French Friday: French-American in Quebec City

Late June, The New York Times published an article titled: Canada Doesn’t Know How to Party. Related to Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of the country, the author who’s Canadian explains that Canadians are conflicted about the origin of their country but still love it, only quietly. More quietly, he writes, than their next-door neighbors.

My husband and I were in Canada a day after Canada Day, so I can’t tell if people did celebrate or not.

This is what we saw when we walked through Quebec City on Sunday.

This is also what happened on Monday.

While Quebecois were already at work and tourists still asleep or breakfasting we took an early long walk from our lovely auberge to the Old City, passing quiet streets lined with boutiques and shops.

Including a public library in a former church.

We stopped by Château Frontenac to shoot its portrait remembering of our young children, so impressed by the architecture and enthralled by the jugglers on the plaza, now still deserted.

Then, before climbing to the top of the Citadel we sat at one of the café tables set right across the cathedral-basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. While my husband checked his work email I noticed the two Queen’s Guards on each side of the cathedral’s main entrance door. For a second, I thought I was hallucinating. But it’s impossible to misidentify the peculiar uniform. Soon, a few other people had noticed them too and wanted their pictures taken, as it happens in London at Buckingham Palace.

“These guys,” my husband declares, “mean that a royal member of the family is close by.”

Quickly, the area in front of the cathedral bustles with effervescence. We spotted four policemen on their motorcycles. Men in suits arrived from the neighboring Hotel de Ville.

“Must be Quebec City’s mayor,” said my husband, pointing at the man who crossed the plaza with purpose and ease.

Then, the doors of the cathedral flew wide open and a bishop and other men, wearing official religious garb, gathered at the entrance and welcomed well-dressed men and women before they entered the cathedral.

My husband, meanwhile, had unsuccessfully run a Google search.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered, half pissed, half excited.

Now, if my favorite literary genre is children and teens’ fiction, his tastes fluctuate between thrillers, crime fiction, cookbooks, famous chefs’ memoirs, and current policies. In another life, he was either a chef, but more likely a detective or a spy. So, I knew he would not go anywhere until finding who, from the British royal family, was already inside the cathedral.

“Ah!” he finally exclaimed. “Can only be Charles and Camilla. They were traveling Canada for the 150th anniversary. What’s strange is that there is no official calendar.”

“I bet they aren’t popular everywhere,” I said, right when the Anthem of Europe, based on Ode to Joy, started to play from the Hotel de Ville.

The doors of the cathedral closed. The four policemen congregated and then roared away in two different directions.

“Come on.” My husband pulled me up and together we crossed the plaza. “We could just have a look,” he suggested when we reached a side door left ajar.

“Okay.” By then, I was as curious as he was.

The cathedral was filled to full capacity and about ten people stood in the back where we easily blended. Someone, however, offered us seats, a few rows ahead. We declined.

The bishop addressed his congregation in French, acknowledging and thanking many people from all across Canada for their presence. All were unknown to us, until he included the Prince of Wales and his spouse in his speech.

“Bingo,” whispered my husband.

We left the cathedral on our tippy toes, our curiosity satisfied, yet still wondering why the venue of the Prince of Wales had not been publicized anywhere. A little bit more Internet digging confirmed that Charles and Camilla had received a mixed welcome across the country. Which explained the decision to simply go sans promotion in Quebec City.

Upon our arrival on Sunday, one of our hosts at the Auberge Aux Deux Lions had warned us, “Some restaurants or shops may be closed, due to Canada Day. Not sure.”

We only noticed that shops in general opened later that in the US but closed also later. The weather was still cool and even rainy, but an undisputable summer mood floated through the streets. People acted festive, talking and laughing as they ate at the lively sheltered terraces. Most were locals or at least Quebecois, considering the flow of conversations held in French. English was also spoken from visitors from other Canadian provinces. Not a word about the royal visit or Canada Day.

We returned to the States in time for the 4th of July.

This is what we saw from our little corner of our big country.

Firewords shot from the middle of the lake

My poor pic doesn’t give credit to our neighbor’s creativity. With his boat, he had pulled a small platform to the center of the lake, far from people and trees. The show didn’t last long, but the fireworks were quite lovely for being non professional. There were far less than usual around the lake, and the festivities didn’t last until late in the night either.

We may celebrate the American Independence in a more rambunctious way than the Canadians, but this year appeared (to me, at least) more restraint. In any case, we share a common past with the Canadians, as I was reminded when I read La Rose that night, the latest novel from Louise Erdrich.

Erdrich was born from a German-American father and a Chippewa Indian (of half Ojibwe and half French blood) mother. She is one of the few contemporary writers who features Native Americans characters and settings throughout her fiction work. Also one I admire most.

“From there, he can see down the hill into the marrow of the reservation town. High and mentally blasted as he is, he sees into each heart. Pain is dotted all around, glowing from the deep chest wells of his people. To the west the hearts of the dead still pulse burning soft and green in their caskets. They stream out pale light from the earth. And to the south there are the buffalo that the tribe has bought for tourism purposes. A darkly gathered congregation. Their hearts also on fire until the dreadful message of their extinction. Their ghostly gathering now. Like us, a symbol of resistance. Like us, now rambling around in a little pen of hay getting fat. Like us, their hearts visible as lamps in the dust.”






  1. We don’t get US officials often in CT, but I wish they would come and go without fanfare. We live in the landing path to BDL, and I’ve come home to find highways and some back roads closed. Even more unfortunate, Air Force One never lands on our runway 😦

    • Central California felt the same way with President Obama. He landed there a couple of times but only to switch planes and go to LA. Also when he visited Yosemite with his family it created a big mess. I would have loved showing them around 🙂
      This Prince of Wales’ thing was funny since it was so secretive.

  2. Thank you for taking us on your trip. Your husband is a detective, indeed!

    • It was intriguing to see these guards that you usually only see in London. Easy to guess it involved the royal family. Harder to know who since the info was well hidden. So, yes, I was glad to be with my favorite detective. I wouldn’t have been so eager to find out myself 🙂

  3. That’s pretty cool, that he figured it out AND y’all took a peek 🙂
    I think the fireworks from your little corner of our big country look/sound lovely. Good to have such a neighbor.

    • It was funny indeed and totally unexpected. And yes, the fireworks were cool. Usually it’s only loud without much beauty. And way too long into the night. This year was perfect.

  4. Your post is so excellent.

  5. Lovely photos. I wanted to see more of the church that is now a library. Did you go inside? How was it?

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