I was so very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.
My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); things associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the months to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today the letter is “Q” for Quebec.
If you want to see France, but can’t quite afford it, you can always go to Quebec City. While it’s not exactly Paris, it is not quite Anglo Canada either. There will be times you have to dredge up your High School French to make yourself understood. As in France, people understand more English than they let on: They just want to see if you’re willing to go halfway.
Just a short stroll along the cliffs over the St. Lawrence, and you arrive at the Plains of Abraham, where the French were decisively defeated, despite the death of both generals, Wolfe and Montcalm. The English may have won, but the Quebecois will tell you, “Je me souviens”—“I remember.” And they do, to the extent that at several times in recent history, they have threatened to declare their independence. (For the historical background, I recommend you read Francis Parkman’s 19th Century classic, Montcalm and Wolfe.)
The cuisine in Quebec is an intriguing mixture of old country French with such local touches as maple syrup. Probably your best bet is to dine at Aux Anciens Canadiens in the old town. It is probably one of the five best restaurants I have ever visited.
Everywhere you turn in Quebec, you will be reminded of France. See the Musée des Ursulines on rue Donnacona for a tribute to the nuns who played such a major role in French Quebec. Walk along Dufferin Terrace past the Hotel Château Frontenac to see the St. Lawrence from atop the cliffs that once protected the city.
I have visited Quebec City twice and hope to go again.