Springtime in Quebec, Part 2

Last time I ended by discussing language politics in French-speaking Québec, so I thought it would be appropriate to start with a few visual representations of those politics, in Quèbec’s Old City.

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Here is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the first Anglican church in Québec. In 1804, the Brits were sure to build its spire just a few feet higher than the neighboring Catholic Notre-Dame de Québec. French Quebecers: “We can take a hint.”

Holy Trinity held Easter services in both English and French, but Notre-Dame de Québec’s services were entirely in French. Deciding between the two, we decided “when in Rome”… and found ourselves at a French-speaking Holy Saturday evening service. (I took my English Bible along for some hard-core liturgical sword drills.) The service was exactly what I hoped it would be—lowly lit, contemplative, bathed in music and a few bells, and filled with joy.

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Il n’est pas ici, car il est ressuscité, comme il l’avait dit!

Obviously, the French component made it quite the adventure as I’m already non-Catholic and therefore unfamiliar with service traditions, but my friends as I managed to participate somewhat, following along in the readings. The only really awkward moment was when we got to what was called the échange de la paix (exchanging of the peace). Immediately, I remembered that in some conservative Anglican traditions, this is equivalent to the holy kiss (is it for the Catholics??!!), so when the French-speaking young woman in front of me turned around and leaned toward me, I visibly started, unsure if this complete stranger would be kissing or hugging me!

(She shook my hand.)

Another French/English side-by-side pair in Old City are two prominent libraries, the Maison de la Littérature, and the Morrin Centre. (Can ya guess which one is for books printed in English?) Our tour guide explained, though, that the beauty of these two side-by-side libraries is that it represents how the two languages can coexist alongside each other.

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An old sofa in the Morrin Center featured this adorable sign: Ce divan est probablement plus vieux que votre grand-mère. S.V.P. vous asseoir aussi dèlicatement que vous le feriez sur ses genoux.

“This sofa is probably older than your grandmother. Please sit down gently, as you would on her knees.”

The afternoon we visited, I spent time reading devotional poetry by John Donne and found this gem in his Holy Sonnets.

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Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she is embraced and open to most men.

Welcome, by the way, to Old City, the part of Québec City that’s voted one of the “Most Romantic Cities” world-wide.

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First, you have the Chateau Frontenac, which is described as the most photographed hotel in the world. We were told that you have to take at LEAST thirty-five pictures of this hotel. I did my best.

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This romantic city also delights in its food. I enjoyed Cochon Dingue’s (The Crazy Pig’s) French onion soup, and another time I had a duck terrine starter, salmon tartare (for the first time!), and a lovely little complimentary dessert.

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One morning, I tried a delicious crepe made of asparagus, prosciutto, and brie, topped with a side of local maple syrup. (Quèbec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup!) Don’t get me started talking about poutine, eggs benedict, macaroons, and croissants. (I obviously ended Lent in gastro-heaven.)

Also home to the talented Cirque du Soleil, we found this sculpture + poem welcoming us to the city.

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“To you,
Coming from here or elsewhere,
Day or night
Summer or winter
Welcome.”

Hee hee, our tour guide told us, “We have only two seasons, summer and winter. And summer is the nicest week of the year.” While we were blessed with gorgeous sunny days during our short visit, we certainly felt winter’s chill in the shade of stone in the afternoons and in the St. Lawrence River’s mist during our ferry ride.

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If I had to summarize my trip in one sentence, I would write, “You should go.”

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But if you want something a little more poetical, I’d probably whisper something about

“Europe’s old city,
cigarette smoke and cologne on cold cobblestones,
boots and mittens on marble stone,
bright sun on blue skies and dirty snow,
marathoners running,
church bells and waterfalls laughing,
St. Lawrence River mist,
and French accents on chocolate croissants, spicy peppers, and cooked fish.”

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Springtime in Quebec, Part 1

Ever wanted to visit Europe but didn’t have the cash for a plane ticket? Quebec is the spot for you! Shasta’s Fog visited this charming French-speaking province for spring break this year, so I wanted to share some trip highlights for anyone needing a beautiful getaway on THIS side of the pond.

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How is Quebec still so French, you may ask? To be honest, it’s kind of the Americans fault.

Quebec City was founded in 1608 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and while France’s presence continued in Quebec for 150 years, in 1759, France ceded its control of North American possessions to Great Britain after a few battles and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Quebecois were not exactly ecstatic about their new rulers, and Great Britain became a little nervous about this due to the unrest in its southern colonies (hello, rebellious American colonies!). Great Britain was afraid that unhappy French Quebecers would start up a rebellion and join the Americans, so they supplied the “Quebec Act” to pacify all French-speaking Canadian subjects—recognizing and promoting French language and French culture, allowing them to keep French civil law, and offering freedom of religion (allowing them to remain Catholic). Shockingly, England was saying, “Yes, BE CATHOLIC, ye Quebecers. Be French. Be ANYthing except American!” And Quebec was happy, and stayed ish-French. And a good thing too because now we Americans can go on vacation and eat croissants and macaroons, and enjoy rich French heritage without crossing that annoyingly large ocean.

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Our first stop was Montréal, and we visited the Notre-Dame Basilica, decorated in the Gothic Revival style in the 1880s. Fun fact: Celine Dion (native to Quebec) got married here.

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My friends and I had terribly much fun dashing into as many bakeries as possible. This one called the Crew Collective is a co-working space housed in the 1920s headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. (Little bit of gold Art Deco for the win.) Eggcellent Americano and croissant. Or as the French say, “Ameri-ken-oh.”

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We were also sure to visit the Maison Christian Faure Patisserie, where the “Best Pastry Chef in the World” hosts curious travelers. I ate an éclair for breakfast. I do not even apologize.

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PC: @lorida.burk

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Besides the city’s amazing architecture, I also enjoyed fun street style, though most of the time, I was too slow on the draw with my camera.

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Girl, work it.
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’90s was big.
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“Today in microfashion…”
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And a Satan suit, for good measure. (??)

When I got home, my mother asked me, “But what did you eat BESIDES pastries?”

…I admit I had to think for a bit.
Obviously, poutine, since Quebec is famous for it. At Montreal’s famous La Banquise, I had the original—fries, covered in cheese curds and gravy!

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You know you’re in Canada when there are outdoor heaters for patio seating.

Another Quebecian delight we discovered was dipped ice cream cones. I’ve never had a dipped cone where the chocolate is so thick and so flavorful!

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We lodged well in two Airbnbs, one night in Montreal and three nights in Quebec City. Recommend!

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NW view from our 9th floor apartment in Montreal.
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NE view: old + new

One thing that worried me was the language barrier, especially since we had heard about how strong the French language politics are in Quebec.

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Marc-André J Fortier’s “The English Pug and the French Poodle,” featuring a woman dressed in the French-designer Coco Chanel, lifting her nose in disdain toward a Canadian bank, representing the influence of the English.

But a very nice waitress at Creperie Bretonne Ty-Breiz allayed our fears. Unbothered by our Nutella crepe instagramming and delighted giggles, she acknowledged that food is art, and in her French accent, said it is “the art of making friends.” She told us that Quebecers know English, and they’ll use it with you. She said, “Maybe a few won’t speak English, but they are 5%, and they are stubborn.” Three hours away in Quebec City, our tour guide Sam from afreetourofquebec.com told us the same thing. “In Old City, they’ll speak English to you! They know English. Outside of the city, they’ll speak the English that they know,” he smiled. His wry statement indicated that while many Quebecers are willing to use English, their English skills are not all the same.

But we found it to be true that Quebecois used English. Most restaurant servers and shop owners easily switched to French-accented English, and the only awkwardness that occurred was our own fault, when we failed to produce a polite French “Bonjour” greeting, or awkwardly stared at rattled French, rather than announcing, “Désolé, je ne parle pas François.”

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This is my taste of Montreal! Stop by later this week for “Springtime in Québec, Part 2” to hear about our time in Québec City!

Who Loves Ya, Spring

What is that SMELL?

(I made stir fry, she smiles modestly.) And salmon! And chicken! And pansies!
That is to say, I potted pansies.

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My succulents were next to dead. So I thought, why not pansies? (I know, they ARE colored, as it were. Don’t quite fit in here in Lancasterland, where the up-and-coming style is Artic Bland.) (Bah hah. BAHAHA! I’ve been WAITING to make that joke!)*

I do rather hate spring. And winter. And fall. In fact, I hate any season in which there are not luscious green leaves on the trees.

(No matter that spring tries to flirt with its warm afternoon smiles. I chillingly turn away.)**

Besides, Robert Frost tells us in Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay
.

And I think that that temporality is what I really despise about the more fragile seasons.

“I LOVE FALL,” the Ugg-bedecked, red-haired white girl oozes, sipping foam off her PSL. “But,” Frost smiles, “that gold soon sours. The yellow leaves will be gone in next week’s evening hours.” He smirks as the girl accidentally drops her PSL on the concrete, sploshing luke-cold coffee on her pristine jeans, paper cup bouncing off a rotting jack-o-lantern.

I feel the same way about spring. Like fall, it, too, announces its arrival in gold—peeping through in crocuses and forsythia—but these little messengers quickly, too, die away, and their announcement—that spring is here—is soon forgotten. It’s as if their welcoming announcement is that they’re leaving.

Imagine someone arriving at your door, only to tell you, “I’ve come to say goodbye. Well, goodbye then.” What a lame party guest!

I’d rather have the loud, obnoxious cousin summer, SMOTHERING in closeness, warm in familiarity, and seemingly endless in diversions.

I love the heat.

“Perhaps,” you say, “you’re just a bit of a grouch about the seasons because you’re an outdoor long-distance runner.”

Perhaps.

But I ask you. How can anyone be perfectly happy with gray forests? With gray skies? How do they even do it in Scotland? Do they last? Or do they just kill themselves?

Perhaps I shall move somewhere where it’s warm year-round. Like Nicaragua! Now THAT’S a place with luscious greens.

So, then, spring, hurry up, and get your little announcements over with! You’re dazzling no one here.

I tell you—Give me summer, or give me death!

*There, there, Lancaster, I’m just kidding. I know you’re really good at Instagram, and my terrible photo took my twenty minutes to compose. I still like you. (You are just sooooo easy to pick on!)

**This post was written, however, before today’s lovely 77 degree run. Delightful!

Spring!

I think everyone is surprised by spring. We would have not expected the sun to shine so brightly and so warm. But why are we astonished? Why is spring such a surprise? Do we not expect it, though it comes every year?

We go on and on about it. Spring has come. It always does. Why is it such a surprise?

With this fantastic weather, I’m realizing once again… that if there’s one thing I need, one thing I NEED… it is to be outside. I love being outside. Like my days when I worked at the greenhouse.

With this atmospheric upturn, I’ve finally gotten back to the trail to do a bit of running. And I’m blind-sided with memories of running in Kansas.

Living in Kansas brought many dynamics into my life, and one way that I liked to relax (or regroup, I should say) was to run.

I would come home from school, grab my shoes and my ipod, and run dirt-road miles. Weather in Kansas was somewhat ideal for running. Eighty degrees from March to October. Or at least it seemed like it. I remember running even in the winter… jogging around slushy mud-holes…

I think people think the Midwest is ugly. Especially Kansas. Recently, my uncle commented that one has to have an imagination to live in the north. Maybe I do have an imagination. But how can that be a bad thing?

Everyone knows that the sky is bigger and bluer in Kansas than anywhere else. And in Kansas, even in the winter, the fields are green like summer, the winter wheat laughing at the gray world that tries to choke out every bit of life. The winter wheat tells the story of spring when everything else has forgotten.

I was running the other day, listening to one of my running playlists, one that I listened to a lot in Kansas. I listened to it so much, that certain songs began to become associated with certain places in my run. Past the school… cresting the “hill” where the mile roads meet… the cows, and their unblinking eyes, between the evergreens… beyond the abandoned house… to the fields… where the green wheat shines brighter than the blue sky… and finally to Trails West…

I would stand in the middle of the black-topped road… and turn… turn… it seemed like there was no one for miles…

The sun beat down on me as I turned around, and I heard the gravel and dirt crunch under my tennis shoes…

Here are two poems I wrote my first year in Kansas one day after running. I didn’t realize the first one’s somewhat egotistical double-meaning at the end until later, but I kept it, because I feel like it is fresh and expresses my exact sentiments.

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Sandy Dirt Roads

These land-locked narrow beaches…
For running on…
Damp clay, soggy mud,
Dusty, bumpy, sandy beaches—
by acid sweet stagnant waters
and milo fields with corn-smelling air…
Following their thin track, and wide,
that disappear once blade-raked after the rain,
And Green growing fences,
scrubby sages, and tan grasses
straw mud mounds, and brown fields
occasionally a little
yellow flower…
The western sunlight diffuses through wheat-colored grasses.
I am running for black-top.
I am the only person as far as I can see.
Kansas—
my very own Middle-Earth
to discover, and explore.

Kansas

You empty land and giant sky, a western blue, and scrubby trees, and soggy muddy skidding sandy dirt roads, with fields of sunflowers, milo—that funny cone-shaped plant, and wheat (nothing is more beautiful than winter wheat fields—green while the world is sad) and all your fauna—those metropolitan prairie dogs, blinky screech owls, guineas, oh! those awful screeching ugly birds, and egrets. Little delicate white egrets that pasture by the cows (only sometimes idyllic) and the two horses, when, viewed with the flying egrets is much more idyllic… wonderful, beautiful, and, in my post-modern mind, like something from a movie. Kansas, you are frustrating. You are unpopulated, ugly, full of interesting people, and I can’t get you out of my mind.

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Right now I am reading Pulitzer prize-winner Willa Cather’s 1913 novel, O Pioneers!, which is set in Nebraska. It’s a unique read, probably much more interesting to me because I’ve actually experienced life in the Midwest prairie-lands, and I feel like some of her observations are my own. It begins with this frontispiece, a poem that I adore:

“Prairie Spring,” by Willa Cather

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.