quebec city, day two, allan and laura, 25 years

Last night we went out in the neighbourhood of the B&B, in search of a local fast-food chain that mainly serves poutine. We found a Chez Ashton a few blocks away, a brightly lit, bare-bones place with a steady stream of locals scarfing down the smothered fries. Supposedly they also sell hot dogs and roast beef sandwiches, and even a sad-looking salad, but nobody seems to eat anything but poutine. We ordered something called a Dulton avec saucisses, which had meat and sliced hot dogs along with the requisite gravy and curds. It's a complete artery-clogging, blood-pressure-raising special, disgustingly delicious. Immediately afterwards I felt like drinking a litre of cold water to wash down the salt. But it was highly yummy.

We walked around the neighbourhood a bit more, but every establishment was packed, either with large families of tourists or large groups of locals. We weren't in the mood for crowds and noise (we never are) so eventually we stopped at a tiny convenience store - a bodega in New York, a dépanneur or dep here - for something to bring back to the room. Even this little store seemed European, with juice in tetra packs and those round rolls of cookies that I associate with European markets.

While looking for a less crowded place to hang out, we ran into a loud, rude, assholic tourist, apparently American. He made a big deal over speaking loudly in English. I may be reading too much into it, but he seemed the type to be offended that people speak anything but English, as if people speak French just to be cute, or just to annoy him. On the way home, we rehearsed all the things we felt like saying to him but didn't. Being polite Canadians and all.

Last night I discovered what happens if you take too much non-drowsy allergy medication. You get insomnia. These are over-the-counter meds that are supposed to last 24 hours (as if). During the height of my allergy season, I usually take one every 12 hours, and I'm fine. But there are cats in this house - not in our room, but I feel it anyway - so I thought I'd try taking one every eight hours. Works like a charm... if you don't need sleep.

* * * *

This morning, as expected, the weather had dropped sharply. Yesterday the sky was wet and gray, and the streets and sidewalks were wet and slushy. Today the sky was bright blue and everything was frozen. I love cold, dry weather with bright skies. But even I have to admit today was cold. My issue isn't staying warm outside; it's how to not be completely overheated once we go inside.

I also wasn't too keen on spending the whole day out, having dinner for our anniversary, then trudging uphill in the bitter cold at the end of the day. So last night while I wasn't sleeping, I had the brilliant idea of driving to the other end of the old city and putting the car in a lot.

With narrow, one-way streets and no place to park, the old city is not a town you want to drive around. But there's a ring road that gets you around pretty fast, and we parked in near walking distance from la Musee de la Civilisation. It's a beautiful museum, full of wide spaces and natural light. From the outside, the design is reminiscent of a ziggurat; you feel like you're walking into a pyramid.

We saw a small exhibit of Innuit prints, and a really good exhibit on immigration to Canada, from the earliest French settlers up to the waves of Europeans who farmed the prairies. (The Chinese immigrants who built the railroads that took those Europeans to the prairies were strangely absent.) Allan had enough at that point, so I took in an extensive exhibit about Canada's aboriginal peoples. The museum was very busy - it's free on Tuesdays, plus I'm sure the frigid weather helped drive people indoors.

We had lunch at the museum - more friendly, polite Quebecers immediately switching to English for us - then bundled up again and headed to our next indoor stops. Or so we thought.

We saw the stone church built on the site of Champlain's "habitation" - the first European building in what would become New France and later, Canada. We also had a chance to see the same lower-town streets from the day before without swarms of tourists and ugly gray slush. Frozen in snow, and with only a smattering of people, it was so beautiful - picture-perfect, like a movie set or a postcard. We found our next stop, Centre d'Interpretation de Place-Royale... and it was closed for the winter. As of this morning.

It was way too cold to wander around outside, and we really weren't interested in any of the other indoor options, like a Musee de Beaux Arts. (I would have gone to the fine arts museum or the civilization museum, but two museums in one day is too much for me, which means it's ten times too much for Allan.) After one of those ridiculous circular discussions assessing our options, we drove out of the city to find the Ice Hotel. It officially opens on Friday, but we thought we might be able to get a peek today.

Nope. When we stayed at the Ice Hotel in 2007, you could walk through and around it while the finishing touches were being worked on, and portions were still being built. Now it seems to have a permanent home, and you have to walk through a glass pavilion, like a visitors' centre, before you can really see the Ice Hotel itself. We thought we might see someone who would let us in... but no.

We drove back into the city, hoping to find a neighbourhood outside the walls of Vieux-Quebec, called St-Jean-Baptiste. It turned out it is not far from where we're staying; if you followed our neighbourhood out past the wall, you run into it. It looked nice and lively, full of bookstores, pretty shops and restaurants - but again, it was way too cold to explore on foot. So we just drove around a little, and before long we were back where we started, near the river, and near the restaurant we wanted to try for dinner.

It was way too early, but we were tired of killing time, so we were the only ones in the place for a while. We had poutine from the upscale side of the tracks, with duck, fromage and a deep mushroom gravy, and a salmon tartare plate, and plenty of wine. This is the crazy part. We felt like we were there for a long time, and when we got back to the car, it was only 6:30. 6:30! Before most people have even gone out for dinner! Has it come to this, the early-bird special?? We had a good laugh over it. I think we may be laughing at this one for a while to come.

There are no supermarkets in the old city, and we haven't even seen a mid-sized grocery store, so we picked up a bottle of wine and some munchies in a gas station and headed back to the B&B. We're missing all the nightlife, but at least you can buy wine anywhere here.

* * * *

So today, January 3, Allan and I celebrated 25 years of Allan-and-Laura-ness, 25 years of commitment and of living together. More than turning 50 last June, this milestone makes me feel my age. I don't mean that as a negative, just as a fact: the anniversary brings it home.

My parents' 25th anniversary was the day after my brother's wedding, 1975. I was 14, still a child. By my next birthday, my teenage life had begun. A few years later, during my first year of university, my father had his first heart attack, and soon after that, my parents' extremely bad marriage finally went into freefall. I guess what this means is my parents 25th anniversary turned out to be some kind of passage or milestone in my life, something I remember as an end and a beginning.

Now I am having a 25th anniversary. I am 50 years old. Our marriage, our partnership, has existed for half my life. That is just an amazing thing.

Like all strong and lasting relationships, Allan and I are not together by accident or by luck, although we both consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have each other. We have certainly been at the crossroads, a place where we could have moved on into separate lives. But we didn't. We consciously decided to renew our commitment and to continue to grow individually, together.

Other than that, days go by, day by day by day by day, and then you look back, and it has been 25 years. Friggin amazing.

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