It’s July. And July means a bunch of things.
It means spring is over — it’s now summer and that means the cicadas are buzzing and I can start mowing the lawn a little less, um, continuously. It means roses in the front yard. It means trophies, including my absolutely all-time favorite one. (My fingers grew back, thanks for asking.). And it means birthdays. Our friend to the south has one. ‘We‘ have one (good to know). And Ms. Rose’s cousin from Delaware has one.
To explain — Ms. Rose has a rather large extended family (‘…cousins as far as the eye can see…’) that has several branches, one of which is more or less concentrated in French Canada. Several of its members helpfully told the Cousin From Delaware that, should he head to Canada for his birthday, fireworks could be guaranteed. Everyone involved seemed to think this was both reasonable (because he shares a birthday with Canada) and a good idea (because everyone likes fireworks and parties) so… Plans Were Made. People would rendezvous in Quebec City where there would be social interaction, eating, drinking and yes, blowing stuff up. Ms. Rose, not being misanthropic at all, added her name (and mine) to the list of attendees.
And so, shortly before The Birthday Of Our Country And Also The Cousin From Delaware, we made preparations: we (well, mostly me) bought cookies. We (guess who) loaded the car with beverages, mostly ones containing massive amounts of caffeine. We (not me this time — I can’t do everything) looked at maps so we’d actually, you know, understand where we were going and how to get there. And then we hit the road.
Now, the fastest route to Quebec City involves a high-speed multi-lane roadway named after a dead politician. (I’ve mentioned it before as being replete with flammable infants.) The second fastest route involves another fast, efficient (and possibly spore-free) road, this one named after a dead singer. But, our judgment clouded by dead poets, we chose a road named after a dead king (and not a live goaltender as I had initially thought) which meant that we had to fight our way through Montreal rather than going around it. Montreal can be scary so we were pleasantly surprised that nothing fell on us along the way, no roads were awash with anything… pungent and no parades of resigning politicians blocked our route.
Even better, we rendezvoused with a nice doggie named after one of the better dead presidents, one that knew a thing or two about roads and highways. The doggie didn’t help nearly as much as I thought he would but despite the lack of canine assistance (despite his namesake’s near-legendary ability to organize and plan he was shockingly unfocused), the choice of route proved to be a good one. It was slow (it took a long time to ‘leave’ Montreal then passed through every single small town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river), it was under construction (to be fair, every second road in Canada is under construction during the summer and the other half probably should be except that road construction is expensive) and being narrow it was easy to get stuck behind slow-moving halfwits
(fortunately, I was the slowest, half-wittiest person on the road that day). But the cornflowers had started blooming (it looked like the road was bordered by girls in prom dresses), there were interesting places to eat (ie not road food) and we passed the best place in the entire world to fish for Tommy Cod (just in case I ever need to).
So again — Score!
Eventually we arrived. Quebec City is both the same as I expected and at the same time quite different. I mean, at some level all cities share some of the same characteristics (a traffic jam is a traffic jam is a traffic jam) so are in some ways indistinguishable. But when you superimpose the similarities on a four hundred year old city that happens to be the heart of French history and culture in North America well, it’s different. From the gilded saint
(with a doggie — don’t forget him) that
greeted me with a disapproving gaze greeted me every morning to the Schrodinger wave equation carved into the side of a building next to a pottery show almost everything was a little… different. Not better, you understand. Or worse. Just different. Unexpected. Sometimes even peculiar. Like the art museum in a (fortunately repurposed) prison. Or the sculpture (on a historic battlefield) of an orchestra composed entirely of penguins. There were a lot of moments when I would just stop and think ‘well, that’s not something you see every day.’
(As opposed to the times when I would be climbing a hill and just stop so I wouldn’t fall down. It’s a terrific place to walk — just maybe not an ideal one if you’re, um, ‘of a certain age.’)
Not everything was different and unexpected, of course. For example, one unnecessarily hot afternoon I was walking (or, if I’m being totally honest, tottering) down Rue Notre Dame to buy an angel when I stopped to (a) admire Parc de la Cetière and (b) rest so I wouldn’t fall down. That was when I spotted the only person in Quebec City walking more erratically than I was. Since the trip had been short of moments of Schadenfreude I understandably looked more closely.
It was a young lady, probably a third my age, dressed all in white who was navigating — not at all well — seventeenth century cobblestones while sporting the highest, narrowest (and pinkest) heels I had seen in a long, long time. I reflected that I walk like a decrepit old man because, at some level, I am one. But the young lady walked like a decrepit old man because… she wanted to.
I really don’t understand people.
Eventually, though, after cobblestones and hills and museums and galleries and angels and Schadenfreude and mentally deficient barnyard animals there was The Birthday Party for the Cousin From Delaware. It was a good party, held in the shadow of two giant pieces of aluminum from France. And, as promised, there were fireworks. I’m far from an expert on such things (and it’s hard to compare them to sepia-tinged memories) but to my mind it was the best fireworks display I’ve seen in at least fifty years.
The multiple heritages of this country and their uneasy coexistence are, in many ways, central to the Canadian identity. When I looked at the best
damn fireworks I’d seen in half a century and the uncomplicated joy on the faces that were watching them with me I began to think that this country might just last. Happy 149th, Canada, and best wishes for the next 149.
Then I came home and hung the angel where I’ll see it every single time I walk to my desk. So far it hasn’t failed to make me smile.