dimanche 1 février 2009

Would you like some "T"?


Interestingly enough, this letter seems to have been some kind of a recurrent pattern in my life lately.

T like Travel.

I was in Cuba for Christmas. It was warm, sunny and, more importantly, as far as possible from the school-homework-sleep routine that started to stick to my everyday life like snot on a babysitter. Apart from basking in the sun, snorkelling around in warm, turquoise waters and finally finishing Kerouac's "On the Road", my parents and I also ventured to La Havana for a day. As far as a government-owned monopolistic tour operator can get you to see the "real" Cuba, it was overall a sweet excursion. We walked around the old town, admiring the colonial heritage and the very first important European constructions in America. The guide was awesome, explaining many cool details about some apparently unimportant buildings: "This building here was entirely destroyed by a fire in the mid 1800's because an illegal stock of chemical products was stored there and caught on fire. 18 firemen were killed in the accident and their tomb in the Havana Cemetery is the biggest one ever built in town", said Roberto with his well hidden Spanish accent.

The coolest part of the visit came later on, as we drove around the Miramar. This neighbourhood of La Havana used to be the rich area, where all the casino owners and miscellaneous mobsters got their houses built. When the Cubans rebelled against the Yankees in 1959 and Fidel kicked out all the ones that hadn't already flied out, these residences were redistributed to working class families as a symbol of the Cuban re-appropriation of the Island. Still nowadays, ordinary people live in these mansions. Unfortunately, as it is the case in many other places in Cuba, the lack of money and supplies and frequent hurricanes caused the neigbourhood to look very neglected. A layer of mud and dirt covers the pastel stucco walls of the luxury houses. Window panes are missing. Plants grow out of the cracks. Chickens are running free on front lawns... it's basically as if some incredibly powerful outburst had occurred there and left the whole place to abandonment. And yet you definitely can find tons of people around Miramar. Not only can you find them, but the residents are good humoured and smile at each other. It's a little as if the Hurricane Katrina survivors were singing and dancing among their destroyed belongings. A few days before the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, this post-apocalyptic looking neighbourhood really got me thinking. In a way, you can't help imagining how this place looked like in 1956, with all the freshly painted pastel colours, the art deco columns and the neatly maintained gardens. Yet, as beautiful as Miramar must have been back in the days, you also can't avoid thinking of the injustice and rebellion it provoked. It was by far the most complex thing I've ever felt by staring at plaster walls.

T like Teaching.

I am doing my practicum III in an elementary school, no big deal. Actually, I finished friday night, after five weeks of running around, story telling, singing along, charades, gestures, laughs, cries, crisis management, forgotten lunches, allergy warnings, crayons, markers, lost scissors, photocopy machines, school buses, ranting at kids for throwing snowballs, exams, memos to parents, union assemblies, zootherapy, surveys, agendas, activity books, complaints about the school reform, meetings with the principal(s), figuring out who walks home and who takes the bus, etc.
I was tired. I wonder why.
Jokes apart, the practicum was neat. I got to teach to lots of different groups, all with their strenghts and weaknesses, to take the kids through a whole unit and to goof around with my crazy backpocket activities. Flashcards were also a big part of my 5 weeks. I am now officially a black belt thrid dan in flashcard lessons. Even if I came back home about half the time wondering how the hell I was going to make it through my entire carreer, the feeling you get from teaching kids such a basic skill as reading, writing and speaking English is incredibly rewarding.
T like Tea
I must be getting old, since every now and then I have tea with buddies on Friday nights. Maybe it means that I'll be bungee jumping when I'm 90, who knows?
T like train.
I am not quite to the point where I am a railfan, but I really enjoy taking the train. I love just gliding around in the Québec countryside. It must be that "old people" thing again. Anyways, I particularly love the train when it takes me to Montréal to hang out with Catherine. After a late arrival due to mysterious occurrences upon the rail schedule, I finally made it to Cath's flat near Joliette station. She was starting to wonder where the hell I had been and greeted me with a sigh of relief, as her neighbourhood is rather sketchy, especially for someone from a village as tiny as Berthier. The whole point of my expedition to Montréal was to go check out a neat Andy Warhol exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, but this adventure was only planned for the next morning so we decided to drink orange juice and watch girly movies all night. Ahhhh.
Thanks to our great sense of organisation and to Catherine's room mate's spotless knowledge of downtown Montréal, we ended up at the wrong museum and had to walk 40 minutes in order to get to the Beaux Arts. Fortunately, though, we were still early enough to enjoy Warhol without having to wait in a line that extended all the way to the street when we got out. Madness. Warhol reached all my expectations. I love the dude's perception of art and I found his work very inspiring. Needless to say he was a nutcase, though.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Marie-Andrée around the Plateau Mont-Royal, a relatively fancy neighbourhood of Montréal and had delicious Korean food at a restaurant we ended up in by pure chance. Before heading home, we visited Alpaqa, a store specialised in Alpaga wool products, where the space cadet who sold Marie-Andrée a new pair of gloves seemed to come directly from 1967. After a few attempts to meet with Iain, a buddy of mine from camp, we failed (again) at seeing each other. Next time, maybe. The night went smoothly as we watched a wicked documentary about the Algonquin nation while drinking micro-brewery beer and possibly one of the worst poutines I've ever had in my whole existence. We should have gone to the Banquise.
The finale of the weekend consisted of a scrumptious breakfast with Catherine with lots of fancy bread, fancy coffee, homemade peanut butter and topped with turtles and ti-coq cookies. Auguries of a burn-out for my nutritionnist.
T like training
Because yes, I have a nutritionist. Fancy, eh? After we came back from Amsterdam, my mom decided that she was tired of the entire family being overweight so in a fit of rage she signed us up both for the gym and peer pressured my dad to start swimming laps. Weirdest thing of all, it worked wonderfully. We all lost like 15lbs and are in our greatest shape ever. Neat. The nutritionist wasn't quite as effective, though. I think that our relationship with food was captured in that dialogue between my mom and her sister the other day.
[Mom]: So we decided to see a nutritionist and to put the family on a diet...
[Auntie]: Great. It's courageous of you to decide to never like eating again.
T like Terrifying obstacle course
I watched the Red Bull Crashed Ice with Marilyne and an acquaintance of hers who studied Semantics with her when we were in León. Besides the fact that it was -25°C (without the shadow of an exaggeration here, I swear), we had a great time. There is nothing like watching 4 dudes racing down an absurd downhill ramp full of obstacles and smoking their faces against hockey bands for the enjoyment of 200 000 people. Whoever invented this sport should get the Nobel Prize. We watched the final race in a pub near the Ilôt fleuri, and as the night advanced, more and more people joined in, all dressed in their ski suits. Great night.
T like Things in a museum.
Ok, this "T" is a little far fetched, but anyways, I really wanted to mention my latest Wednesday night adventure. So there is this exhibition at the Musée National des Beaux Arts du Québec about modern and conceptual artists who have something to do with Québec City (another sequel event to the 400th anniversairy...). Eager to check it out, I called my friend Sandra and offered her to go. She accepted, and Andréanne and Chrystel also wanted to come. Soon after, Andréannne informed me that her boyfriend Alex, a notorious heavy metal fan and probably the last person you'd ever expect to meet in a museum, also wanted to come. So here we were on a wednesday night, driving in Andréanne's boat-sized car towards the museum. Chrystel was supposed to meet with us there, and since we were a little late and struggled to find a parking spot, Andréanne dropped me in front of the museum so I could find Chrystel and tell her the others were coming. So I enter the museum alone, expecting to find a frustrated Chrystel, and end up face to face with about 300 fancy people listening to an opening speech. Astounded, I look around and try unsuccessfully to find Chrystel. By the time the others joined me, I was just informed that it was the grand opening of a d'Ingres exhibition and I was holding a glass of complimentary wine. The four of us stood awkwardly among the jet setters for awhile, hoping to see Chrystel somewhere, but she never came. The next day, I found out that she had gotten to the wrong museum and had waited for us in the lobby of the musée de la civilisation for half an hour before realising her mistake and heading home. The best part of the story is that because of the opening, the access to the museum was free of charge, so we saved 7 bucks each and had the modern art exhibition almost to ourselves, since everyone else just wanted to check out the new d'Ingres exhibition. We ended the night in a Tim Hortons, eating sandwiches and discussing contemporary art.
T like The End.

mardi 23 décembre 2008

Margaritas and architectural winks

(Height of Land and second Frontenac Castle Pics are courtesy of Marcus)

"Home" is a strange notion that I fail to grasp most of the time.

I guess that travelling around for so long and then exploring Québec afterwards produced a good deal of contradictory feelings about what home with a capital "H" should be. As a human being, are you abilitated to recognize home when it's sitting obviously in front of you?

León, Spain, was kind of like home, but not really. I had an apartment of my own, something that I don't dispose of Canada. I had a key set, my own dishware, a chinese paper lamp and some other made in China items to camouflage the rather questionable decoration tastes of my landlord (including, ironically, a frame that said "home sweet home"). Could I call Spain "home", though? I think it would be a little ambitious, given that I wasn't even near being born or raised there and that my grasp on the language is very relative (it took me 3 weeks to figure out that "celeri", even pronounced with a convincing spanish accent, isn't an actual word in Spanish). Nevertheless, there sure was a comfort in having my own things and evolving in an environment that I genuinely felt good in. After the ludicrous journey I made back from Scotland with José (see previous post for more details on that epic adventure), walking back to my flat on Calle San Rafael and knowing that I was about to lie on my bed and be surrounded by my own little familiar universe was a very wholesome, satisfying thought. Yet, I have left almost no trace of my passage in Spain and therefore it's a little depressing to think that it definitely wouldn't be the same if I went back there and looked for my former bearings. If "Home" is a place you can always go back to, I'd rather not think of León as Home, since it would thus make me homeless.

I was born and raised in Québec, and therefore I guess I can be called a Quebecer. Is my Home the province of Québec at large, then? That would be an interesting concept. I was recently informed that I was not allowed to give blood anymore since I've spent too long abroad (a total of over 6 months). If blood is what ties one to land, then I am fucked. If it's the degree of identification to your fellow inhabitants of the socalled land, considering the last provincial election results, I am also rather screwed. Moreover, the very fact that I write this blog in English can be considered as a kind of high treason to the socalled "French Canadian Heritage", which would also bring me even farther away from home, at least according to whoever is leaving graffitis in our student lounge. As if it wasn't enough, I also encoutered a lot of strange episodes of "foreingness" since I got back.

This summer, as we were paddling the headwaters of the Moisie river, we crossed the height of land, which is basically the place where water branches off into two different hydrographic areas. Conveniently enough, the height of land between the Atlantic and the Artic watersheds is also the border of Labrador and Québec. Yes, that same border that premier of Québec Maurice Duplessis gladly peed on some time in the fourties just for the sake of demonstrating how absurd it was to draw a line there in the middle of nowhere and to cut Québec from a huge pool of natural resources. Considering how the province has been treating what it's got resource-wise, it makes one wonder if we actually deserve Labrador at all, but since that's not today's topic, I will spare you a well deserved rant about our environmental policies. Anyways, when crossing this border, especially after being far away after so long, I expected to have some kind of "homey" feeling when I'd reach the border with my own province. But the truth is that Labrador looks just like Québec: lichen, granite, muddy and buggy floating bogs and shitloads of black spruce. As astoundingly wild and beautiful as both sides of the border were, I was disappointed to be unable to tell both apart.

More recently, we were having dinner at Marilyne's for her birthday. After drinking a (few) margarita(s) to try out the new glasses we had given her for the occasion, Marilyne, Geneviève and I started writing some postcards to some mutual friends abroad. It is genuinely difficult to find a postcard in Québec with a truly representative picture on it. Most of them have sweet, friendly summer shots representing the oldest part of town, which may lead people all over the world to the very erroneous thought that Québec has a bearable climate. Of course, it's hard to tell on a picture, even a winter one, that it's about -30 and that it's the 4th time someone faceplants in the stairs that morning because it's icy all over and the city administration just doesn't give a shit. One of the pictures of the postcards struck us all as possibly the weirdest one of all. It was a summer picture of Frontenac Castle taken at a truly odd angle that made it look about 3 times its actual size. It also showed no sign of snow, wind, rain, badly indicated detours, restoration work, or any other treathening elements whatsoever. We all agreed that it was probably the least representative picture ever taken of Québec City. We still sent it, but spent half the space on the postcard exposing all the missing or erroneous details on the picture to our buddy in Munich.

Then, as you may have noticed when I talked about Orléans Island in a previous post (Gee, I'm starting to do self-references... thanks God no one reads this anyways...), some parts of Québec astound me by their beauty and, to a certain extent, exotism. Maybe it's from having been on "trip mode" for so long, but I definitely started looking at things near my home in a very tourist-like manner since I got back. Weird.

So all that to say: where the hell is Home, then? I mean, if I'm not home abroad, if I can't tell my own province apart from the next one, if even the government doesn't trust me as a healthy citizen and if I'm starting to take pictures of Frontenac Castle and Orléans Island because they're exotic, where the hell am I supposed to feel home? WHAT IS Home, anyways?

I came up with an attempt answer last weekend. It was the first day of really nice weather since the end of the semester and I was finally able to go air out my brain a little. A splendid feeling, needless to say, after an exhausting end of the semester, punctuated by mind-twisting emotional schemes and long hiatuses away from the out-of-doors. If you know me a little, you probably already know that long walks outside in wild or uncommon weather usually spark a few new ideas within my brain. I guess that my synapses work better below zero or something. It was about -25 that afternoon. I was planning and longing to go outside all day, but cleaning up the basement, filling in internship paperwork and other miscellaneous chores of very little interest kept me inside until almost dusk. When I finally got out, the sun was slowly starting to set, but yet I had time to walk about 10km across town until it got truly beautiful. Lévis, as many of my North Shore buddies like to remind me, is nice almost exclusively because it has the best possible viewpoint on Québec City. From the hills of Pointe Lévy, one can see pretty much all the surroundings: from Orléans Island all the way to the Pierre-Laporte Bridge, from the old town to far beyond the first hills of the Laurentians. That's when it hit me. As far as I could see, I was surrounded by familiarity. I could imagine the exact route to go from any point on this landscape to any other. Everywhere was the house or apartment of friends, family or miscellaneous acquaintances. I had hiked or snowshoed all the way up some of the mountains I could see in the back drop. I had crossed the St-Lawrence in any possible weather (and physical) condition. I had listened to a Paul McCartney concert from across the valley, I had drank wine at the ferry station, I had biked the entire shoreline at more occasions that I could count, and I was leaning against the building where I spent most of my teenage years. I WAS home. No matter if I was not able to recognize Québec when I entered it, or if I was spending all my summers away from it, or if pictures of the Castle seemed awfully off... I was home, and there was absolutely no other place in the world where I would feel like I felt at that exact time. That's when it also occured to me that it was freakin' -25 and that I was standing motionless on the edge of a windy hill, no more than mildly bothered by the "slap in the face" ghusting breeze. I was adapted. I knew how not to trip on icy sidewalks. I knew you were an idiot if you weren't wearing a tuque. I was FROM here. I was more than comfortable, more than surviving.

At this amazing epiphany, the Frontenac Castle itself, the real one, not the weird oversized one from the postcard, lit up as if it was approving my thoughts. As in a "damn straight, you're from here, whether you like it or not". The best part I think is that this precise instant can never be put on any postcard. It was the most gigantic wink I have ever been given in my life.

That is it for today I believe. Sorry about this unusually rant-like, philosophic entry. As I am going to Cuba on vacation tomorrow, the next post will probably be about beaches, palm trees, piña coladas and miscellaneous vacation adventures, and therefore quite possibly less deep. Stay tuned.

dimanche 23 novembre 2008

Holy shit, where's the camera?

Sometimes you wish you had your camera, but you don't.

This past Friday, I saw the weirdest fucking thing I've ever witnessed alive. It was about five to seven and I was strolling on the campus on my way from the bus stop to my Literacy and language arts class. The air was so cold it was hard to breathe and the grass felt like a solid block of ice that emitted just a light cracking sound when I stepped on it. It was one of these morning where you can tell that someone is living their first winter in Québec City from a mile away just by looking at the way they speedwalk from one hall to another with that kind of "holycrapholycrapholycrap" strut.

So I'm walking to the DeSève Hall, and there, right in front of the DeKoninck, I see a huge grey squirrel, all fattened up for a winter of nightmarish weather, nibbling on an unidentified piece of food between its front paws. Around it, there's about half a dozen of fierce looking black crowes. These birds get creepy when the cold days come. They were staring a the poor furball with the firm intention of bullying it until it gave away whatever it was eating. So as I keep walking, I watch the birds getting closer and I slightly slow down to see the big scene coming up... But as the biggest crow is winding up to attack the squirrel, the rodent just snaps and charges the bird full speed, literally tackling it to the ground and scratching the fuck out of it. As I am trying to make sense of what I see, feathers are flying into the air and the other birds just back up and stare at the scene, probably as puzzled as I am. As the squirrel is busy beating the shit out of the crow, another bird makes a break for the piece of food it left behind, but the squirrel is quick enough to take it before and books it up a big tree with its food. The birds fly away, and I just stand there like an idiot, realizing that I am the only person to have noticed this whole episode.

I have always been opposed to cellphone cameras since they take low quality of usually not-so-relevant stuff. But this time, I actually wished I had one.

At other times, you do have a camera, you take pictures of weird things and you don't really realize how weird they are until a while after the deed.

When I was studying abroad in Spain, I made friends with Anne, a girl from Germany. We used to live in the same residence before I moved in my flat and the guy at the hotel was the first to actually notice that we kind of looked like each other. In fact, he didn't really notice... he was absolutely convinced that we were the same person, which led to a few interesting misunderstandings and "Why did you do that, I just told you not to like five minutes ago!" mishaps. We eventually moved into our own respective apartments, but we'd still hang out with each other quite a bit since we were in the same faculty at school and had many common friends. All along my stay in Spain, random people would come to me and talk to me in German, thinking I was her, and the other way around. We kind of got to a point where it became an inside joke that we were long lost twins. We even got away several times with introducing ourselves as non-identical twins and got tagged on each other's photos on Facebook all the time. In fact, my own family commented on pictures of her, thinking it was me. I didn't really think about all of this a lot when I came back home, but lately I was skimming through some pictures of Spain during a boring class and it hit me all of a sudden: holy mother of God, do we ever look like each other! Being an only child, I feel like it is even more strange to see someone who looks like you this much. This fall, I also found out that our birthdays were only a few days apart. It's almost like one of those corny Lindsay Lohan movies... I guess you can see for yourselves in these pictures.

Finally, some other times, you do have your camera, and you realise right away that you captured THE moment. Like at our belated student association Halloween party this year. It was election night in the States, so we convinced the owner of the small bar we were partying into to switch from TSN to a news channel so we could see who had won. We found out, just like the rest of the world, that the USA had just elected their first African-American president. History. I took a few pictures of the TV and of us, to remember every detail of the scene and be able to tell my grandchildren that we were there when it happened. The only thing is that it might be a little complicated to explain to my descendance why exactly granny was dressed like Waldo while living history with a capital H. At least I guess I wasn't the first one to look like an idiot during a great moment... someone, somewhere, must have won a milk chugging contest at the exact moment where Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, or has tried to beat the world record of hula hoop when the Hiroshima bomb hit. In any case, that Halloween party was sick-o. It was great to be able to get away from it all for a night, dress like dumbasses, frolick in toilet paper, eat poutine at 3 in the morning and ask the girl at the counter for a glass of water in an irrealistic attempt to be a little less hungover the next morning. I guess I missed Québec.

jeudi 20 novembre 2008

Amsterdam at last.

Me again.

So last time I wrote an entry on this blog, I promised that I'd write again asap to tell you all about Amsterdam.

That was a dirty lie.

I kind of wish I had a good excuse for it, but the truth is that I don't even feel sorry about it in the first place. If you had commented and did not let me feel like an idiot writing this blog for no reason at all, none of this would happen. In any case, let's move on to Amsterdam before I am tempted to go back to my pedagogy homework. Ok, that was also a lie, we all know there is no such thing as temptation in the world of pedagogy apart from the temptation to drop the class and never return again, but let's just pretend it could happen.

Amsterdam, then. Amsterdam was green, relaxing, peaceful and yet in full cultural ebullition. I wished I lived there several times while strolling along the canals and gazing in amazement at the 18th century houses slowly sinking into the marshy soil the Dutch capital has been erected on. Among the highlights of the trip was our visit to Madame Tussaud's wax museum, in which we could not resist the temptation of taking corny pictures with the wax statues of our favourite celebrities. I guess human nature can be defined by our number of chromosomes, our use of written communication and our tendency to love corny shit.
Don't worry, though, I also did other stuff that was a little bit more culturally enhancing, such as visiting Anne Frank's house and the Van Gogh Museum. Anne Frank's house is a disturbing place. Anne's dad, when he turned the small annex where he hid with the entire family during the war into a museum, asked that they'd leave the place just like it was when he came back from the concentration camp, that is, completely empty. So the visit consists basically of walking along the minuscule empty rooms, usually in silence, and every now and then, noticing a trace that shows that a family hid there, like a postcard glued to a wall, or a height mark in the door frame, or a dent in the wooden floor. In addition to the already strange atmosphere, we visited the house during a huge thunderstorm. Every thunder strike seemed like the sound of a bomb exploding in the surroundings. Surreal. The Van Gogh Museum was also very remarkable, but in a completely different way. It was a very cool feeling to beam at the masterpieces so often seen in textbooks from about 4 inches away from the wall. Van Gogh was afflicted with some mental illness that made him epileptic and had serious behaviour issues. Along the chronology of his most famous paintings, you could almost see which brush stroke he did last and imagine him frantically covering the canvas with an obsessive-compulsive care. I don't think that I've ever felt that close to a famous artist before.
On the morning of the last full day, my parents decided to venture on their own into the Red Light District to cheer my dad up after he found out that the Heineken museum was closed for the season, leaving me alone all day. I told myself that it was now or never that I'd have a chance to go check out the Rijks Museum, the equivalent of the Louvre for the Netherlands. Because most of the building was closed for renovations, the administration had conveniently installed all the masterpieces and all the rest of the stuff I really wanted to see in one small hall, which I visited almost alone with a couple of Japanese tourists and two or three dudes that also didn't want to suffer the endless afternoon lines. I always liked Dutch paintings because of the refinement of details and the subtility of the hidden hints within the seemingly austere portraits, but standing in front of Rembrandt's famous Nightwatch was even more intense than I imagined. I literally got shivers. Jeez, the more I grow old the more I become some kind of geeky art-devouring monster...
So that was about it for Amsterdam. Of course I did a lot more stuff (as this picture of an empty glass of beer may have already suggested), but recently I've been trying to quit systematically writing everything I do during my trips. Needless to say it's been difficult. Before leaving you for another couple of wonderful hours spent filling ridiculous pedagogy exercises, I'll just ask once more: is anyone reading this? Actually?
In any case, I'll stop promising about writing more in this blog because this is actually a little depressing, but hopefully I'll be back for some more adventures some time soon.

mercredi 22 octobre 2008

Bedtime stories and air hostesses from the sixties...

I am back.
Did you miss me, O silent readers whose commentaries are so scarce? Did you even notice I was gone in the first place? Is anyone reading this, anyways? Well, if anyone is, here are a few of my latest adventures...

Things have been moving pretty swiftly since the last time I wrote on this blog. Babysitting my cousin ended up being quite an exciting adventure. As general common sense should have already thaught me, taking care of a 3-year old is pretty demanding. It was odd to pick him up at the "Petite Grenouille" day-care centre after school, especially since it's the same day-care I attended when I was his age... with the same nice ladies making sure he doesn't throw too much sand in other children's faces as back in 1988. If it was weird for me to meet 55 year-olds that all called me "Mumu" and knew what I was like when I was 4; it must have been even weirder for them to hear I was in university finishing a bacc in education. In any case, having Tom at home made me realize that writing essays and reports becomes more difficult when you have to entertain a child and prevent him from eating marbles or crayons all at the same time. I gained a lot of respect for people who do that full time. Jessie, you are a wonderwoman. Oh, and of course, as I mentioned last time, we also took care of Ginger, my uncle's chocolate labrador. So after reading Thomas his bedtime story about firemen I went for a stroll with her. My uncle got one of those new short leashes for Ginger since she pulls like a freakin' sleigh dog, but it's not particularly efficient... so I decided to just keep walking until either of us would get tired. After going twice across the entire city, I gave up. I really want to get another dog some day.

The day we were done babysitting Tom was also the day we left for Europe. After my morning class, thanks to my dad's controversed sense of efficiency, my parents came to get me on hwy 132 where the bus had left me 15 minutes earlier. What greater way to start a trip to Amsterdam than being picked up like a prostitute on the side of the road... I smell irony, here. We flew with KLM for the first time to get to the Netherlands. Apart from the fact that the flight attendants might have the most hilarious costume ever designed for a flight company, the trip was pretty uneventful. In KLM transatlantic flights, they installed those individual entertainment devices that allow you to watch the movie you want instead of only the back of the head of the 6-foot tall guy in front of you, which is neat. There was a language learning program, too, so I tried to learn a little dutch on the way. The course was sponsored by Berlitz language schools and, just like Marilyne and I found out in your 1st year research paper, that method is bullshit... anyways, at least I know how to say hello and thanks, now. The basic outline of the trip was that we were going to spend a family day in Bruges, then my mom and I were going to visit Brussels while my dad had his meetings and then as soon as he's done we'd take the first train to Amsterdam and hang out there until the end of the week... My first contact with Brussels was walking out of the hotel and strolling around a disorientatingly flat area of the old town to go to Grote Markt (Grand Place) and have a drink. Grote Markt is basically the heart of Brussels. All the houses around it were built by bourgeois corporations that tried to show off to everyone else, and the result is beautiful.
The next morning, still pretty messed up by the jet lag, we booted it to the Centraal Station and took the first northbound train to Bruges, a relatively small town in the Flemish part of Belgium that is well known for its lace, its architecture and its canals. In the train, we met a Alec, a poor dude from Russia who had no idea if he was in the right train or not. We started chatting after being kicked out of the 1st class wagon we both accidentally sat in (told you I don't understand Dutch... fucking Berlitz...) We understood from his rudimentary English that he was an ingeneer in Moscow and he left us a postcard from his hometown. Nice dude. Bruges is a very cool place. Upon our arrival, the morning fog was still thick and therefore the tall church towers and the canals looked somewhat mysterious and eerie. As the sun rose higher, though, the fog dissipated and revealed the city in its entirety. While my mom was busy systematically going into each store to look for lace and pretending she knows what good lace looks like, my dad was trying to hide his exasperation in wandering off and filming whatever was around with the camescope we got him for christmas. Amused by my parents' classic family vacation scene, I walked around a little and gazed in amazement at the hundreds of gables and at the old ladies making lace in the back of their little shops. It was a warm and sunny (thus busy) Sunday, but the city was still pretty quiet. The afternoon went by slowly as we looked around for antiques and walked along the canals in which the brightly coloured leaves were reflected. Awesome. Bruges also has an impressive amount of parks considering the size of the city. We made a detour through the Minnewasser, one of them, before heading back to the station. The silence was only broken every now and then by someone ringing on the bell of their bicycle to tell us to get the hell out of their way. That night we went to Chez Léon, back in Brussels, one of Belgium's most famous mussels and french fries place. I ordered a gargantuesque mussels dish with a pint of Léon's house beer (house wine is just not an option in Belgium...). No kidding, even the chocolate smell emanating from the Godiva's shop on Grand Place seemed disgusting after eating so much.
The next day, my mom and I decided to go check out the famous Atomium. The Atomium is basically a building shaped like a giant iron molecule enlarged I-forget-how-many times. It was Belgium's hall for the universal exhibition of 1958. I've seen quite a few odd-shaped buildings in my life, but I must admit that this enormous molecule is pretty ridiculous. You can visit the inside and take escalators to go from one "boule" to another, and everything inside is arranged like in the 50's. The best part is that it is located near other random weird-looking buildings, such as a Japanese tower, a Chinese house covered in golden dragon sculptures, a park with miniature reproductions of all the most famous buildings in Europe, an amphitheatre entirely made out of organic matter and grass, and, last but not least, the royal palace of Belgium. Let's simply say that it is easy to find your way around this part of town. In the afternoon, we checked out a few art nouveau buildings from the beginning of the century downtown and then we walked all the way up to the outrageously big Brussels Justice Hall, in front of which is located probably one of the most moving unknown soldier monuments ever made. Our third and last day in Brussels consisted of walking around a lot, drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee, checking a modern art exhibition about (believe it or not) Jesus and religion in the St-Michel-et-Ste-Gudule cathedral and, more importantly, going back in my childhood days while visiting the Comic Strip Museum of Belgium. Because as you may already know, Belgium is the hometown of most of the best known comic strip characters ever created, at least in the strange world of French speaking people. So I spent a good chunk of the day with my dearest childhood heroes: Tintin, Spirou, the Smurfs, Blake&Mortimer, Gaston Lagaffe, Cubitus, Achille Talon, Boule et Bill, and so many more. All of a sudden I realized that the sketches I do are absolute amateur work. "J'ai des croûtes à manger", as we say here. Speaking of which, this week I have to draw key scenes of the novel "The Lord of the Flies" for a project in ESL Literacy and Language Arts. It's fun, I get to experiment with media I hadn't touched for years (watercolours, charcoal, etc.), but on the other hand it's hard to find key scenes that can be represented graphically without having any gory or other traumatizing, inappropriate stuff for teenagers. Anyways, that was about it for Belgium. Whenever I get time to write some more I'll let you know about Amsterdam and its wonders...

lundi 6 octobre 2008

Here are the hectic harvest hurricanes (and other miscellaneous words starting with an H)...

Here I am, back in the "here-and-now-zone" after a whole bunch of entries about what happened back this summer. After 8 months and a bit on the run, I am finally back in Québec, to my great simultaneous pleasure and disenchantement. I have a relationship I struggle to describe with this province, really. The Stéphane Dion syndrome, maybe. In any case, as you may have noticed, I am still writing in English. I picked that up for awhile, we'll see how it goes. I gave up making promises and committing about writing in one specific language or another, as my past experience in trip logging and other blog-like entries proved that I can't freewrite in one language... I guess it's the downside of being trilingual...

So what have I done since I came back to good ol' "Je me souviens"? Enjoying the fall colours, smells and sights would naturally come first on my list since it is by far the most pleasant thing I've done, even if attending class and trying to figure out my M.A. was unfortunately the things I've actually spent the most time doing. This semester might be the apotheosis of the irrelevance of my teaching degree. There is something very frustrating about being an aspiring teacher and spending a good chunk of my studies engaging in long ethical reflexions on the moral component of teaching cross-curricular competencies or quoting texts about ultra-specific teaching methods rather than trying to become better at what I'll do. A lady from the bureau des stages took the time to wake me up early on my sleep-in day last week to let me know that my practicum project in a native community in La Romaine was unilaterally rejected for a stupid bureaucratic technicality. Way to suck the life out of my motivation to remain in my bacc. No worries, though, as I mourn my practicum project I'm already cogitating about what my next odyssey might be... for now I'll just keep going on short journeys and ridiculous adventures until I find something I really want to do...stay tuned.
My 22nd birthday was ok. Being 22 is far from being exciting, as no particular privilege comes with that specific age except getting dangerously close to paying full prize for my bus pass. Since everyone was busy 22-ing around, the birthday festivities weren't as wild as they used to be. I must be getting old. My birthday week nevertheless included a cool dinner with buddies I did my trip to Spain with and a good night out at the Laval University Pub's patio, both of which were awesome and included some good old fashioned intoxication. Thanks guys.

My enjoyment of the fall colours reached its climax this past Sunday, as Lindsay, Hélène, Merhdad and I went on a classic journey to Orléans Island for some pic-nicking and apple-picking. When Champlain first saw Orléans Island, he named it Bacchus Island since it was benefiting from an incredible micro-climate that made wild vines, fruits and vegetables grow in abundance all over it. That micro-Eden must have been pretty cool to see in the early 1600's, especially after the massive disappointment of figuring out he was nowhere near India, or Europe for that matter. "At least SOME things grow here", he probably thought. Orléans Island still is nowadays Québec City's backyard garden. Apples, berries, potatoes, and all kinds of other produce have been the economic motor of the island for ever, and most of the villages established along the shore of the island kept their original settlement buildings, which gives the wandering outsider a little feeling of going back in the first times of the colony just by crossing a sketchy bridge across half the St-Lawrence river. We stopped at the chocolate factory to pick up some truffles and then stuffed our faces with bread and cheese and paté on the riverside in St-François (because of course, 100% of the villages on the island are called "St-Something"). What else would you expect? The afternoon was highlighted by a visit to an apple cider shop and by making fun of all the people standing by the road dressed up as giant apples or other ridiculous stuff to get us to go into their orchard. No, thanks, giant McIntosh teenager, I am going to Roger and Margot's orchard. Margot's smile as she hands me that white plastic bucket to put my apples in has been highlighting my Indian Summers since I've been in high school. Next year, maybe, big apple. Roger and Margot's apple orchard is full of Orléans' island own McIntosh variety apple, and has a breathtaking view on the Laurentians and Mt.Sainte-Anne. As we admired the firework of autumn colours around us, a faint smell of boiled corn cobs and of fresh bread emerged from Margot's shack. God, I love Orléans Island. Here are a few pictures.

Yep, so that's about it for now. This week my mission is to contain hurricane Thomas, a 3 year-old cousin of mine that we volunteered to babysit for a few days, as well as Ginger, Thomas' 70-ish lbs. chocolate labrador. Fun times ahead... then Friday will be our departure for Belgium and Amsterdam for my dad's business trip. I love how we have family business trips, now. Hopefully it will be just as great as it sounds.

dimanche 28 septembre 2008

Day XXIV - Ends.

This morning we found out how it feels to be done with the Moisie.

Yesterday’s bonfire was still smoking when we woke up. As I was burning my second batch of scrambled muffin (the first one was spoiled by unpurified water), the kids started a brigade to take down the canoes and our stuff. The tide rose during he night, which made things a little more complicated. At least now it’s going down, which should help us get to Moisie.

I had the feeling to move even slower than yesterday. I don’t know if it’s because of accumulated fatigue or if Emily is slacking off, but anyways. I guess we’re all tired. After a few interminable kilometres, we finally made it to…

The Moisie ends here, in the Gulf of the St-Lawrence. All of a sudden, without any foreword or warning, the majestic cliffs flattened out and left room to an infinite stretch of saltwater.

So this is it.

A few hundred metres from the shore of Moisie, we recognized the silhouette of our beloved bus driver, Stan the man. He must have missed us, somehow. As he awkwardly dealt with the kids’ demonstrations of affection towards him, we loaded the bus in a hurry and made fun of the absurd quantity of Québec flags floating in the wind at each little house in “Moisie Beach”. We also made fun of the biker-looking guy standing proudly next to a native pride flag and a confederate flag. When everything was loaded, we lingered by the “danger dangerous wharf” sign and then strolled slowly towards the beach to dip our toes in the ocean.

As Marcus found a crab in his unsuccessful quest for a sand dollar, I strolled on the beach and tried to define the weird mixture of feelings I’m experiencing. I end up telling myself that I don’t really care about defining it and I beam at the now distant Moisie hills and at the storm cell we’ll never be hit by that hovers above them. My toes in the sand, my eyes on the river, I enjoy the very last seconds of the trip.

And that’s how the story ends.

Of course, the trip back to camp was filled with adventures and anecdotes of all kinds, such as:

- Luke and his high (in)tolerance to saltwater
- The food rampage in the Maxi in Baie-Comeau and the meat sweats in the bus
- The Sept-Îles Marathon that we randomly came across
- The resurrection of Marcus’ watch after 21 days of absence
- Finding out that there is a free Paul McCartney concert in Québec city at a corner store in La Malbaie
- Calling home from Baie-St-Paul as a helicopter is taking off next to our bus
- The beluga whales on the Fjord during the ferry ride
- My first flushable toilet in a month on the ferry
- The dude with the “breakfast included” t-shirt casually posing on the ferry
- The glorious drive across Basse-Ville and the excitement at the sight of known landscapes
- Watching Montmorency Falls (they're still pretty freakin' big, even after the Moisie) as I overhear Marcus’ tales of his trip to India
- Our arrival at my house and the priceless stares of my 80 year-old neighbours as we unload the bus
- The pool, the barbecue, the chocolate milk
- The lady at the grocery store disagreeing with our choice of granola cereal
- My dad’s hernia
- Finding out about Claude
- Needing a hug after finding out about Claude
- The empty, freshly painted playroom
- Nat checking out my dad’s woodwork in the kitchen
- The Chocolats Favoris, at last, after that place being so often part of our daydreams for the past month
- Listening to Paul McCartney from across the river and looking at pyrotechnic effects next to Frontenac Castle
- Buying and reading Le Soleil and even doing the crosswords. In French.
- The boys fighting for the sports section
- Nat looking like a hobo with his (beyond) filthy t-shirt and his garbage bag at the gas station
- The Motel Madrid and it’s ridiculous dinosaurs and bigfoot trucks

- Taking highway 20 instead of highway 40
- Marcus’ complicated statistics about trip
- The rated and commented burps
- The arrival at camp

But really, it is when I turned away from the ocean and looked for the last time at he remains of the Moisie cliffs stretching across the horizon line that I knew that it was really over.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here some day.

Maybe I will.