Manhole Covers of Quebec City

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Quebec Month / Installment 13

Underfoot and mostly unnoticed as we trek to our destinations, manhole covers rest snugly in their circular grade-level perches all around Quebec City.  With their spare adornment, they are immovable except with great effort, securely guarding their underground treasures of utility.

Old Farm Tractor Along Charlevoix / St. Lawrence Shore

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Quebec Month / Installment 12

Driving a couple of hours north of Quebec City in the beautiful Charlevoix region, we came across this bright red tractor along a scenic stretch of the St. Lawrence coast. Farm tractors are rarely situated this close to a shore line, so its rustic charm beckoned the camera.

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Wall Art a la Montreal

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Jazz Saints

Quebec Month / Installment 11

Not long ago I posted some pics I took of graffiti in Montreal.  Painted wall art is another form of creative expression that is different from graffiti, but sometimes in only subtle ways.  I’m sure someone has worked out the technical distinction between such things, but however these art forms are categorized, Montreal is a rich showcase for a great deal of both (as well as other street art variants — such as kinetic art, elaborate light shows and light sculptures — that I could not readily capture).

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Painted Cargo Container

Cardboard Totem Pole Wall Art

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Quebec Month / Installment 7

I have some other Montreal wall art still to share, but, at the moment, I’ve singled out the above piece because of the unusual medium — painted cardboard — used by its creator.  By the time I came upon this contemporary take on a traditional Pacific Northwest totem pole, the work had seen better days but it still held up quite well.  The brightly colored eagle, beaver and cow (a modern update for a totem pole!)  are set off nicely by the intricate carvings in the corrugated cardboard.

Montreal as Muse for Jeremy Price

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Jeremy Price, “St. Henri”

Quebec Month / Installment 6

Although Jeremy Price is originally from Ontario and studied art in both Ontario and British Columbia, much of his body of work is a modern impressionist take on Montreal, a city where he now lives and which serves as his muse.  With precise painterly brush strokes, he nicely captures the character of that busy city and explores the every day goings on within its many quaint neighborhoods.   “St. Henri” (above) splashes dappled city lights across its canvas, while “Rink Maintenance” (below) depicts an annual rite that is quintessentially Canadian.

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Jeremy Price, “Rink Maintenance”

More of Price’s terrific takes on Montreal can be seen at his cjeremyprice website here and his WordPress blog, cjeremyprice.

Montreal’s Vibrant Walls of Graffiti

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Quebec Month / Installment 5

Wow!  Montreal has a lot of amazingly cool graffiti — and not just the quickly dashed out monochromatic tag variety.  In that city, wielders of spray paint have taken the graffiti form to a more vibrant, artistic level that brightens rather than blightens.  Here are some of these artfully done works that caught my eye as I recently roamed the city’s streets.

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[Click on Image to Enlarge]

Pastoral Splendor On the Ile d’Orleans

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Rustic Barn with Red Doors, Ile d’Orleans

Quebec Month / Installment 4

Situated just a few miles north of Quebec City is the Ile d’Orleans, a smallish island of about 20 miles in length (about the size of N.Y.’s Manhattan Island) and one of the earliest areas settled in Quebec.  Its coast-hugging main road is filled with postcard-perfect pastoral vistas bordered by wide expanses of the St. Lawrence and distant rolling mountains.

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Small Barn Overlooking St. Lawrence River, Ile de Orleans

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Early Spring Farm Field, Ile d’Orleans

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Old Farm Wagon, Ile d’Orleans

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Green Space On the St. Lawrence, Ile d’Orleans

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Tombstone with Cross, Sainte Famille Church, Ile d’Orleans

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Farm and Silos, Ile d’Orleans

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Old Barn with Rusted Roof, Ile d’Orleans

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Cemetery, Sainte Famille Church, Ile d’Orleans

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Sainte Famille Church, Ile d’Orleans

Distinctive Street Signage in Montreal

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Quebec Month / Installment 3

Whether directing, instructing or prohibiting, street signs constantly influence our actions along city sidewalks and roadways.  Montreal has its own distinct variations, as can be seen here.

Colorful Montreal Shop Signs

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Quebec Month / Installment 2

Vividly colorful shop signs of many shapes and varieties dot the Montreal streetscape.  Here are a few that caught my eye  while walking around there recently.

Isabelle Tremblay and The Mysterious Deep

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Quebec Month / Installment 1

The work of Quebec artist Isabelle Tremblay is dreamily mysterious and the intense faces of her child-like subjects hint at deep questions.   More of her art can be seen at Montreal’s Galerie MX.

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One With Life

Quebec Month: Des Jours de Joie

Quebec Retro Travel Poster

It’s been ages since I’ve been to Quebec and, at the moment, as I sit in Quebec City with aching feet from almost a week of walking around Montreal, Quebec City and other, smaller places in la belle province, I’m reminded of a number of things.  Among these things, and in no particular order, are how bad my French is after many years of non-use, the immensity of the St. Lawrence River, the historic charm of Quebec City, agriculture’s reach throughout much of the province, the vibrance of the Montreal arts and creative scene, how varied and delightful is the food of Quebec, and the region’s rich history and distinctive culture. 

I have a few more days before heading home and given that today is the first day of May, working on a mostly Quebec theme — dubbed by me “des jours de joie” to match the good times over the past week — for the month of May seems fitting.  I have a fair number of photos to post when I return, but for now I’ll start the theme in the next post by spotlighting a Quebec artist worth more attention and will go from there.  Jusque-là, passez une bonne journée!

“Shapeshifter” Ben Marr Shreds the Mistassibi River

Like all the exceptional videos in the “Of Souls + Water” series, this eye-opener showing Ontario-based pro-kayaker Ben Marr’s playful mastery of Quebec’s Mistassibi River features dramatic narration, artistic filming and lighting (directed by Skip Armstrong), and an excellent soundtrack (this one: “With You” by Crystal Fighters).  On a side note, with all its hydro power, I knew Quebec has its share of massive rivers but until this video I was unaware just how big.  These waves rival some of the major whitewater swells that I’ve seen on West Virginia’s New River and stretches of the Colorado River coursing through the Grand Canyon.

The Natural Goodness of Canadian Maple Syrup

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O’Canada Food Month / Installment 5

Given the prominence with which the maple leaf is emblazoned on its flag, the cultural importance to Canada of the maple tree and, by extension, the “fruit” of that tree, maple syrup, is difficult to mistake.  I recall watching a grainy black-and-white educational reel in grade school touting the time-honored process and virtues of Vermont maple syrup production, which impressed me as much as anything by the way the syrup flowed so copiously from a narrow pipe hammered into a tree’s trunk.  Vermont, of course, produces some excellent maple syrup but Quebec, which produces over 80% of the world’s supply of maple syrup, is the undisputed champion in that realm.

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In addition to the early Spring thaw being upon us, which is the prime season for harvesting sap, I was reminded of maple syrup’s primacy by an article in the NY Times from this past December, which caught my attention then because of its unusual subject:  the theft in Quebec of over 6 million pounds of maple syrup valued at about $18 million from the global strategic maple syrup reserve.  Okay, that’s a huge amount of maple syrup.  But cue up the look of surprise — a global strategic maple syrup reserve!  Huh?  The very existence of a strategic reserve — now containing an estimated 46 million pounds of syrup — is even more telling about the significance of this sweet amber substance to Canada.

Maple Tree Sap

I’m not enough of a maple syrup connoisseur to easily detect the differences between Quebec / Canadian and Vermont varieties of maple syrup, but there is almost always a bottle (an actual glass bottle!) of maple syrup from Canada in the cupboard.   While I most commonly enjoy it with pancakes, it is a fitting accompaniment to eggs, oatmeal, ice cream, vegetables and other foods.  A recipe I clipped a couple of years ago from Saltscapes magazine for maple-glazed carrots produced a delicious take on that root vegetable.   On that note, here are a few links to some Canadian maple syrup recipes that look quite good:

Recipes from I Love Maple

Recipes from Pure Canadian Maple Syrup

Recipes from Canadian Living

Recipes from Saltscapes

(Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

A Word or Two About Poutine

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O’Canada Food Month / Installment 4

Originated in Quebec, there’s nothing in the States quite like poutine.  Although the basics of the dish are easy enough to describe — french fries and cheddar cheese curds topped with a healthy dose of brown gravy — given the extreme pro and con feelings among Canadians evoked by this dish I didn’t feel my words alone could do justice to poutine.  So what follows are some curated comments from more refined observers of poutine, which collectively provide a well-rounded sense about this peculiar Canadian food stuff.

“Poutine doesn’t have the immediate fear factor of haggis, but you do have to steel yourself for the first few bites.  Having said this, poutine’s rich content of starch, sugar, oil, fat and salt are ideal for larding it up for a dark Quebec winter.”    Douglas Coupland, in Souvenir of Canada (2002)

“On a recent trip to Montreal, a city that is to poutine what Baltimore is to crab cakes, I asked a young woman I’d met there named Emily Birnbaum why poutine often struck people as funny.  “Because it’s so gross,” she said.  “After you finish a poutine, you say, ‘I can’t believe I just ate that.'”  It almost goes without saying that she was eating poutine as we spoke.  So was I.”  Calvin Trillin, in “Funny Food,” The New Yorker (Nov. 23, 2009)

“Quebec can rightfully claim bragging rights to being the birthplace of poutine. But the gooey French fries, gravy and fresh cheese curd mix has transcended La Belle Province to become Canada’s favourite nosh.  Not officially. The motion “Poutine Should be Declared the National Dish of Canada” was narrowly defeated at the 11th Annual Leacock Debate two years ago. Pity.”    Alexandra Gill, in “Ode to True Putine Bliss at Vancuver Bistro,” The Globe and Mail (Sept. 10, 2012)

“Poutine is Acadian slang for mushy mess and is best described as a heart attack in a bowl. . . .The cheese is the most important part of good poutine. You must use FRESH white, cheddar cheese CURDS. These curds have a taste and texture very different than actual cheddar cheese. The cheese curds will actually squeak in your teeth as you bite them. . . .”   From “A Primer on the Preparation of Poutine” on The Gutsy Gourmet

“Many restaurants now serve novelty poutines made with foie gras, gnocchi, or home fries. Red wine, cream, or pepper are sometimes used to good effect in designer gravy. Interesting ingredients and cooking methods should always be reasonably accommodated, no matter what culture they come from, thereby allowing poutine to flourish and develop. However, it should be remembered that some cultural practices are repugnant to this nation’s culinary values (such as the “poutine” I had in Newfoundland that replaced cheese curds with sliced shards of Kraft singles).”  From the Criteria page on The Poutine Pundit

“Whether Montreal’s embarrassing but adored junk food does take root in New York, it may never attain the status it achieved earlier this year when the CBC revealed the results of a viewer poll on the greatest Canadian inventions of all time. Granted, poutine came in only at No. 10. But it beat, among other things, the electron microscope, the BlackBerry, the paint roller and the caulking gun, lacrosse, plexiglass, radio voice transmission and basketball.”    Kate Sekules, in “A Staple From Quebec, Embarassing But Adored,” New York Times (May 23, 2007)

Quotable Canada: Women in Combat, Skiing the Gaspe Peninsula, Arctic Exploration, and Common Law Relationships

Some notable quotes from U.S. and Canadian media I’ve come across in the past week or so:

“I can assure you that a mother misses a son as much as a father grieves for a daughter.  Grief has no gender”  — Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island resident Tim Goddard, commenting on combat roles for men and women, in Ian Austen, “Debate on Combat Roles Is Familiar in Canada,” NY Times, Jan. 25, 2013 

“The lucky ones got to sleep under a table.  You were so exhausted you didn’t care.”   — Montrealer Sharon Braverman, commenting on the initial Traversee de la Gaspesie, the weeklong 100-mile plus cross-country skiing trek across Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula in Tim Neville, “Quebec on Skis,” NY Times, Jan. 27, 2013

“I think it’s crazy.  Aren’t we far enough north already?”   — Deborah Iqualik, of Resolute, Nunavut, on the efforts each year (called the “silly season” by locals) by adventurers far and wide to reach the North Pole, in Margo Pfeiff, “‘If It’s Explorer Season, Why Can’t We Shoot Them?'”,  Up Here, Jan./Feb. 2013

“You’re in love, and all you think about is love and having kids, and you come last.  So a lot of women don’t see it coming.”Johanne Lapointe, of Montreal, commenting on Quebec’s  approach to common law relationships in light of a recent Canadian Supreme Court decision, in Ingrid Peritz & Sean Gordon, “Quebec is a Laboratory When It Comes to Domestic Life'”, The Globe and Mail, Jan. 25, 2013

Retro Winter Recreation and Travel Ads

Temperatures this far south, as well as the extreme cold gripping much of eastern Canada this week, leave no doubt that we’re deep in the heart of winter.  Because of this, my thoughts turn toward skiing, ice skating, hockey and other winter recreations and the many places above the 49th parallel — among them Banff, Quebec, Whistler, the Laurentians and Jasper — that are popular destinations for cold weather and snowy pastimes.  So, I thought I’d share some retro travel ads and posters touting these places and this season’s activities.  Many of these are from the Canadian Pacific Railway, which engaged in  a wide range of travel promotions for locations throughout Canada (and beyond).  The vivid graphics work their magic by conveying visions of boundless wintry pleasures.  Among the more distinctive of these works are those by Peter Ewart and Roger Couillard, two of the more notable artists commissioned for their attractive illustrations.  More Canadian Pacific travel posters may be seen here on an earlier O’Canada Blog post.

Image Credits:  Library and Archives Canada; Canadian Pacific Railway Archives

Fete Nationale du Quebec

The Fete National du Quebec — the  National Holiday of Quebec — is today and Canadians, particularly Quebecers, are celebrating this Canadian public  holiday that originated in that province.  The holiday is sandwiched on the calendar between Victoria Day (the Monday before May 25) and Canada Day (July 1),  and coincides with the celebration of St. Jean-Baptiste Day, which dates back to the 1630s in Canada when the French explorers carried it over from France to Canada in the 1630s.

Among the festivities marking this occasion was a very nice reception organized by the Delegation du Quebec – Atlanta that was held in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, which I had the pleasure of attending late this afternoon.   The event also marked the upcoming departure of the exceptional and very gracious Ginette Chenard, who has very ably served as the Delegate for the Delegation du Quebec – Atlanta and whose presence will be missed by many Atlantans.   Vive la belle province!

Photo Credit: Montrealais c/o Wikimedia Commons

Voices of the Floods

Flooding in Lumsden, Manitoba (Photo Credit: David Stobbe, Reuters)

Although wreaking havoc and presenting immense challenges, natural disasters allow us to better maintain perspective on the things that should matter most.  The record-breaking floods now affecting many areas of Canada, including Manitoba, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, and the similar flooding to the south that is inundating major swaths of the Mississippi River valley serve as powerful reminders of nature’s force and our inability to bend it to our will.    In an article about the floods near Louisiana, the reporter James Byrne on NOLa.com aptly quoted from T.S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages”:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Flooding Near Bonnet Carre Spillway, Louisiana (Photo Credit: Brett Duke, Times Picayune)

The flooding also had me thinking about the experiences and emotions being shared by people north and south of our common border.   In that spirit, I surveyed a variety of stories about the widespread flooding and below is a small sampling of quotes I found interesting from affected individuals in Canada and the U.S.

It speaks to our spirit. Flooding is not pleasant . . . People put their best foot forward and deal with it.  People tend to stay. This doesn’t drive people out of communities. If anything, it probably makes the community stronger when you have a (common) response to it.”  Chuck Sanderson, Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization, quoted in the Leader-Post

“I don’t think they can afford this flood.  I don’t think the government can pay for all the damage. It’s heartbreaking.  We worked hard all our lives to get established, to take care of our families. Now this.”  Glen Fossey,  Starbuck, Manitoba, quoted in Winnipeg Free Press

“I don’t think I’m afraid.  I just don’t know what to do.”  Chris Yuill, Starbuck, Manitoba, quoted in Winnipeg Free Press

“It’s been very, very long.  As long as the electricity keeps working, I can hang in till the end.”  . . . She added it was heartening to see how people are helping each other out, including one volunteer who has been using his all-terrain vehicle and a wagon to provide a free taxi service through chest-deep water to the main road.  Linda Durbeaum,  St.-Paul-de-l’Ile-aux-Noix, Quebec, quoted in the Windsor Star

 In my lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s going to be serious.” Ray Bittner, Manitoba Agriculture, quoted in the Windsor Star

 “What I’ve seen in Shelby County over the past couple of weeks isn’t so much a rising river, it’s a rising community.  . . . Wave after wave of volunteers show up asking ‘what can I do?’”  Craig Strickland, Cordova, Tennessee, quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

“When you live in an area like this, you sometimes forget the magnitude and awe of the river.”  Susan Brown, Bartlett, Tennessee, quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

“This is all I got.  I’ll protect it the best I can.”   Francis Cole, Popular Bluff, Missouri, quoted in the Aribiter

“I packed everything, and I mean ev-ry-thing. . . . It’s depressing. But what are you going to do?  This is a resilient bunch of people, and I imagine the biggest part of them will come right back.”  Terry Bower, Butte La Rose, Louisiana, quoted in NOLA.com 

“Things” by John Heward at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

Attended an interesting discussion at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) today that included the inter-disciplinary Montreal artist, John Heward, and Portland, Oregon-based Jessica Jackson Hutchins, who principally works with mixed media and assemblage sculpture.  An exhibition of works by both these intriguing artists opened at ACAC last night and for which the opening reception was graciously supported by the Consulate General of Canada in Atlanta.  Heward and Hutchins shared insights about inspiration for their pieces and the ideas that are exploring in their work.  In many ways, Heward’s work appears to be very site specific, at least that is true of the mysterious draped and painted rayon swaths that adorned the ACAC gallery devoted to his work in this exhibition.

More on Heward (and Hutchins) can be found at http://www.thecontemporary.org/exhibitions/john-heward/#.

Like the Energizer Bunny, The Appalachian Trail Keeps Going and Going

 

Map of the SIA / IAT

I just got back from several days and about 65 miles of hiking with one of my sons on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina.  Among the notable features along the North Carolina section of this major east coast footpath are many gorgeous vistas, beautiful water falls and streams and high mountain meadows.  The AT, as it is sometimes called, extends between Georgia up to Maine, following the range of the Appalachian Mountains over its 2,100+ miles in the U.S. 

As I was hiking, I recalled that the Appalachian range  actually ends much further north of Maine continuing as it does up into New Brunswick and Quebec on the mainland with a final section of the mountains ending near Belle Isle, Newfoundland and Labrador.   About 15 years ago, a number of hiking enthusiasts conceived what is called the “International Appalachian Trail”, which is a trail extension trail along the natural geography of this ancient mountain range into Canada without regard to national borders.  (Because North America, Europe and Africa were all once connected in truly ancient times, there is even an effort to route a trail with a continuation into Britain then onto Spain and finally in North Africa, linking together the geographical “remains” of this once vast inter-connected range.)   Already quite a few hikers have undertaken and completed the additional challenge associated with the trek from Mt. Katahdin, Maine up to Belle Isle. 

Endpoint of the Appalachian Trail in Maine

Having already hiked along several beautiful trails on Canada’s east coast, I’m sure the International AT holds special beauty and I’ll look forward to tackling stretches of it myself at some point.  For now, though, I’ll admire such feats from afar as my dogs are still barking from my most recent trail outing.

(Photo credit:  kworth30 / Wikimedia)

Cirque’s “Ovo” Opens

 

Last night my wife and I attended, along with a group of  ten or so with connections to Canada, the preview / dress rehearsal of Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo,” which opens its regular shows in Atlanta today.  As with so many Cirque shows, the insect-themed “Ovo” features incredible acrobatics that are amazing to watch both for the highly practiced skill of the performers and the colorful creativity of the costumes and dance routines.  The accompanying music was high energy and Brazilian in flavor.  There were so many terrific performances that it’s difficult to choose highlights, but the standouts for me were the “loose string” balancing performance, the rock wall climbing- jumping-dancing number and, for its wonderful freakiness factor, the “slinky” creature.  While the trailer above doesn’t do the show full justice, it provides a good sneak peek.

For those that don’t already know, Cirque du Soleil, like many other mainstays of American entertainment (William Shatner, Celine Dion, Barenaked Ladies, Shania Twain, Alex Trebek, etc.), is a Canadian import.  Formed in the early 1980s in Montreal and still based there, the troupe struggled financially for more than a decade before it found stable footing.  As a testament to the perseverance of its founders and creative visionaries, Cirque du Soleil is so popular now that multiple shows can now be seen in numerous cities throughout the world at any given time.  C’est fantastique!

Quebec’s Distinguished Office In Atlanta

While I’ve long been aware of Quebec’s many cultural treasures and business opportunities, it’s only recently that I’ve become better acquainted with the sophisticated approach taken by the province of Quebec in cultivating economic development and other ties with the United States.  The province has long maintained six regional offices in the U.S.  — in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. — each of which (other than the D.C. office) is responsible for coordinating relations with a large group of surrounding states.

The leadership of the Quebec Office in Atlanta includes: Ginette Chenard, Delegate of the Quebec Government, who is also the Head of Mission; Andrée Tremblay, Govermental and Public Affairs Attaché; Louise Fortin, Head of Economic Affairs Services; and Liliane Laverdière, Business Development Manager for Investissiment Quebec, which combines the strengths of both a financial institution and an economic development agency.

Over the past year, I’ve encountered the staff of this Office on several occasions.  In one of these meetings, I  attended a  masterful presentation on investing in Quebec, which the Quebec Office organized in conjunction with the always superb Canadian Consulate in Atlanta, that opened my eyes to aspects of the province about which I was unaware.    More recently, I visited with some of the Office’s representatives at a multi-national trade showcase held at a nearby convention center.  In each of these and other instances I’ve been impressed with how engaging and talented the staff is in presenting a positive impression for the province.

If each of the other five Quebec offices in the U.S. do anywhere near as professional a job as does the Atlanta Office then many useful benefits should continue to accrue between Quebec and the U.S.   Mai beaucoup de bonnes choses continuent de se développer entre nous!

Link to Quebec Office in Atlanta:  http://www.gouv.qc.ca/portail/quebec/international/usa/accueil/atlanta/

Walt Whitman’s Visits Up North

A couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to discuss Walt Whitman’s wonderfully contemplative poem “Song of Myself” with my youngest son.  Prompted by our talk, I started skimming my compact volume of Whitman’s collected poetry and prose works, which I had not paid any attention to in quite a while, and stumbled upon his Specimen Days, a collection of his reflections on his life and travels.   Besides being an innovative writer, Whitman was something of an adventurer in his day, so it was not surprising to learn that some of these reminisces included observations on Canada, which his biography indicates he traveled to in the summer and early fall of 1880, just about a dozen years after the formation of the Canadian Confederation.  I’ve recounted below some of Whitman’s comments from Specimen Days, in each of which he marvels at the amazing beauty and warm people encountered on his journey.

From “The St. Lawrence Line”:

“. . . [H]ere I am writing this nearly a thousand miles north of my Philadelphia starting-point (by way of Montreal and Quebec) in the midst of regions that go to a further extreme of grimness, wildness of beauty, and a sort of still and pagan sacredness, while yet Christian, inhabitable, and partially fertile, than perhaps any other on earth.”

From “The Inhabitants — Good Living”: 

“Grim and rocky and black-water’d as the demesne hereabout, however; you must not think genial humanity, and comfort, and good-living are not to be met.  Before I began this memorandum I made a first-rate  breakfast of sea-trout, finishing off with wild raspberries.  I find smiles and courtesy everywhere . . . .  In general the inhabitants of this rugged country (Charlevoix, Chicoutimi and Tadousac counties, and lake St. John region) a simple, hardy population, lumbering, trapping furs, boating, fishing, berry-picking and a little farming.   I was watching a group of young boatmen eating their early dinner — nothing but an immense loaf of bread, had apparently been the size of a bushel measure, from which they cut chunks with a jackknife.  Must be a tremendous winter country this, when the solid frost and ice fully set in.”

From “Capes Eternity and Trinity”:

“But the great, haughty capes, silent capes themselves: I doubt if any crack points, or hills, or historic places of note, or anything of the kind elsewhere in the world, outvies these objects . . . .  Then they are as distinct in form as a perfect physical man or a perfect physical woman.   Cape Eternity is bare rising, as just said, sheer out of the water, rugged and grim (yet with an indescribable beauty) nearly two thousand feet high. Trinity rock, even a little higher, also rising flush top-rounded like a great head with close-cut verdure of hair.  . . . They have stirr’d me more profoundly than anything of the kind I have yet seen.  If Europe or Asia had them, we should certainly hear of them in all sorts of sent-back poems, rhapsodies, &c., a dozen times a year through our papers and magazines.”

(From Walt Whitman:  Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (Library of America 1982))

Arcade Fire’s Take on The Suburbs

During a visit to a local hardware store earlier this week, the announcer on the radio playing on the store’s sound system commented that when she was a teen learning to drive in south Florida she always resented French Canadians because the cars with Quebec license plates always seemed to occupy all the available public parking.  That observation alone made me chuckle and got my attention.   She continued by noting that she has since changed her views and now she loves French Canadians, and one of the reasons is because of the Montreal-based band Arcade Fire.  She brought this up because of the band’s release a couple of weeks ago of its superb new album “The Suburbs”.  

Even though it’s generally regarded as an indie rock band, Arcade Fire and its label, North Carolina’s Merge Records, have done such a good job of promoting this latest album that there is a thread of discussion in the press and blogosphere about whether the band has sold out from its indie roots.  Wow!  What a spurious view that seems to suggest that an artist (musical or otherwise) whose craft is critically acclaimed can only be taken seriously so long as the artist is willing to live in poverty and not “play” any part of the commercial game.  I don’t get that as the two are not mutually exclusive except, if at all, from the narrowest viewpoint, and say more power to creative types who are able to enjoy commercial success for their efforts.  And, of course, it’s a big plus if, like the music on “The Suburbs”, the result of that effort is something that brings great pleasure for so many to enjoy.  So, thumbs up to this latest release by Arcade Fire — on which the music is really good, by the way!   All the tracks on this album are consistently good, with my favorites being “Modern Man,” “Rococo,” “City With No Children”, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).”

Link to Arcade Fire’s web page:  http://www.arcadefire.com/

An Appreciation for Leonard Cohen

 

Although I love both all sorts of music and all manner of documentaries, when several years ago my wife proposed that we see the documentary Leonard Cohen:  I’m Your Man, which was then playing in theaters, I was initially reluctant.   My problem was that I suffered from a woeful ignorance and underappreciation of this musical maven of Montreal and the impact of his gifted songwriting.  Funny thing is that I had previously heard numerous covers by others of his songs — including “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and “Chelsea Hotel” — I just did not realize that he was the songwriter.  

Well, not long into the screening it struck me how truly good this music was.   The movie is really a wonderful tribute to Cohen, bringing together numerous noteworthy singers to perform their own interpretations of Cohen’s songs.  There are several standout performances and I’d recommend most.   Rufus Wainwright does an emotional version of “Hallelujah” in the movie, even though I best enjoy Jeff Buckley’s rendition of that song among the many exceptional covers that have been done of it. 

So, I’ve since mended my ways with respect to Cohen.  In addition to his lyrical talents, there are many things to appreciate about Cohen, not least of which is his very laid back, wise and humane perspective on the human condition.  Cohen seems to be enjoying a renaissance these days, no doubt propelled in part by his being rediscovered by many through the recent documentary.  While I fall into the camp that believes Cohen to be a better songwriter than a singer in his early music career, I believe his now gravelly voice adds a welcome soulful texture that prompts a further listen to his own singing.  In this respect, the poignant singing and narrative of Cohen’s own version of “Tower of Song” is riveting.

Jim Shaughnessy and Canadian Railroad Photography

 

 (Canadian National, Sherbrooke, Quebec –1957)

Although during most of my childhood my family lived closed to various railway lines, I was born too late to regularly experience the thrill of hulking steam-powered trains pull into nearby stations.  On those rare occasions as a child that I encountered one of these mechanical monsters chugging through a rail crossing the feeling that gripped me was one of utter awe.  While the era of steam locomotives is now a fading memory, my wife recently surprised me with a gift of The Call of Trains:  Railroad Photography of Jim Shaughnessy (edited and with text by Jeff Brouws).

As a serious amateur photographer, I appreciate the artful composition of Shaughnessy’s exquisite black-and-white images.  He was a pioneer of railroad photography and his career extended over half a century, with many of the strongest images from his extensive work being from the 1950s and 1960s.  Because he lived most of his life in upstate New York, Shaughnessy was able easily to make periodic sojourns through Quebec, Ontario and other parts of Canada to capture amazing images of both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National rail lines.   Underscoring this is that over a fifth of the images in the The Call of Trains are of Canadian railway scenes.   Below is a sampling of some of the wonderful images that may be found in the book.

      (Canadian Pacific, Spadina Avenue Facility, Toronto –1957)

 (Canadian Pacific, Cookshire, Quebec –1956)

(Canadian Pacific, Double-Headed Steam Locomotives and Freight Train, Lennoxville, Quebec –1954)

Link to The Call of Trains:  Railroad Photographs by Jim Shaughnessy on Publisher’s Website:   http://books.wwnorton.com/books/978-0-393-06592-3/

Canada’s Regional Sounds on Smithsonian Folkways

French Canadian Folk Songs Track Listing  (Song suggestion:  “A la Claire Fontaine”)

Pretty much for as long as I can remember I’ve always liked folk music.  Among the earliest folk songs I can recall is the French-Canadian song “Alouette,” which every now and then would be played in one of my grade school classes as I was growing up in New York.  I enjoyed the fast, playful pacing of this simple children’s tune and, not knowing any French at the time, was more than amused years later to learn that it dealt with the plucking of a chicken.

Folksongs of Saskatchewan Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=761

(Song suggestion: “Saskatchewan”)

That song, along with hundreds of other Canadian regional tunes, can be readily found through the website for Smithsonian Folkways.  Over almost  40 years, Folkways Records devoted itself to recording songs and sounds from America, Canada and other parts of the world, producing a prodigious 2,168 albums.  Several years ago, the Smithsonian acquired the archives of Folkways Records and part of the Smithsonian’s mission was to make the collection widely available, which it accomplishes, in part, through the website.

A search of “Canada” on the Smithsonian Folkways site reveals a total of 118 Canada-related records.  Because most of these recordings are from the 1950s and 60s, they are very difficult to find elsewhere, so it is amazing that so many are collected in one location.  (Link to Canadian-Related Records on Smithsonian Folkways:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/searchresults.aspx?sPhrase=canada&sType=’phrase’).

While the Smithsonian Folkways collection is broader than just Canadian music, there is a further strong Canadian connection of this music by virtue of the University of Alberta’s folkwaysAlive! project that is part of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology.  The University of Alberta has also made a significant grant in support of the mission of Smithsonian Folkways.  (Link to University of Alberta’s folkwaysAlive!:  http://www.fwalive.ualberta.ca/home/about-us/)

There are many albums worth noting on the Folkways site.   A few examples, with links to album track listings and a suggested song to which you might listen for a flavor of the album, are noted above and below.

Canada’s Story in Song Track Listing: http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2116

(Song suggestion:  “Poor Little Girls of Ontario”)

We’ll Rant and We’ll Rave Track Listing:    http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=1523

(Song suggestion:  “Harbour Place”)

Heart of Cape Breton Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=2973

(Song suggestion:  My Great Friend John Morris Rankin, etc.” — Medley)

Songs and Dances of Quebec Track Listing:  http://www.folkways.si.edu/albumdetails.aspx?itemid=1241

(Song suggestion:  “Danse Carre”)

Atlantan Named Curator of Quebec’s Manif D’Art 5; Katherine Taylor and Sarah Emerson Selected to Show

This year marks the 5th Manif D’Art Biennale (actually the Manifestation internationale d’art de Quebec), a contemporary arts convocation hosted in Quebec City, Quebec.  The Manif’s program consists of a series of exhibitions throughout May and into June throughout Quebec City of major national and international artists.  That is a splendid time of the year to be in Quebec City (well, pretty much anytime is a good time of the year to be there).  More on the Manif can be found at this link:  http://manifdart.org/en.

A pleasant surprise is seeing several Atlanta connections to this major arts event.  The first is the appointment of Sylvie Fortin, the Editor-in-Chief of Atlanta-based Art Papers magazine, as the curator for this biennale.  This seems to me a brilliant choice, given the prominence of Art Papers and the direction that Fortin has taken it during her tenure over the past five years or so.

In the late 1990s, I did a good bit of art-related writing for a wonderfully quirky local publication called bluemilk.  This was partly as a sort of hobby and outlet for my creative writing interests and also part of an effort to educate myself better about the artistic process at a time when I was teaching myself to paint (but only at best as a so-called “Sunday painter”).  The dozen or so of us bluemilk-ers had a great deal of enthusiasm, creativity and chutzpah, but we were all candid about the fact that, while we had respectable foundations in art history and art technique, none of us had a strong grounding in the deeper dialogues and debates among the cognoscenti of the contemporary arts scene.  We mainly knew what we liked and went with that.  But what we also knew was that the folks over at Art Papers were definitely in the know about the underpinnings driving the direction of contemporary arts and we respected them greatly for that knowledge.  So, Fortin’s appointment as curator validates that respect.

Fortin will be curating the Manif with the theme of “Catastrophe?  Quelle Catastrophe!”   The initial group of artists announced for the Manif hale from Quebec, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Copenhagen, New York, Miami and Atlanta, among other places.  The two announced Atlanta artists are Katherine Taylor, noted for her haunting painted images of decay and devastation (represented by Marcia Wood Gallery: http://www.marciawoodgallery.com/artist/taylor_katherine/intro.html), and Sarah Emerson, remarkable for her colorful and whimsical abstracted landscapes (represented by Whitespace Gallery: http://www.whitespace814.com/artist_emerson.html).

Ice Wine Taste Test

An article in last Friday’s NY Times (http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/travel/escapes/26icewine.html?scp=1&sq=icewine&st=cse) on Canadian icewines caught my attention both because of the connection to Canada and because I had previously not heard of icewines.  I’ve sampled many wines over the years but am by no means an oenophile, so my being unaware of a notable wine variety is not that unusual.  It turns out that icewine has quite a following and the wineries of the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario, and to a lesser extent those in southern Quebec and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, have played a major part in elevating the popularity of icewine on this continent and beyond.

The key factor that distinguishes icewine is that the grapes are left on the vine past normal harvest season and when the temperature is below -8 Celsius (about 17 Farenheit), usually in December or January, the grapes are carefully picked by hand.  At such low temperatures the water content in the grape stays frozen resulting in a significantly higher concentration of juice when the grapes are crushed compared with the process for making other wines.  The yield from each harvest is also correspondingly lower, which translates into the wine being more expensive to purchase.

With this background in mine, a few days later I ventured out to a local wine shop to purchase a bottle to sample.  Although judging by the websites for several leading icewine wineries, there is an extensive range produced, this far south in the U.S. the selection is quite limited and I was only able to track down a bottle after visits to three shops that normally have extensive wine offerings.  At the place I located this elusive wine, Ansley Wine Merchants, they actually stocked two types of Canadian ice wine, Inniskillin’s 2006 Vidal and Jackson-Triggs 2007 Proprietor’s Reserve Vidal.   I got both thinking I would compare the two.  (They also had an Austrian icewine on hand, but the priciness — US $55 for the 375 ml bottle of Inniskillin and US $21 for a 187 ml bottle of the Jackson-Triggs — restrained me.)

A few days later, after letting the wine chill, my wife and I tried each of these two curiosities.   Icewines are generally referred to as dessert wines and I was expecting them to be sweet in the manner of many flavored liqueurs.   Sampling the Inniskillin first, this partly turned out to be the case, but the sweetness was balanced by a brisk acidity, which apparently is characteristic of icewines, so the level of sweetness is not intense to the point of tartness.   The same was true of the Jackson-Triggs, although this particular vintage seemed even sweeter.  I’ve never been good at describing the flavors present in wines, but the makers of both attribute flavors of tangerine, papaya and apricot, which even I can discern.   My wife immediately pronounced the taste pleasantly complex.  Being more of a vodka drinker myself, I was glad to see that an icewine martini was among the serving recommendations and this suited my own tastes better than the straight icewine.

Sweet drinks are not normally to my liking, so I am unlikely to become an icewine connoisseur.  Yet, all in all my introduction to icewine proved to be an interesting diversion and another useful learning experience about an aspect of Canada previously unknown to me.

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