We took a family trip to Quebec. People love hearing about family vacations, so we figure everyone wants to hear us drone on and on about it. With that in mind, here is J.D.’s daily journal recording our visit.
Friday, June 30
Today we drove to Canada. I had never crossed an international border with kids before, and I assumed the Canadian customs people would ask our kids some questions to make sure we weren’t international kidnappers.
That’s why it was so fantastic when the Canadian officer asked our six-year-old daughter for her name, and she said, “I can’t remember my name.”
She does, in fact, know her name, so I can only assume this was some master-level trolling. She was probably about to add that she was scared and missed her real mommy and daddy. But before she could, our four-year-old son yelled, “Hey, I want to talk you you!” and thrust at him, in a clenched fist, his American-flag golf ball. Take that, Canada!
French Proficiency Status: I did learn a couple useful words and phrases today, simply through immersion in a foreign country.
Jouez Sensé = Play Smart. This from an ad for the Ontario Provincial Lottery on Twitter. Twitter definitely knew I was in Canada and started sending me all Canadian-themed ads. In contrast, Facebook gave me an ad for Smirnoff Ice Cracked Grape, which might be a Canadian thing but is probably just based on my browsing history. (I love grapes!)
Lotion pour le corps = Body lotion. If you’re rubbing lotion into your cracked heels, you’re probably already being forced to think about your own mortality. But if not, it helps to have a cognate for “corpse” in the product’s description.
Saturday, July 1
Happy Canada Day! I began the 150th Canada Day in London, Ontario by reading a New York Times article whose message was basically “Canada Day is kind of BS, and it is definitely NOT Canada’s birthday.” Then, at breakfast, our server said it was Canada’s birthday. I was going to correct her but decided to let it slide.
We spent the day driving from to Montreal. Traffic was very light, so if you’re planning a road trip in Canada I definitely recommend going on a major national commemoration, maybe #Canada175 in 2042 (if Canada makes it that long). Also, I was basically the only person not driving 30 kph over the 100 kph speed limit. This might have been people rushing to get to the national capital (“Ottawa”) for Canada Day fireworks. Or it might have just been the notorious Canadian disregard for law and order.
We are airbnb’ing a two-bedroom apartment in Montreal’s “Plateau Mont-Royal” neighborhood, and our host messaged to say he’d give us the keys when we arrived. I was worried about interrupting his #Canada150 celebrations, to the point that I’d considered responding, “Hey btw it is totally cool if you’re drunk when we get there, #Canada150!” But I decided that instead, I would just pretend not to notice if he was drunk.
Then, after we arrived, I learned that they don’t exactly blow the doors out for Canada Day in Montreal. This is one way Montreal is similar to the United States.
French Proficiency Status: The maitre’d at breakfast in Ontario warned us to make sure everyone in Quebec knew we were American, because they would be jerks if they thought we were Canadians who couldn’t speak French. I like imagining how I would accomplish this in practice.
- An American-flag t-shirt, every day?
- Having a fake cell phone conversation as I walk up, then saying loudly, “Sorry, I’ve got to go, I need to talk to this Canadian, but I’ll see you when I get back home, to America.”
- Faking a deep, distinctively American accent…Texas, Boston, Nixon, something like that.
- ALL OF THE ABOVE AT ONCE?
My language proficiency continued to advance, thanks to some phrases on my commemorative #Canada150 coffee cup from Tim Horton’s.
Derrroule le rebord por gagner = Rrroll up the rim to win. My marriage is pretty solid. But if things break down while we’re in Montreal, this sounds vaguely dirty and feels like it could be a good pickup line.
Vacances canadiennes par exellence = Ultimate Canadian vacations. I already know how to say “I am” and “the” in French, so now I know how to say “I am the ultimate Canadian.” (This also could be a pretty good pickup line, but only in Canada.)
Sunday, July 2
I don’t want to get into a whole thing with you, so please just take my word for it that the Earth is tilted on its axis. This means that when you’re as far north as Montreal, dawn in the summer is around 4:30 AM. I’m thinking about taping a black sheet across the window, but I can see this raising some questions for our landlord. (All of which I would answer with “I’m just cooking meth dude, chill out.”)
Around 9 AM, we set out on foot (and stroller) to explore Montreal. Our first discovery about Montreal was that, ha ha, it is kind of cold! I found this invigorating and I think our kids did too, since they had a lot of energy to burrow down into the stroller as far as possible, periodically emerging to beg for warmer clothing.
When you’re wandering aimlessly with a 100 lb stroller full of kids, your wandering tends to lead downhill. So we gradually moved downhill to the old city and port on the St. Lawrence River. This area is gorgeous – all 18th century architecture, mansard roofs, cobblestone. I don’t think there’s any 18th century district like in this in the U.S., which is weird since the U.S. also had buildings and roads and ports in the 18th century. (Oh and P.S. I am not counting Georgetown in D.C. because it sucks.)
Also there are a lot of tattoo parlors. Should we get tattoos of the Quebec flag, to help us remember our visit? I think yes, although it’ll be weird when people see it and speak to us in French, and we have to explain that we actually hate French. Speaking of which…
French proficiency status: I tried to order a sandwich listed as “poulet & avocat” by saying “poulet et avocat” and the clerk responded, with a French accent, “the chicken and avocado?” I did not have the heart to respond by saying “oui,” so I just mumbled “yes, please” and tried to get away as quickly as possible.
Miscellaneous: I have managed to “increase textile exports to Canada” by accidentally leaving a pair of shorts at our hotel in London, Ontario. This is a salacious development, because if I keep losing clothes at this rate, by July 17th I will have none left, and get deported.
Monday, July 3
Two interesting things happened today.
The power in our apartment went out while Kate was blowdrying her hair. I went ahead and took a shower in the dark anyhow, and managed to break the showerhead while adjusting it.* I am fortunate I didn’t explicitly blame Kate for blowing a fuse with her blowdryer (even though this is a weekly occurrence at home) because it turns out the whole block was out.
We decided to take a walk to the Parc du Mont-Royal, Montreal’s big urban park. This was an interesting object lesson in the value of topographical maps, because as it turns out, the park is basically the top third of Mont-Royal, which is a mountain.
As we were ascending through the campus of McGill University, pushing the stroller up a slope that was approximately vertical, I thought about the unexpected twists and turns our lives take. Specifically, I thought, “I never imagined I would die from cardiac arrest on the McGill University campus, and yet here I am.”
French proficiency status: Since my flash cards continue to sit on my nightstand doing absolutely nothing, I decided to download a learn French app. I don’t want to brag but I have already reached Level 2, although my “trouble words” include un (one) and deux (two).
Miscellaneous: Canada does not have ramps. I did not realize how much I take the Americans with Disabilities Act for granted. It should be called the Americans with Disabilities And/Or Strollers Act.
On our hike I mocked a couple of people for wearing sunscreen when we’re practically above the Arctic Circle, and then I got a sunburn, and then I remembered that people get sunburns in the Arctic all the time. Fin.
* I am agonizing over what to do about the showerhead. But I certainly don’t want to tell our landlord , so I’m leaning toward “take a picture of it, go to Home Depot and buy the same one and also buy a wrench, install the new one, bury the old one in the yard in the middle of the night, no one will ever know my secret.”
P.S. If you are reading this and you are our landlord, your showerhead is TOTALLY FINE. I am making this whole story up because people love stories about showerheads.
Tuesday, July 4
Independence Day! Montreal was pretty blasé (French!) about Canada Day, but I was excited to see how they celebrate the Fourth of July. Because we wanted to really wanted to spend the 4th luxuriating in our Americanness, we had dinner at a restaurant called Rubs: BBQ Americain.
- I figured an American-themed restaurant would be a pretty safe space for an American. Ha! Ha, ha! Our server started acting pretty hostile when we were unable to speak French, and if anything, mentioning that we were visiting from America seemed to make it worse. (If you consider being informed sternly that most people in the world are multilingual to be “worse.”)
- They had Coors Light and Molson on draught. I can see how it might have been obnoxious when a couple of American tourists ordered a pitcher of Coors Light, apparently unwilling to experience the rich, exotic flavors of Molson. But it was the FOURTH OF JULY and of course we needed to drink American beer! We were so rattled by her weird belligerence that we drank the pitcher in like five minutes, and when I say “we” I mean “I drank the pitcher in five minutes while Kate looked increasingly concerned.”
- During dinner, someone apparently remembered it was the Fourth of July, and our server was tasked with drawing an American flag on the chalkboard at the entrance. She started drawing blue and white stripes, was told she’d gotten the colors wrong, and said, (in English and loud enough for us to hear) “Oh let’s just write Happy 4th of July and draw some fireworks or some shit. I was trying to be nice but now I’ve probably offended them.”
- I assume “them” in this sentence was us, because we were literally the only customers inside the restaurant. We were not offended! (Although FYI I could have easily drawn a Canadian flag in the correct colors. See, I will do it below, from memory.)
- The food was, admittedly, really good.
- It’s worth mentioning that no one else in Quebec has given us a hard time about language. And, that the maitre d’ at Rub advised us not to let our kids play with steak knives, which good advice (I guess).
- Anyhow, I blame the whole thing on Trump.
French Proficiency Status: Kate tried to tell our server “I don’t understand” in French but accidentally said it in Spanish. The server responded, with thinly veiled contempt, “No, that’s Spanish” and proceeded to rattle away in blindingly fast Spanish, which felt like running up the score on us. She said she knew Spanish because her boyfriend spoke Spanish, and I should have said, “You’ve been dating him long enough to learn his language, and he hasn’t proposed yet?” But I didn’t, because I was afraid.
Miscellaneous: It turns out the showerhead wasn’t broken. Sorry for stressing you out!
Wednesday, July 5
I had a croissant for breakfast and it was wonderful. One of the best parts was saying the word “croissant” to myself over and over again as I ate it. (And also as I’m writing this.) I don’t know if it was the feeling of joie de vivre I got from saying “croissant,” but I decided to return to the Parc du Mont-Royal and see if I could get higher up the slope without my lazy kids weighing me down.
The park, designed by the same park architect (parkitect?!) as Central Park, is a heavily wooded mountainside crisscrossed with trails. In the 1950s they cut a lot of the vegetation back, because they were having the common public park problem of “too many people are having sex in the park,” but it has since grown back. I did not think there were too many people having sex in the park, but I guess “too many” is really in the eye of the beholder.
Scrambling down a rocky path, alone, I wondered what would happen to me if I slipped and broke my leg. And I remembered that our Lonely Planet book says “Note that walking in the park after sunset isn’t such a safe idea.” This is pretty vague, Lonely Planet! Are there muggers? Bears? Teens? But I did not slip, and I was not attacked by any teens, so I survived to descend the mountain and meet Kate and the kids at a local bookstore. That is where I saw that in Canada, the cover of Orwell’s 1984 has an American flag.
French Proficiency Status:
Thursday, July 6
NOTE: Please play this music while you read the July 6 entry. There was no music playing at the Biôdome, but there should have been.
One of the trickiest parts of being a mayor is deciding what to do with your gigantic velodrome after the Olympics are over. And with the velodrome from the 1976 Montreal Summer Games, Montreal chose to subdivide the interior into five cavernous spaces and filled each with nearly 6,000 different plants, animals and climate of a different ecosystem. I assume that at some point they plan to get the whole thing to be self sustaining, launch it into space, and establish a New New France in orbit. But in the meantime they’re pretending it’s just a wildlife habitat and they’ve named it the Biôdome.
I have a few general observations about the Biôdome.
- If you want to meet every schoolchild in Montreal, visit the Biôdome on July 6. I’m assuming it’s some sort of municipal holiday where all children take field trips to the Biôdome. Maybe “Jour d’Biôdome.” Bon fete Jour d’Biôdome, Montreal.
- The “Laurentian Maple Forest” habitat was the best of the five habitats, and apparently they actually cycle through the four seasons over the course of a year. “St. Lawrence Bay” was pretty great too, and it will certainly scare you out of ever swimming in St. Lawrence Bay.
- If you’re thinking “five ecosystems inside one giant indoor bicycle racetrack? These Montrealers are playing God!” then you’re right. In fact, there have literally been two new species discovered inside the Biôdome – an aquatic mite, and a bacteria. And keep in mind, these are just the new species that were too dumb to hide from the scientists.
- I want to propose a Biôdome marketing slogan based on these discoveries: “Scientists have discovered a new species of mite living in the Biôdome.”
- Also their logo should be an Olympic cyclist being eaten by a giant mite.
French Proficiency Status: Unchanged.
Read more of JD’s riveting observations about Canada in Memoir Quebecois, Part 2