Watching the sun set over the Ottawa river from my parent’s kitchen. A big arctic wind came along today and blew out all the crap we’ve been marinating in for the past three days. This morning, my dad and I went for a drive across the river to the Gatineau Hills. Entering Quebec is like crossing a border in Europe. The landscape is the same, but there are little differences that let you know you are in a new place. Like the billboard sign for the restaurant called Les Petits Lutins, with the picture of Doc and Sleepy and Dopey. This would be completely politically incorrect in conservative Ottawa, but the French Canadians, like David Lynch, love their dwarves.
Then there’s the deer crossing signs. Somehow, the deer in silhouette on the Quebec signs looks so much more robust and happy than the dignified, aloof deer silhouette on the Ontario signs. In my still childlike imagination, the French Canadians have always seemed closer to nature, and to the native spirits of the land. It only makes sense that the deer on their signs should be happier.
I love Qeubec, and I miss living in Montreal, one of the most magical cities on the planet. It’s not just the poutine, and the steamies (long, skinny steamed hot dogs), and the endless summer festivals where the downtown streets are closed to cars and reclaimed by pedestrian hordes; it’s not just the mixture of French and English and Arabic and Yiddish that gets thrown around in the late night pizza joints and over café countertops; it’s not just the ghosts of Expo 67, Canada’s international coming of age romance, that still linger in the streets and metro stations; it’s not even that you can still catch a glimpse of Leonard Cohen from time to time, getting into a cab on St. Laurent with a couple of young ladies.
Fact is, I have no idea what makes Montreal, or Quebec such a magical place. It just is. And the fact that we have a small French nation plotting its independence in the midst of our geographically enormous federation somehow gives an edge and a hint of subterfuge to what is generally characterized as an otherwise staid and reserved, boring and cautious country. Keep plotting you separatists, but don’t you ever leave! It would be like ripping the heart out of Canada, or turning all of the beavers into hats. And I would need a passport just to get a decent smoked meat sandwich.