Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I've always been somewhat intimidated by French. I don't speak the language, I don't understand it, I have no idea how to say words I see in print, and French speakers tend to irritate me! Whether this bias spawned a rather long-standing dislike of French-speaking people - who I saw as arrogant and often anti-American - or whether these perceptions came about in reverse order is probably irrelevant.  I've had enough experiences with French speakers to conclude they were accurate - and that I had no personal responsibility for my encounters with them turning out to be  memorably unfavorable.
So why would we fly 2000 miles and drive another 500 to subject ourselves to French phobia - right here in North America, no less? Well - Quebec is a Canadian Province - despite their occasional assertions to the contrary.  That means the road to ten provinces eventually runs into the French, which was where it led us the first weekend in October, 2011.

Our race was in Rimouski - a city of perhaps 40,000 people on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River - nearly 200 miles downriver and northeast of Quebec City.  With just over 500 half-marathoners, about half that many running the marathon, and  perhaps another 700 or so running a shorter distance, it wasn't a huge race, but it certainly wasn't among our smaller runs, either.  The setting was quite picturesque, as nearly the entire route was along the St. Lawrence - which, at this point - is certainly more like a sea than a river.  The north bank is visible, but barely, and it takes an hour to get across the river in a high speed ferry at this point.  The day didn't particularly showcase the scenery; it was gray, windy, very cool and humid, and even a bit misty towards the end of the race.  However, there were definitely some positives.  The pre-race and post-race food was VERY good; we got souvenir race hats since it was the 10th anniversary of the event; an excellent facility was available both before and after the race to stay warm in; and there were enough English-speaking participants that we didn't have to eat our food in silence. And did I mention that we did interact with the Quebecois participants - many of whom went out of their way to make us feel welcome - and who often spoke very good English or made a legitimate effort to communicate with us?

The race was a success.  However, we brought home with us much more than Finishers' Medals.  We had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time for a number of reasons.  First - I had seen enough of Quebec to know it was a beautiful place.  Secondly - a number of very critical chapters of modern North American history were written there.  And finally - old Quebec City rivals most old European cities for charm and authenticity.  It did not disappoint - in any of those areas.  And did I mention that the French Canadians often seemed generally friendly and extended a welcome that included honest efforts to communicate - in English, no less? (In fact, we met a French-Canadian couple from New Brunswick with which we became fast friends and who subsequently visited and skied with us in Utah and which we visited in Atlantic Canada.)  We spent a couple of days along the St. Lawrence, a couple of days in Quebec City, a couple of days in the vast expanse and wilderness of northern Quebec and a day in the Eastern Townships of southern Quebec.   The St. Lawrence included small villages, pastoral landscapes, seascapes, river islands, waterfalls, a fjord, hills and escarpments and the impressive mountains of Charlevoix - all with their own versions of beautiful fall colors.  It also included the heights of Quebec City, where a citadel and walled city were the heart of New France since the early 1600s - and a bastion against the British - who outsmarted the French later that century and defeated them on the Plains of Abraham - just outside the walls of the city.  This officially ended the French presence in North America.  Unofficially, French (or at least French-speaking Canadians) are still VERY present in Quebec - and when we asked the Citadel tour guide how it was that Britain won the war and yet Quebec today is a very French province - the answer was what I might have expected - it was destiny!  Since the British didn't banish the vanquished foe - they eventually tired of them - and eventually found themselves in "self-exile" elsewhere.

Okay, so I can't vouch for the entire authenticity of my history lesson, but Quebec was a great destination and trip - and gave us the kind of fall colors I have always wanted to experience in New England.  I'm not ready to go out and enroll in French lessons - but I am willing, and even anxious to go back.  Is there a thoughtful nugget in there?  Perhaps.  For me, it might read something like this: Don't erect French as an insurmountable barrier - even if you really think they deserve it.....because it might be exactly what they want!  (Or perhaps......just perhaps....you may find something very worthwhile where you might least expect to find it.)

Picture Key: Collage 1, Intro To Quebec; Collage 2, S. Shore, St. Lawrence near Rimouski and Bic National Park; Collage 3, Quebec City, w/Chateau Frontenac and Plains of Abraham; Collage 4, Citadel in Quebec City; Collage 5, Eastern Townships and along St. Lawrence; Collage 6, N. Shore of St. Lawrence and Ste. Anne de Beaupre Basilica; Collage 7, Fall foliage; Final picture - ferry crossing at Saguenay (Fjord)/Tadoussac.


Rachel's Mommy said...

A blog and history lesson all wrapped up in one :>)

Good recap, great race--we love Canada!

Mythreesons said...

You almost overcame your French prejudices... almost! There was still a hint of it in there at the end. But I don't blame you. I feel the same way. Although, I do have very fond memories of Quebec... I remember thinking it a beautiful city and fondly recall a fancy dinner there where I got to wear one of my favorite outfits. Silly the things we remember, sometimes.
Well written, Dad!