big cloud, circle and resettle. We see that they are on both sides of the road. They are probably geese, but I didn’t know wild geese were ever white. They are not seagulls. We can tell that from the shape and size and the way they fly. We are also fairly certain that they are not swans. Nevertheless, I was reminded of the swan that we found when I was a little girl.

We lived up on Ochoco Creek then. I was school age, I think, maybe 6 no more than 8. I could have been even younger. We lived beneath the Ochoco Reservoir where the hills narrow close. The dam takes advantage of this and connects the hills with an earth plug to hold little Ochoco Creek back until it makes a lake. The highway that runs up into the forest was between our house and the north hill. I don’t know which of us kids first noticed the big white spot on the hill across the road. We had no idea what it was, maybe a sheet. We went to investigate. It was a swan. Wounded. Alive. Unable to fly. My father brought the swan down to the chicken house. We had a lot of chickens then. It was before the corporate farms took over the egg industry and ran the prices down so low that all the small farms like ours couldn’t afford to feed the chickens. As soon as we were all run out of business the price of eggs went back up. Anyway, we had two big rooms in the chickenhouse and all the chickens were in one of the rooms. We put the swan in the other. I don’t know if the vet was consulted, if the vet examined the bird or not, but it stayed in our chickenhouse until the bullit wound on its wing healed. I peaked in on it and showed more restraint that was my usual behavior having been warned that it was afraid of humans and needed to feel as safe as it could under the circumstances. “Leave it alone.” I don’t know how long it was there. Just a few days. One day, we all watched as my father carried it out to the creek and set it down on the water. The bird wasted no time getting into the air and leaving us behind. There was nothing like watching it take off and fly away. Letting go was so much better than keeping.

We found our hotel, the Hotel du Vieux Quebec (old Quebec hotel) on St Jean without a problem. We left our car parked in the underground parking lot a couple of blocks away for the whole time we were there.

Old Quebec City is very much like an old European city. It is the only walled city in North America. The wall and much of the city is made of gray stones. The streets are narrow quite narrow. The square of the old city is cobbled unlike New England cities of the same era whose squares are generally parks.

There was still snow on the steps up to the wall in many places and these were block with a chain. But we did find a place where we were able to access the wall. Along the wall are cannon of various sizes. And there are slits for firing muskets. These slits are quite narrow and when I was looking at them I thought it would be hard to shoot arrows through them, but only now I realize no one was firing arrows, they were firing muskets, a whole different proposition. The largest cannon are facing out over the St Laurent. Some of these date to the early English occupation and some earlier to the French possession.

From the wall we could see over the modern city. In the distance some mill or manufactory with some kind of emission billowing up white. The dominant color was reddish-brown of roof tops and naked trees. On the other side of the city we could see the river. Ferries are in constant motion across the river. There is a city right across the river called Levis. Quebec City is situated up river and just Southwest of an island, the Ile d’Orleans. As the St Laurent passes by Quebec it divides to go around the island on its way to the sea. It still has a long way to go before it empties into the Atlantic. Quebec is on the northeast turn of the curve of land that the river bends around. Approaching and rounding the bend, the river becomes narrower, but is still wider than most rivers I have seen. Quebec guards the entrance of the kingdom at the first point where it is possible to do so, where the river narrows enough that these pathetic cannons and men with muskets on either side of the river bank and a few ships could turn back invaders intent upon using the river as means to the interior. Control the St Laurent seaway and you could control the commerce of a large geographic area. But the indians, already upstream, posed a different kind of problem. The French dealt with this by conversion, trade, and alliances. In the end it was not enough to hold the province for France.

In Quebec it was difficult for me to remember that the English still rule Quebec in the sense that Quebec is part of Canada and that most of Canada is English speaking and culturally English to some extent, perhaps a large extent. Quebec does not feel like the rest of Canada. It is not just the language—-or maybe it is. Not being able to understand the language meant that I did not know what the conversations were about all around me. It has been a long time since I have been to Canada at all. Hard to say how the people would seem to me in Vancouver or Toronto and how that would compare to Quebec. Quebeceurs seem polite, some seem friendly, but the language barrier, it is a barrier even though they know English, closed some door. Made them seem private, not open to casual conversation. Part of me felt that it would be an imposition to expect them to talk to me in English any more than they had to in order to conduct business with me. I certainly would spend some time learning French before I went again. I think it would be a richer experience to have some knowledge of the give and take of conversation. Eavesdropping is impossible if you have no idea what people are saying and how else are you going to know what sort of things are topics of conversation?

We visited a museum. The portal to the exhibits was through a presentation on the history of Quebec. It was a technologically interesting show combining conventional TV video screen with screens that were more or less translucent which allowed the film to be projected onto a stage set. There was also a larger movie screen. That screen was on a wall adjoining the stage. The stage was in front of us and the wall screen on the left. We shared the theatre with a group of elementary school children. The bilingual culture of Canada necessitates adapting everything for both English and French audiences. Rather than having the audio come from speakers in the room, it came through headphones and you could choose English or French audio on these headphones.

The museum had numerous everyday use household items which was really great to see, unfortunately I’ll never remember what they looked like and we’ll have to find a source of pictures to be able to describe anything if we need to for the book. Many of the items were found in the privies, which was where people threw broken crockery and other trash. Sort of a catchall trash bin. Find the garbage bin and you can find out a lot about a culture—that’s an archeologist motto.

We had lunch in one of the old buildings. The walls are incredibly thick and the roof was rounded. It was a restaurant/bar combo. I think it had been a residence.

The night before we left we ate at the restaurant that was next to the hotel. The garcon was a bald man in his fifties (?), wearing black framed glasses and a mustache that was twirled to points and waxed. Each side of the mustache must have been 3 inches long and were point upward at an angle from his lip so that the tips resided in the air off his cheeks beneath his eyes. Very dramatic. He wore a black turtleneck and black pants and I think he believes that he is extraordinary. Maybe he is. Duane had muscles, all you can eat. They were available in several different sauces. Very good. My meal was unmemorable. The restaurant is all one room. A bar run halfway down one wall and all the way across the back wall. It is situated on the corner so two walls have windows onto streets. The place was packed. We arrived at the right moment so we were seated quickly, but others after us did have to wait. On either side of us were couples and were seated so close that we could have easily know exactly what each was discussing. Disconcerting that they could probably understand us, but we could not understand them.

Our room was quite nice. All in green tones and it had a round window facing southeast. The first morning, the sunrise was brilliant. I watched it light up the church spire and reflect off the stained glass. There was supposed to be free coffee, but we never found it. The lobby was quiet, never anyone in it. There is a bookshelf with quite a variety of books. I read most of a mystery, true life called The Sea Will Tell, all about a double murder on an island in the South Pacific. It was written by a lawyer, the lawyer who defended one of the accused. Double-murder, double accused. He wrote the first half based on ship logs and interviews with the accused and the families of the dead. That part was riveting. But when he stepped into the story as the lawyer, it became about him and his defense and I lost interest. Maybe I don’t want to be a lawyer after all.

The old city was undergoing a sprucing up probably in preparation for the tourist season about to descend. Ahead of season, there weren’t many people about, fewer than in old Montreal. In many ways it was great to be there at this time of year, but in other ways not so good. It was brutally cold due to a severe wind. I wore my long underwear and my winter coat with the hood up most of the time. The trees were bare and there were no flowers to soften the edges. Lu, our landlady, tells me that August is a good time to go to Quebec, but she has not been for a long time. She stayed in the big famous hotel, the Fontenac that dominates the old city. We saw it, but forgot to go in to see the lobby. I don’t know, it just wasn’t a priority.