September 2, 2014

In and Out of the Quad-Cities: What did you do on your summer vacation?

Contributed by Gail McPike and Toni Hall

Remember your first assignment upon returning to school? Part ritual, reminisce and prepubescent poetry
combined to create the first homework project of the school season. Fresh from a pack of neighborhood adventures, trips to visit grandparents and an occasional cross country drive, we squeezed a number 2-sized pencil between unpracticed fingers and let our creative juices flow.

Current Trophy Husband (CTH) Frank, claims he always impressed his teacher and school house pals with wildly expanded stories of intergalactic adventures and battles with pirates. Typically, midway through the editing process, the kindly teacher would ask if she might verify the stories with his parents. Strangely, the rewrites carried the excitement of pirate battles but the names were changed to protect the
innocent.

We have plenty of stories from this summer. Almost none involve monsters and mayhem, but that doesn’t make them any less exciting. Breaking from our normal custom of traveling as a pair, this summer found us traveling in different directions. Toni and CTH Phil made a couple of trips to gold mining hills of California. Gail and Frank found themselves on the road to the city of Montreal, Quebec. As this missive is being laid to paper, Toni has yet to return from her second trip to the great west. We promise to give you all a full report later. But for now, let’s talk Montreal.

First a little tale of Montreal the city. We discovered that Montreal and the QCA have much in common. Both were created largely because of their proximity to great rivers. But more importantly, both grew because of the proximity to unnavigable rapids which demanded that goods be somehow transported from one side of the rapids to the other. For Montreal, the rapids were on the St. Lawrence River. And the St. Lawrence was the gateway to the upper Midwest; more on this later.

Further, Montreal and the QCA carry more similarities. French Explorer, Jacques Marquette, played a major role in the European exploration of the area. Actually, old Jacques started his trip to the Quad Cities from someplace around present day Montreal. We discovered, both areas hold his work in high regard and have parks, streets and plazas bearing his name. Except Marquette Street in Davenport would be called Rue de la Marquette in Quebec. And that brings us to some other interesting points on Montreal.

The whole Canadian province of Quebec is French speaking. We’re talking signs, billboards, street names, groceries, the whole nine yards. Montreal is second only to Paris in size of cities where French is the language. And unlike New Orleans that has a French Quarter but is otherwise pretty American, in Montreal the French Culture reigns. We noticed this in attitudes, the way lunch was served and in the everyday mannerisms of the people. Things are officially French – period.

One friendly native told us, every school is conducted in French. And, the only way a person can opt out of French School is to prove the child’s parents both attended English schools in Quebec. This creates an interesting phenomenon for new immigrants. For instance, Montreal has a Chinatown; they have a number of recent immigrants from Asia. And there is nothing stranger than seeing a little old Chinese couple speaking French.

Because we wanted to explore the inner workings of the city, our accommodations for this trip were a small apartment near downtown. We had no car and were resigned to making our way on foot, bicycle and mass transportation. We must have asked directions four hundred times, always counting our lucky stars when we found someone patient enough to point to our handy map and willing to write down some of the strange street names.

Quoting CTH Frank, we devoted much of our time to wandering from museum to lunch and back again. Montreal is a hub of museums and has played host to both a World’s Fair and Olympic Games. Both of these provided some extremely cool sightseeing. The contrast between the old and the new created a magical backdrop. And, as expressed by Frank earlier, the lunches were fantastic.

Here’s a new word for you – poutine. Poutine is the national dish of Quebec. It is a concoction of fried potatoes, covered in cheese curds and smothered in brown gravy. If we said we like it immensely, it would be an understatement. Another dish of Montreal is smoked meat. It’s a cross between corned beef and barbeque and generally comes in massive proportions on a slice of rye bread. The combination of a dose of poutine and a smoked meat sandwich is a slice of heaven. But our greatest food adventure didn’t come from a restaurant. We discovered French-Quebec influenced grocery shopping.

A half block from our apartment was a local grocery store. Exploring the friendly aisles revealed all the adventure that Mr. Marquette could ever ask for. The bread and pastry section contained one of our new found favorites – Quebec style waffles. These things were to die for and no doubt the customs officials were amazed to see lady tourists returning with a suitcase stuffed with several packages as souvenirs.

Well gosh, all this foodie talk is starting to remind us it’s time for lunch. Have a great September. There is no place like home.

Filed Under: Community, Humor