Quebec City

Bravo Grand Prix cyclists, bravo musique sacrée

What great audiences there are in Quebec. On Friday people lined the flats and the steep curving streets to applaud  164 Grand Prix cyclists, including the eventual winner from the Netherlands, Robert Gesink, as they whizzed by beneath circling helicopters, behind the sirens and flashing lights and speeding motors of police and race officials.

More choruses of "Bravo," sustained for long minutes, at the cavernous église St. Roch, where the Clarion Choir of NYand Musica Antiqua of St Petersburg performed the Rachmaninoff Vespers, or all night vigil, with its delicate, perfect harmonies. Sopranos chiming lightly as a crystal bell, the solemnity of the so deep bass ("I know the voices of my countrymen," said Rachmaninoff when confronted with the difficulty of finding a singer capable of achieving that low b- flat), the chant occasionally evoking images of fields with peasants bundling hay, at least in my mind.
 As many bravos for the Choeur Créole de Cuba Saturday night, different voices, also that combination of sweet high and visceral low, braided like currents in a clear stream, but more plaint in the mostly Haitien tales of mariners in trouble, a child begging for help, pourquoi Haiti pleure-t-elle?
Instead of the black in which the singers dressed for the Rachmaninoff, the six women wore traditional garb in bright yellows, with head wraps. Not absolutely a cappella, because one of the four men  beat sticks and sometimes drums, and the taller, thin man made sounds that reminded me of someone thumping a stand-up bass, but he did it with his mouth. Exacerbating the emotional effect of the music, after all the bravos, the choir walked down the centre aisle touching audience members on their shoulders, taking our hands, looking into our eyes. Bravo, indeed!

Ma vie en français

J'adore la ville de Québec! Here I am, back after a six month absence, and so comfortable now. Just bought trois tournesols pour célébrer! Personne m'a repondu en anglais. I have made progress enough to understand and be understood en français.

This is the fifth time I have arrived for a stay of several months in this beautiful  City founded four centuries ago. J'adore le son de la langue française on the streets, des pierres partout, stone buildings with wooden window and door sashes in French blue, a rusty or bright red, ochre, light or deep greens. This time I live just off rue St Paul, on a small côte of cobblestone, in a 200 year old building with wooden posts at least a foot thick. Formidable! At this time of year the city is full of tourists whose faces are hidden behind cameras pointed up at mansard roofs, cupolas, spires. Bells peal from scores of church towers, a joyous sound no matter your religion.

The papers are full of opinion about Madame la Première's proposed charter of Québec values, the one that contains the contentious prohibition of religious garb in government workplaces. She was born feisty, Pauline Marois. In this age of multiculturalism, she must have known the furor this proposal would incite. Is it simply a matter of separating church and state, right down to dress codes for government workers, or is she trying to appeal to the worst in an electorate that has been under the threat of non-French invasions since the battle of the Plains of Abraham? Qui sait, mais c'est un commencemant intéressant.

As for la vie littéraire, my second night here I met with members of the book club who had  read Centre/Center, my third book. Pleased that they thought it a "true" representation of the 60's, that one woman in particular was sad when the book ended ( a real compliment; I have had that feeling about my favourite books), and surprised that the book evoked a spirited discussion about the Vietnam war. That old wound seems to fester still, and not very far below the surface.