Travelling through Quebec is a lot of work. And by work I mean brain-work, constantly accessing that little-used part of the brain where high school French is kept. Thankfully, my hands and facial expressions are in full gear, compensating for my woeful lack of Francais. The Dude is even worse despite a francophone mother, when in doubt he shouts out Rene Levesque hoping to spark solidarity with Quebecers he meets.
The trip-with-no-agenda landed us in Coteau du lac, a little town west of Montreal. Like all campgrounds within sniffing distance of a major tourist city, it advertises its proximity to the delights of Montreal. What it neglected to mention was the price of this proximity. The campground was so close to the freeway we could feel the rumble of the 18 wheelers passing by; our site was so close to our neighbours that when they sneezed we said bless you. The campground simulated a country feel with goats and chickens, which The Dog appreciated. Apparently proximity is a fluid term, I’m thinking 10 minutes away, they mean 45 minutes… c’est la vie.
Quebec is a cyclist’s paradise. Coteau du lac is surrounded by 41 kilometers of trails, paved, marked and gently shaded by a tunnel of trees. It’s like bike nirvana, except for the crazy guy feeding and talking to baby skunks along the trail. This was our first experience with how seriously Quebecer’s take cycling. Au revoir cigarettes and pot bellies, bonjour spandex bike pants.
Dinner in Coteau du lac was a pantomime of pointing and mangled French and English between us and our server, a sweet girl who valiantly tried to help before calling over a colleague who had about five words of English more than her. All those French lessons online taken a year ago have vanished. The rapid-fire staccato of words wash over us, the pointing gets more frantic, the words louder. A lovely man one table over helps out. Two years on Vancouver Island have given him a good command of English and we chat gratefully with him and his wife. After they leave, a guy dining with his elderly mother pipes up, asking where we’re from in B.C. He’s from the Kootenays, visiting his elegant mother who lives in the town.
It’s like being in a foreign land and our expectations have been dialed down regarding bilingualism. The trick is to remember a few key phrases, like “hello, goodbye, thank you “and for the Dude, “where can I find the cold beer”.
Grocery shopping now takes longer with the label reading and translation factored in. Quebec has the bread and cheese thing perfected. Bread and cheese is like the crack of the food world. Baguettes and crusty rustic breads are everywhere, warm and fresh out of the oven; I am weak and succumb to their siren call.
Big Brother of the booze world has left the building here. B.C. take note, wine, beer and coolers are available in grocery stores and gas stations, and people are not running wild in the streets.
People who know me know I love to chat, in fact The Dude maintains I have a Master’s in small talk. So this Quebec thing is killing me. Those lovely conversations with people about everything and nothing aren’t happening here. I find myself searching for license plates from other provinces in the hopes of starting a “How you doing, what part of … are you from?” I have resorted to long conversations with The Dog about the high cost of laundry on the road and how little I miss TV.
Next..Jail time inTrois Rivieres and A former prime minister’s hometown