Before we left, I couldn’t imagine leaving work behind for that long. And now, I can’t imagine not taking two-week vacations on at least an annual basis. I’m not saying I don’t know anyone in the US who takes two-week vacations … but I know a lot more people in Montreal who do it as a matter of practice. Recently, I had a conversation with an officemate that went something like this.
me: “You’re going on vacation. That’s great. Where are you going?”
om: “England. My wife has family there.”
me: “Very cool. How long are you going for?”
om: “It’s a vacation … [pause to look at me funny] … so two weeks.”
me: “Aaaaaaah. Right. Of course.” [pretending to understand the concept]
For me, the idea behind this trip was to get a better sense of the landscape and people of Quebec and some extra parts of Maritime Canada outside of the major metro areas. So we covered some major ground to make that happen. Road trips were the way I developed my love of exploring the US, and I was hoping it would have the same effect up here. I’m happy to report, mission accomplished.
Show & Tell
- the long shoreline of cliffs plunging and farms fading into pebbled beaches (La Grave) along the rivière, fleuve, and golfe du Saint-Laurent
- the most still, mirror-like mountain lakes I’ve ever seen around the Saguenay (so beautiful, we couldn’t stop looking long enough to take pictures.)
- plentiful roadside casse croûtes and the poutine, burgers (all dressed) clam frites, fried fish and creme molle they provided (too busy eating to take many pictures there, either)
- smoked fish!!! (holy sh$! so so so so good.)
- black flies!!! (holy sh*$! so so so so vicious)
- bald eagles (nice to see americanadians hanging out up here)
- the (other) end of the Appalachian mountains (starts in Alabama and kind of ends in Quebec … except where it continues up into Newfoundland).
- a big freaking fjord! (In the Saguenay, I learned that a fjord is defined more by the fact that it’s saltwater on the bottom and freshwater on top, more than the sort of craggy inlets I’ve always pictured in Norway. Hmmmmm.)
- big freaking power lines! (again so stunned … no pictures taken. hydroelectric power is a big deal here.)
- whales! (Many pictures taken. Some whales captured on film. We came across a deceased baby whale on the beach – gross but amazing.)
- cute freaking seals (With their little heads popping up while we were sea kayaking, they’re very cool. Again, no pix.)
- big freaking mooses! (I’m pretty sure that one was going to kill us. Erin think’s I was overreacting.)
- big freaking windmills! (so cool. so ginormous.)
- wildflowers (always nice.)
- l’erabliere!! (after visiting my first sugarbush, i will no longer mock the Quebecois and Canadian crack-like obsession with this substance in all of it’s delightfully addicting forms, especially beurre d’erable. vie l’erable!)
- (okay, i’ll try to stop with the !!!!’s)
- the unbelievably cool traditional quebecois country rooflines
- the ubiquitousness of silver-coated catholic church steeples
- the summer conversion of hockey rinks into tennis, soccer and basketball courts
- fresh strawberries, cheese, milk, lamb, piggies, tomatoes … from the farm. (they’re just better. no question.)
- snow crabs right off the boat (slaughtered and consumed at our campsite, much to the delight of the kids camping nearby.)
- McLobster! (C’est vrai. McDonald’s was actually selling McLobster Rolls. We had to try them, and they truly had lobster in them and were truly lame leaning towards gross.)
- classic Poulet Frit Kentucky restaurants (before they changed their name to “PFK”, of course.)
- great national and provincial parks (Parcs Canada & SEPAQ rock!)
- Marconi! (“Où est le tour pour transmitter le radio?” While we didn’t make it to every Marconi stop we wanted, his spirit was still thick in the magnetic waves of that region)
- practicing my français (“en peu”)
- having my girlfriend/partner/common-law spouse/conjointe introduced as “my lover” (“mon amoureux”).
- the numerous small local stores who were also “Sears Catalogue Merchants” (maybe they still exist in the rural US, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them. There’s a counter, a catalogue, and shelves where your shiny, specially ordered, goods from Sears wait for you after they arrive.)
- local radio stations (freaking bi-lingual bingo … hosts losing their place while reading the news … aural Craigslist (or aural kajiji, if you’re Canadian) … anyway, I’m in love.)
- oversized roadside objects (dinosaurs, blueberries, teeth, etc.)
- Rediscovering the joy of paper maps, because the iphone was totally offline (not that we minded) because Rogers long distance doesn’t really go the distance into the Gaspé peninsula.
- discovering Halifax, which we decided could have been the result of Boston and Seattle having a baby. Though the highlight of that visit was seeing friends, eating tasty, lovingly prepared local seafood, and making the acquaintance of a great neighborhood bar.
- and who knew there was a-whole-nother time zone east of Eastern Time! (It’s called Atlantic Time, and it took us about 20 minutes to figure out how how we lost an hour on our drive to New Brunswick.)
Sure, most of these things can be found in the US, too. But they’re still part of a distinct mix here, and I’m really liking it. But let me back up a little.
A Little Background
Growing up, I wanted to leave Alabama. To be honest, I don’t remember whether I felt out of place politically or personally. It’s not like Alabama or the South have a monolithic culture, but there were parts that felt ill fitting for me.
I finally came to love Alabama the first time I really left it. I went to college in Birmingham, but I spent two summers working in western South Dakota. I fell in love with the landscape of a country I hadn’t dreamed of exploring. And I explored it, in cars filled with friends, tents, fishing rods, guitars, cigarettes and beer. I loved living in those hills, and I loved venturing from there into endless newness.
When I went to South Dakota, it was my first chance to really spend time in another culture. I’m sure I imagined moving there and being part of this new place, broken in its own ways. And I’m pretty sure that in that moment, the parts of my South that seemed most foreign to me started feeling like relatives I didn’t know well enough … but still family. I knew where I was from. I could feel it in some new but familiar way.
At the same time, I was pumped to have a whole country to explore and get to know. Everywhere I’ve moved, lived, had ties, etc. over the years, it all added to that same feeling. I love America—the land, the people, the good stuff, the ugly stuff, the newly discovered parts and the revisited old parts. I don’t mean it in some weird nationalistic way, but I just feel connected to it.
I have no idea why I thought “there’s a whole country out there!” instead of “there’s a whole world out there!”, but I did. Maybe it’s because feeling some ownership and belonging was part of the deal. Anyway, that all started back in 1993, and that’s what i’ve been thinking for 17 years. And then I up and move north of the border.
And We’re Back
After two weeks on the road, I’m back. We’re back. And now I love Quebec and Canada completely and finally understand America in a new and insightful light [heavenly chorus sounds]. Okay, maybe that didn’t exactly happen. But I do feel like I started building more of a relationship with this place. I’m already looking forward to more of that. So, mission accomplished, black fly bites and all.