Well, for one thing, we were still in Ontario, and for another, I was trying to recall the French equivalent of “you’re welcome.” (Bonus points for anyone who remembers the word without looking it up.)
As we approached the provincial line and my imminent French immersion, random words popped into my head: peut-être, huile, acheter, marcher, chercher, je voudrais, and crazy odd bits of verb forms. I remembered “we go,” but forgot “I go.” That still left black holes of vital communication: how much, how many, how far. (Note to those visiting Quebec: Get a dictionary. Dig out your old French textbooks. Take a class. Any French you can dredge up will come in handy.)
I also threw in some bastardized Spanish for good measure. Spanish is fresher in my brain than my decades-old college French, so I said “si” instead of “oui” and “muy” for “tres.” This is NOT to imply that I can actually hold my own in a conversation in either language.
Quebec has a quaint and cozy charm. Roofs and gables have these little curvy fillips, like hobbit houses. Gardens are random and lush, like a bad haircut. The language makes the province feel like a different country–not European but not quite Canadian, either. This has given me moments of disorientation during which I didn’t know where I was.
We spent our first night in Quebec at the Wal-Mart in Lachute, which the gas station attendant had directed us to. We were conveniently poised so as to bypass Montreal and line up nicely for Quebec City. Nothing against Montreal. I’ve heard it’s a beautiful place, but navigating a big city in my little trailer was more than I wanted to tackle at this stage of the game. Besides, Quebec City, the only walled city north of Mexico, and also a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been my goal from the beginning.
* * *
Vignette (see—another French word)
Our Wal-Mart parking spot was actually pleasant–away from traffic and facing a grassy field. We’d done our shopping and eaten dinner, and I was feeling pretty good about our first day in Quebec.
A family had parked behind us and was now picnicking on the grass, with a basket, real plates and cutlery, and a checked blanket on the ground. Three little girls alternately ate and ran around; the mom sat on the blanket with an infant; and the young dad in baggy shorts stood beside them.
It was a delightful tableau, and I began spying on them from the trailer.
The dad said, “Okay, girls. We’re going to eat, then we’re going to run and frolic, then we have to get back in the van because we have a long way to go.”
The mom handed him the baby so she could finish eating, and he walked around cradling the infant and singing in a pleasant baritone something about “my baby, my baby.”
As the girls frolicked, the mom stood up, still eating, and played counting games with them. She was slender and seemed happy.
After a bit, the dad said, “Come, my girls, let’s get in the van. We have to go.”
The kids ran off with the dad still cradling his baby. The mom cleared the plates and packed up the picnic, and I was left amazed at this unexpected glimpse into human beauty.