Vieux Quebec

Friday, October 28th

I left late on Friday in a rush after dashing madly about town on last-minute errands, including a stop at Giant Robot Comics, where Darryl wrapped my nephew's birthday gift in the pages of a comic book. Singularly geekish and very, very cool. Happily, my rental car company interpreted 'I need a car with an iPod jack' to mean 'I need a car that Catwoman might use to flee from Batman'. So I left Halifax in a Dodge Charger slightly larger than some bedrooms I've inhabited with an Alpine stereo system that made Nick Podehl sound like he might be reading The Name of the Wind from the passenger seat. Fine car, fine novel, gorgeous day for a drive. I could do worse. I arrived in Milford, Maine around 10:30 and tumbled onto the Bernards' couch around 11:00 for a few hours of shut-eye.

Saturday, October 29th

We arose early, loaded the Catmobile and drove through the prettiest parts of Maine to Quebec. Five short hours later, we were checked in at the Delta Quebec City, which is just a short walk from the old city gates. It was cold, and I had forgotten my cloak, so I braved the weather in a sweater as we went in search of a restaurant that served something other than veal, frog legs and vegetables swimming in cream. We found a pub. With a pasta dish. That looked vegan. It wasn't, but I didn't realize it until my stomach reacted to the rennet in the pesto (sometimes it's hard to taste these things up front, but a vegan's stomach can always tell the difference afterward). Ah well. I never claimed to be perfect, and anyway, it was grand to order drinks with my nephew, the newly-minted adult.

Sunday, October 30th

The Bernards wanted coffee and croissant for breakfast, and I wanted a proper vegan lunch, so we went our separate ways for the morning. I wandered the streets near Saint-Jean gate, where I stopped into a used bookstore called Librairie Laforce and bought a copy of Ireland Unfree: Essays on the History of the Irish Freedom Struggle 1169-1981 and a 1957 copy of the works of Chaucer. I also bought a cap, for I saw that many were wearing jaunty caps and wanted one myself. I had lunch at Le Commensal, a vegetarian/vegan cafeteria-style dining room with wi-fi. The food was tasty, the restaurant was big and clean, and I was able to catch up on some correspondence while there.

However, just as I was finishing, I received an urgent call from Sean. Our basement had flooded with salt water in an ocean storm surge, so deeply that our furnace intake valve was compromised and the basement was filled with smoke (we've since learned that the washer and dryer are ruined because of this). Fortunately, he was a firefighter in the Navy, so he had the matter well in hand and would not allow me to cut my holiday short. He went a day and a night without heat though, which made me feel awful.

When I reunited with the Bernards, we spent the day wandering the old city. Two memories stand out. Mid-afternoon, I stopped into La Chocolatiere du Village Les Éboulements and found most of the fine chocolate there was milk-free. I gleefully bought a box of twelve chocolates to share and another box of six to take home to Sean. We ate the box of twelve immediately, right there in the street, like hedonists. It was wonderful. Late in the afternoon, we took the ice-breaker ferry across the river and back. An old, nearly blind man rode with us and played his accordion for a little girl in a Halloween princess costume, who danced to his music. Later, he said hello to me and struck up a conversation in French. Mon Dieu! Je ne parle pas français! Still, he was dear and obviously lonely. I will never forget the tilted oval of his face or the hoop skirt and black hair of the dancing princess.

That evening after supper, Pete (the father of the newly-minted adult), Alex (the newly-minted adult) and I went to a pub and had just a little more whiskey and cider than we should have before we clambered back up the hill in the cold, laughing and talking the whole way. I tumbled into bed right after we arrived at the hotel, called Sean via Skype and then fell into the sound sleep of the not-quite-drunk.

Monday, October 31st and Tuesday, November 1st

The heat was restored for Sean by the time the Bernards and I reached the Maine border. Our drive home was quiet, uneventful and lovely, and we rounded the day off with a home-cooked meal, candy, a carved pumpkin and John Carpenter's Halloween.

Tuesday morning I left at 5:00 AM and arrived home at 2:30 PM, weary and glad to see my beloved's face. It was a memorable trip, full of great beauty and subtle sorrows both public and private. I listened to a good audiobook. I ate fine chocolate on a cobblestone street in a yellow and gray autumn. I learned something about the disposition of my mind and heart. I helped a little boy I once knew become a man I would like to know better. I painted Vieux Quebec into the landscape of my memory. Such a lovely picture.

Speaking of pictures, here are some of mine: Quebec City 2011