Sunday, August 10, 2008

La Festival Internationale du Shut UP!

I'm not sure I spelled "Festival Internationale" right.  Although for years I have privately amused myself by translating things into French (especially when forced into boring conversations with folks I'd rather not be talking to), it takes a visit to a French-speaking area to realize how feeble one's second language really is.  Makes it worse that I am essentially a product of 1960's ALM foreign language studies in which we sat in a thing called a language lab, listening over earphones to what were supposed to be French high school students (just like us, only continental and sophisticated) having conversations.

"Dis donc, out est la biblioteque?" we chorused into our microphones.  This was supposed to teach us to speak rather than to just read.  It didn't.  And since my generation of college undergrads was allowed to major in anything that helped them actualize themselves--and that without a language requirement--I haven't advanced much further in La Francais.  I know where the library is, but I'm useless with (say) road signs in Quebec.  Did that one say something about the cow and the railroad track? I wonder.  And off we hurtle into the mountains where the road crew at work is about to fait les explosions, our speedometer set to those thrilling kilometers (Wow, it says 105!!). 

We have been considerably north of Quebec for several days.  The only thing in English is The Discovery Channel, one Montreal newspaper that our hotel puts out for losers like us at breakfast, and the Olympic coverage on the CBC.  So I find myself rooting for the Canadian women gymnasts. I caught my husband, who hates buying clothes like kids on Our Gang comedies used to hate taking cod liver oil, eyeing a cocktail dress on  What Not To Wear.

Did I mention that it's been raining? 

And that the food is--well--not great, although everything has French names and sounds like it should be.  There's a lot of odd fast food: poulet BBQ, and a ton of Tim Hortons chain restaurants.  For some reason or other, Subway is really big up here.  The sky is huge, the mountains look like the Pacific Northwest a bit, and it's quite obvious that the electricity in this part of the world is enthusiastically, unabashedly hydroelectric.  There are so many lines and towers that it looks like a toy train set.  And there are festivals.  Lord, are there festivals!

We barely made it out of the Quebec 400th (swarms of tourists wearing odd little pewter necklaces that get you into the festival events, many in 17th century garb)!  And an oompah band that played the songs my old high school French teacher made us sing in class (French oompah--what a concept)--this last thing in a tent full of giant puppets featuring the heroes of French Canadian history! As well-educated Americans, we had only the dimmest recollection of who the puppets were supposed to be, but many of them appeared to be members of the clergy or royalty, all wearing manic smiles. One seemed to be a Canadian separatist songwriter of the 1970's--18 feet high.   

And did I mention it has been POURING? It was even raining on the Olympics when we tuned in last night. 

When we arrived in this charming little town, there was another festival  by the local fjord, featuring a scary clown and a foot-pumped  merry-go-round loaded with oddly quiet local children, spinning at about 78 rpm.  The rain had let up a bit by then; it was just spitting.  Last night, that festival seemed to have decamped to the main street of town and grown booths where you could get mojitos, and everyone within ninety miles had arrived to drink them and wear glow-in-the-dark devil horns on their heads.  

Which was probably why it took us two hours to get a plate of mussels to eat in a local restaurant...We kept telling each other that American too-fast service with the courses piling up on the table before you can even finish eating them is uncivilized, but I'll be frank with you.  I'm looking forward to Halifax.  They speak English there.

Gad, I've said it.  Forgive me.  Don't tell Obama.  Don't revoke my citizenship of the world.  

It's morning now, and time to grab some dejeuner (NOT petit dejeuner in this part of the French-speaking world, but that's a trifle I'm not trifling with right now).  We get to ride a ferry today.  See you on the flip side.


Glenn Carella said...

I was "waiting for the electrician" since half of my house lost power today, I have dusted off my "Bob and Doug McKenzie" lp as well as my 1960's "Oh, Oh, Canada" lp for my next show.

Now if I could only remember who did the version of "Canadian Sunset" that I used to listen to when I was in single digits of age...

chrispy said...

Aw, gee, Glenn!

So how's married life, anyway?

We're in Halifax, a much better place--and we're about to move on to Prince Edward Island. It's brilliantly sunny and warm, although I hear something about thunderstorms for tomorrow...