The kind man who brought me to the alley door at back of grand building on Grande Allée in his taxi was the first person in Quebec City to speak French to me, the first to speak to me at all on my return. Having lived in this city for twenty-two years, coming here from the region of Lac St. Jean, he knew that my address was across from the Concorde, Lowe’s Concorde, the big hotel, as soon as I asked for la ruelle behind Grande Allée. There, he helped me take my bags inside the foyer as soon as I’d opened the door with key.
It felt wonderful to enter my own little space with the keys long idle. It felt wonderful to ride through basse ville, off 540, and to know where I was. As we were turning a corner to climb the long hill up to Montcalm, to René Levesque and then Grande Allée, a young woman gestured for a ride. He was going to pass her up but I asked him if he wanted to stop for her – it was after 1 am and cold outside, or so it seemed to me, and he was willing if I did not object, so we stopped for her.
So I had another person, another Québecoise, witnessing my return to the spot on earth that is mine for a while in Quebec City. It was nearly 2 am; Tony and I woke at 3 am in Texas to have me at the airport in San Antonio for my journey. I called Tony as he’d asked. I wanted to tell him how beautiful it is, but how can one say it?
Deep snow, the quiet that goes with that. The way lights sparkle in the sweet silence.
He was glad I was here and inside.
In Charlotte, North Carolina I forgot to reset my watch or my mind for the time change from Central to Eastern and thus missed a flight. I might otherwise have arrived about 5:30 pm of January 30 but instead it was January 31.
There’s a bed and breakfast with small parking lot just outside the door, and I’d met the man who tends it before leaving to take my car back to Texas (knowing I did not know how to deal with a car up here). The first thing he said to me when I set out about noon was “Dogs!” (in English). The dog race was about to happen, and they’d be coming along soon.
Within two blocks on Grande Allée I’d bought my effigy – the little pin that serves to let you in to all the events, for $10.00, unless you choose the plastic one to hang around your neck, and I didn’t. Turning a corner there back toward the Plains of Abraham, I was at the Des Jardins site, the largest of the Carnaval sites, and it was happening already.
But I couldn’t resist going also down to Rue St. Jean, eating at the huge vegetarian serve-yourself restaurant, buying a dozen eggs, walking the long way back up, stopping at Rene Levesque’s statue on the parliament grounds, sitting in a snow chair casually carved by someone’s derriere, speaking a few words to M. Levesque.
The statue has his head too square, I think, but still it’s him, or it represents him, and he looks out to all the city below, to the Laurentians beyond, above the words on a plaque that I’ve left up here for so long, the ones that say there comes a time when a people must act bravely, if radically, with calm audacity.
I feel audacious even to be here amidst such beauty. I told him so.
Then carried on to retire early, missing a Saturday night concert in Tente Metro, not even knowing until today I studied the schedule of events.
But there was music today in Tente Metro, even someone playing the spoons, as they do here. Oh, it is so beautiful. There are only thousands of people, not the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands as for the summer festival. It’s quieter. It’s splendid.
Learning in Québec
- Sylvia Ann Manning
- I'm someone who began learning French when I was 53. I took a BA in French at 60 but wasn't happy with my level of comprehension (though I read very well). So, having really become comfortable with Spanish only by living on the Mexican border, I'm spending more time in Québec and near the border of Quebec, in Vermont, to see if I can do that here with French. I want to encourage others to do the same.