Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Vive le Quebec Libre!
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 1997 19:38:12 -0700

18:39 Croissanterie Petit Cafe; Quebec City, Quebec :: 27 JUL 97

30 years ago this week, Charles de Gaulle spoke here in Quebec City and said, "Vive le Quebec...Vive le Quebec Libre!" This week, the Quebec government erected a statue of de Gaulle commemorating that event. Needless to say, Federalists inside and out of the province are rather upset by the events, both past and present.

I think Quebec separatism is a condition we Canadians will just have to learn to live with, and accept. Something like those southern rebels in the US who continue to scratch the sting of losing the American civil war. But if I go any further with this, I'll get sucked into a lengthy ramble that will produce little, if any, useful or creative insight. The problem has existed since well before Canadian confederation and my two cents will illuminate nothing.

Instead, I'll sit at this corner sidewalk cafe and observe that the old quarter of Quebec City appears to be populated almost exclusively by tourists or locals working in the businesses which are taking the tourist dollar. Of course, the tourists are easy to spot with their camera bags, comfortable shoes, cotton shorts...their sweaters, jackets and "Quebec, Canada" sweat-shirts draped knotted by the sleeves over their hips. With the exception of the Banque Nationale (one of those 1970's architectural monstrosities) just across the street, all the immaculately maintained buildings date back to the 18th and 19th century. There's a self-consciousness here that's almost Disneyland. Thronging tourists often walk into the middle of the street to take their photographs. The quaint little shops and restaurants designed just so with their quaint exuberant prices. And there are the ever-present horse-drawn carriages trailing their horsey smells through the city to the accompaniment of clippity-clopping hooves.

Don't let this seemingly negative appraisal fool you; I like it here. Even if from some perspectives Quebec City seems the result of city planners and marketers in collaboration, underlying the scrubbed veneer is one of North America's oldest cities, and it is thoroughly French. And while I would prefer less gloss, something a bit more lived in, this still has to rate as one of the prettiest places in North America. So, scrub the tourists from your eye; replace the over-abundant presence of international brand-names with cobblers, tailors, seam-stresses, bakers, tin-smiths along with the pubs, brasseries and cafes that still are here; rather than steel and rubber, imagine the wood and leather carriages with their four-legged engines clippity-clopping over cobbles and dirt paths. Transport yourself, if you can.

And then remember that before the French, or the English, or the Spanish ever sailed into the Saint Lawrence, other folk with a completely different aesthetic lived here.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

Vive le Quebec... Vive le Quebec libre!
  graphical element Charles De Gaulle