"Canada 2003" story # 17

Quebec, Quebec           July 16, 2003

Twenty-three-year-old Nichola, who worked for Canada's fishery department as an observer on Gaspe Peninsula fishing vessels, was the guy who stopped for Adam and his moustache, and Johnny. He even invited Adam and his dead rodent - I mean, moustache - and the rest of our group to stay with him in downtown Quebec City a few days.
     Nichola was a cool guy, who worried little and just wanted to laugh. He had inch-long fuzz, light-hazel-colored, for hair. He was very thin, which you could see when he sat around his apartment smoking joints in baggy pants with his shirt off. He had a French face and up-and-coming, uncut facial hair and a fun smile.
     One night out in Quebec, Nichola's French accent told of his reaction to seeing Adam's moustache.
     "Yeah. I stopped for them, and I was like, 'What the fu*@?' I mean, I can trust this guy (Johnny), but, 'What about him?"
     Nichola continued. "No one under thirty has a moustache. I saw him, and I thought, 'Is he totally crazy?' or 'Is he just really out?"

It had taken Julie and I more than one ride to travel the seven hours from L'Anx Pleureuse to Quebec.
     On the rural Gaspe Peninsula highway beside the sea, beneath Diane's vegetable farm, Julie assumed hitchhiking position. Her brown hair in a ponytail, she put all her weight on a back leg. The other leg was bent, in frumpy jeans, and she was angled towards traffic. A slight smile rode her small head, and she stuck out her stumpy thumb, quiet and confident that a car would soon stop.
     It was nice hitchhiking with Julie, because you felt like you couldn't wait long. At least she was moustache-less.
     Of course, you also had to do 98% of the talking in any car with her. It had been a few days since we'd hitched a ride, and I felt bad for Julie. I figured she must've been missing out on all the sleep she was used to getting in people's backseats.
     We drew two short rides, both from solitary, local females who didn't speak our language. When we tried to tell them "Merci," for the rides, each responded, "Pour me, fue une pracer," which I think meant: "For me, it was a pleasure." I thought this was awfully nice of them to say, since all we did in their cars was say, "Je sui desalie. Je no parle pa frances." (I'm sorry. I don't speak French.) then stare forward.
     We were standing at a gap in the mountains, in our final Gaspe Peninsula village - one supported by fishing and strawberry farming - when we got picked up by Jean's truck and trailer.
     For six hours, we rode with moustachioed, constantly-smiling, retired Jean. For the first two hours, the conversation was terribly boring. Julie helped me out by passing out in the backseat.
     Jean got much more interesting, though. He'd built his old-French-architecture, four-sided-roof dream home in the country near to Montreal. He spoke excitedly of his horses, riding them in the winter.
     He liked picking up the dirtiest-looking hitchhikers, because he felt they'd been waiting a long time.
     He revealed to us that he used to have a drinking problem, and that his son committed suicide. Julie wasn't sure if she liked it when people told her such personal details. I liked it, though. It made the conversation more real, and it was just another thing I could learn from.
     We had Jean drop us off in Beaumont, just short of Quebec, so we wouldn't have to pay a pricey hotel in the city.
     After that, all I can tell you was that it was a great!!! night in Beaumont, just moustache-less Julie and I, in an open tent, beneath a bright moon ... grapes were involved ...
     and cookies ...

In the morning, we caught a ride into Quebec and met up with Johnny and Adam. I was happy to see that Adam had shaved his moustache the previous night before going out.
     He and Johnny took us up to Nichola's apartment, where Nichola welcomed us as he rolled himself a joint. It was a warm day in Quebec, so Nichola suggested we go to the city's free swimming pool.
     Clean-faced Adam got excited. "Does it have a high diving board?"
     Nichola nodded.
     "Yes!" Adam smacked together his hands.
     Nichola took us walking through beautiful Old Quebec. The residential streets were thin, with several-story apartment buildings rising up in their medieval styles. The commercial streets were full of pedestrians window-shopping or eating ice cream cones.
     We reached the city pool and had a good time. Especially Adam. He bested me off the high-dive in a cannon-ball contest, and he pulled off an upset by defeating the thinner me in a "smallest-splash" contest. His pride-and-joy off the boards was his back-flip-turned-into-a-can-opener, which was even more aesthetically pleasing than the "Seal-Dive" he'd orchestrated in L'Anx Pleureuse.
     Looking around the pool area, Johnny commented that there were a lot of fat people in Quebec.
     "Obese people always go to pools." I knew what was going on; I used to lifeguard. "Swimming pools attract obese people like karaoke bars attract bad singers."
     There were a few observations made around this time. Blue-eyed Johnny analogized to Julie, on the subject of her hitchhiking: "You know that fish with the light on his antenna, who dangles it in front of his head? You're like the light. You reel the cars in. But, the fish does all the work. If the fish and the light become separated, the light just gets eaten."
     Julie and her sweet, unsure voice, for their part, made this observation: "How often do we say the word 'nice' on this trip? We say it four times in every car. 'How was Nova Scotia?' 'Oh, it was 'nice.' The people were really 'nice."
     We left the pool to go walk around Quebec. In the real touristy part of Old Quebec, people dined outside on stone-paved pedestrian streets. Stairs, hugged tight by brewery-looking, Belgium-type buildings, connected streets on different levels. And a huge, mountain-like castle with a green roof looked down on everything, seated beside the St. Lawrence River.
     Quebec was more than 'nice.' It was totally awesome.
     I don't like cities. Quebec had about 700,000 people living there. But, it had the feel of a small town. People walked the streets everywhere, or rendezvous'd in city plazas. All was clean. And, while many English-speaking visitors often find the French here rude, our group found the people incredibly welcoming when they saw you were just trying to be one of them.
     And, whoo! there were girls. Kitten-faced girls wearing bandanas, green-eyed beauties in black dresses, cute-smiling girls ...
     I, along with Johnny and Adam, begged Nichola to teach us some French pick-up lines. Whenever I practiced calling a girl "Ma petit tigres bebe" (My little tiger baby) or "Ma duls pomme" (My sweet apple), Nichola cracked up.
     Nichola and his friends took us out to the T.P. Bar that night, but there were no little tiger babies for me to use my French wooing on.

Nichola and his friends were an interesting breed. We'd come to like them, and Adam and we Americans voiced this through our new catch-phrase, "Quebecois son fu!" (Quebecors are crazy!)
     One of the crazier Quebecors was Nichola's roommate, Jonathon. Our Johnny described his looks as, "a mix between Rick Moranis and Austin Powers." We dubbed him "Johnny Powers."
     Nichola greeted the day and gave me a head-banging, pinky-thumb-and-forefinger jam. He fixed himself a joint. We went out to get breakfast.
     It was slightly raining. The funniest thing Johnny Powers did was right here.
     He was on a street corner, opposite us. There were some people there waiting for the light to change, including a small, middle-aged woman with gray hair. Johnny Powers stood near her, but facing us, with his round face and round glasses peaking out from his umbrella.
     He discreetly walked sideways, looking forward, straight-faced with the umbrella, until he had put the gray-haired woman well under the umbrella's rim. Disturbed, she moved away.
     He inched towards her. He looked at us, laughing. She glanced at him,
     and he shot his face forward, straight-faced. She moved away.
     He inched beside her and leaned the rim over her. He laughed. She looked back.
     He looked away, straight-faced. She moved away.
     He inched over.
     The woman crossed the street, and some young lady came running through the rain. Johnny Powers tried running beside her with the umbrella. She screamed.
     Julie laughed at Johnny Powers the most. Quebecois son fu!
     After breakfast, Nichola and his girlfriend took us to play urban sports. The previous day, he and I had spent a sweaty hour juggling a tennis ball with our feet in a town square. Passersby became included in the game, whenever we lost control of the ball and kicked it at them.
     This day, Nichola led us to a Quebec city park with growing layers of hills. A sturdy wall was erected around it, perhaps the wall to the city. We all played soccer beneath the gray sky, even Julie and her knee that needed to be operated on. At one point, I fell on my knee that I'd hurt in L'Anx Pleureuse, and a shattering pain disected my lower leg. But, I refused to miss any of the game, so I told my knee, "Be good!" limped it off, and got back to playing.
     We mostly chilled for the rest of the day, until we headed out to a disco bar at night. At least seventeen people sat at our table, and most of them were crazy.
     Johnny Powers' small, blond girlfriend, Laurie, was so babbling drunk that she spoke loud to no one. There was chubby, really adorable Nianthy, with eyes a black thin when she made her smooth, white smile. There was excitable Rafael, with curly, long dark hair, who kept talking about his Japanese wife and inviting us to stay with him.
     There was a big, nice bald-headed guy with Uncle Fester's voice who seemed at a loss in our English conversation. Several guys dressed like lumberjacks, whose hair looked like it had been slept on, interrogated us Canada-trekkers on the safety of hitchhiking. And, there was a sleepy-eyed girl who called herself "Destroyer" or something, who I was a bit scared of.
     "Destroyer" and Rafael and some others liked taking "Jack-Ass" shots while at the bar. This shot - done originally in the show, "Jack-Ass" - called for lunatics to squoosh lemon wedges in their eyes, sniff salt up their noses, and then swallow shots of tequila. All who took these shots were soon writhing in pain; at least, all except "Destroyer." She seemed to enjoy pain. As Adam would say,
     "Quebecois son fu!"
     However, drunk Adam took the "Jack-Ass" shot three times, so I don't know who he was calling "fus." Even Johnny and Nichola got into the act. Oh, man. I hate pain.
     Quebecois son fu! indeed.
     We yankees walked amongst the apartment buildings with Nichola at four in the morning, and we played hackey-sac on the stone roads. Man, I love Quebec.

- Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie

Thanks to Rosalyn; Mele; Jean; and Francine for the rides!
Much thanks to Nichola, Johnny Powers, & Laurie for the place to stay!

NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: a bright-white-backed, black skunk

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