Monday, October 31, 2011

shopping for fancy tights vs wood stove

Home again. Which is good too, because much as I love being by the sea, I love Montreal as well. Here, we've got hustle and bustle, a mix of people, cultures and languages, a skyline of cornices, shopping for fancy tights, reading on the subway, asparagus that doesn't cost $4 for 12 stalks, and more.
By the sea we have a wood stove and a super wide-screen horizon of water. Except for deciding when to go to bed--and technically you could fall asleep on the sofa--and what to eat, there are no distractions. You could veg until you turn to mulch. Or delve deep into a book--reading or writing--or finish the vest you started knitting eons ago and never got as far as the armhole.
In city terms, that's called going off the grid. One of our neighbours in the Gaspé, who realized that we have no telephone, internet or TV at our house, nodded sagely and called it a "purification". You have to think that word in French said with pursed lips. If I ever wondered how the neighbours out there see us city people who arrive for a couple of weeks a year to tromp along the beach and pick up stones, there I have it. We come for a purification. That's not yogic or meditational or for physical health reasons. That's old-fashioned Roman Catholic purification.
On the last two days by the sea we could feel that winter was coming to the coast. You could smell snow in the air. The wind cut. I needed earplugs--in addition to a hat--to walk by the water. Rain, turning to sleet, lashed the windows. Dramatic skies with towering clouds.
One of the last silly things I did was to take a video of the waves washing up on the beach. Of course, that's silly. I mean... waves. I could watch a video of waves at any time on Youtube. Gorgeous aqua surf off the coast of Australia. A harsh Maritime storm in Cape Breton. People take videos of everything and anything. Recently I wanted to describe a woman's hand movements in a story I was writing. I was thinking of that Lady Macbeth motion that flies do with their front legs. "Out, damn'd spot!" Scrub, scrub. It's been a while since I had a close look at a house fly so I clicked on Youtube. Do you realize how many people have videoed flies?
I hardly needed to video the waves across from our house in the Gaspé--except that no one has taken a video of that particular shale beach with its ad hoc boulders of granite shaped by the deep. And this winter, when I'm holed up at home in the city, I'll enjoy those few moments of salty water splashing the rocks.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

do you like green eggs and moose?

The Gaspé is mostly deserted the last weeks in October. The tourists have fled. The locals are observing the sacred rite of hunting moose. Every able-bodied male is in the woods in the interior of the peninsula, clothed in fleece camouflage, a bottle of liquor surely at hand, gun loaded and hot for a moose. Maybe women hunt too. I don’t know. The quota is one moose per family. I suspect men get the honour.
Traffic on the highway that connects village to village zips by at a fast clip. Cars, transport trucks carrying produce farther along the coast, salesmen, government workers. The pickups and jeep trailers loaded with a moose carcass—hoofs poked at the sky, antlers angled however they can fit—drive more sedately. Out of respect for the moose that’s been shot and brought to the table, or showing off like a carnival float? Look, there’s Jean-Luc. Saturday afternoon, first day of hunting season, and he’s already bagged his moose. He comes home to hang it in the barn and of course goes back. He promised himself a week in the woods with the guys.
I don’t know what it’s like in the woods, but along the highway, which defines the margins of civilization, it looks like moose carnage.
How many moose are there? Enough to allow for every man to kill a moose for every year that he can physically hoist a gun and shoot? Let’s say, seventy moose over seventy years? That’s just for himself and his immediate family. That’s not counting his brothers who have their own families, and his kids when they grow up and get a license to kill for their families. The math makes me shudder. Perhaps it’s just as well that the Gaspé peninsula is so sparsely populated.
I’m sitting in a bistro called La Broue dans l’Toupet, having a pint of excellent Gaspesian beer. Broue means what it sounds like. A toupet is the forehead version of a 1950s ducktail. What’s that called—bangs? a fringe? I don’t know the right term for a man. The bistro has a sign of a man with a luxurious toupet serving an equally coiffed mug of beer. It’s my closest WIFI access—in Mont Louis, a 15-min drive down the coast from where I’ve been holed up writing and walking on the beach.
On the beach I have to tell myself to stop picking up stones. I have decades’ worth already. Zebra striped, quartz eyes, crazed with iron, granite eggs. I can’t keep bringing sea glass home. Drop it, Alice!
I’m mystified by the rock formations that jut from the sand at low tide. They look manmade—like the edges of seats in an ancient Roman ampi-theatre. Tilted plates slid off each other, their side by side rims tracing a perfect arc. Do the endlessly slapping waves shape them like that? Is it tectonic energy? I take pictures of their fractured veins. Their smooth-worn faces like pillows. Shale marbled with iron so it resembles grained wood. I walk at low tide and clamber across the rocks, or at hide tide when the waves wash as far as the sand. The sound relaxes me. It’s good for my heart.

Friday, October 14, 2011

packing to go to the gaspé

You can find the Gaspé on a map north-east of the Maritime provinces in Canada. It’s a fat thumb of land that juts into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. People who aren’t sticklers for geography would say the Atlantic. The water certainly looks big enough—a horizon of blue from ear to ear—to be ocean. There are whales and seals and other saltwater creatures. Newfoundland lies west. The peninsula itself belongs to la belle province, Quebec.
We have an eight or nine (or ten) hour drive from Montreal, depending on how often we take a break, if we get organized to buy food before we leave or need to stop en route.
I’m guessing that now, in mid-October, the leaves have already fallen. The weather is cooler by the water than where we live in Montreal. Any weather network on the computer can tell me that. Or we can call one of the neighbours who give us the more serious updates on the turnip and carrot harvest this fall. (Lousy because of the rain all summer.)
I’m expecting the coastline to look bleak without the benefit of meadows and wildflowers, yellow autumn poplars, a wind-swirled expanse of ice and snow. At this time of year, it will be neither colourful, nor white. In this in-between time when the autumn becomes grim and winter hasn’t started, even the water will be hard rock and mud coloured. Shades of slate and brown and grey. Except, of course, for the big-sky sunsets which are always stunning. The photo included here was taken on a warm day in September last year. We were walking on a back road to the next village. You can't really see on this picture, but the highway hugs the coastline at the base of the hills.
I’m trying to remember if I left a jacket in the closet last time we were there. Will I need boots to walk on the beach? For sure, mittens and a scarf.
When we went in August, I stocked the kitchen with rice, pasta, flours, pulses. All the food needs to be kept in glass jars. I’d thought I could use the refrigerator as a strongbox against mice, but it’s too damp, all sealed and shut up with the power turned off. The last time we went, I found the breadboard—which I’d left in the fridge for some reason—covered with a fine coat of grey mould. Between mice footprints and mould, I think I prefer the mice.
Last weekend we bought a bread-making machine at a thrift shop for $12, so we can now make bread. That will be handy since we’re city dwellers, used to having a bakery with fresh bread close by. I don’t like grocery store bread. But that means I have to remember to bring yeast.
Is it long-john weather yet? Turtlenecks definitely. Big socks.
I should be packing…