I am not too happy with myself at the moment. I had about two hours work done on this episode when I first moved it to a different folder and then added a few notes from Boston to it. Then I managed to delete everything I had written about Quebec City, and it was pretty interesting, so here goes again: @#$%^&*()(*&^%$#@#$%^&*(*&^%$
Sunday, October 2, 2022 – Quebec City
It was a gorgeous day in Quebec City, sunny, crisp and cool. Perfect touring weather. The only fly in the ointment was that it was also the Quebec Marathon. Our guide, François Paré had never seen the city closed down over such an extensive area. They had a way to direct him into the port, but it made him at least 20 minutes late and dashed any hopes we may have had about a nice little ride around Old Quebec. He showed us what little he could, that which we passed on the way out, and we did get two good stories out of him. We also got a history lesson, to which I have added my own take.
The history lesson started with the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759-60. The French had colonized Quebec in 1608 but the English, who had settled a hundred or so miles to the south, were very interested in possessing the whole of North America. The Plains of Abraham is the land above Quebec where the Chateau Frontenac now stands. It was easy to defend and had been for years, by the settlers and their militia. They weren’t career soldiers, like the British were. They endured a year of 40,000 cannonballs, before the British attempted an attack up the hill. They were significantly better armed, with rifles that could get off two shots before re-loading, a thing the French hadn’t even heard of. And there were at least twice as many of them. They won the battle and with it, Canada, which remains part of the British Commonwealth. For how much longer is anybody’s guess.
At that time, and up until the 1960s, the Catholic Church controlled everything in Quebec. Every family had at least one priest in it. Since only the youngest son would inherit the farm, it was the next best career. When they first took control, the British were very concerned that the French would flee to the south, regroup, and come back to re-take their land. So, they made a deal with the priests. In return for remaining on the land, which they were tilling so well, the French settlers would be allowed to keep their language and culture. That is why, when I was going to school in the 50s, we had four different school boards: French Catholic, English Catholic, English Protestant and French Protestant.
Then, in the late 1960s came the “Quiet Revolution”. I lived through it and I can’t remember it as having been so quiet. You would be afraid to walk past a mailbox in Westmount in case a bomb in it would go off. There were scary mobs protesting in the streets. I worked for IBM at the time, and we turned off all the lights on our main floor, where we had innocently been displaying mainframe computers. Then we moved them upstairs. The FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) kidnapped James Cross, the British Consul and Pierre Laporte, a well-known politician. They released James Cross after a couple of months and killed Pierre Laporte. Charles de Gaulle made a complete ass of himself, when he decided to meddle by standing up and hollering “Vive le Quebec libre” at and Expo’67 event (I forget which – likely the closing). I am sure many of the French thought it wonderful. I’m an English Canadian, now known as a “historic anglo” fighting for the right to be served in English.
Big English businesses, like the Banks and Insurance Companies, simply picked up stakes and moved to Toronto, which experienced a real-estate boom such as is seldom seen, except maybe in California. It has been sixty years and Montreal still isn’t a patch on what it was when I was young. But I digress. We were in Quebec.
We passed a row of nicely restored 18th century houses. Quebec families were very large in those days. Twelve children was a small family. Twenty wasn’t uncommon. They would build a nice large house and add a second, and maybe a third, story as the family grew. Time would pass and the children would grow up and get married. At that point, they would create separate apartments by rearranging walls and doors and moving the staircases outside. This had the added benefit of making it harder for the matriarch downstairs to just pop in whenever she felt like it. They called the outside staircases “mother-in-law staircases”.
Then we passed the Quebec Bridge and François told the tragic stories of two accidents that claimed a hundred or so lives, during its construction. Those stories are taught in great gory detail to all freshman engineering students in the province of Quebec and all of our graduate engineers wear an iron ring on the little finger of their dominant hand to remind them of their responsibilities, as evidenced by the Quebec Bridge fatalities. I just googled “Quebec Engineer Iron Ring” and Wikipedia has the University of Toronto claiming the origin of the practice. They aren’t convincing me of that one.
We took a little detour through Laval University, which was founded in 1852 and is the oldest French University in North America. François graduated form Laval in Journalism and practiced for many years before becoming a tour guide. He knew a lot about just about everything and the time passed quickly. We talked about our health care system, and how they sometimes clear the playing fields with shovels during football games. “Je me souviens” on Quebec license plates means “I remember” and politely, “I remember my roots, my history, my culture”. I have long suspected it means “I remember how the English screwed us over.” I kept my trap shut in the car.
Soon we were on the Ile d’Orleans and this is apple season. François wanted to get us on and off before all the Sunday pickers arrived. We made a pit stop at a commercial establishment that sold apples and more apples. They had every variety you could imagine, but I wanted our local apple, the McIntosh, for my people. For $7, Canadian – $5 to you murcans) I got a nice little basket that gave everyone a couple and my room stewards, too.
It’s a beautiful island and the local government has had the sense to develop a building code that keeps new housing to the old style and properties large enough that it still has a nice rural feel. Very pretty. There is still a lot of farming going on, too.
The mountains in the background are the Laurentians, the same ones we have north of Montreal. The highest peak, at 2700 feet, is Mont Ste Anne, which is only 45 minutes from Quebec City.
When Jacques Cartier discovered this island in 1534, he initially christened it Bacchus, as there were grapes growing. But you can’t get money from Bacchus to further your expeditions, so he sold the naming rights to the Duc d’Orleans and got plenty. He had to press on and discover Montreal, after all.
We pressed on to our next stop, a chocolatier. This is when Carol and Helen think they have died and gone to heaven. I think Carol had her best hot chocolate, ever. She bought a can to drink on the ship. We all bought something. It was wonderful. I have been having a mint cream dark chocolate bamboo stick every night, just before I turn off my light. I have one left, just enough.
There was somewhat of a traffic jam getting off the bridge, as François had predicted. So he kept us amused with a little French lesson. Potatoes are “pommes de terre”. “Pommes de route”, literally “road apples” are another thing entirely and come out of the back end of a horse. When you are playing hockey on a rink cleared in a field of snow, you can use them for pucks when you have lost yours in the snow. It’s probably just as well we didn’t spend too much time in that traffic jam.
Our last stop was Montmorency Falls, which, I’ll have you know, are one-and-a-half times as high as Niagara Falls at 270 feet. They just aren’t as wide so they aren’t as impressive. The falls do freeze in the winter. When the water keeps coming, it builds up behind the frozen falls to form a “pain de sucre” or “sugar loaf” which people bring their sleds to slide down.
Quebec also has an ice hotel. It originated here at Montmorency Falls but has been moving around year by year. It’s in the Valcartier Vacation Village now. I might go there for a Hot Buttered Rum, but I wouldn’t want to stay the night.
I had dinner with Nona at her table for four. She was supposed to be traveling with Beryl and two other ladies from Florida, but the three of them were staying home to take care of hurricane business. Luckily none of it too serious. Nona has a lovely table on the rail and her stewards treated us very well. We went to the show which was “The Step One Dance Company Presents: Humanity” and was one of the new things they are doing on cruise ships. They marry technology with live dancing. The dancers were very good and the technology so-so, but I miss the live orchestra. It kinda feels like they are cheaping out.
Monday, October 3, 2022 – Quebec City
We overnighted in Quebec City, so people could get out and see more of it, and because we were going to miss P.E.I. I took care of accumulated travel agent business until about noon, cleared my email and had a long call to the CRA who are trying to get $24,000 out of me that I don’t owe them. The IRS has it and Canada needs to allow my Foreign Tax Credit. Had to get it done while my phone was on land, though, because once the ship sailed, I would have to deal with ship’s roaming charges and they are terrible. So now, at least Canada Revenue Agency have agreed to stop chasing me for 90 days while THEY process that which they should have processed over a year ago. Finally, I sat down to photoshop and write.
I hadn’t taken very many pictures, so I put a call out to Mike and Geri for a few of theirs and hereby thank them very much for sending same. I also took a lovely bath in my in-suite Jacuzzi got dressed up, met Joan and took her with me to dinner with Nona at 8:00 pm. Our group has split on dinnertime lines. Carol, Cindy and Mike like to eat at 5:30, while Joan and I, being Montrealers, will always choose 8:00. Geri goes back and forth. She was with us tonight.
It was what they now call “DRESSY” night, so we did dress up a bit. Joan had on her signature perfume “Angel” by Thiery Mugler. It’s getting a lot of attention from the stewards. They say things like “You smell nice”. Gotta get me some of that stuff.
On Dressy night, the food is a cut above, and it was very nice. We were later entertained by a female vocalist in the French style, named Magali Dahan. We enjoyed her and met her again in the Ocean Bar, where Nona and I had a nightcap. This little guy in the Dining Room was just adorable.
Tuesday, October 4, 2022, at sea
Finally, a quiet day, when I could begin to write, and I did. Not as much as you would have thought, though, because there was a wine tasting at two o’clock and it was free for Five-Star Mariners. When have you ever seen me say “no” to an offer like that? Nona and I went and had a hysterical table and a very good time. It sort of puts the kaibosh on literary endeavors, though. Oh well. I need the de-stressor.
I had dinner with Joan and Nona and saw another hybrid Dance and Technology performance. This one was called “Musicology”.
Wednesday, October 5, 2022 – Cap aux Meules, Iles de la Madeleine
This place was our substitute for Charlottetown, P.E.I., which was still trying to get all of its power back, and in no position to welcome tourists. Cap aux Meules has no experience hosting cruise ships and I wish I had been there to coach the local merchants before we got there. They had some nice souvenir shops, a chocolaterie, a bar, and what looked like a reasonable restaurant. But they didn’t know enough to be open all day. They had silly signs in the window like “Closed for Lunch”. The restaurant wasn’t open at all. Neither was the bar. When is the next time they will see 1,000 people with money to spend on chocolate, beer and lobster rolls? It really was a shame.
I don’t know how people live in such places but, in one of the shops, we met a guy, in a souvenir shop, who had gone off to seek his fortune in Montreal. Thirty years later he came back, feeling richer on the island than he ever had in Montreal. It takes a lot of different people to make a world.
In the evening Joan, Nona and I had dinner with Gerard Darnel and Jan Magnolo, whom we had met at sea a long time ago and a few times since. They are from Vancouver. We met on a ship that had a little public verandah off the stern, on Deck 7, that hardly anyone knew about. Elvon and I had an ocean view cabin, the last one aft. Elvon used to sit out that deck most of every day and I joined him with my computer as much as its battery would allow. Gerard spent a lot of time out there, too, Jan somewhat less. Some evenings one of us would go fetch a cheese platter from the Lido and we’d break out a bottle of wine. Those were the days when you could buy a bottle on shore and just bring it on. Days long gone, sad to say. But now that we are all Five-star Mariners, we get ship’s wine almost as cheaply. That’s a great perk and keeps us loyal.
The One Step Dance Company had one more performance left in them and we all went and enjoyed it. It was called “in Tandem”.
Thursday, October 6, 2022, at sea
Here’s a day where there really isn’t much to report as I just put my head down and wrote for most of it.
I met Nona for the BC Earth show at 7:30pm as we had complimentary reservations at the Pinnacle Grill at 8:30pm. Joan decided to pay her way in and eat with us swells. The Pinnacle doesn’t disappoint. I had steak tartare for an appetizer and we all shared a little clothesline of candied bacon strips. They had a fancier name, but that’s what they were, and they were great. Then I had a boneless rib steak with green peppercorn sauce, frites and mushrooms, and a chocolate souffle for dessert. Urp.