"Canada 2003" story # 16

L'Anx Pleureuse, Quebec           July 15, 2003

Although it was his first time out of the United States, Adam really understood foreign cultures.
     Adam figured that, if he was going to be in French-speaking land, he should do as the French do. So, he had begun to grow a moustache.
     He was growing out his beard at first, too, to ease the transition.
     So, this was how things stood as we hitched out of Perce, at the end of the southern coast of the Gaspe Peninsula.
     I and my new hitching partner, Julie, played catch with a tennis ball as we waited at the edge of town. Julie told about her completed college softball career, the girls she roomed with, her sick grandfather, and her Halloween costume of the year before: The Revolting Blob wrestler, from "Billy Madison."
     After an hour, Silvet stopped his van for us. We climbed the new road up a steep hill outside of Perce.
     At the top of the hill, Johnny and Adam waved as we passed them. A split-second behind us, a blue VW bus swooped over to the side of the road, and my friends celebrated. Bob Marley wailing music welcomed them into the bus. Johnny and Adam smiled, and they smiled again when the couple driving said they were going to the same place we were: Forillon National Park. It was a great moment for my friends.
     Our road north of Perce cut tall through a tumbling rock slope. To the left of the road, cliff shelves leaned out above us. To the right, green-covered slopes somersaulted down to a big, blue sea.
     Julie and I learned in Silvet's van about the organic vegetable farm he ran and the boxes of cucumbers he was carrying. Julie didn't make much conversation in back, I noticed, just like Johnny had always claimed. After a dozen minutes, she was completely zonked out. Her mouth was all hanging open.
     Silvet took us through a flat, barely ocean-level stretch of peninsula, where small towns like St. George looked like incredibly friendly, pure communities.
     Three more rides and a few peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches later, Julie and I were at the entrance to Forillon National Park, and Johnny and Adam arrived soon in their VW bus. For some reason, we didn't actually go in Forillon Park, but it's supposed to have beautiful forest paths on thin peninsulas where whales can often be spotted diving and blow-holing and looking for mates.
     Instead, our group found a low beach on a quiet bay just outside the park to camp on. We were beneath a plant-rich cliff ridge, amidst a mess of washed-up logs and driftwood.
     Adam cooked us a soup with lots of peppers, and hot chocolate. He also treated us to a small bit of romantic knowledge, learned apparently during drunken fraternity nights. He said that when you're with a girl, and she's given you no evidence that she wants to hook up with you, but you want it to happen, then you have to take matters into your hands and employ a move called "The Charge." Adam says, "At the end of the game, when the clock's running down, you don't want to be stuck holding the ball."
     Johnny and I tried picturing this technique. We came up with a bar scene, in which Adam is so drunk he can no longer hold his head straight or keep his eyes open. He mutters something to the girl next to him, then falls off his bar stool towards her, trying to align his mouth to hers the best he can ... We thanked Adam for the advice.
     But, who would be the first of us to try such a daring manoeuvre?
     Night fell, and lights from the town of Gaspe dotted the opposite side of the bay. These lights made us feel a little less isolated, a little less cool, a little less like the Swiss Family Robinson.
     Now, I was sharing a tent with Julie. Would she!? try "The Charge" manoeuvre on me in my sleeping bag?
     No. But, the sea would. In the middle of the night, Johnny woke us all up and announced that, "The tide's come in!"
     We were all lying in a few inches of water. Maybe we weren't ready to be the Swiss Family Robinson just yet.

The following day, we were set to hitchhike a hundred miles west across the north coast of the Gaspe Peninsula. We were going to a place called L'Anx Pleureuse, which we certainly wouldn't be able to pronounce to the French people who took us there.
     In the third car to pick up Julie and I, we could communicate little more than our names. The cool, dark-haired, dark-moustachioed driver introduced his eleven-year-old daughter as "ma bebe" (my baby). The daughter, Lydia, wore a bandana on her hair and had such a beautiful, thin, sculpted French face. The two of them giggled and made jokes, as we travelled through rustic, cold-looking fishing villages. Julie and I enjoyed their laughter.
     Our final driver of the day was eightteen-year-old fisherman, Manuel, who said Julie's name was beautiful. He drove us along the highway at about ninety miles an hour.
     Here, the highway was built right on top of the water. There was no other place for it. Spectacular coastal mountains shot ruggedly up, up, up out of the sea. Everything, sea and rock, was a frigid dark-granite color. The road clung to the mountains, blindly turning curves insignificant compared to the sky-stretching rock.
     At one point, the rock opened up inland, allowing a green pass to make its way into the peninsula beneath a steep, grassy mountain range. The tiny town of L'Anx Pleureuse sat here, and an inlet seaped townwards over dark-granite beach.
     Leaving Manuel without even one aggressive romantic move, Julie and I found a field to nap in. Johnny and Adam met us an hour later, and they carried a Quebec provincial flag (blue-and-white, decorated with four royal-looking "flowers of Louis" irises) that someone had given them when they'd stopped in a bar.
     The boys were in a good mood. Adam imitated the death metal music of the lady who'd driven them there. "Duh!-duh-duh-duh-Duh!-duh-duh-duh-duh-Duh!-duh-duh!" He said she went to put on something softer, and it was more of the same. "Duh!-duh-duh-duh-duh ... Kill! Hate! Lies! Death!-duh-duh-duh-duh!"
     They tossed around the hackey-sac they'd bought from Mary, the young street-vendor girl in Perce.
     I rushed at Johnny once to try and intercept a pass, and I flopped down right on my knee-cap. My knee was struck with such deep pain I didn't know if it would support me when I got up. Ow, ooh! Both Julie and Johnny spoke of knee problems. I, however, don't often have health problems, and I'm still under the youthful impression that nothing can happen to me as long as I believe it won't. I cringed, got up, and took a break from the game.
     The four of us went that night to our second farm through the WWOOF program: Diane's L'Anx Pleureuse herb and vegetable garden. We took it easy that night and camped out in Diane's yard, preparing ourselves for the next day's work.

Diane's vegetable farm was up a dramatically rising dirt road, perched rurally on the foothills of a L'Anx Pleureuse mountain. Herbs and vegetables dotted Diane's green yard, growing in circular, square, or cross-shaped plots.
     The sketchy thing about being on an herb-and-vegetable garden is that there are sometimes weird people there who think hollistic healing can cure all the world's problems. There were several other WWOOF-program volunteers at Diane's, and one girl said to me, "This is mogward tea I'm drinking. It helps to cleanse the blah-blah-blah ..."
     Actually, I'm sure all those herb enthusiasts are on to something probably great that I just haven't discovered. I guess I'm still not open-minded enough to try something called "mogwart."
     Our farming host, Diane, was a short, smiling lady with short, brown hair and round glasses. She struggled in English to explain that our duty this Saturday morning was going to be to set out recycled window boxes and then fit them together to construct for Diane a new greenhouse.
     Diane, though, was typically, loveably French-Canadian in that she was scatter-brained. By noon, she had decided a new job for us - possibly because she saw we were in-over-our-heads as carpenters.
     She told us our new job after she served us her home-grown lunch: spaghetti with various red and green, mashed vegetables; homemade bread made from "spelt" (beats me what that is); and a salad of garden greens and violet flowers that turned our breath ultra-fresh.
     Johnny, a health nut, was in heaven on Diane's farm. He especially liked how all the foods Diane used were vegetarian and organic (no chemicals or pesticides were used on them).
     Diane re-assigned us Americans from construction to demolition. We spent the afternoon pulling nails out and boards off of a cabin Diane had up the mountain above her property. From here, we looked almost straight down on a granite-silver sea that stretched out to all degrees below and around us. It was a beautiful scene for demolishing.

Sunday morning, my knee-cap rubbed awkwardly for the second straight day, but I tried to will it back into good health and got to demolishing.
     We were able to bring the small, wood cabin down by lunch. Our original plan to knock the cabin over by tossing heavy logs at it like missiles didn't really work, but it was a good time, and it gave us a good appetite for what Diane was cooking.
     Even I was impressed by Diane's vegetarian, organic food this day. And, I may be nutty, but I'm not too health nutty.
     Diane first served us the thickest, mush-colored pea soup. Mmm. Then, we had these filling crepes or rolls with vegetables inside and a hollandaise-like sauce on top. Mmm!
     Following lunch, I did some of my wash by hand. Adam got his hair trimmed by some of Diane's female WWOOFers. Only Julie returned to pulling nails from the demolished cabin, establishing herself as the hardest worker in our group. Of course, you would expect that from the girl who had a 4.0 GPA in college, and not from that slacker, Johnny, who had a 3.9. The bum. Johnny took a nap.
     Come evening, all of Diane's farm population moved down to the L'Anx Pleureuse beach for a Sunday night campfire.
     I did a snorkel here in this dark, purple-like sea. Wading, I stepped on rough sea-urchins. Snorkelling, I saw blue, granite-gray-tinted six-legged starfish.
     Adam and a girl named Maude - who was kind of cute for a girl named Maude - joined me for the swim. Adam did something he called his "Seal-Dive." He yelled, "Johnny!" at me, and did a sideways, helpless-looking flop into the water. Once inside the water, the cold gripped us and made us squirm like a robin gripping worms. However, with those enormous, green mountains erupting from the sea, it really was a cool place to do your Seal-Dive.
     Back on the sand, the campfire was going by nightfall. French-Canadians sang songs, and Johnny spoke with Diane. Johnny really liked Diane.
     I liked Diane too. Mainly, I liked her because of the stories she told of decades ago when she was seventeen and had hitchhiked to Vancouver and New York to spend a few months. When she told the stories, the big-city lights still shone in her eyes, bright like a little, brown-haired, glasses-wearing Shirley Temple.
     When she was in New York, she said she'd tried to hitchhike downtown. A man picked her up and turned to her: "What is your name!?" He told her never to hitchhike in New York again and gave her money to take the subway. She'd loved New York, because of all the culture and art she'd encountered. A fondest memory of hers was of a middle-aged man who'd befriended her during her stay and took her around introducing her to artists.
     The bright-eyed Diane of today still had a dream. She wanted to travel to Fernan, Scotland, where people apparently raise gardens by calling upon spirits. I hope she makes it there.

By morning, our weekend stay at Diane's had come to an end.
     Johnny and I borrowed bikes and followed the road inland from L'Anx Pleureuse to a lake and stream in-between the mountains. This was where we used environmentally-friendly soap to bathe while at Diane's, because Diane liked to conserve water. Entering into the stream, Johnny and I noticed fumes of peanut butter leaking from our pores. We'd eaten way too many of those sandwiches recently. Eww.
     We washed up and returned to Diane's to say 'bye. The girls on Diane's farm commented to us, "It's cute how you take care of each other," probably because Johnny put Adam's coat on him, or shaved his neck.
     The big news, though, was that Adam had trimmed down his facial hair to a brown moustache. It looked horrible. It looked honestly as if a large rodent had crawled onto his upper lip and died. Sometimes, you would forget for a minute he had the moustache, and you'd look at him from a distance, thinking, "Say, what's that?" And then, it would just jump at you, and, "Oh god, no!" you'd be so taken aback you'd nearly fall backwards or vomit.
     Eww. He reminded me of one of Nintendo's Mario Brothers or a 1970's baseball outfielder. Adam smiled, stroked his facial hair, and called himself "Le villon," the French villain.
     Would Adam's new moustache endear him to the French people's hearts as he hitchhiked? Or, more likely, would he never, ever, never get picked up!?

We'll find out. Modern Oddyseus.
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

Thanks to Silvet; Chantal; Boyse; Mark & Nathalie; Stefan & Nikola; Jean-Pierre; Hugh & "ma bebe" Lydia; and Manuel for the rides!
Much thanks to Diane for the place to stay!

NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: woodchuck (not to be confused with the one on Adam's lip), blue starfish

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com