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.

Travelog Part 9 – Outremont & Ste. Anne de Bellevue

On the next day our long walk to Outremont reveals more of the hard-luck side of Montreal. We pass through boarded up, grafittied, grass gone missing, dead plant, skinny cat, lonesome dog, broken railing, paint-peeling, housing. Through little Cuba and the rest of Latin America. Up to the park near Mont Royal. I’m looking for a bathroom. Nothing in sight. Finally we spy a McDonald’s and I tell Duane that he has to buy a cup of their shitty coffee so I can use the bathroom. Relief. We’re off again. We’re in Outremont where Duane’s grandmother mostly grew up. It is a genteel neighborhood. Large old homes. Most are made of stone or brick. In many yards the bushes are wrapped with white cloth to protect them from the snow, I think. Down the streets toward the commercial district we see a Hassidic Jew across the street and then several more. A grandfather in skullcap with white ringlets takes his grandson by the hand to help him up a flight of stairs. There are Greek businesses and restaurants here also. It is a kind of ethnic mix, mostly mediterranean. We take lunch at a deli. You can have “votre choix” of “deux, trois, au quatre” kinds of salad.

After lunch we head back up the hill. It is time to find the catholic cemetery. A hike up a steep street brings us finally to the gate of a cemetery. This is the English/protestant graveyard. We wander along the one-car width asphalt path. Along the way grave-diggers are draining water out of an open grave, further up green outdoor carpet covers a pile of removed dirt next to an empty bier, before or after the funeral? This is a graveyard still in active reception. Now and then a car speeds by us. As pedestrians it is hard to guage how fast they are going, but surely faster than is proper or safe. By the end of our journey through this vast repository of the dead, we have decided that people take this route as a shortcut from one side of Mont Royal to the other. We reason that if you live here and know your way among these winding paths it really would be worth it as opposed to going all the way around the Mont and having all those pesky signals. It is just a bit disconcerting for the casual visitor and, I expect, for those who have come to bid farewell to the dearly departed.

On and on we walk. No sight of the French Catholic graveyard. Finally we see a map and realize that we have to backtrack a little. At last we come to the fence that separates the two graveyards. We come across a remarkable sight; rows of graves with the exact same tombstone on both sides of the fence. These are dead WWI soldiers, some protestant, some catholic on opposite sides of the fence. What was that war about? How strange they could fight, side by side. They could die, side by side, but they must be separated by this fence. On one side ground hallowed only for the Catholic. On the other side ground hallowed only for the protestant. I am once again bewildered by religion and the mental gymnastics people must accomplish in order to maintain faith in such a perplexing, unyielding, self-contradictory system of belief.

We come to a place quite near the top of the Mont and once again I am beset by the need to relieve myself. There are several large crypts built into the side of the Mont. The all appear to have Italian names. One of them looks like a replica of the depictions of Joseph of Arimethea’s crypt the one he loaned to Jesus for a few days a couple thousand years ago. I climb up behind the next crypt over and find a place out of the line of sight of the people up above me who are visiting another crypt and pee. Then we keep walking. We wander down the hill again, this time among the mostly French names. Some Irish, Italian, Polish, and other Europeans. Closer to the bottom of the hill are Asian names, as well. We come to a chapel and it is apparent that a funeral is in process. We sit and rest for awhile. We have not found any of Duane’s family and the graveyard is so immense, we find it daunting. There is still some ways to walk before we are out of the cemetery, but finally we are on the street again. We have walked quite enough so we catch a bus and ride downtown. We have gone just a few blocks when we see the building housing the cemetary records. If we had gone there first we would have been able to find the graves we were looking for—perhaps there will be another time.

The bus lets us out quite far from our hotel, pretty much in the middle of Montreal’s business district. That’s okay. We mosey along until we find a place to pop in and rest our feet and have a little refreshment. Then we are off again. This walk takes us past an Anglican church which has been eaten by commerce. The part of the church visible to the street is its spire, the front door and its pointed archway and a sign that says Church of St James. The rest of it, if any there is, is hidden, is covered by a flat concrete wall, two tall stories high, with a row of window in each story. It is quite plain that there are shops and offices behind these windows. Some are clearly empty. The wall is as grimy as any I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like the coal dust has ever been cleared away. After I have snapped a couple of pictures I realize that a banner runs up this concrete wall and across the top around the arch across to the end and down again. This banner is printed with a dotted line which is interrupted now and again by a graphic of a pair of open scissors and the words “coupez ici”, cut here. A sign at one end of the building does indicate that renovation will soon remove the imposed wall and the church will be revealed again. I expect there will be Hosannas.

Next day we went looking for the University. We walked the wrong direction, but we found a really huge park and walked through it. In the afternoon we got in the car and drove out to a highway that pretty much circles the island. It was our hope to find some wildness. On the map were nature preserves and parks, but we didn’t see anything that would give us a feel for what it was like four centuries ago. We did pass a prison, several mansions, some “prestige” homes, some new middle class developments. We stopped in St Anne De Bellevue, a small town where some of Duane’s relatives lived for awhile and there was a garage with the name of one of them, Charlebois. This little town was like most coastal towns even though this one is not on the ocean, the St Laurent is a wide, wide river and since it takes the over flow from the great lakes and drains this eastern part of Canada it carries an enormous amount of water. St Anne does have the feel of a resort and because it is only April it has the feel of a resord in the off season, just a few hardy souls out walking the boardwalk. We find a bench to sit and watch the river flow by us. I makes some notes in my trusty notebook. I see chunks of ice and get out the camera. Both Duane and I take photos of the ice floating down the river. These are not big chunks, just left over pieces. The major ice break up is over. We wander up and down the street a bit. Go into a very small restaurant, have a pleasant little dinner. It is nearly 5 pm.

In the bathroom, which is very small and crowded with supplies for the restaurant, I notice a cartoon, possibly from the New Yorker the style is right, of a couple in bed making love. It is partially hidden and I can’t read the joke. It gets me to thinking about why you would put it on the wall in the first place, if people were not going to be able to read it and understand why they were looking at these lovers. Suppose there were a man who worked in a restaurant, maybe his wife owns it, or his girlfriend. He has a picture on the wall in the bathroom, but it is completely hidden by boxes of toilet paper and tomato sauce. He doesn’t mind about that. It doesn’t matter that he can’t see it, that no one can see it. What matters is that the picture is there and he can see it in his mind. He can see the nipples and pubis, the round thighs, flat knees, the curve of ass and shoulder. He knows it’s there on the wall and it doubles him over sometimes. Just doubles him over laughing to see people going in and coming out and them not knowing about the picture on the wall behind the sauce.

By the time I realize that I have left the notebook on the bench beside the St Laurent in St Anne de Bellevue it is far too late to go back.

But that does not happen until after we drive through Lachine and Duane reminds me of how Lachine got his nickname. He was one of those fellows intent on finding a passage to Asia and he though the St Laurent might be it. Planes come in low over our heads heading for the airport, Dorval. There are some real classy condos that they are flying low over. But they do have a magnificent view over the water here. Take the good with the bad. I still haven’t realized that the notebook is gone when we take the wrong turn and end up on the wrong side of the canal. Eventually we get ourselves situated correctly and head on back to St Hubert Street. Then in the hotel, I realize that I don’t have it and all those days of writing down so carefully all our adventures, the weather, the lack of spring, where we stay and all those receipts, are gone. I am very upset with myself. But I can’t let it last. I really do want to have a good time and moping over the loss of the notebook would put a real kink in the rest of the trip. I am resolved to make the best of it. It is not long before I realize that keeping notes was a distraction and now I am free to just look around and enjoy.

Travelog Part 8 – Montreal

The Hotel d’Elysee is blue with a red awning. It is located in a row of hotels and apartments, all virtually one building. Former row-houses. Three steps down lead to the door lead to a door below street level and several steps up lead to a double glass door, this is not the entrance. The entrance is the one below the street. Inside the lobby is small, painted a wheat gold. There is a small leather couch, a coffee table a chair on the left of the entrance. To the right are two café tables with chairs upended on them. The front desk is separated from the lobby proper by a wall with a cut-out that is so large that the wall may as well not be there. The hotelier says Bon Jour, we reply with a cheery hello. Immediately he switches to English. We get signed in, find out where to park our car—just back it up a few feet. It’ll be fine until Tuesday when we must move it to the other side of the street.

Our room is on the third floor. No elevator. The stairway is narrow, just room for one person at a time. We have two keys, one for the lobby door and one for our room, 302. This is a very small room. Just big enough for the double bed, a night stand and a small round table with two slender iron chairs. There is a private bath. The room is painted a pleasant orange-brown, the bed is comfortable. We get our things situated in the room and head out to explore. Our primary concern is some supper and we are keeping an eye out for an internet café. We find a place called Creative Vegetarian Restaurant. It is Taiwanese. It doesn’t look very big at first, but then I notice that there is a store in a room off of the back of the room we are seated in and when I go to the toilette, I pass through a room similar in size to the one we are in and then through another, larger room where the tables are low and there are cushions for seating. The food is exceptionally good. We ordered inari, sushi, and what we have always called sushi, but they called it something else.

After we have watched Law and Order in French we turn off the TV and snuggle down. I comment that it is certainly quiet. Why did I do that? Duane is off snoring and I’m pretty close to sleeping when I smell cigarette smoke. I gave up smoking years ago. This I don’t want. I get up and get a towel from the bathroom and stuff it under the door hoping to block the smoke. It does cut it down. Our smokers down the hall are listening to TV and wrestling around. This goes on for a long time. Then they are quiet for a little while and I sleep some. Then they start up again laughing, giggling. Finally, it must be 5 am, it is getting light out, I get up and go to their door, “So are you ever going to go to sleep?” I ask. “Sorry.” and they quiet down. We sleep.

The next day we walked to “old Montreal”. Near the water, old Montreal is a section of town that has been preserved from the wrecker’s ball and modernization. There were other tourists, but it was not really crowded. The buildings are stone. The walls quite thick. All restaurants and shops. We weren’t interested in buying anything so we just strolled, took photos and poked our noses in where we could. We encountered an archway through which a grassy courtyard could be seen. It seemed to be unoccupied so we entered the archway. The structure is U shaped with the arch in the center of the bottom of the U. Thick vines cover the walls. It felt very old. A plaque indicates that most of the rooms are occupied by professional offices, lawyers and so forth. There is a restaurant facing the street and next to the arch. It felt like we had stepped out of the 21st century into a much older time. Even the presence of another couple who came in after us did little to dispel the feeling.

Our walk took us to the waterfront. This is a canal and a small port. A ferry dock, I think, with some shipping. There is a customs facility. The most amazing thing we encounter here is a fantastic apartment complex on the far side of the wide canal. At first we have no idea what we are seeing. It looks like a ruin or a long low pile of stones. Then we get it. This is an apartment complex. Somehow reminiscent of Mesa Verde, yet not at all like it. The apartments seem independent of one another, but stacked on each other, but offset so that they all have some roof and most have skylights, sunrooms. There are large openings scattered throughout where the sky can be seen as if the building is built around the opening. These are holes in the building. It is organic in appearance. At first, I am repelled, but now looking at the photos I realize that it is probably a really great place to live and that it looks like a pile of boulders is actually a plus.

There are so many cathedrals in Montreal. Every few blocks another concrete and stone cathedral. Not a single one is Notre-Dame de Montreal. Duane’s grandmother’s family attended that cathedral and we want to find it, but we never do. We do find a catheral that is morphing into a modern brick and glass building. At first we think that the cathedral is behind the brick building, but no it is combined with it. It really does look like the building is in the process of transforming into something else. Like it was a cathedral, but it wants to be an insurance company, but it still serves a parish so it has kept its spires and its front door and façade, but the sides are all boxy and brick and glass and definitely insurance company. Later, I realize that this building epitomizes Montreal for me. The old was being consumed by the new to the point of being nearly obliterated, but late in that process of consumption someone said hold on we can’t tear it all down. People like this stuff. We have to keep some of it. So old Montreal sits there near the water with cobbled streets and quaint old signs swinging from iron lanyards and all around her the city is in love with modernity. Some of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen are in Montreal. Still everywhere are pockets of lovely old buildings sitting like grandmothers hiding their bewilderment behind simple graceful dignity.

She’s a bit dirty, too. At least in the Latin Quarter, where our hotel is located. Lots of paper floating around the streets. A prostitute or two discretely plying their trade on St Hubert. If there is any drug activity it is more subtle than the streetwalkers. There is a greyhound bus station just down the street from us and this is like most big-city bus stations in that among its customers are some of the less law-abiding citizens, as well as alcoholics, down on-their-lucks, and the country kids come to the big city drawing the usual predators.

This night, the kids from the night before have left and we have a quiet night.