Someday, I’d like to see Paris. It’s supposed to be such a romantic place. Barry and I would sit in a sidewalk cafe, holding hands and listening to charming waltzes played on the accordion.
But if I never make it there, that’s all right, too. After all, I’ve been to Québec.
For me, Québec has always been a magical place, even before I visited the city. My mother never saw Paris, but she and my father had a romantic interlude in Québec, one summer while my sister, Julie, and I were at summer camp. They ate huge lobsters, went to mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and stayed in a charming hotel just a few doors away from the famous Frontenac, the most-photographed hotel in the world. For years afterwards, my parents reminisced about Québec, and their faded color slides are imprinted on my memory.
Sixteen years later, when we were adults, Julie and I headed north to see Québec for ourselves. Our parents’ charming hotel was still there, unchanged, as was the river and the promenade it overlooked. We stayed a few blocks further away, in a garret — charming in its own way, and much less expensive. We walked all over the upper and lower towns, saw the cathedral and museums, ate fondue and rode the funicular. With my handy French dictionary, we puzzled out menus and signs in shop windows.
One week after that vacation, I met Barry. For 16 years, he has listened to my tales of Québec.
If there is anything better than seeing Québec, it’s watching someone you love discover Québec. Just a few weeks ago, in October, I led Barry through the arched stone gate, along Rue St. Louis with the old stone houses I remembered. Horse and carriage operators trotted along the streets, lending an anachronistic feel. I showed him the promenade, the Frontenac towering over us with its green copper turrets.
Carrying a French dictionary to puzzle out those same menus and signs, we ordered quiche and French bread and pastries in a tiny cafe. There were sailboats on the St. Lawrence, an opera singer busking outside the funicular, couples kissing in the park overlooking the water. We walked along the top of walls that once protected the city from attack by the United States and strolled the cliffside promenade under blue skies with fluffy clouds.
The hotels were still there, unchanged. Château de la Terrasse, where my parents stayed, and around the corner, Cap Diamant Hôtel, where Julie and I shared the garret. Barry and I, on a tighter budget, snuggled up in the Squid Wagon in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We make our own romantic places.
We ducked down the alley where local artists sell etchings and paintings and came out by the cathedral. Just outside, in the square, I stored up my most precious memories of Québec. A superb accordionist was playing in the square, his audience only a young couple with a baby. Barry and I sat on a nearby bench, snuggling close to each other and enjoying the cafe-style waltzes and lilting romantic tunes. The man had a charming smile and, oblivious to the numbing cold, made the complex fingerings look effortless.
Now, when I return to Québec in my mind, it will be to that little square full of music and romance. Perhaps I’ll be back in another 16 years. Maybe by then, I will have been to Paris.