20 September 2012

quebec: so french and yet

Quebec City truly is a slice of France in North America, although there are these—almost jarring reminders that I'm not actually in France.

I can be walking down a cobblestone alley and it seems so much like I'm back in France, from the just-washed streets in the early morning to the sidewalks that never seem to give enough room for two people to pass each other.

And then I can turn a corner and run into a shop selling hockey jerseys or even football jerseys: this is not France, I have to tell myself. Not France, not France, not France. Repeating it helps me remember.

Seriously. Outdoor cafe. Flowers. Cobblestones. How is this not France?

Plus, the cars are all wrong for this to be France; French cars are smaller, and of course there's the whole different makes/models thing. Here, it's all the same cars as in America on streets that look very French.

This morning on my run, I passed a Jeep Liberty, a Ford F-250, and a Land Rover. Where are the Opels and Renaults? How does an F-250 navigate the back alleys? Not France, not France, not France.

Also on my run this morning, I saw the Chateau Frontenac and plotted ways to move there permanently. This is a diverting way to spend a run when you're doing more hills than you, a person who lives in Illinois, has seen in awhile.

I go back to France every other year or so and the French part of me gets to come out. That's the part that knows what it feels like to have my powers of language stripped down. It's the part that feels triumphant for making it through small talk and the part that knows that if you need help, you have to ask for it, even if you don't know how to say it.

The French part of me knows that loneliness will hurt but it won't destroy you.

And my French side is, in some ways, my writer side because I did so much of it when I lived there—perhaps a by-product of having lost my main form of communication.

That simultaneous feeling of panic {what if I can't get the words out?}, triumph {I did!}, and a need to document it all {what a world we live in!} is something I very much associate with France because that's where I was the foreigner and that's where I tried to make a life, if only for a little while.

To come to Quebec, then—where it looks so much like France and where they do, indeed, speak French {with an accent, although I, of course, also speak French with an accent}—but to have so many things double-signed in English and to hear English so frequently...well, it feels a little topsy-turvy to my French self.

It feels like I've stepped into a blend of France and home—but maybe that's a good place to be.

Chez Temporel: where I had dinner tonight. There was quiche, red wine, chocolate cake, and espresso. I chit-chatted with the people sitting next to me, and they complimented my French, saying I sounded more French than American in my accent. I then asked to be their best friend/if they could call my friends in France and repeat that.

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