I have a zest for adventure. I love going to new cultures and learning how the people there solve the basic problems of life. I love seeing new animals, plants, places. I am a woman alone wandering the world, but when I can I find a good travel companion. Before I leave for a new place I try to learn about it as much as possible – explore its history, art and music. Once there I let it swallow me whole. These blogs are from my journeys, inner and outer.
By Andrea Granahan
I woke up and wandered on to the terrace outside the rooms where my friends and I were staying in the city of Ubud in Bali.
The garden was a blaze of tropical flowers. The losman, or family compound, was waking up. The grandmother of the family had already woven the morning offerings for the family temple. She had made little baskets of banana leaves, filled them with rice and fruit and decorated them with flowers. Those were for the gods. She had made another set, which she set outside the gate to the losman on the street. Those were for the demons. It never took long for the stray dogs to find them and gobble them up. That was all right because the dogs were considered the reincarnation of faithless wives and therefore in the demon category.
The houseboys had already made a thermos of tea for us and left it on our table. Theodora, our landlady, ran an efficient operation. All the money she earned within the losman was hers to spend. The family rice fields and such belonged to her husband, a lazy, good-natured fellow, and those earnings were his to spend. Theodora had earned enough to give her daughters an excellent education. The family had four children, twice the number of the usual Balinese family.
Theodora set a big pot of rice to boil and sautéed a batch of vegetables to go with it. She spent about 10 minutes at that task. I had noticed Balinese families did not sit down for meals together. They just helped themselves from the pots of food throughout the day whenever they felt hungry. Then Theodora and grandma got down to the task that really mattered. They began making the offering for their banjar’s temple.
They gathered perfect fruits, made various colored rice pastes, took a large basket and began constructing a beautiful tower of shaped rice paste sculptures, integrating the fruits and flowers from the garden. It would take them hours. It would be done before sunset when Theodora would dress up and carry it on her head to offer up at the temple. After the gods there had eaten their spiritual bellyful, she would retrieve what fruits were still good for the family kitchen and discard the rest until tomorrow when the process started all over again.
Whenever anyone asks me what is the most exotic place I have ever traveled to, Bali springs to mind. It wasn’t the incredible landscape with layer upon layer of rice terraces and jungle. It wasn’t the beautiful dancers and hypnotic music. It was their challenge to my entire set of Western values.
I was raised with the concept that our families are our first responsibility and providing for the family is paramount, therefore what one does to earn a living or to care for the family comes first. It is a way of life central to most cultures whether they be Moslem. Jewish, or Christian. So much so, I took it for granted as a basic human value. I was startled in Bali to realize there are other ways of looking at life. Family counts in Bali, but it is secondary to their religious responsibilities.
The Balinese are very devout people and the religion they practice is a form of Hinduism. It’s not Indian Hinduism – they do eat meat and kill cows. Their unique form of it is a gentle form of worship. They believe strongly in karma so won’t steal or lie (cheating, now, is something else altogether!). They revere human life. I never heard a Balinese raise his or her voice in anger although I spent three weeks in the busy losman near the market where there was plenty social interaction. When they get angry they pout instead. They never even shouted at the numerous pesky stray dogs they refuse to kill but do not control.
In Bali the center of one’s life is the banjar, a temple based group, usually consisting of about 100 families. It is a form of government, extended family, and church. It is so integral to Balinese life that the various governments that have taken over Bali – the Dutch, even the Japanese who were slavers and occupiers in World War II, and, most currently the Indonesian government, all have been forced to accept the banjars and deal with their elected leaders. The Balinese simply know no other way to handle life.
Theodora’s daughters all went to the temple after school to study the sacred dances. They were expected to perform in the complex dance dramas at least once a week. Once they were good enough these dances would be their offerings to the gods. Their father had to go practice in the banjar’s gamelan orchestra each day that the rice paddies didn’t need attention.
Even a lot of the tasks at the paddies, such as planting and harvesting, were controlled by the banjars and turned into religious festivals.
The only really shared meals were when the temple held a festival. The men then cooked while the women made more elaborate decorative offerings to celebrate. The banjars knew who was married to whom, how many children they had, and even what form of birth control was practiced. When someone died, when there was a wedding, when someone needed a house built or repaired, when there was any festival, the banjar had to show up – every man, woman and child, to help make the floats and elaborate offerings that would be needed or to cook for those working, to provide music, or even just stand around and encourage the others.
Earning cash was a problem. Regular jobs in businesses were not allowed to interfere with banjar duties. Our driver Wayan lived far from his banjar but traveled back when he was called to duty altering his work schedule. He played drums in the gamelan. Theodora’s family had solved the cash flow problem by opening their losman to tourists.
Many banjars allowed tourists to attend their dance dramas. The money from the small admittance fee they charged went to paying better dancers and musicians from other banjars to teach them how to make better offerings. That hospitality also provided the benefit of the tourists’ laughter. Laughter is also considered an offering to the gods and most of the dramas included bawdy humor to provoke it.
Everything is about the offerings. The rest of life is peripheral to that and must be squeezed in. One of my friends had spent a lot of time in Taiwan and had warned us about relaxed “Asia time” but she was surprised to learn when the Balinese said they’d pick you up a 9 a.m. they meant 8:55. Time is precious to them because anything they do for a living is taking away from their precious banjar offerings.
I noticed the older folks tended to be marginalized because the dance/dramas are very demanding and strenuous. It was their job to take care of the babies and minor jobs so the rest of the family could get on with the offerings with minimal interruption. If the family had a shop, the old folks tended it much of the time. But even they participated as much as possible in the offerings. Some of them made extra morning offerings and sold them for a pittance to the workers who were rushed in the mornings so that the gods would be sure and bless even the busy. Wayan always bought one when we left for an excursion, then casually tossed it out to the dogs a couple hours later.
I learned just how much the Balinese could squeeze in their mundane work with their spiritual duties when I bought a ticket to see a special drama at an outlying village that included “transport”. My transport turned out to be a motor bike the fellow playing the demon in the drama drove. He didn’t wear his mask, but he had his costume gloves on as he sped me to the temple.
In the evening, after the local temple had performed a lovely version of the Ramayana, a beloved sacred text for the Balinese, my friends and I sat sipping tea on our terrace. The family was outside watching television which featured American shows but Balinese commercials complete with gamelan music. Theodora’s little girls sprang up and began practicing their dancing to it. They would soon be ready to go on stage and begin the hard work of making their offerings.
Inebriated people wandering the streets, drinks in hand, nightclubs with sex acts, loud music, mounted police above the crowd keeping watch – Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of the Big Easy, right?
Most tourists leave thinking the entire Quarter, or the Vieux Carre as locals call it, looks like the noisy end of Bourbon, but a lot of regular working folk live quiet, peaceful lives in the VC. They walk their pets, take them to the vet, shop, go to the drug store for prescriptions, post their mail, hang out in local bars, eat breakfast in non-tourist places with their neighbors.
All it takes is a little foot power to find the quiet nooks where life goes on much as it has ever since the French first founded New Orleans in 1718 – except instead of horses, cars (and sometimes segways) traverse the streets.
So, if you were a local, what would your day look like? Your home could be a tiny house, or even be hidden behind a garden entrance. Rents are twice what they are in the Ninth Ward – now you know why lots of the street entertainers lived there instead of the VC. You would probably rely on foot power rather than a car – parking is at a premium in the VC and everything is close enough anyway.
If you wanted to have a good breakfast and chat over the news with your neighbors you could stroll to the Clover Grill. Open 24 hours a day, it serves up a good breakfast for under $4. The menus are meant to cheer up your day – “If your order doesn’t come in 5 minutes, it might come in another 5, relax, you’re not in New York” says the menu on the wall.
You might want to take your dog for a walk and stop by the vet’s for some flea treatment – warm weather brings them out.
A lot of your neighbors like plants, you notice,
and some even like veritable forests for privacy. You can wave to the kids outside the school as you stroll.
To shop you can stop at a local grocery, or for more major shopping brave a band or a streetside drunk to go to Rouse’s where you can find just about anything.
There’s a couple choices for where to wash your clothes.
There’s a couple doctors practicing in VC, and even a stress clinic. You would probably avoid the tourist Walgreen’s on Decatur, but there’s a back street pharmacy to supply prescriptions, or if you want to do it the old fashioned way you can look for a cure or charm at the voodoo shop.
In the evening you can stroll to the local sports bar. Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop has been the locals’ hang out on the quiet end of Bourbon for generations.
All in all, a comfortable satisfying, normal day – not a strip club in sight, but if you want to party hardy, it’s just a stroll to the noisy end of Bourbon. And you don’t have to be a local to experience life like one, just walk a few blocks farther down the road.
Here are five tips to make travel more comfortable and safe.
1. With no locks permitted on luggage except for TSA locks (and rumors have it some of the worst thieves are TSA employees), it’s getting harder to safeguard one’s belongings. I use dental floss. Tie your zipper tags together with a few loops of it, Leave one compartment open where you can tuck a pair of child’s scissors or a serrated plastic knife so you can cut the floss on arrival. Since I started doing that, no more thefts, and even the TSA will move on to a bag that is easier to open.
2. Packing for a quick trip gets easier if you buy a transparent shoe bag – the kind with many pockets that hangs in a closet. You can fill the pockets with travel necessities – toiletries, earphones, sewing kits, etc. When you go to pack just look at the shoe bag and you know where all the items are that you need.
3. Carry a small empty spray mister. Fill it at a water fountain after you are through the security check. Stash it in the bag you put under the seat in front of you. On long flights a quick mist will keep women’s make-up from melting, and for both sexes, will refresh you mightily as well as rehydrate your skin. Carry an empty water bottle as well that you fill at the same time and avoid paying $2 a bottle for water or waiting forever before you get handed a small glass of water by the flight attendant.
4. Also for that bag at your feet, prepare an airplane “comfort bag” for the flight. Eye shades, an inflatable neck pillow, and even a mini bottle of your own favorite liquor transferred from your security check liquid baggie, will help make a long flight more comfortable. Also, if it is a red-eye, ladies, bring a shawl – something pretty, light and warm like a pashmina. It will make a cozy blanket, and add a dressy touch to a simple outfit when you get where you are going.
5. On arrival, put that little spray mister to work again. Hang up your clothes and give them a light misting. They will shed the packing wrinkles as they dry. For longer trips when you still just want to take a carry-on, pack an elastic clothesline (the kind with suction cups and hooks and that eliminates the need for any clothespins), a flat sink stopper and small bottle of concentrated Camp Suds (made by Coleman). Just a capful of the latter is enough to do several garments. It also can be used as body wash and shampoo, works in fresh and salt water! That way you can launder your things at the end of the day in the room without much trouble. These items take up very little room. Even the Camp Suds use little space in that security one quart baggie.
By Andrea Granahan
Just the name used to strike dread into sailors’ hearts – Cape Horn. It has taken untold lives and terrorized those that made it around the infamous passage.
Richard Henry Dana wrote about his experience in his famous book, Two Years Before the Mast.
“…hurrying upon deck, we found a large black cloud rolling on toward us from the south-west, and blackening the whole heavens.”Here comes Cape Horn!” said the chief mate; and we had hardly time to haul down and clew up, before it was upon us. In a few moments, a heavier sea was raised than I had ever seen before, and as it was directly ahead, the little brig, which was no better than a bathing machine, plunged into it, and all the forward part of her was under water; the sea pouring in …threatening to wash everything overboard.”
On our ship it was just beginning to get light. Stewards appeared on the eleventh story deck with its wrap-around views, wheeling in carts with coffee urns which they set up with trays of pastries for us early risers. Some of us had binoculars, and we sat in the padded chairs we had set our alarms before dawn to claim, staring ahead through the mist.
Suddenly we saw it. That great peak, shaped, oddly enough, like Diamond Head on Oahu Island. But this monster did not preside over tropical waters. This was the dreaded Cape Horn that looms large in sea shanties and sailors’ lore. It is the end of all habitable land at that end of our planet, where the Andes plunge into the sea, where two mighty oceans come together in a titan’s clash.
Magellan tried to find the end of the annoyingly huge continent that stood between the Old World and the Spice Islands in 1520. He never did, but he did discover the Magellan Straits that winds its way through the archipelago at the foot of South America. Even getting that far cost him – of the 237 men that set out on the expedition, only 18 made it safely back to Spain (Magellan wasn’t one of them).
Some of them fell victim to the Williwaws, the wind phenomenon peculiar to those latitudes. Cold air builds up behind steep slopes then suddenly spills over the top of a mountain and falls into the sea at hurricane speeds, like an invisible iceberg, making a temporary dent in the water and a great splash. Woe to any boat that is not securely tied up at both ends below a Williwaw. Williwaws notwithstanding, in later years the straits served and still serve as a safer passage for steamships than the vicious Horn. Of course, now, the Panama Canal provides safer, even pedestrian, passage.
In 1525 another Spanish explorer, Francisco de Hoces, may or may not have been the first to see the Horn. Sir Frances Drake claimed to have reached the end of land and seen open ocean – the historical jury is still out on it. The story is the dapper, red-bearded privateer climbed up the banks and crawled his way through the gales to reach the end for bragging rights, as he came back and told his men, “I have been the farthest south of any man yet known .” Historians all have to agree he did make it around South America and enter the Pacific where he ravaged the Spanish towns and treasure ships. The sea passage south of the Horn is still called Drake’s Pass.
But it took the Dutch to really use it for trade purposes and to name it. By the early 1600s the Dutch East India Company had claimed a monopoly on the Straits of Magellan. William Schouten, master of the ship Hoorn, named for his hometown, determined to break the monopoly by bypassing the straits and finding another passage that sailors’ gossip had bragged about since Drake. They called the treacherous point Cape Hoorn, which the English later shortened to Cape Horn.
During California’s Gold Rush, the Horn saw a lot of traffic. Later, around the turn of the 20th century, large steel square rigged sailing ships were specially constructed for heavy hauling around the Horn. Coal and nitrate were the usual freights.
The last tallship to make the passage was the Pamir in 1949.
Before that in 1905 a square rigged ship, the British Isles, tried for 71 days to get round the Horn before she made it. She was one of the two largest three-masted ships ever built and was made for hauling heavy loads. She was full of coal when she tried to round the Horn. By the time they made it, the vessel was a wreck, four men had died, one lost a leg, and many others had suffered permanent injuries. A young sailor, William Jones, wrote of that terrifying passage in a book called The Cape Horn Breed. That same year the Susanna took 91 days to make the trip. No one recorded what must have been that horrific passage. In that terrible winter of 1905 of the 200 or so ships to leave for the Horn, 55 went missing.
The fastest rounding was accomplished with a windjammer, the Priwall, in five days and fourteen hours in 1938. No one has ever broken that record, although some have tried. Generally it took two weeks or more. Some chatted about the statistics as we drew closer to the landmark.
“We are exceedingly fortunate,” a ship’s officer told us over the loudspeaker from the bridge. “We are seeing the smiling face of the Horn today.”
While the skies were gray, the seas were relatively smooth, just long slow swells. There were white caps from the wind, but even though it was kind today, not stirring up mighty waves. I was still glad we were not on a sailing ship. I felt secure on our great, motor driven ship.
“In the next few moments the bow will be in one ocean and the stern will be in another,” said the officer. “However, fortunately we are still joined,” he added chuckling.
There were no trees, but lots of moss and grass covered the promontory. Then came the announcement that because the weather was cooperative, the captain of our ship planned to circumnavigate the Horn so we would see it from all sides before we headed off into the Atlantic.
As we came into the lee side we poured on deck to take photos and gawk at the island. Soon we could see the residence of the Chilean naval officer and his family stationed on what must be one of the loneliest places on earth. The family tends the lighthouse, a weather station, a chapel, and greets any visitors. Small Antarctic expedition boats sometimes stop there. We finally got close enough to see the beautiful memorial the Chileans have erected there.
Seven meters high, the metal diamond shape features a cutout figure of an albatross – the traditional spiritual guardian of the souls of sailors drowned at sea. The memorial honors all those who lost their lives rounding the Horn. It was dedicated in 1992. The Chilean poet Sara Vial from the port of Valparaiso wrote a poem that is carved there. The officer read it to us.
I, the albatross that awaits at the end of the world…
I am the forgotten soul of the sailors lost,
rounding Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.
But die they did not in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity, in my wings they soar,
in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds.
Everyone grew very quiet as we passed the memorial, our thoughts reaching into the terrible past of the Horn.
These days there is little traffic around the Horn. The occasional cruise ship, such as ours, goes by. Indeed, the biggest attraction to boarding this ship for me, an unapologetic romantic, was a chance to round the Horn. Sometimes Antarctic cruises and expeditions pass, or even stop. Yachts sometimes try it, don’t always make it. There are some insane yacht races to circumnavigate the globe every few years that include rounding the Horn. The albatross cares for the spirits of some of those blue water sailors. Local fishermen are too smart to chance its unpredictable ways.
In the 1980s Argentina’s military government, looking for some conquest to distract their unhappy citizens from the “Dirty War” they were waging against their political opponents, made threatening noises about taking over the Horn. He who controls it, controls the vital air space above it. The Chileans responded by sending their navy and land mining it. So the Argentine dictators turned to the Falklands instead with disastrous results for the country and their government.
Nowadays, things are more peaceful and Argentina has a more benign government. The biggest danger at the Horn island itself is that one of the officer’s children or a visitor might accidentally step on a mine, so they have been fenced off. We could see the fences. The fences are easily removable should Argentine dictators rise again.
In tallship days when sailors rounded the Horn they were entitled to put a small golden ring in their left ears and could put both feet on the mess table as well as sport a tallship tattoo. We were awarded printed certificates. Some ships “baptize” their passengers with a bucket of water from the mixed oceans at the Horn. I was just as glad ours didn’t. Even in summer the Horn is chilly. My ears were pierced already and I had no interest in tattoos. Still I felt strange – as if a part of me had indeed been marked – it had to be in my heart.
At last we were past the Horn and we could see that wave-torn, wind-scarred, brave marker of the seas fade into the mist behind us. We still had almost six degrees of latitude to pass before we reached 50 degrees and had officially rounded the Horn, but as I saw that wild outpost of land vanish in the distance I felt very privileged, like a great milestone had been crossed, and also, I felt as if a part of me had been left behind with the sailors’ albatross – yes, it had to be a piece of my heart.
The bike found the beer, then the beer built a green empire.
By Andrea Granahan
Combining beer with bicycles might bring to mind a wobbly rider leaving a pub, but in Fort Collins, Colorado, close to Denver, it has created a dynamic business that is socially conscious and a model “green” corporation.
It all began in 1989 when Jeff Lebesch, an avid bicyler and beer lover traveled to Belgium. He had purchased one of the newly invented mountain bikes from the maker in Marin County in California. Wherever he went people asked him about his bike with the “fat tires”. Stopping one day at Brugges Biertje, the beer masters spent the day telling him all about what went into making their fine beers. It was an epiphany for him. It hit him that making beer was not only doable but fun.
On his return to his hometown in Colorado he set about trying to duplicate their beer processes in his basement, jettisoning a career as an electrical engineer to do so. He experimented, and using dairy equipment, came up with two beers that made him happy – Fat Tire, an amber brew he named in honor of his experiences in Belgium, and a nutty brown “dubbel” beer he christened Abbey. He met and married Kim Jordan, who loved his beer, and took over marketing his fabulous beer by knocking on neighbors’ doors to sell it. One of the neighbors was artist Anne Fitch who produced the art still used on New Belgium labels.
Growing demand made the couple realize they had outgrown the basement. Before they launched into expansion, Lebesch and Jordan packed a jug of homebrew, a pad and pencil. They bicycled to Rocky Mountain National Park and hammered out the code they wanted to apply to their fledgling business.
That code included producing world class beers, a strong commitment to the environment, high involvement from employees, balancing the needs of employees with those of the business, responsible enjoyment of beer and, very important, having fun – especially with bicycles.
Today New Belgium employs 340 people and produces a half million barrels of beer a year in a plant that has inspired other corporations. And Lebesch never forgot his bicycle that got him to the beer.
New Belgium employees have some unique perks. When they have been working at the brewery for a year they get part ownership in the corporation, and a custom built commuter bicycle. The brewery also has a stable of bicycles on hand for employees to use on errands, including a few motorized ones for long distances. A collection of antique bicycles is on display, and the tasting room is furnished with tables made of old bike wheels. They even have a bike-in movie outdoor movie series every summer with the proceeds going to non-profits.
The company also sponsors a number of bike events such as the Tour de Fat, a multi-city, mobile bicycle festival that features a quirky parade of bizarre bikes and costumes, various bike sporting events and beer. The festival is free and the profits of the beer sales are given to local non-profits.
Lebesch also did not forget his inspiration. When employees have been at New Belgium five years they are given a special trip to Belgium where they get to meet the brewers of that country.
Environmentally, New Belgium is at the top of the list of conscientious businesses. The basic design of its building makes maximum use of daylight for lighting, uses evaporative cooling eliminating the need for compressors and has an array of photovoltaic cells. New Belgium treats its wastewater using by-products for methane generators and nutrient laden sludge for gardens, uses wind power for electricity, and uses specially designed brewing kettles reducing power requirements. The company fosters a “one percent for the planet” movement by donating that much to environmental causes.
Even the bicycle festival is run on environmental lines, using solar powered equipment. It has a program called Team Wonderbike that has 10,000 members who have pledged to offset eight million car miles a year by using bikes instead of cars whenever possible for 12 months.
Tastings at the brewery are free – visitors getting six small tasting mugs of various beers. It’s a popular place on Friday evenings with anywhere from 300 – 1000 tasters showing up for the free suds. Many arrive on bicycles.
The environmental commitment of the company is not a static thing. All employee owners are constantly trying to find more ways to go greener. . The company has helped make Fort Collins a very bicycle friendly town. Many restaurants supplement the plentiful town bicycle racks with racks of their own, and the town has a bicycle “library” where visitors can check out a bike for free to ride around downtown.
The “having fun” tenet has led to employees holding winter bike rally rides, summer rides all the time, a standing Thursday night volleyball game, beer tastings, and parties.
Lebesch has a philosophy of “follow your folly” because following his dream led him from an electrical engineering job to New Belgium. He follows his own advice and has retired from the business as his wife, Kim Jordan, has taken on the job of CEO. He now races sailboats. And from all reports both he and Jordan are still abiding by the rules they set in Rocky Mountain National Park in the beginning by having a lot of fun.
By Andrea Granahan
On a snowy day, having worked up an appetite roaming a warren of cobble stoned streets and gazing at seventeenth century buildings clustered under the city walls, I suddenly got a whiff of aromas that made my mouth water.
I followed my nose into a small bistro, Le Lapin Sauté
A fireplace on one wall drew me like a magnet. Low wood beams held bundles of drying herbs. Some old copper pots hung on the wall, others were in use in the kitchen emitting the enticing smells. The place was full of people talking animatedly in French.
I stumbled over my own French but Pierre, my waiter, good-humouredly repeated the specials and translated for me as I pored over the menu. Cassoulet, a classic dish, jumped out at me. Before long I was contentedly washing down the succulent meal with some red wine.
“C’est bonne?” Pierre asked. I gave him a thumbs-up sign and he laughed.
Paris? No, I was in Quebec City, North America’s answer to Paris.
Many Americans still tend to think of Quebec in terms of its French fur trapper history, envisioning wooden palisades in the wilderness. While Quebec is proud of that part of her history, and an edgy touch of the wilderness still permeates the sophistication, this is a city that has been civilizing itself since the early 1600s.
For proof of just how sophisticated this city has become you need look no farther than the magnificent Chateau Frontenac. This hotel, in the grand Canadian style of the hotels at Banff and Lake Louise, towers over the city walls and dominates the skyline.
The five star institution boasts Chef Jean Soulard who has won France’s highest award, “Maitre Cuisinier de France” hosts a television cooking show and gives cooking lessons at the hotel. In homage to Quebec’s wilderness tradition he includes wild game on his menu.
Also in keeping with the wild history, the hotel has a ghost who haunts the hotel. The lady had such a lovely time over a hundred years ago when she visited the chateau she has never left. An actress playing the part to the hilt frequently entertains the guests.
She was not the only lady to grace the city. In fact, in the1660s, King Louis XIV of France , delighted with the furs coming from his new outpost, decided it should become a permanent settlement. To do that, the trappers needed wives.
So King Louis rounded up young women orphans from the convents of France. Rumor has it that a few ladies of the night were included for instructional purposes. Called “Les Filles du Roi” The King’s Daughters, they all sailed over, 700 in one ship alone, and were greeted by hordes of happy trappers.
Their mission was to copulate and populate Quebec, one they accomplished with vigor. The average number of children per family until 30 years ago was between 13 and 16. Finally, at that time the daughters of those huge families realized they had a choice and it was “NO!”.
Instead of dealing with so many children they don’t know what to do, Quebec is now facing an aging population, an altogether new problem.
The British, eventually disturbed the peace of France’s colony by invading it. As the Quebecois defended the front at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, the redcoats came in the back way marching across a field owned by a farmer named Abraham in 1759. Today Abraham’s Plain is the site of the annual Winter Carnaval.
The Brits allowed the French to keep their language and religion (something they didn’t do for their own Catholic countrymen at home). Luckily the French also kept their cooking skills.
While the rest of Canada may survive on marmite sandwiches, and under-seasoned sausage, in Quebec even the fussiest gourmet would have to work hard to find something to complain about, and one doesn’t have to frequent the Chateau to find fine cooking. Small bistros pepper the city (no pun intended). They import their wine but do make their own ice wine, a real delicacy. The one possible exception to the excellent food might arguably be poutine. It was the French fur trapper’s answer to fast food. It is French fries topped with fried cheese curds and glued all together with gravy. Poutine is a great source of amusement in Quebec cartoons. It sits in the stomach like a brick – you can eat once to hold you over for a week of chopping wood in the snow.
Quebec makes the most of what it has and in the winter she plays with the cold. The commuter ferry crossing the St. Lawrence is swapped out for an icebreaker. Before the icebreakers were purchased the Quebecois cleverly built temporary winter bridges of ice to cross the river. Many restaurants construct “ice bars” outside, illuminated at night with fiber optic lighting, and they even build their famous Ice Hotel. Now that’s something even Paris doesn’t have.
The European feel of the city is especially evident behind the high walls the British built to keep us Americans from invading. These days we invade with dollars instead of bayonets. Pierced by two gates that had to be widened in the 1950s to accommodate motorized traffic, they surround a wonderful maze of streets that make up the Vieux Quebec, old town, of the city.
Artists, craftsmen and artisans joined forces to preserve and protect the colorful heart of the old town called Quartier Petit Champlain. The shopping opportunities get visitors drooling and spending.
Entertainment is also big in Quebec and it has given the world such phenomena as the Cirque de Soliel and Celine Dion. During Carnaval traditional Arcadian (translate that as Cajun) music from the backwoods days is popular and fur coated people wearing the traditional arrowhead patterned woven sash lead street dances in the old town.
Everyone speaks French, but anywhere near Quebec City they also speak English. The Separatist Movement had its heyday and got rules passed requiring all signs to have the English 50 percent smaller than the French. But when it came to a vote, the Quebecois voted to stay with Canada, so it just seems like another country, and no one has a chip on his or her shoulder about the language. The money is definitely Canadian and our dollar goes a lot farther in Quebec than it does in Euro based France.
They are a fun loving people who welcome visitors and, hey, there’s no doggie poo problem like in Paris. It’s not only closer, it’s a lot cleaner.
I love to camp and have spent many happy days swatting mosquitoes out in the wilds. But, sad to say, not all camping trips are successful. One that stands out in my family’s memory is the one to Yosemite.
My husband and I had looked forward to it for a long time and finally one year carefully chose the perfect sites in the valley floor campgrounds. But nature skunked us in more ways than one.
That winter floods destroyed those campgrounds and my husband was ill and on chemo-therapy. But my daughter Heather and I were certain between the two of us we could handle the children and the work of camping so he could relax and the kids could be exposed to the grandeur of granite. Hah!
She borrowed a VW camping van to simplify things. We had our non-camping van but lots of tents. We took one moody pre-teen, Juju, Heather took another, Jasper, and her other two children, Eva and Cooper.
Little had we reckoned on the Park Service greed. Having lost hundreds of campsites it was determined to make its revenues and shoved everyone into one campground. A hundred or so of us had to share one restroom, one sink and one faucet. There were always long lines.
There was a heat wave and the campground was buried under four inches of dust after all the wear and tear, and it was overrun with ground squirrels. The first thing that leaped to my mind was Hantavirus.
“Don’t feed the squirrels, kids, no matter how cute they are,” I kept shouting.
Still things might have been fine except for the “bears”. The ranger manning the gate took one look at my pretty, then single, daughter, swelled out his chest and told her how he had bravely faced down a bear the night before.
Heather bit. She gasped and said, “I better have my children sleep in the van.”
“Pooh, bears open a van like it was a tuna fish can. We had a mountain lion here last week, too.”
My husband and I had camped in bear country, though she had not, and we knew our bear hygiene, so weren’t alarmed but Heather was frantic. We carefully packed all the food and toiletries in the clumsy bear box.
We set up a couple tents and I strung a hammock for my husband, who found it uncomfortable and went into a tent to nap. Jasper took over the hammock so he could brood about not having been able to bring his buddies. Juju pouted because she wanted to swim. She also wanted a turn in the hammock.
Cooper and Eva discovered that the battery operated mister fans I had bought them could be recalibrated to shoot like water guns and promptly filled them with melting ice from the ice chests. Sudden screams from the older kids revealed their targets.
There were so many bear alarms I decided imaginary bears were worse to camp with than real ones. I finally announced, “The only time I want to hear the word bear is when one is behind me and about to bite me. Got it?”
Camp set up we set off for the valley. We were really eager to show the kids the magnificence of Yosemite. But just a mile down the road Heather’s VW broke down. Fortunately the chest-beating ranger was behind her and offered to rebuild her engine with his Swiss army knife and her can opener (he soon bailed but she replaced the fan belt with her butter knife). We took as many kids as we had seat belts. Jasper volunteered to stay behind so he could brood some more.
The younger kids complained about the heat. Juju still pouted because she wanted to swim. We promised them popsicles from the store in the valley if they’d just be patient and admire rocks and waterfalls on the way.
The line at the store was over an hour long especially as everyone in line spoke a different language the clerk didn’t understand. Even the kids realized their Popsicles would melt before we could pay for them and agreed to slushies from a hand cart outside.
On our way back to camp we stopped by the river so Juju could swim. I was tired of complaints so must confess to enjoying the look on her face when she jumped in and realized the river was freshly melted snow. The famous swim lasted 30 seconds.
While we were gone, Heather’s fears of bears had been intensified by her ranger friend. We began cooking dinner. More campers had arrived and our space had been reduced to something smaller than my bathroom at home. The squirrels were relentless; so were the kids.
“Eek!” I screamed when I got shot in the back with ice water. “Eva, don’t shot me without asking me first.”
“But Cooper won’t let me shoot him. He’s a nose booger.”
“He is not a nose booger. Cooper, don’t feed the squirrels. Jasper, let Juju have a turn in the hammock. She’s allowed to brood, too.”
Suddenly a space I thought was part of our campsite was taken over by revelers on Harleys.
Heather, whom my husband and I had nicknamed the “food Nazi’, had brought seaweed chips as snacks. I had brought the makings of s’mores. This led to frustration for both of us.
“Oh, lighten up. A couple marshmallows won’t kill them.”
The kids agreed and ate a lot more than a couple getting belly aches. Mom is always right.
The crummy bear box was difficult to manage. We finally got everything in and between Heather and I we got it slammed shut.
“I forgot to brush my teeth,” Cooper announced. Naturally, the toiletries were behind all the food.
I obediently stood in the ladies room line. Some young women had stripped to waist and were using the sinks to bathe since there were no showers. Two young French men ignoring the line, barged in and took over a sink and began their ablutions. When asked to leave they sneered at us. One woman went to find the bear-fighting ranger who had, of course, left for the night.
Finally, scared by ghost stories, terrified by bears, the kids went to bed and us exhausted adults climbed in the sack and tried to sleep.
That’s when we discovered our biker neighbors had had chili with beans for dinner. Then the Vietnam veteran on the other side had a flashback nightmare. He sounded just like an enraged bear. The kids woke screaming, as the vet’s wife soothed him back to sleep.
In the morning I dutifully waited in line for water to make coffee. Heather and I battled because I had made bacon – I always bring it camping just because it smells so good to wake up to. I agreed the nitrites would probably kill the kids instantly, “But they can smell it can’t they?”
“So can the bears!” she wailed.
Our ranger friend showed up again with more bear stories. I refrained with difficulty from hitting him in the kisser with my bacon spatula. But then he announced more campers were expected since the weekend was approaching and the heat would reach 109 degrees in the park that day.
That did it. My husband and I looked at each other and began packing. We bailed, leaving behind hantavirus, imaginary bears, rude Frenchmen, gassy bikers, and growling vets. Air conditioner going full bore we crossed the Central Valley at 117 degrees, making only one pit stop. Heather was not far behind us.
We made up our differences on the phone that night and she designed a T-shirt with paw prints on the back that said, “We bearly made it out of Yosemite.”
From now on I will stay in lodgings in Yosemite. The Park Service has done the same things for the pleasure of camping that airlines have done for the pleasure of tra