Archive for the Quebec! Category

How I Came to Quebec to Write in Starbucks

Posted in Quebec!, The Blog with tags on September 28, 2019 by chateaucone

This is kind of a nice Starbucks. And there’s something to be said for the comforts of the familiar. I’m eating the same breakfast I get from the Starbucks drive-thru in Selden, NY, right here in Quebec City, on the Rue Grande Allee E, which I think I can pronounce, but probably can’t. The GPS lady pronounces the French word for south as “sud” like “thud”, and it makes me laugh every time. I think it’s more “sood.” She does some brutal things to the French language. *


(In a sideways tangent, (Do I need parentheses if I actually state in the text that I’m going off on a tangent? Probably not. But I love a good parenthetical remark. I guess I could delete “In a sideways tangent” which is repetitive anyway, but I don’t want to.) I’ve been practicing French. I’m kind of stuck on remembering how to conjugate the verb être. To be. I chant as I’m walking the dogs, and for some reason, Dill gets as excited as when I open the Milk Bone box when I say, “je suis.” I don’t know why. But now I say it all the time just to make her wag her tail. Also, Babbel won’t accept my pronunciation of “C’est Jérémie,” no matter how many times I listen to it and try to say it correctly. Enough times that I am eventually yelling at Babbel much like I yell at Siri. Enough times that when I chat with the owner of my Airbnb, I have stopped trying to say his name, which just happens to be Jérémie.) (And in another tangent, I was wondering how one might type all the accent marks in French but I discovered, right after copying and pasting être from Google, that the keyboard on my Mac automatically changed to French, and then it started doing weird things that I assume are useful to people writing in French. Like replacing “ with « no matter how many times I corrected it. (I swear just typing these blog posts generates the actual topics of the posts. Kind of meta.))

What the hell was I writing about? Nothing. I was procrastinating from writing my sort-of grandmother essay.

I will soon be an expert on girlhood and orphanages in the 1920s. Turns out, Louise (my sort-of grandmother) and her brothers and sisters were in and out of orphanages when they were kids, as were many children from working class families who needed emergency child care. (Their mom, Ada, was in and out of state hospitals; thus the emergency need.) The adoption agency optimistically called them “child caring institutions,” but they always choose the euphemism when the truth might be distasteful.


The Louise essay is one of those essays where you spend a week researching something that will end up as one small paragraph in your essay. I have purchased, and sort of read, no fewer than three books on life for girls during the 1920s, from their education to their family life to what movies they watched and who they idolized. And in Louise’s case, what the orphanages she stayed in sometimes might have been like. And then there are the articles—peer reviewed articles like, “A History of American Beds and Bedrooms,” from Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture.  I’m trying to write this imaginative section–one small segment of an essay that’s already too long–where we see Louise as a young girl and a teenager and even though, clearly, I’m making most of it up, I want it to be at least true to the time period–at least possible. And since Louise grew up in an apartment with three sisters and two brothers and two nieces, the sleeping situation has to have been creative, at least.  So far I’m pretty much channeling my Aunt Tootsie’s house in Brooklyn. She had 11 or 12 children, and my Auntie Ann told me that her house was always spotless but that at night, they opened up sofas and trundle beds and got out mattresses stored during the day so that everyone had a place to sleep. There’s sleeping at home, and then there’s sleeping in an institution.

I’m also reading an article that “draws on the thinking of Michel Foucault (he’s French so it’s like totally relevant), to explain the physical representation of authority within [a California orphanage], and of Henri Lefebvre, to show that, even in an institution, children create social spaces and invest them with meaning through everyday uses and interactions” (Gutman 586).  Because every blog post—and every piece of creative nonfiction—should mention Foucault. And have parenthetical citations.

But this is a really interesting article, and it might just tell me what everyday life was like in the orphanage for children from working class families, which is the population it actually focuses on. Even though it is based on a completely different orphanage. In a completely different state. But whatever. And while I’m reading I can feel like I’m working, even if I’m not actually writing.

And now I have to take the girls to the dog park because I accidently left them shut in the laundry room for about an hour today when I thought that the exterminator was here. We’re having a little yellow jacket problem. They seem to have built a nest right outside my bedroom window, sort of in a space in the outside wall. And they like to come in the house. No matter how many of their little friends I kill, they keep coming. The exterminator actually never made it, but then the girls were so quiet I forgot they were in there. I owe them.

Back to Louise for a sec. So, hive mind, if anyone out there wants to share stories about their grandmothers growing up in the 1920s and 30s, I will be happy to appropriate them. Also, if anyone had a grandparent or aunt or uncle, or even great grandparent who spent some time in an orphanage before and during the Depression and who told stories, I’ll happily appropriate those too.

Wow. This blog post really is about nothing. And not in a cool Seinfeld kind of way.

*I just Googled the pronunciation of “sud” and the GPS lady is in fact correct. Maybe I can learn French from her after all.


Scout and Dill’s Excellent Canadian Adventure

Posted in Quebec!, The Blog with tags , on September 10, 2019 by chateaucone

Volume 1: The Port Jeff-Bridgeport Ferry
Friday morning, September 6, getting ready to leave

Here is what I’m anxious about:

The ferry people jam as many cars as they can on to the ferry, so close that you have to get out of your car before the next row of cars comes in, which often results, at the end of the trip, in passengers not being able to walk through the rows to get back to their cars until they start unloading. One time, I was slow getting out of my car (kind of on purpose) and the car next to me pulled up so close that I couldn’t open my door at all. So I stayed in the car. Which you’re generally not allowed to do. I’m not above scrunching down and hiding again, but I can’t trust the girls to keep quiet, unless they are frightened into silence (and I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing).

Which is the next thing I’m anxious about. What if Scout:

A: shakes violently like she does when there is a thunderstorm, and I have to freak out and stare at her nonstop and take her pulse and make soothing noises to make sure she doesn’t have a stroke from all the shaking and the fear, for the full 90 minutes on the ferry?
B. gets scared of something on deck, squeezes under the railing, throws herself into the sound and sinks like a rock?
C. bites the ankles of anyone who has their back to her? (It’s happened. It’s a good thing the landscapers wear those heavy work boots. The vet says it’s a herding dog thing but I don’t think the landscapers care what kind of dog she is.)
D. won’t jump out of the car because I can’t open the door all the way (see paragraph #1) and she refuses to jump if she doesn’t have a lot of room?
E. won’t jump back into the car (see D above)?
F. stays perfectly calm but snags someone’s hotdog right out of their hand as they walk by? (She perfected that move when my dad was still alive and he’d get distracted while he was eating.)

And, what if we cause so much trouble that they make us get off the ferry? And what if we’re in the middle of the ferry, and like, 30 people have to move their cars to let us off?

What if Scout is fine and DILL does any or all of the above?

I think I’m spiraling.


Tuesday, September 10, on the other side of the Sound, and the border

So none of the things I was panicking about with the ferry happened. Instead, fate being what it is, completely unexpected, different things happened. These include:

  1. Swells so big that when we stood up to move inside, we bounced like ping pong balls between the railing on the deck and the door to the stairs.
  2. Swells so big that when we got back to the door to the stairs, and I got it open and us inside, the door shut on Scout’s tail. Not all the way, and I opened it quickly, but still. Now she’s afraid of doors. She’s a sensitive little soul.
  3. The rest of the crossing spent in the bar, sitting under a sign that said, “No pets inside the cabin,” and when one of the crew glanced over at us, I said, “Dude there is no way I’m using those stairs again,” and he left us alone.
  4. Dill totally distracted by crumbs on the floor that were just out of her reach the entire trip. And making puppy-crying noises in frustration.

Scout enjoying the ferry ride

And now we’re in Quebec. Viola!

Not so fast.

First we stopped for the night in New Hampshire, where I woke up every hour to look out the window and make sure the stuff on the roof of the car was still on the roof of the car, having decided this was a better option than taking the stuff from the roof of the car inside.

Then, on Saturday, we crossed the border.


And immediately stopped in the Eastern Townships of Quebec for some Louise Penny sightseeing, which I have documented on FB, Insta and Twitter, so I’ll spare you, except: Read the books!

Speaking of which: one of the Louise Penny books (Bury Your Dead*) takes place in Quebec City, and in it, Armand Gamache, the character who is in charge of Homicide for the Surete de Quebec (can’t wait to find out how to pronounce that–it has accent marks that MS Word does not care to include), often goes for walks on the Plains of Abraham. Sounds like a cool place, right? Kind of biblical. I knew from looking at maps that it’s right above us, as in, if you climbed a few thousand feet up the sheer rock face visible through my shower at the back of our house, you’d be there. So I drove. (I’ll explain about the shower later.)

And it was a big grassy field with a few cannons. I don’t mean to diss the Canadians, or the Quebecois, but I was not impressed. Yes, Ugly American. The Plains of Abraham is a sight of considerable historical significance. And yeah, I guess historic battles generally take place on big grassy fields. But I expected something more. I mean, call it a battlefield if that’s what it is. Don’t give it some imagination-provoking-Bible-alluding name and expect me not to be disappointed when I get there.

Although now that I think about it, it was probably named the Plains of Abraham before the battle. Maybe I need to Wikipedia that.

Anyway, we’ve been here for three days now, and I love it. The city is gawgeous (she said, with no trace of a Lawn-guy-land accent) and I’ve walked the dogs through a big chunk of it. Everyone wants to pet them (except that guy on the skateboard, whose ankles Scout tried to nip), and talks to them in French, while I smile and nod. You know at least one person said, “Are these vicious, child-mauling dogs?” in French, and I smiled and nodded.

Tip: do not wear a t-shirt and shorts with no pockets and attempt to manage a phone, a water bottle, cash and some change, along with two leashes, at the end of which are two dogs going in opposing directions, with just your two hands. Especially watch the dog on the extendable leash, who might squeeze through the crowd and cut to the front of the line when you’re not looking, and board the funicular without you.

And I’ve done some writing. You know, sabbatical and all. Mostly I spend the mornings writing, the afternoons out doing something, and then the evenings reading, researching, etc. All of this book-ended by walks with dogs along the St. Lawrence River. (Privilege in action.) Tomorrow I’m going to check out the Québec Literary and Historical Society, where Gamache (remember Gamache?) investigates when a body is found in the cellar. The building it’s in, with its collection of 20,000 rare books in English, was a jail—horrible conditions, closed in 1867—and then a college (that admitted women when that wasn’t cool) and is now a library. I really like that trajectory.

Which brings me back to Letchworth, which I am presently writing about, and not letting a lack of information stop me: wouldn’t it be nice if Letchworth and its horrible history someday became a library housing rare books, and there was a murder in the basement? I think that’s kind of how the world is supposed to progress, yes? Instead I live in fear of coming home to Gilead in December. Someone will tell me, right? I mean, so I can just stay here and be a refugee.

*Of course I’m rereading Bury Your Dead. Did you even have to ask?