Saturday, September 19, 2015

Valient Nonnie Goes to Quebec City

Café au lait at the Musée des Beaux-Arts

"Breakneck" steps in the old city
Ferry ride on the St. Lawrence

Valiant Nonnie

I do feel valiant. The last time I flew alone was 9 years ago. That was for a court date. I had to show up in Maryland to get divorced. A few years later I flew to Philadelphia with my brother, Peter. On the flight back my retina tore and I was blind in one eye. My vision had started to do bizarre things in the airport, but I didn’t say anything to Peter until we were on the plane because I was being clever about avoiding the possibility of a hospital emergency room visit in Philadelphia. I doubt anyone in the wide world enjoys ERs and I suspect most of us share my dread of them. I figured if it came to that, I could at least do the thing close to home. I won’t digress into the tale of my torn retina, but everything worked out. I see with both of my eyes.

Last May I booked a trip to Quebec City with a travel agent here in Panama City Beach, Florida. I’ve wanted to visit the place for years, and my Philadelphia brother, Robert, said he’d meet me there, so plans were made. He made reservations for us at the Hôtel du Vieux Quebec for five nights in September. Going from my town (it’s not the most comfortable place for an artsy-fartsy aging hippie from New Jersey but I’ve lived here for ten years; made some wonderful friends; share a good house with Peter, 3 cats and a dog; and have recently found my tribe with the local Unitarians) to Quebec City would require a lot of money, 3 planes, and a 12 hour day of travel. Some people travel all the time, some people don’t travel at all, and some people take yearly road trips to poetry festivals, but mostly stay close to home because they have Myasthenia gravis and a wonky heart. I belong to the last group.  So, a big deal, this trip.

I arrived in plenty of time for my 7:15 am flight. There were about 5 people in the whole airport. There was no 7:15 flight to Atlanta (you have to fly through Atlanta to get anywhere else from PCB, pretty much) and hadn’t been for months. Obviously, I didn’t know. Not my fault. Big kerfluffle ensued. I arrived (I’ll skip a lot here) at our hotel in Canada at 2am Saturday morning. My luggage arrived sometime Saturday afternoon. I don’t know when exactly, because I was out with Robert enjoying the hell out of one of the best places I’ve ever been.

I didn’t take many photos because if I’d gotten started with that I would have had to take about a thousand. Every damn corner of the old walled city is photo-worthy, if you ask me. Every building, every view, every little alley curving up or down went straight to my heart. The up and down part? Steep! And here my valiance comes in. For me, Quebec City is built on a series of mountain ranges, not merely seven hills. But I was willing and that made all the difference. Oh, I loved it. Robert did, too. We ate delicious meals; heard a Vivaldi concert; went to the Musée national des beaux-arts du Quebec, where they just happened to be having an exhibition devoted to the influence of Japanese art on the Impressionists; (Monet, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Degas, Mary Cassatt, Matisse, Van Gogh—all those guys) took a ferry; went to the farmer’s market; listened to a guide who knew everything as we walked with a small group around the place; and had earnest, silly, nostalgic, satisfying conversations with each other over our five days. My high school French miraculously reappeared, albeit diminished by time. But I did have some conversations entirely in French. At least, I thought so.

This was more than a vacation for me, though. For two and a half years I’ve been writing poems based on ancestry research that I’ve been able to do with my little Mac. Early on in this work I discovered that my maternal grandfather’s bloodline includes Claude Robillard, an orphan who made the voyage from Paris to New France in 1663. His wife, Marie Grandin, was one of the filles du roi: young women who Louis XIV sent to North America to marry and have families with the male settlers. Seeing Quebec City, respectful as it is of its history, and so beautiful, moved me deeply. And guess what? The hotel we stayed in (excellent, by the way) was on the site of the original hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu, where Marie, Claude, and many of their descendants, my ancestors, died. Spooky, eh?

Ah, well. Well done, Nonnie. Thank you, Robert. I doubt I would have made the trip if you hadn’t been along on it. I came home Wednesday. From the hotel to our house took 14 hours, but I was sitting down throughout the day. I have to use wheelchairs in airports these days. The people who helped me get from plane to plane, go through customs and security— all that—were many and without exception kind, friendly, and efficient. And what they say about Canadians being the nicest people? True, true, absolutely true.