Wednesday, 4 February 2009

What if....

overcast, mild, temps minus 5

Lovely day - but I've come to appreciate in Quebec City that the only thing worse than a brutaly cold day is an extremely mild one. Both can kill you. The cold is obvious - what is less obvious in a Quebec City winter is what is lurking just above you. Snow on roofs that slides off like an avalanche when it gets either too heavy or too mild. But the worst are the icicyles. This is a city of ice. And most of it hanging three stories up, in the shape of a dagger, like Damacles.

As we walked this morning we marvelled at the huge chunks of ice on the sidewalk and spilling onto the road...then we realized what they were...and where they'd come from. And if we, or anyone else, had happened to be walking book 6.

The other small winter detail, shared by most Canadians and so common as to be hardly noticed, is the tiny pricking of boiling water on the hand holding the hot water bottle. As we pour the boiling water into the spout it sometimes backs up and 'burps' - which sends a very small guyser of hot water onto the hand. It's not pleasant. Pouring hot water bottles become a's vital to get the water going straight down the hole, without backing up.

This is perhaps another reason Canadians don't rule the world. Our minds are taken up with other things. Like water. Boiling and frozen.

Had fun yesterday. Rushed out in the morning to meet Jacquie for breakfast at the Chez Temporel cafe. Great old 'intellectual' hangout we'd never have found or once found not have entered (looks like a hole in the wall). But is known to have the best coffee and croissants in the old city. And they're not wrong. Jacquie and I had their almond croissants - unbelieveable - with shaved almonds on top and almond paste inside...while Michael had two regular croissants (he's a classicist). no one was disappinted.

had a wonderful conversation with jacquie - about all sorts of things - including a thing called the Night of the Long Knives...which for Canadian political junkies refers to a seminal evening many years ago when the separatist Premier of Quebec was politically ambushed by his Federalist fellow premiers and the Prime Minister....and that led to many, many years of hard sovereingist sentiments and a deep and abiding distrust of anything Federalists might say.

This is, after all, a province fueled by memories as long and sharp as those knives.

But seems Night of the Long Knives has become a playful description of a very competitve ice sculpture competition during the Quebec Winter Carnival. Teams of sculptors from around the world are each given a massive block of ice - and 12 hours to complete a carving. They have chain saws and hacksaws and knives and finally tiny whittling tools for the finest details. And they race each other. And apparently sometimes sabotage each other.

From breakfast we were late and had to meet Louisa Blair across town, outside the walls, at the Grand Theatre, on Rene Levesque blvd. Michael - clever man - found an underground way to get there. We'd never met Louisa - a prominent local historian - and when we arrived there must have been 5,000 6 year olds just getting out of a concert at the Grand Theatre. Which was noisy and disconcerting - this sudden sea of wool, and tuques and snow suits - but it actually made finding Louisa quite easy since anyone over 3 feet tall stood out.

We repaired to a local Tim Horton's and schemed murder for an hour and a half. I just adore this part of the process...being with intelligent, informed people who are willing to bend reality and think of what might have been possible. Fascinating, and so creative. We sipped double doubles and went down all these 'What if...' alleys. And finally came up with something that Louisa said might even be what actually happened. Something unexplored but plausible.

It felt like hitting gold. thanks to Louisa Blair.

Then we raced out of there...late again. And ran home. Had a pre-interview with the CBC Montreal afternoon show at 1pm...and a live in-studio interview at 5:20. Then Michael and I walked home, past the skaters on the rink created at Porte Saint-Jean - one of the three gates into the old city...and up rue Sainte-Ursule to the Moroccan restaurant. Had lamb couscous and Michael had Lamb Tagine with prunes. It's a 'bring your own wine' restaurant...which of course we don't do...but it's another hole-in-the-wall and if our friend Susan hadn't told us about it we'd never have tried it. Wonderful. Entire meal - including soft drinks - was less than 50 dollars for two.

We had breakfast at Le Petit Coin Latin this am - spending a couple of hours going over details of the crime...and the history lugged along with it. And am now home. Have a 2pm radio interview the Bob McLean...great former CBC journalist now hosting his own will light the fire, carefully pour a hot water bottle (though as I've been writing this I've heard the kettle boiling so I suspect Michael has a few red marks on his hand and two full bottles) and will committ to paper what we discussed over breakfast.

Great life. No one can quite believe this is my job. Neither can I.


Anonymous said...

hi Louise,
I'm g l a d this is your job! It does the heart good to witness your joy which, like almond croissants, must be very, very sweet... best,MelodyG

lil Gluckstern said...

What a joy to read your blog! It is almost too rich--like your almond croissants. I read your toboggan ride, and felt a little vertigo. Enjoy your research. We get to enjoy it through you.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Melody,

What a perfect way of putting it- it is sweet. Enjoyed all the more for having 'starved' for a number of years.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Lil,

Your comment made me glad, yet again, that such empathetic readers are along for the ride! Not sure many authors are so lucky.