Monday, June 19, 2023

a snagged bracelet, gin and wildflowers / la Gaspésie May-June 2023

A month by the sea. 

The light, the water, the sky move constantly. The very first tiny wildflowers were opening. White treacleberry. Purple wood violets. Fiddleheads unfurled, becoming fiddles. Heaps of moose poop. The clothesline-that-needs-oil keen of the blue jays. The white-throated sparrows orchestrating a companionable round of song from high in the spruce trees. A fox leisurely crossing the neighbour’s yard in afternoon sunlight that turned her bushy tail a pale, post-winter gold. The enormous crows. 

There wasn’t as much snowmelt rushing down the hills and the banks to the shore as there usually is. Most years I can’t walk along the beach because the rivulets are too wide and deep for me to cross. 

One day when we were walking we saw a fat log up ahead on the beach. Then the head moved and I thought of a dog wrapped in a thick blanket. A few more steps. Too large for a dog. Too fat for a blanket. We wondered if the seal was hurt and had washed ashore, but she looked inquisitive and alert—even friendly. We kept a respectful distance. Ten minutes later, when we turned and looked back, she’d swum back into the surf.

It is always big news when a new cantine/canteen opens. Frîtes, poutines, hotdogs, guédilles (like a lobster roll but on a hotdog bun and can be made with shrimp or crab and I don’t know what else, I’ve never been tempted), club sandwiches, etc. This new cantine is on the main drag (which is also the only drag) in Mont St Pierre. The cook has hefty tattooed arms, an equally generous application of eye makeup, makes excellent fast food as the crowded parking lot will attest, remembers her regulars and the variations they like. No pickle for you! I gave you extra onion! Except it was the lunch rush and she’d snagged her bracelet on the catch of the screen window she’d opened to set out an order. Maudit! Tabernak! She couldn’t free herself and wouldn’t let anyone help. Her assistant paced in the tiny kitchen but didn’t dare go close. Customers backed up as well as they could in the narrow space, but also not wanting to lose their spot in line. The mayor’s wife, who sat on one of the window stools eating a poutine, got up and said, Let me. You cannot tell the mayor’s wife to mind her own fucking business.

R overheard forestry workers say that in the interior of the peninsula it was 38C. The trees were dry and with so many forest fires elsewhere in the province, people were anxious. We were lucky because the next day it rained--heavily. In some places in the Gaspé, 100 mm came down and there was flooding. 

We attended a community hotdog and pétanque event in Rivière-à-Claude, a village that in 2016 had the debatable honour of housing the oldest population in the province of Quebec with a median age of 59.

The article is called, "The end of an epoque", but in the meantime a group of young people ‘from away’ realized that the broad valley behind the village had a microclimate suited for farming. Bravo! I love these people. Here’s a picture from the farm last summer. 

In the hills there are mountain bike trails and places to camp.  Solar-powered yurts and cabins. 

AND: there are children. Even the oldies in the village who grumble about the tie-dyed clothes and long hair are delighted to hear children laughing and running about. 

Then, with the pandemic, the abandoned houses along the coast that had sat empty for years were bought and are now inhabited. I’m waiting for the next census report.

I spoke with a young man—ie young enough to be my grandchild—whose father bought the old church which they are turning into a gin distillery. I was interested in seeing the inside of the building before everything was dismantled and he offered to show me. He explained the layout they were planning as per government guidelines. Here for storage, here for production, here for receiving clients, and here in the balcony would be la salle de dégustation—the tasting room—with a view onto the sea and the cemetery. 

The confessional and the pews were still in place. The altar had been pushed aside. On an inside cupboard door was a handwritten list for whoever once upon a time prepared the altar for mass. “Placer le ciboire s’il y a des hosties à consacrer. Vérifier lampion…"

We talked about juniper berries and sourcing local legends for names for the different flavours of gin that he planned. I had just spent the week hearing male moose bellow from the forest that they were hot for a female. I said, How about L’Orignal Bandé? Moose with an Erection. He looked startled. I explained. 

Either that was too local for him or he didn't expect a woman of my age to say that. Hm, he said. Maybe.  

There is a long story about an old house that I won't tell here. 

We spotted our first forget-me-nots. The beach peas started blooming. The buttercups. 

The wind changed direction and we got Mordor sunsets.

Back in Montreal now. 

ps I apologize for the change in spacing and size of font, but Blogger has become increasingly not-user-friendly.