Reader’s! Here it is a guest post from My Man about our trip to Quebec City. He did a fantastic job and I know you will love it as much as I do. What a wonderful wordsmith My Man is. I look forward to his next posting.
Lacing up my trainers on the steps at the bottom of our rental in a four-story walk-up on Quai Saint-André, I notice the smell straight away. It’s been many years, but it is unmistakably the same odeur of the senior’s high-rise where my grandparents spent their later years. The sense of smell is considered the most evocative((In Frenchman Marcel Proust’s ponderous Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator tastes a madeleine, triggering a reminiscence that stretches on for over 4000 pages. I submit to you that it is, in fact, the smell of that little cake that carries him back to his childhood.)) and so it is no surprise that I’m transported back in time and I am recalling details with amazing specificity – the roosters in the kitchen, the doilies on the end tables, the arrangement of the crossword books and puzzles under the table, and even the layout of the pantry. My grandparents were always installed in their respective places in the living room and kitchen. Of my grandfather, I mostly recall his voice((This New England accent is difficult to describe and, I think, rarely encountered. To hear it, watch the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and listen to Fred Gwynne (most famous for his role as Herman Munster on the 1960s TV show, The Munsters) in his role as elderly neighbor, Jud Crandall.)) enumerating the news for my father (mostly obits) of people I never met from places I had never been with names like Turner’s Falls and Hadley and I remember my grandmother, Catherine Busha, laughing in the kitchen. By all accounts, she was a woman who loved to laugh and have a good time. It’s with her in mind that I set off on foot to find the statue of her great-great-great-grandfather, Pierre Boucher((When William, son of Albert J. Bouchers de Roches, emigrated to the U.S., he adopted the Busha spelling (while the pronounciation remained Boo-SHAY).)) outside the Parliament Building here in Quebec City.
It’s early, though, and before I start climbing the daunting hills up toward Haute-Ville and, beyond, to Parliament Hill, I’m going to explore some neighborhoods outside the main tourist zone. First, I run east up Boulevard Charest toward Saint-Roch. This commercial district has undergone a recent revitalization. You’ll find it in all the travel guides and it’s a short cab or bus ride from the center of town. The double-decker tour bus also stops here so you’ll find plenty of tourists walking up Rue Saint-Joseph in the afternoon. It’s early, though, and few shops or restaurants will be open to me. Nonetheless, I want to know if it’s worth coming back with Shay and I’d like to find the local’s grocery, where I can buy some toothpaste and possibly a decent bottle of wine. This is why I always travel with my running shoes. It’s an efficient self-guided tour. If I find anything interesting, I’ll take note of it for later, when Shay and I venture out together. I easily find the main commercial drag, anchored by Église Saint-Roch, the largest church in the city. There’s an Urban Outfitters and a place to buy sunglasses. There are a hundred places to eat poutine. You can find this street in every mid-to-large city in North America, but I see enough shops and pubs that I decide it might be worth returning with Shay on our rented bicycles. Turning back up a side street and heading back toward the pier, I spot a [possibly male] streetwalker in six-inch heels and a mini skirt standing outside a dive bar. It’s not yet 10am. A more adventurous correspondent would venture in and maybe have a Sleeman bière. I do need content for this blog post. I press on, though, failing even to take a photograph. I have a lot of ground to cover and it is literally all up hill from here.
A scene outside le Pub Petit Blvd. Gonorrhea may not be the only surprise under that skirt.
Returning the way I came, following the path of the Rivière Saint-Charles past the Marché du Vieux-Port farmers market, I turn up Rue Saint Paul, passing a row of cafés and galleries and I begin the climb up the steep and winding streets of Basse-Ville (Lower Town), leading up to the ramparted bluff that marks the boundary with Haute-Ville (Upper Town). Pierre Boucher was Governor here through much of the 1660s. In this part of Quebec, reminders of Monsieur Boucher’s time and this city’s history as a French outpost are everywhere but this is also a modern city, second most important economically in Quebec (behind Montreal). Cannons dot the bluff overlooking the Rivière Saint-Charles and the Saint Lawrence River((If you are keen to have your picture taken next to cannons, this is your town.)). From there, looking down at the rivers, it is easy to imagine Champlain arriving here in 1608 aboard his ship, the Don de Dieu (“Gift of God”) to be greeted by the Iroquois in their canoes. It would be easier to imagine if the Bunge grain silos didn’t obstruct so much of the view. But, I am now in the narrow cobbled streets south of the bluff where the views are obstructed anyway and I’m alone, save for the sounds of televisions and the voices of French-speaking radio broadcasters descending to this traveler from the curtained and coiffed windows flanking the street. Later, I’ll travel this way again in the evening and hear young people laughing in French. A soirée. For now, I keep climbing. I’m in the upper portion of Old Quebec where government officials and dignitaries would have made their homes. I imagine my illustrious ancestor as a bon vivant, walking these streets himself in the summer of 1662, calling on friends and perhaps even venturing down into Lower Town to carouse and gamble with the sailors and tradesmen who made that area home. I imagine him always accompanied by his boon companion, Gérard((While Gérard is a fantasy of my own invention, a certain love of The Grape in my family is well documented and continues to the present day (see: my own DNA and, perhaps, the sealed juvenile records of a few municipalities in and around Oakland County, MI).)) ((Running can be dreadfully boring, even along the most scenic routes. Accordingly, I had time to develop a fairly detailed picture of little Gérard. He wears felt pyjamas and snacks on sunflower seeds.)), a pet mouse that made the journey over from France (where Boucher had been the year before representing the colonies) and lives in Pierre’s justacorps pocket. But, in truth, Pierre Boucher must have been a serious man and a godly one. The first Canadian to be ennobled by “The Sun King”, Louis XIV, he ruled Quebec for the better part of a decade before eventually founding the city that bears his name, Boucherville, near Montreal. To be so successful in those unforgiving times would have required a sober and prudent man. Still, this is my run. I can imagine him as I please.
Often, what you find at the top of a long and winding hill is… another hill
I wouldn’t know any of this history if it were not for my father. Further, I might dismiss it as just a bit of apocryphal family lore((My mother-in-law has told my son that he is a descendant of Abraham Lincoln (!) I suspect all Hoosiers make this specious claim.)) if he hadn’t provided me with such a detailed pedigree chart. I’ve observed that an interest in family history (and family, in general) has become common among many of my parent’s generation. Maybe it’s natural, when you reach a certain age, to want to reach both backwards and forward in time and establish your place firmly and forever in the continuum of generations. If so, I’ll develop this interest myself soon enough. The length of one generation is but that of a shadow after all. Maybe, I’m already there. It is getting hot and I’m still hoofing it uphill to get a picture of a statue of an old dead guy in tights.
Turning onto Rue Saint-Jean, I know I can choose almost any southbound street and make my way to Parliament. Along with the Château Frontenac, it dominates the skyline and is easily located on foot. Tonight, Rue Saint-Jean will be closed to traffic and we’ll make our way on foot up this crowded thoroughfare to Sapristi, one of our favorite spots in Quebec, perhaps stopping at a few other places along the way. If possible, I will leave my calling card, Monsieur Robilloux on a few guest books or, in the less swell joints, on the bathroom wall. Right now, only the most eager tourists are out. Most of the people lining the sidewalks are locals. Even I can tell them apart.
I turn down a side street. Onward and upward, I go. The sun is well above the buildings now and it’s unseasonably hot. Somehow, I have overshot my target and I’m on Rue Saint Louis, heading west. Following this route, you approach the building from the east, crossing the Parliament Hill Gardens and passing the Fontaine de Tourny. School is still in session and the grounds are already teeming with groups of school children. They will learn of some of the men and women whose statues line the perimeter of the building. Certainly these children will learn of Camille Laurin, whose bust can be found on these grounds, and who is credited with keeping Quebec a French-speaking province. There seem to be dozens of other figures immortalized in bronze. By chance, though, the first statue that I approach is the one I am seeking. A group of children is mustering directly in front of it and being given instructions (in French, of course). Cheerful admonishments. I need a closer angle for the photograph so I step right into their midst – a sweaty Gulliver to these Lilliputians. I snap a photo with my phone and I’m gone, headed back toward the Château Frontenac on Rue Saint Louis. I have more ground to cover, but I’ll leave that for another installment.
Pierre Boucher. Turns out he isn’t actually depicted in tights