Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oh, Canada!

We're back!  In one piece, too, after many travel adventures and a stop in Sacramento on the way home (not really, but close enough) for a wonderful Thanksgiving at my parents' house.  The summative statement?  I love Canada.

To be fair, I'm making that statement on the basis of a very limited visit to a very small part of a very large and diverse country.  But I'm ready to go back again to make sure that I have it right, and I think that's a pretty good sign.  Thanks to everyone who wrote with suggestions - we tried to hit as many as we could realistically, and we enjoyed every one we made it to.  As a side note, the conference presentation (the reason for the trip) went very well (to my delight and relief), as did my presentation to the business meeting of my professional section.  Whew!

If I had to sum up the one thing that so many of our wonderful experiences had in common, I'd say it's either kindness or serendipity.  Serendipitous kindness?  (Not one word, but it works.)  To give just one example among many, we went to Notre Dame de Bonsecours in Montreal, on the excellent recommendation of people like greenmtngirl (I don't have a link - if you have one, send it and I'll attach!)(I'm embarrassed because someone else told me unequivocally to go because the view from the tower of the church is so wonderful, and I can't for the life of me remember who - whoever it was, you were right!).  We climbed and climbed and climbed to the top of the church (263 stairs, if I remember correctly; the docent kindly told us the exact number before we started), to come out onto a breathtaking view of Montreal, laid out before us in the crisp (not to say frigid) evening air.  My camera died right then (I'm convinced it was the cold), but my cell phone came through for me, and I was able to take pictures of the two remaining lifesized angels standing guard on the roof.
 You can see a glimpse of the St. Lawrence river in the top right corner of the skyline there.
Amazing, no?  Then down, down, down we went, through the exhibit on Marguerite de Bourgeoys' life (the founder), back to the entrance of the museum, where we began to rug up for our walk back to our hotel.  As we did, another docent came through the gift store with three people in tow.  He stopped, turned back to us, and said, "Do you want to come down to the archaeological dig under the church?"  Did we!  And off we went.  I still don't know how the tour came about (it isn't the time of year when the dig is usually open to visitors), but we loved it, and things like that just kept happening in both Montreal and Quebec.

I loved the rampant bilingualism of both cities.  It's not something that one sees very often in the U.S.; the use of languages other than English in public places is fraught in so many ways.  And it may be that there were language politics playing out of which I was blissfully unaware as I moved through both cities, but I will say that I felt absolutely that people were more than willing to let me try to make my way along in French, and equally willing to help me out when my French failed me.  It is rare that I get to feel like a participant in code-switching interactions (French not being a very common language around here, and my Spanish being too embarrassingly bad to try to join into any bilingual conversations that I may be lucky enough to be privy to), and I loved every minute of it, as both a linguist and a marginal francophone.

We ate.  We ate like pigs, in fact, and I think the only thing that saved me from rolling home is the fact that we also walked and walked and walked.  Our hotel in the Latin Quarter was a half an hour walk away from the Palais de Congres where the conference was held, and we walked all over the rest of the city - to the McCord Museum (also recommended by greenmtngrl), which had a particularly stellar exhibit on oil (the kind that comes out of the ground) and the cultures that spring up around both its use and the results of its use; to the Cathedral; to the river; and back around again.  We went out to the Botanical Gardens, which were fabulous.  We visited the Insectarium there (where I held a stick bug the size of my hand), and the greenhouses, where we saw flowers that I've tried to grow here, but which seemed much happier there.
And where we were also assaulted by squirrels.  I begin to understand why The Yarn Harlot writes so fearfully of Canadian squirrels, in fact.  I kid you not when I tell you that these squirrels not only approached us when we were standing still (I have seen that before), but they also quite literally chased us when we walked away, coming within inches of our heels without backing off.  As we were alone in that part of the garden at the time, we became rather nervous of being conked on the heads and stashed away in trees like nuts.  However, we escaped, noggins intact.

Quebec was equally wonderful, although even colder.  It didn't once get above -2C when we were there, which I am assured is cold, even for people who aren't from Southern California.  Younger Daughter was extremely grateful for the many handknits I'd schlepped along with us.

She pretty much walked around huddled up like that the whole time.  But look at that sun!  It was like that right up until the morning that we left, when it snowed.  The sun meant that the views of the city were stunningly clear and beautiful.
There's the Chateau Frontenac, which we didn't get to visit on the inside.  That picture is taken from the Citadelle (home of the only francophone military unit in Canada), which we did get to visit.
Doesn't it look French?  The whole city felt like being in France.
And we saw all of the old city - we even circumnavigated the ramparts (I told you we walked a lot).
There was so much to love that I almost hesitate to mention the two flies in the ointment.  The first was small, all things considered - we didn't make it to a single yarn store.  (I know!  How wrong is that?)  The second was something that surprised me, actually, given the many ways in which Canada is a stronger advocate for her First Nations peoples than we are here in the United States.  That said, though, I was surprised by the handling of the many museum exhibits that we saw which dealt with the founding of Montreal and Quebec City, and with the relationships between the settlers and the indigenous people of the area.  In every exhibit we saw, the "good Indian"/"bad Indian" narrative was alive and well.  You know the one (we have it here, most definitely; I see it in exhibits at missions up and down California, and it makes me frothing-at-the-mouth mad every time).  It's the collective narrative that says that the European explorers engaged in fair and friendly encounters with the "good Indians", who immediately converted to Christianity and labored alongside the settlers in an egalitarian society where everyone was equally invested in the long-term success of white Europeans as they settled in their new homes.  And the "bad Indians" kept launching unprovoked attacks on the settlers and their new friends.  I am almost quoting, actually, from one exhibit that we saw (especially the bit about laboring alongside and unprovoked attacks).  Given the otherwise tremendously high quality of the curation of the other exhibits that we saw (including an amazing exhibit on Indian - as in the subcontinent of - culture; the contrast was stark), it was surprising how uncritical the presentation of these founding narratives was.  And, as a person who has spent nearly her entire adult and professional life working with Native Californians and educating college students about the problems with uncritically presented narratives like these, I couldn't help but feel frustrated every time I saw it.  (Younger Daughter heard many an earful, poor kid.)

Still and yet, I'd go back in a heartbeat.  Especially if I could go back when there's more daylight to explore those two cities.  There was so much more I wanted to see, people I wanted to talk to, food I wanted to eat.  I guess that's the best way to leave a place, right?  Wanting to go back.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for peeks into your journey! Beautiful, and interesting. Great to hear your presentations went well. Hurray!

Not many days ago I read this article,
and was saddened to realize that while the CA gov't talks of recognizing and honoring their First People the reality is starkly different.

I'm impressed at all the walking you and YD did! She's a trooper!

Willow said...

You're making me want to visit eastern Canada. I've been a few times to BC but never east of there.

And yes, you're right! HOW did you NOT visit even ONE knit shop?

Jane said...

Glad you are back home safe and sound. What wonderful memories you'll have, sounds like a wonderful place.

Lynne said...

All in all, it sounds like you had a wonderful time. Glad the Conference went well too!

lori said...

O I love QC and Montreal, and your post made me feel both places in my bones -- such wonderful cities! Gosh, I'm lost in my own reverie of memories of the places now. So glad you had such a great trip and weren't conked on the noggins by those aggressive squirrels. :)

greenmtngirl said...

Oh, thank you for the photos of the Notre Dame de Bonsecours angels... I miss visiting Montreal. When I lived in Vermont I went there pretty frequently and almost always made time to climb the tower and look out over the lovely St. Lawrence and the bright city. Sigh.

I am very glad you enjoyed your trip so much and that the suggestions were helpful. And I found your observations about the good Indian/bad Indian scripts really interesting. I'm working on an anti-racism dialogue for work right now, and that would make a great example for one of the sections.

Unknown said...

Thank you!

Wool Enough said...

A delightful report. Thank you.

Nana Sadie said...

I was in Montreal in 1967. Yes, you're right, the EXPO! I was 11. I have very limited memory of anything related to it.

And so now I'll go again, on the strength of this photo essay. I'm SO glad you two had a grand time!

Carrie#K said...

Montreal is so beautiful! It's the cathedrals. And statues. Next time I visit I have to go to Quebec City as well.

You forgot to mention the smoking! I, native SF Bay Californian, was scandalized. ;)

EGunn said...

Looks like a wonderful trip! I've never been to either city, but they're on my list of places to go. We've been talking a lot about places we might be willing to relocate to (as part of the job search process), and Canada is actually pretty high on the list. =)

RobinH said...

Sounds like a terrific trip! I've been to Montreal fairly recently, but it's been...hmm...over 20 years since I went to Quebec. It's on my list to go back- I want to take my husband there, as he's never been.

Your comment on the curation of of exibits reminded me of two museums with the opposite problem: one we visited in Calgary, where the native narrator is explaining that he and his people liberated horses from the inhumane way they were being treated by the settlers (hard to blame them for the action, but the cheery self-justifying tone made us roll our eyes) and the new Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, which presented very interesting information on a number of tribes...but again without any attempt to determine what was actually true (to the entent that it can be known). I can understand why- almost any attempt to analyze the data will offend someone- but it's frustrating to feel that you're getting two (or more) biased stories with nothing but your innate cynicism to tell you how much of either/any is true.