Quebec Steps

Frontenac

Philadelphia

The city of brotherly love.

I have a lot of history here.

The airport is nearly empty near 1 p.m. on Sunday.

I got here three hours early—the drive from Frederick was flawless.

At check in, they reviewed my passport, vax card and the Q code I’d spent an hour or so acquiring on the ArriveCan app I had to download it onto my phone. I needed to sign up and attest to many things to get into Canada.

So far, so good.

I hope I get to Quebec and to the hotel. I look forward to walking the old city late this afternoon. Nowadays, you can’t be sure. So many flights are canceled.

I’m flying out of Philly because it is a direct flight. It is only 2 hours and twenty minutes away. To fly from a closer airport like Baltimore would actually take more time. I would need to check in, wait to get on the shuttle, wait to get off, go from the domestic terminal in Philly to the International, stand in line to check in… AND my bag could get lost.

I had so much time I decided to have a martini at the Revive Restaurant. There was no one there at 11:30. No one. I took an orange seat—one of 50 or so fronting the bar. A couple hundred more empty seats were at tables and high tops. The guy behind the bar gave me a beer menu and a cocktail menu. I asked if he could make me a gin martini up very dry. No comprehension at all. I pointed to “Martini” on the cocktail menu. No comprehension at all. I pretended to use an air shaker.

“?” was the response I got.

It eventually got to, “Gin? Just gin on the rocks?”

“Double?”

“Yes.”

He stepped to the bottles behind him. He went to Jim Beam.

“No. The blue bottle.”

Confusion.

I got up and walked along the bar to the bottle section and pointed directly across.

“The blue bottle.” (Bombay Sapphire.)

I killed an hour catching up on emails and seeing what a cab should cost from the airport to the Quebec Hilton.

The “martini” came out in a plastic cup with a few ice cubes and no vegetation.

I left him $5 on the $18 “cocktail.”

Dystopia.

I needed to take a shuttle to get to my gate. I was the only passenger on the big bus.

I sat at the window near the gate. I was called up to have my documents were checked again. The plane is just outside the window. It is a small one with a long pointy gray nose.

I worked so hard on Saturday. I processed so many carts, so many books. My back started hurting early on. I wasn’t doing any heavy lifting. Just lifting a book every second or two. And pushing a cart every 20 minutes or so. It started aching like a dull knife was being twisted in my lower right side. When I rose, I needed to list to the right because it ached so much. I should have listened to my body and put off all the firewood and other outdoor labors.

With a slight buzz and waiting to board, my back feels ok. Maybe it knows I won’t be lifting or twisting or pushing or…

I’ll just be walking. And walking…

Someday the pain won’t go away, I understand. Wherever it is, it will be chronic and eternal.

So far, so good.

A cautionary tale my body taught me this week.

As soon as the aches go away, I’ll throw my corpse into the fray.

It is too much fun.

I dread the end of lifting and struggling and pushing my self.

On a whim, I’d grabbed a couple N 95 masks from the office. There was no reason to think I’d need one. When my group was called to board and I presented my initialed ticket, I was asked if I had a mask.

“Yes.”

“You will need it to get on board.”

I’d forgotten how annoying the big masks are. It is like trying to breathe through a washcloth.

Nothing to do but sit back and take shallow breaths.

The flight attendant is matter of fact—almost surly.

Someone asks politely, “Will there be Wifi on the flight?”

“No.”

And then there’s a phone conversation. Her? Her boyfriend?

Dystopia.

When will it all come back?

Ever?

Frederick is pretty much back to normal… I think.

Wonder Book is as well. I think.

I am. I think.

The plane is too small for most carry-ons. My knapsack is acceptable.

Airborne. Are we over Pennsylvania or New Jersey? Will we cross over New York or New England? I used to have a great understanding of geography. In school, I would sit near the front just so I could gaze at the giant canvas backed maps that hung from the walls in front of the blackboard. I would memorize places.

“Someday I will go there. And there. And there…”

I don’t have a travel guide! I couldn’t find the DK Montreal book at home. It includes Quebec. I went there in 2019 before… all this.

I forgot to get one off the website on Friday. We have plenty. On Saturday I checked.

Quebec Guides
Just a few of the Quebec guides we have in stock—that I didn’t know how to locate.

I have no idea how to locate a book among the 2.5 million in the warehouse. My own business, and I’m clueless. I reached out for some help via text.

“All you need to do is log onto…”

“I’ll buy one there.”

It is partly cloudy. White cotton balls with land far below in between them.

“Diet Coke, please?”

Corn nuts. A brilliant workaround for peanut allergies.

I can unmask. Thank God. The virus doesn’t spread while you drink or snack.

There’s the Verrazano Bridge. And Manhattan! That answers my question!

There’s the GW Bridge. I’d like to go to the Cloisters soon. I want to study the Unicorn Tapestries and see the medieval gardens.

And that’s whatever replaced the Tappan Zee Bridge.

We are following the Hudson to the port side, my side.

Is that Albany? The river is so narrow.

Will we cross over Lake Champlain? My brother Tony and his family lived on the shore for years while he taught at the University of Vermont. He loved it there. He didn’t get tenure. It was a beautiful place. I remember taking a bus from New London—Connecticut College—through New England to Burlington with a friend. It was quite a strange trip. So long ago. It was good to see you at the reunion.

What would have happened if I had gone to Germany for that semester?

Flight is just amazing. All the geography spreading out below. High wispy clouds above. Cirrus?

Such a big world and I’ve seen so little of it.

Where next? Can I squeeze Venice in before London and Oxford?

It is so cold. The airport was cold too. I didn’t pack my Orvis blazer. Maybe I’ll need to get a sweater in Quebec. Just what I need. More clothes.

The pilot announces our descent. 79 degree in Quebec City.

Clothes. I forgot with all the excitement last week about the ritual burial of one of my favorite shirts. Its collar was frayed through for about 6 inches. It was cotton, so I thought it honorable to lay it to rest out front and cover it with mulch later.

It will block weeds until it gets absorbed into the earth.

At work that day I thought differently, and when I got home, I rescued it. I’m glad it didn’t rain. It will still do service. My hair is long enough to cover the defect.

Besides, who cares…

I’m sentimental about a shirt.

Well, we have gone to so many places together.


Quebec

It has been 20 or more years since I last visited. Then it was with two young sons.

Now I am on my own. And that much older.

I remember it being very beautiful and very European. Lots of old stone edifices.

The plane circles over the St Lawrence near Montmorency Falls and descends.

Montmorency Falls

Customs was pretty easy. My Q code was glanced at a couple times but never scanned.

The taxi ride was pretty fast. The Canadian dollar is down to about 77 cents now. The last time I was here I stayed at the Chateau Frontenac, perhaps the most beautiful hotel in the world.

This time it appeared to be sold out. I chose the Hilton. I need to use my points, anyway. It is a massive hotel rising 23 stories atop a hill overlooking the whole city. I got in about 4. 4 is check-in time. There was a long slow line in the lobby. The couple in front of me said something about a member’s check in up ahead. I left the line—leaving my big bag to mark my place. Only two groups in the Diamond line! But that took forever. I still don’t know why. Maybe the clerk was new. When I got up to the counter, there was a thick plastic barrier between us. There was a 6-inch gap between it and the counter about the level of my sternum. That is how we communicated. I’d bend down to speak with him. He would lean down to speak with me. Our faces were just a couple of feet apart. Yet another Kabuki show. I finally got my room key and headed to the 22nd floor. I still don’t know why it took so long.

Wow! I have a stunning view. I’d gotten an email saying I’d been upgraded.

Wow!

I used my phone to search for a bookstore so I could buy a city guide. There were several on Rue St-Jean a few hundred yards away. It was a fairly steep descent down from the hotel. Rue St-Jean is pedestrianized much of its length. There are shops and lots of restaurants. I passed Le Hobbit—an interesting looking bistro.

‘I’ll be going there, I’m sure,’ I thought.

The bookshops were all used books. One large one had an Anglophone section. The others were all French. I asked in each—in broken French and English.

“Non.”

Damn! I’m a bookseller, and I didn’t even think to bring a book!

Well, it was a beautiful day, and there were so many people walking and dining. In 15 minutes, I passed 50 places where I’d love to eat.

I’d peek in windows as I passed by. Window shopping.

Something caught my eye in one.

“Wait a minute! Those are books! Lots of them!”

There was no signage I saw, but I pulled the door open and went inside. It was a very nice new bookstore. I walked around, looking for the travel section. There it is. Voyages, was it?

I scanned the shelves. Lots on Quebec, but nothing in English. There were some English titles for the rest of the world. I was going to leave, but out of desperation I decided to ask a young woman straightening shelves.

“Parles vous Anglais?”

“Oui.”

“Do you have a guide to Quebec in English?”

“We used to. Let’s go look.”

She scanned the shelves I had just looked through and pulled out 2!

“Which is better?”

You gotta love a good bookstore. Librairie Pantout. 1100 Rue St-Jean.

I continued walking in the direction of the old town. More and more old stone walls, battlements and buildings.

Can I get a cocktail at the Frontenac? I love going to bars in classic hotels. I was dressed ok. Presentable. I crossed the classy wood and polished brass lobby and found the bar. It is a cozy one. The space kind of juts out like a big bay window. It is kind of circular. There are bookcases lining the walls.

I had to wait for a seat for about 10 minutes.

“Can you make me a Vesper?”*

“Certainly.”

* The drink was invented and named by Ian Fleming in the 1953 James Bond novel Casino Royale.

Bond tells the bartender:

‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘One. In a deep champagne goblet.’

‘Oui, monsieur.’

‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?’

‘Certainly monsieur.’ The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

‘Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,’ said Leiter.

Bond laughed. ‘When I’m… er… concentrating,’ he explained, ‘I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.’

Casino Royale, Chapter 7: Rouge et Noir

I’d say maybe 1 out of 5 “good” bars knows how to make this without cheating. I usually get a blank stare or the waitperson heads behind the bar and begins whispering with the bartender. Most plead that they don’t stock Lillet.

But at the Frontenac, it was perfect.

Vesper

The bar, the bar staff, the view… perfect.

I was told this used to be the Reading Room for the hotel. I approve of the repurposing.

“Ahhhh…”

I decided I might as well have a bite here. It couldn’t be better anywhere else.

Veal pate. The Quebecois love their pate and rillette, mousse, confit, terrine—potted meats… The Hilton offered duck rillette for breakfast downstairs. In the Executive Lounge on the 23rd floor, they served Porc Pate for breakfast in tiny plastic containers—like you’d find individual portions of Philadelphia Cream Cheese in.

I finished with a Sazerac and headed back across town. I walked the beautiful old streets. Some are so steep. What this city must be like in the ice…

I went back to Rue St-Jean. I couldn’t bring myself to do a meal. Instead, I went into a grocery and bought a tub of French cole slaw, a small plastic jar of Kimchee and a bottle of Canadian bubbly—Chardonnay Mousseux.

I walked back up the steep slope to the hotel and had my sad meal, looking out the big window at the beautiful city darkening all round me.

The wine was ok and definitely worked.

I wrote a bit and then mused a bit.

14,000 steps, and I had been in the car or the airport sitting much of that time.

When it came time to crash, I did and slept through until Monday.

It was a great sleep. Every night here was. I dreamed so well and peacefully. I wonder why? Maybe there was no pressure to do anything but walk. And walk.

I even wrote about it one morning.** (see the end) The joy and peace and recovery of good sleep seems so rare in my life in recent years. Like something is out to get me. Maybe it is the grim reaper gaining on me…


I think Canada took COVID harder than almost any place in the US. There are lots of empty commercial properties. It seems like every shop in the Old Town had help wanted signs in the windows.

Full time and part time.

Help Wanted

Before breakfast Monday, I asked the Concierge about whale watching. It was a last minute whim.

“Do you have a car? It is three hours away.”

I’d seen trips online and now I know why the duration was 12 hours. 3 hours there. 4 hours on the water. 3 hours back. Plus down time. Too much effort. And I didn’t have warm “on the water” clothes. And I wasn’t sure my back would happily accept bumping around in a Zodiac boat.

I hadn’t really prepped for the trip. (Vide forgetting to get a travel guide at Wonder Book. BTW I didn’t see another Quebec guide in English the whole trip. Maybe I got the second to last one in town.)

I asked about the HOHO* bus I’d seen driving around. THAT he could help with. He came around his kiosk with a brochure and suggested I do the 2-Day deal.

* Hop On Hop Off

“It includes a boat cruise and a bus to the waterfalls for the same price.”

Why not? Though I’d covered much of the city on Sunday afternoon and evening, I thought the bus could get me oriented on anything I may have overlooked. The HOHOs can be good for getting the layout of a city you’re not familiar with.

“The first pickup here is at 9:30 just over there.” He pointed out the front door.

I went up and got ready for my first full day as a tourist. It was a beautiful brilliant sunny day. I climbed to the top of the double decker and found a seat. There weren’t but a few people on board. I plugged the earphones in and dialed to “English.” Muzak droned until the bus started moving. The monologue was pretty dreary and simplistic. The first point of interest was not a geographical point but rather an explanation of the Canadian “free health system” and drug plan. Then the woman’s voice started explaining what was included and what cost extra. The recorded monologue got better, but not much.

“Up ahead you will see several flags…” There must have 20 large flagpoles with the Quebec flag flapping atop each. “The flag represents Quebec’s Christian heritage with the white cross in the center and its French heritage with royal symbols in each corner.” Perhaps it was thought unnecessary to say “fleur-de-lis” or maybe it was considered too complex?

My plan was to do the entire 14-stop circuit and then decide what I wanted to ride or walk back to first. We got to 14 and then to Stop 1, which was in front of the Frontenac. There we sat for about 20 minutes, the hot sun baking those of us on the uncovered upper deck. I would learn to dislike Stop 1. While we sizzled, I noticed the river cruise was at Stop 4—Place Royale. The cruise goes twice a day. 11 and 2. The timing was right, so I hopped off there and caught the boat. Or was it a ship? Maybe a ship. 3 decks and room and seats for about 300 people. A bar and restaurant. The cruise was nice. There were gorgeous views of the city and especially the Chateau Frontenac towering above.

Frontenac from Boat

There was running commentary from a guy dressed in 17th century French garb. There was a horrible shipwreck that happened just ahead. I had forgotten about it. The Empress of Ireland was broadsided in dark and fog by a logging ship. Over 1000 passengers and crew lost their lives. The story was largely forgotten because WWI began just a few days later. He also commented that Quebec is the last deep seaport on the St Lawrence Seaway. From there on west, only lake-size craft can sail—but they can go as far as Duluth, Minnesota! The cruise turned around just before the bridge to Ile d’Orleans. There was a wonderful view of the waterfall between the spans. Montmorency is actually much higher than Niagara Falls. The boat—ship—turned and headed back to Quebec.

I walked through the lower old town at the foot of the cliff. It is a warren of shops and bars and ice cream shops. Lots of 17th and 18th century homes converted into retail. They even had a Museum of Bad Art.

Museum of Bad Art

It was free. The art was pretty bad, but I thought it was curated, so it would be good bad art. Wonder Book gets a lot of really bad art. When we do, we price it for the frame or for the canvas to be repainted.

From there, I headed up the L’Escalier Casse-Cou (“Break neck” stairs.) At the top of the steps, you are poured into the square in front of the Frontenac. I had the bus schedule and figured I could “Hop On.” No such luck. There’s a line about 50 yards from the parked bus for people to board in order. Some people were still seated on the bus sweltering. But there was plenty of room until the line broke and people crowded around the bus door. We stood in the hot sun for another 20 minutes or so. It made no sense. There was no order. Family groups kept appearing.

Finally, a woman appeared and put her arm in front of me.

“We cut the line off here.”

Grrrrr… there was no “line”, and I’d been here before most of these people.

I didn’t catch the bus any more that day.

Instead, I wandered the streets. You really feel as if you’re in Europe. Paris in many ways.

I think Quebec may be the beautiful city in the world. Really. It is nearly flawless. A wondrous balance of old and new. Vast green spaces. Architecture from the 1600s to today—but nothing garish. No soaring glass boxes like those that fill New York. No ugly apartments or junky repetitive housing. Everywhere you go, it is a pleasure to see what’s around you.

That evening, I walked down to Le Hobbit. I decided to be adventuresome and try Quebec traditional cuisine. I had Foie Gras Terrine and for the entrée “Grand Maman Therese’s Blood Sausage.”

I’ve had these both in American restaurants before—including Anthony Bourdain’s now defunct training ground Les Halles. I never cared for either much.

This was wonderful. Transcendent. Really. Something I’ve never tasted or experienced before. And that is saying something.

And for a cocktail I had le Bloody du Hobbit—their take on a Bloody Mary. Marvelous.

When I got back to the hotel, I saw the sun setting beyond a glass wall 50 yards past the entrance. To the west, the Laurentian Mountains and Highlands fill much of Quebec Province. They are some of the oldest stone on earth. 500 million years! And they used to be much higher than the Himalayas.

Sunset

Tuesday

I caught the 9:30 HOHO and got off at the Musee des Beaux Arts. They had a special exhibition called America or something. Warhol, Rauschenberg… I fast walked through that. I’ve seen enough of that stuff over my lifetime.

Then the obligatory “modern” regional art. I’m not sure why all these old shotguns had a book placed above the barrels.

Shotguns and Book Art
This is not bad art.

I guess I should try to open myself to the “context.” There was a gallery of Inuit art that was interesting. Then I went underground to another building and then to a third. It was all regional art from the 17th century to the 20th century.

From there, I walked to the Joan of Arc Garden. It is a jewel.

Quebec has beautiful gardens everywhere. They really want to make a statement during the short growing season. I can’t think of another city that has so many greens—everywhere there is color and balance and design.

I then headed for the Fields of Abraham—a sprawling grassy park. I was on the outer battlements of the Citadelle when BOOM! A cannon unseen across the “fosse'”—a broad deep ditch or moat on the inner battlements had sounded the noon “Salute.” The dozen or so fellow tourists were as stunned as I as a cloud of gunpowder smoke drifted over us.

That night, I had a ticket for the opera—Faust. It was an exercise to order it in French, but eventually I was pretty sure I had one. I really considered chickening out, but I girded my loins and boldy went—or went boldly.

At the Billetaire, the young woman had perfect English and texted my “ticket” which I had been unable to download. It was fun, and I was able to follow the plot using my broken French on the captions above the stage and the context of the scene.


Wednesday, I headed out looking for parts of town I hadn’t seen yet. I stumbled upon the Morrin Library and booked a ticket for the afternoon.

Then I made my way to the Cathedral in the upper old town—some sites had been closed on Monday and Tuesday. It was stunning. Father de Laval’s tomb is there, and they had room devoted to the saint. In the center there was a “book” on display. It was the Papal decree of his canonization by Benedict. “Handwritten in Latin, possibly using cuttlefish ink, framed in gold and bound in a folio (12 pages) on parchment and stitched together into a codex. Roma 2014.”

Then down the break neck steps to the lower old town to the 17th entry church for mariners—Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires.

Back up to the library tour. I had a bit of time so I bought some French bread and roquefort, so I could have a petit dejeuner. I checked in, and the docent gave me a mask to wear. This tour consisted of 2 people. Me and a young woman—a teacher from Boston. The orientation began outside the front door where we didn’t need to be masked. She withdrew an image on a foam board from a satchel and described what the building had looked like in its first incarnation as a prison.

“All these windows had heavy bars on them.” There were black spots in the stone lintel where they’d been cut off.

“Above the front door where we are standing, there was this metal porch. Can you guess what it was for?”

She had a twinkle in her eye, so I guessed it must be lurid.

“Hangings?”

Morrin Library Prison

“Yes. Sixteen of them above where we are standing. They would be put on the porch, and the floor would swing away. Thousands would come to watch. Most were for murder, but a few were for major thefts. What would be the most valuable thing one could steal back then? Think of China…”

“Tea?”

“Yes!”

They had preserved some of the cellblocks. This had been designed as an “improved” prison in the early 19th century. Dreary. Humans packed like sardines as the place became overcrowded. The worst were sent to penal colonies in Australia or New Zealand if they weren’t hanged. Those were shackled to heavy iron rings attached to the floor.

Morrin Library Prison

The building became a college after the prison was closed. We saw the old ballroom and a science lab.

“What do you think that little box of a room was for?”

“Dark room?”

“Yes!”

I’m brilliant.

The tour ended in the library—which is active today. It is a membership private library which doesn’t make much sense. But there were two young women putting Brodarts on modern books at a library table.

I headed back to the Rue St Jean and saw the old St Matthew Church was open. I stepped in. It is a library as well!

That evening, I returned to Le Hobbit. The owner looks just like Keanu Reeves. I sat at the bar again, and we chatted some. This time I had the Beef Carpaccio with the Duck Breast as the entree.

Wonderful! I lingered for a couple hours.

I bought a bottle of Mousseux a few doors down and went back to my room to relax and write.

I stepped out for a night walk.


Thursday, August 8

Homeward bound.

The airport, YQB, is desolate. I’m 4 hours early. Why? I was aiming for three, but I got out of the hotel and to the airport in no time. Well, better early than late. There is no one at the check-in counters. Only a handful of people in the waiting area. No place for food or drink but vending machines. No TVs. No excuse for not writing.

I’m anxious to get home. There’s so much to do. My back seems much better, but there have been occasional twinges each day. What will happen when I am back at the books again?

I still haven’t unloaded the last load of firewood from the pickup. I didn’t want to risk spoiling the trip. All in all, my body did well in Quebec. I WAS concerned I might be bedridden the whole time. I didn’t break any records, but I did walk a good deal.

Monday 12,331. Tuesday 14,540. Wednesday 21,278. Thursday only 6,800 so far.

To walk off some of the great food and drink I had, I took one last morning pass around town. I thought I’d seen everything but made my way across the Plains of Abraham and found a mile long wooden walkway I didn’t know existed. It is called the Promenade of the Governors. It goes along below the fort, the Citadelle, and along the cliff above the river. That is another reason Quebec was always so strategic. Almost all of it is high on a hill with steep drops to the river all around. It was warm and muggy, and I soon soaked through. My goal was to walk an hour or so and get back in time for a noon checkout. The Promenade ended on the long and broad boardwalk that spreads like a large apron below the Chateau Frontenac.

Frontenac from Boardwalk

I circled the hotel one last time. Too bad the bar doesn’t open til 4. Then I crossed the old city one last time and got to the Hilton. Up to floor 22. I air dried while packing. Anything essential goes in the backpack. Expendables go in the checked luggage. It went fast. I was concerned there might be a long line at checkout at noon.

I was the only one.

I was concerned there might not be a cab on site.

There were two.

The trip was only 20 minutes or, maybe a half hour.

Now I wait. Not even a bar to spend time at. Maybe there will be one past the security checkpoint. But I can’t get there until the check-in counter opens.

I want to get home now. There will be the 2+ hour drive from Philly…

The trip was fun. Like I said, the city is just beautiful. Almost flawless. No ugly glass box buildings. No decrepit neighborhoods. Very few homeless/drug addicts were on view. None in the old town areas. The streets were quiet even at night, though I can’t attest what weekends are like. I could live here. But there is nothing close by. Frederick has DC 40 minutes away. NYC is just over 3 hours. There are three airports that can take you anywhere just about.

And I would have to improve my French.

And then there is winter… What do people do here in the winter? No, I couldn’t hunker down here that long. It must be a lifestyle.

Well, I’m on the plane. It took forever to get checked in. A long line had formed. I thought why bother? I had my seat assignment. 2A. Paranoia struck. This reminded me of the bus messes in Quebec. I could be left behind! An attendant came by with the printed luggage tags. I showed her my boarding pass.

“You’re in priority. You can join that line.”

Well, of course I am. I am “Gold.” I have “status.”

Things got better. I got to the security checkpoint where I had to mask up. My line was held up by a woman dripping in jewelry. Then the guy in front of me had 3 laptops. He needed 4 tubs to set on the conveyer to be X-rayed. Cleopatra—the jeweled woman—had a husband. After the conveyer, his stuff took a long time get through—holding my stuff up. He had one of those sleep apnea machines that had to be inspected separately. He decided to put it all back together right on the other side of the machine. So, I had that spectacle to watch. The gate area was large and spacious. But the bars and restaurants were all closed. They still haven’t rebounded from COVID. I bought an interesting bottle of Irish whiskey at 50% off from Duty Free. Probably another COVID casualty. Stuck in overstock for two and a half years. We had to wear masks in the gate area. I’m wearing a mask in my seat—2A—now. The pilot announced it is 95 degrees in Philly. It is 75 here.

2 hours to Pennsylvania.

2 plus hours home.

I hope…

We are airborne. Flight!

The flight attendant made a dramatic announcement as we were buckling up.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are flying to the United States of America. You are free to wear a mask or not to. It is your personal choice.”

“Ahhhh…”

We ascend into heavy cloud cover. For ten minutes we were in whiteout so bright it hurt my eyes.

I want to see my gardens. What is blooming? What is fading? I fear the deer. I think the presence of the dogs and their scent keeps them away. So far, so good. Someday they will come and decimate the hostas and other plants they can eat. The hostas are so big and glorious now. I hope I never see that day.

Then the books. Tomorrow I will in among my books. I will be so far behind. I will complain, but down deep I am glad I am needed. I want to stay relevant as long as I can.

We are crossing Long Island Sound. What is a sound? Are there any others? We are returning at the very tip of Long Island. Montauk? That might be New London below. Why are we returning so much further east than the path we took north? Motor boats dot the water below. Their wakes look like the trails of comets from this height. Hundreds of comets. Now we are banking west. We will be in Philly soon.

Flying over New Jersey, I look down at the housing developments looking for swimming pools. There aren’t many. When I flew into Quebec I was surprised to see that almost every home in some developments has a pool. Hundreds of blue dots in yards in some communities. Especially in the developments with smaller yards—a bright blue spot nearly filled every backyard. I wondered how many days a year you can use a pool that far north.

Upon landing I breezed through customs. I just stood before a machine that took my picture. A slip of paper came out, and I took it to a Customs agent. He looked at my passport and welcomed me back. I’m a “Trusted Traveler”—Global Entry. No lines… I got my bag quickly. The elevator to the parking garage was close. 20 minutes after getting off the plane I was on the road.

Driving down I 95 toward Baltimore, I ran into a raging storm. Lightning etched the sky in strange blue netlike patterns. Traffic slowed to a crawl. Some people pulled over. Everyone had their hazard lights on. Leaves were being stripped off trees and swirled over the highway. I scanned the skies, wondering if a tornado would form and blow us all over the road. The same storm had a lightning strike just outside the White House. Two were killed. Two critically injured.

I got home about 9. Everything was in order that I could see. I made some tuna salad with dill relish, mayo, chopped Italian peppers and some spices. I took it into the big room and turned on the TV and watched Midnight in Paris—fast forwarding the scene of the present and watching the scenes when the protagonist, Gil Pender, goes back in time to hang out with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Stein and… DALI!

(What is wrong with me?)

I felt I had left a Paris-like city just hours before. I was home with no jet lag from a 7 or 8-hour time zone differential and a 10-hour flight.

I looked at my bookcases, and they comforted me.


Friday

I’m back on the mountain.

It is 5:30 a.m. Sunrise is 40 minutes away. It is pitch black outside.

I finished most of this story before heading to work.

The place is in disarray. Too many vacations and critical people out sick in recent weeks. Clif said we got about 50 pallets of books in unexpectedly. There must be 30 carts I need to go through. Annika just returned Wednesday. Her room is stuffed with collectible books to be evaluated.

All is good.

Right before I left, Clark brought this comic in to me.

Spider-man #1

Spider-man’s first appearance. It is worth a LOT of money—even in pretty compromised condition. I remember buying this as a little kid. I wish I hadn’t sold my comic collection, but I had to. I needed the money in the 80s to finance the growth of Wonder Book to a new and larger space.

I’d outgrown it, anyway…


** Lying In—Quebec

In a vast plain of cool white cotton sheets
The dark outside the wide tall window is dotted
— city lights of many colors twinkle far below
I drift in and out unaware
Am I awake or is this a waking dream?
Enveloped in soft cloth I embrace a large pillow
Another covers my eyes and ear
I am entirely enveloped
I am comfortable in real time drifting away
And then I am some place else
I go so many places out of this world
until I stretch or turn
and return to the big white bed
There is no time or place
until I open my eyes
dreamily noting the hour
I roll to my side
and go away again

8 Comments on Article

  1. Livia commented on

    Hello Chuck,

    Welcome back! Your trip and this Friday’s story inspired me….
    I am leaving on Monday for this trip that I booked back in 2017 and was postponed from 2020. I pray that I won’t experience any of the challenges I have been reading about this summer’s travel chaos…I decided not to check any bags, just a carry on. First stop is Zurich. I will send photos.
    Have a great weekend!

    Livia

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Wow
      That’s the fastest comment ever!
      Safe travels and send pictures!
      Thanks
      Chuck

  2. Jack Walsh commented on

    Hi Chuck,
    Thanks greatly for your views of Quebec. It brought back wonderful memories of my fantastic visit there in 1969. One of them was eating at the oldest French restaurant in North America, hidden behind a bakery. I have always wondered what the city is like now and you have provided a clear description of it.
    Thanks again
    Jack

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Jack,
      I think the old part of the city is changeless in most ways. There do seem to be sprawling suburbs surrounding from what I could see airborne.
      That you for reading and commenting!
      Chuck

  3. Charlie Downs commented on

    No ice wine? That’s one of my favorite things from Canada. I always bring home a good supply. Sounds like a wonderful getaway.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Ice wine can be great!
      I didnt see any on any menus and was looking more at cocktails and beer in restaurants.
      Thanks for the reminder. I will have to get some!
      Best
      Chuck

  4. Matthew Killam commented on

    This entry finally pushed us over the edge for Quebec. Have wanted to go for years, and now we’ve booked that flight! Love the Fairmount but the Hilton seems just fine and we can put the difference to food and drinks!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That’s great!
      I know you will enjoy it.
      I didnt go to Montmorency Falls because I’d done it before and had great views from the plane and boat , but it is worth the bus trip or however you want to get there. 30 minutes I think.
      Definitely try for the bar at Frontenac and maybe “bar snack” – fancy food! Opens at 4. Get there at 4 and likely no line.
      The Canadian Dollar is about 77 cents so dont be intimidated by $$$.
      The Hop On would be worth it for the two day thing. There’s pickup at the Hilton. The 2 day includes boat trip and bus to waterfalls. The Concierge can explain it all.
      Hope you have a great trip!
      Thanks for writing.
      Chuck

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