Sunday, February 19, 2006

from quebec city: sunday pleasures

Just north of the city, the Montmorency river shoots down a cliff, creating falls that are taller than those at Niagra.

In the winter, the world around the falls freezes.

Crazy people go out and try to scale the ice walls created by the frozen mist.

Crazy Wisconsin people go out to watch on this bitter cold day.

Crazy families take their offspring for a quick peek as well.

This kind of craziness is more than beguiling. It is thrilling.

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the falls

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scaling the frozen wall at the side of the falls

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up close and personal

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man meets iced cliff

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from the top of the falls, looking down

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from the top of the falls: looking at the next two climbers

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sunday outing: bundled up

The Quebecois will not turn their back on a blast of arctic air. Embrace the cold! Windy? Great! perfect for kite-skiing on the frozen portions of the St Lawrence! I watch one such person soar and rise and twist until I am too cold to move. He has no problem moving, I, the Wisconsin wimp, do.

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skiis, kite, frozen chunk of the st. lawrence

At some point, the little rented Kia is irresistible. Enough of hiking under, over and to the side of falls, enough of watching others face the winter without so much as a shrug.

We head out to the Ile d'Orleans, right there in the middle of the St. Lawrence, minutes north of Quebec City. The island is lovely. Deemed a historic treasure, it has no new development, just farms, fields, little villages, deserted now, because who the hell goes here in the middle of February?

We pick up an old guy who is thumbing a ride. I ask what he does here on the island. He rambles, but I can hardly pick out the words. The accent is too thick.

We do some Nina-things. We stop at a vineyard. Yes, they’re trying here! God knows why, but they are at it. It’s this attitude they have. Cold weather? What the hell. There’s a life, only one, and it can include this.

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ile d'orleans vineyard

One village has a chocolate shop and a café. Come on. Would I pass up a latte? Okay, a cappuccino, in a place where the snow is piled so high that they cannot open the front door… (Side door works.)

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island chocolaterie: snowed in

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...and coffee

Inside, a little girl is explaining in rapid fire French why her brother has to order something other than icecream. Women, training the men to do the right thing. Starts early.

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no, not like that

We drive to the tip of the island. Here, the villages and farms stand isolated, barren. It is how I imagine the outposts near the Arctic Circle to be. Scattered houses, farms, howling winds that make you grateful for that little Kia with the heater turned full blast.

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up island

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still blowing and drifting

Just before leaving the island I see a sign pointing to a cassis maker. I love cassis (black currant liqueur). I dump it into wine all the time as a dinner party aperitif. Cassis from Quebec would be sublime.

We pull up in front of what looks to be a private residence (with a cassis sign in front). I open the door to the vestibule. Hmmm. Looks exceptionally private. Boots strewn about, a rabbit in a cage. I walk to another door. I press a button thinking it to be the bell. Suddenly there is chaos. The garage door swings open, madame comes running out with curlers in her head. Oh! You have opened a door that will not close in winter! Oh! Ca ne fait rien, it’s fine, it’s fine! Oh! Ed, get out of the car and help me fix things here! It’s fine, it’s fine, be glad my husband is not home! (Men.) You want to buy cassis? Yes, yes, of course, I have some. I grow the currants and berries myself. You cannot see them now, they are buried in snow. Forgive me, we never have visitors at this time of the year.

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island berry fields

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This time of the year. The perfect time of the year to lose yourself in a place that never says no to the outdoors. Or to visitors who come breaking down your door to get a bottle of cassis.