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.


  1. O, Nina, merci mille fois ... bardzo djenkujie. I lived, and farmed, in Quebec for thirteen years and spent many winter days along the fleuve. At the time along the south shore you could get wonderful smoked eels.

    Quebec City itself is remarkable. On a snowy Tuesday in February the streets are still full of people at 10 PM. You can find wonderful little restaurants in late 17th century houses, serving local delights such as lapin au pommes -- rabbit with apple.

    Americans especially are easily forgiven for not speaking French, though if you're from Ontario c'est un autre histoire -- it's another story. Bear in mind, however, that at least 50% of Quebecois truly don't speak English. Most folks in the service industry are bilingual and you'll find it a very remarkable experience. Much nicer than Montreal.

  2. Beautiful pics. They give me the shivers ... Quebec looks intriguing.

  3. Maybe you should just quit your job at the university and devote yourself to photo taking full time.

    Those photos are amazing!

  4. Nina, does National Geographic know about you? They should.

  5. I absolutely love these photos.

    As a snow-child (or, as this is a Quebecois post, perhaps une enfant-neige?), these photos make Quebec City look like a *very* appealing winter destination. Alas, my sun-loving husband would never agree :)

  6. Bart: so why are you now in Kansas? I mean, if I lived here, I could not leave this place. I am, btw, okay with French in France. But here, I can ask all that I want to ask. Oftentimes though, I do not get the answers. Especially outside of the city proper.

    blondie: it is absolutely fantastic, especially in the off season.

    tonya: you know I would not quit my job for anything. except if someone payed me to travel, take photos and write.

    chuck b.: if you have connections, feel free to pull strings. A question for you: why are you chuck b. on ocean and chuck on TTS? Or, are you not the chuck that I think you are?

    carly: that is unacceptable. Tell him hot chocolate in a heated cafe is more sublime than any tropical drink on a polluted island beach could ever be.

  7. There were several reasons I left Quebec, most notably outrageous taxes, stifling regulation, mandatory union membership for farmers, and persistent discrimination against me as an anglo in spite of near-native fluency in the language.

    Additionally, anti-semitism is remarkably widespread and deep -- for example police removed kosher foods from stores in the middle of passover -- and though I am not a Jew I find that repulsive.

    Finally, in all honesty I got fed up with trying to farm cold, stony soil and having to decide whether a given frost in July was the last spring frost or the first autumn frost.

  8. I don't know why that last one kicked up as anonymous, but I claim it.

  9. " chocolate in a heated cafe is more sublime than any tropical drink on a polluted island beach could ever be."

    Don't ask me why, but I first read that as "hot chocolate in a heated bed." ??

    Finally, how would it compare to tropical drinks on a non-polluted island beach? ;-)



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