Quebec, In Quick Takes

There are restful vacations and "good experience" vacations, and this year we took a risk that the Weedlets were old enough to appreciate some sight-seeing without whining the entire time, so we packed up the van and went to Montreal & Quebec City for the week, with a side trip at the end through Maine so we could visit some old friends. We were right. They did not spend the entire time whining. 

New favorite church: Notre Dame de Montreal. Montreal rivals Rome for having an absolutely gorgeous church every few blocks. When you consider they were all built as simple parishes by trappers and fisherman and tradesmen, you get a window into the pride people took in what they offered God. This is especially so at Notre Dame de Montreal, where everything is exquisitely carved hand-painted (often gilt) wood, and the stained glass tells the story of the religious founding of Quebec -- the windows crafted in Limoges and imported. It's a bit dark is the only problem. It wasn't originally because the wall behind the reredos was glass at first -- but light came in and blinded parishioners (could the architects really not have foreseen that?), so they enclosed it and added little skylights instead. Dark, but still the most astonishing work of art and piety I've ever seen (and I am not generally a fan of gothic or gothic revival, preferring a more spare style). (Take the virtual tour here.)

The architect, incidentally, was an Irish Protestant who converted to Catholicism on his deathbed....cynics say just so he could be buried in "his" church. 

Notice the seating is triple-decker (for a while it was the only church in Montreal so everyone came there)! According to the friend giving the tour, all three levels fill at Christmas & Easter (though sadly, not at other times. The Church in Montreal is hurting badly and reduced to charging admission to the tourists who come in.)
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We also enjoyed our visit to a newer basilica, Our Lady, Queen of the World, notable because it's essentially a replica of St. Peter's in Rome, though 1/3 the size. It was built primarily by Catholic refugees of the French Revolution who were making a statement with the architecture. Originally there was a gorgeous view from the front of the church of the Mont Royale, but that was later blocked by a masonic building. After that went up, someone built a skyscraper in cruciform shape two doors down to look down upon the Masons. (Just in case you were tempted to think Muslims are the only folks who've ever used building placement for bullying purposes.)

Also impressive is St. Joseph's oratory -- the "little" house that St. Andre Bessette built. I've felt a strange kinship with Br. Andre since I first learned about him in 2010, the year he was canonized. The grounds of the oratory are gorgeous, and we spent a good hour or so just resting in them. We were blessed to visit on a perfect day, but still, the peace and prayerfulness of the place is palpable. 

Canadians are obsessed with hand sanitizer. It was at the front desks, mounted at the entrance to elevators, in our rooms, in restaurants, in churches. A friend says this is a habit leftover from the SARS scare.

Old Quebec City is quaint and pretty and fun to walk around in in a tourist-trap sort of way. It boasts much more impressive street performers than any city I've ever been in. Oh sure, there are your run of the mill buskers and such, but there are also roaming costumed bands of acrobats, fire-eaters and dancers with great patter who engage large crowds every night. Lots of fun, even if they are given to passive-aggressive anti-American jokes (mostly mocking our accents).

Speaking of which, it's amazing how many of the t-shirts in the souvenir shops are anti-American. You can't take offense because the jokes are mild, like brotherly joshing (e.g. "Why do Canadians say "Eh"? Because it's better than "Duh."), but you don't see shirts in American tourist traps dumping on other nationalities. It's odd to have a culture so concerned with what it isn't, or so self-conscious about its identity.
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We failed, while in Quebec, to eat Poutine, which is probably a plus from the health standpoint, but a pretty major failing in the eyes of our Canadian friends.  We did, however, stop for coffee at Tim Horton's (Canada's Dunkin' Donuts, and I disliked the coffee just as much), and we did take Mr. W. to a rustic Quebecois restaurant for his birthday. I tried the Merovingian tourtiere (bollux on the accents) , which was pretty and made me feel like donning a plaid shirt and trapping beaver.

Mr. W. has a fond memory of being in Quebec with business partners years ago and having a waiter refuse to serve him the wine he ordered because it didn't pair well with his meal. That would have made me angry, but he apparently enjoys abuse and during the planning stages of this trip said he didn't care what we did so long as on one night he could dine at a fancy French restaurant -- not for the food, mind you (which our palates are not refined enough to appreciate) but just to be bossed around by a snooty Frenchman. I told him I am happy to boss him around any night of the week for free, and he knows from experience this is so, but this wouldn't do. So one night we left the kids with pizza in the hotel room while we went out for a fine meal of classic French dishes. (Ever wonder who those irresponsible parents on the news are who leave their kids unattended in a foreign country? It's us.)  It was lovely, but I think I preferred my hunter's stew from the night before and the waiter was warm and not officious, so I'm not sure Mr. W. was satisfied. 

We did not have much occasion to use our very limited French, but the motto for the week was "Je mange une orange." It is fun to say, we had oranges for breakfast almost every morning, and the DuoLinguo app the kids and I had fun with in the car on the way up involves everyone menge- ing oranges. You, me, they, the elephant, the duck, the spider....

It was a good trip, and a very do-able drive. My only regret is we saw not a single moose (or hockey player for that matter) except on the tchotchkes in the souvenir shops.

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