Toujours la langue

Since my first visit in 2010, Quebec City has become a kind of second home for me. Motivated by a desire to learn more and--especially--practice speaking French, I have returned at least once, sometimes twice a year and stayed for as long as six months at a time. Maintenant, la chassure est sur l'autre pied, the shoe is on the other foot. A Quebec friend has come west to British Columbia to visit me. We met during my first visit to la ville de Québec, when I was searching for a conversation exchange partner, and for more than four years I have been her main anglophone contact. She can understand English much of the time, and read it with the aid of a dictionary, but without regular practice chez elle, she rarely speaks it.

A Québecoise photographs the Terry Fox Memorial at B.C. Place
What's more, she is a die-hard separatist. A lifetime supporter of the Parti Québecois, whose main goal is the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada. An independent Quebec. This has been a long-standing Canadian issue, always at least on the back burner, and one that sometimes boils over as raucous referendum campaigns in which Quebeckers are exhorted by les oui and no sides. In 1970, the separatist movement turned violent when the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner and murdered a Quebec politician, Pierre LaPorte. The Prime Minister of that époque, Pierre Trudeau, imposed martial law and made lifetime enemies of many Quebeckers, including mon ami Québecoise.

So I was interested to see how my friend's first trip to western Canada would unfold, particularly what evidence she would find of the fact that Canada is officially un pays bilingue, a bilingual country, from coast to coast. Of course it isn't really. In the province of Quebec, almost 7 and a half million people either have French as their mother tongue or can conduct a conversation in French. Outside that province, the number drops to 2.5 million, and most of those speakers live east of Alberta. At our first lunch, however, my friend discovered that the waiter could communicate in French, at least enough to carry on a short exchange about how he learned the language as a semi-pro volleyball player training at a facility in Gatineau, Quebec. She heard her mother tongue spoken at the Museum of Anthropology, the hotel where she stayed, and the Vancouver aquarium. Most of these speakers were young, and at least one had attended a French immersion school. Much as my visitor and other Quebec residents detested the late prime minister Trudeau for having imposed martial law and for other actions too complex to describe here, his government supported the establishment of French immersion schools across the country. They are now so popular in most provinces that parents must line up for hours, even days, to enroll their children.

It's good to see that mon ami feels comfortable in British Columbia, one of only two or three forays she has made outside her province. On a hike through the woods, she freely sang out "bonjour" to those we passed, and the other hikers, while perhaps surprised, answered in kind--some awkwardly, some with confidence. Nothing like seeing how the other half lives to reconsider one's views. With more and more young people in Quebec learning English for practical reasons (and because of the influence of pop culture), and more students outside Quebec demanding French immersion, the idea of creating a sovereign Quebec for the sake of preserving the French language may have lingered past its "best before" date.

Parfois je manque ma langue!

Here I am super-stimulated by my francoĥone environment, loving the excellent course I take/suivi - intermediate level French, designed for immigrants -- all kinds of opportunities to let myself be immersed, meaning I could watch TV in French at night,  listen to Radio-Canada in the morning. The latter I often do, but in the evening I feel too tired and lazy and find I miss the easy pleasures of my langue maternelle, my native tongue, langue literally meaning tongue. Does one have to live in Québec to understand the importance of language to identity, to the comfort in being oneself? My goal is to become truly bilingue. What a pleasure if will be if I can achieve that, enlarge my identity, my sense of self, the comfort I might feel in les deux langues officielles. What a country we have!

Bilingue encore

Discussion on RC 106.3 about the looser language law re schools. A panel debating the merits of forcing allophones to learn French, because English is the language of work in most places, of the university. The anglicization of Montreal.

Je suis en train de penser de ça.

LeSoleil: in response to Charest, Pauline Marois (PQ leader) asks, would it be right to give people the right to vote, and to be elected themselves, when they can't speak the language of the majority?

I recall conversations with Pascal last fall. The tu or vous controversy he observed. Moncton vs Quebec. Gardez la monnai, he said, a phrase particular to Québec. And Mireille, Québecois have many words related to winter, one being gadue, which means slush.

While Radio Canada hosts a debate about whether French schools should be forced on people, young adults from Ontario - including a Macedonian-Ontarian who wants to be a hockey referee en francais -, Saskatchewan, B.C attend FSL à Centre de Formation de Québec est, le cours I am taking.

Lâche pas la patate, francophones...

Federal minister Maxime Bernier's remark about whether it should be required by law, la langue, or left to choice... I pondered that same question, and I have some sympathy for his view, yet... I think of the Canadian content regulations that did so much for Canadian music. It has been the human way, in NA, to give a hand up to those in the minority.

Another article in LeSoleil, orginally published in La Presse, reports the results of a sondage sur la langue, bilingualisme et la loi 101. Most Francophone Québecois 90%, et 79% de non-francophone Québecois believe 101 is necessary. And it is not so much the anglphone majority in the U.S. and Canada, but the multicultural nature of contemporary Canada that Québecois perceive as a threat to the Francophone culture. The survey also found that Québecois are more willing to learn English than Anglo Canadians are to learn French. Seems so. That Québecois recognize the practicality of knowing English, while there is no real reason for English Canadians to know French. And even for we who study it, there is little opportunity to speak it outside Québec, which is why I came here. It seems that Quebcois have/will have the intellectual edge, in that knowing and practicing more than one language is definitely brain enhancing.

English Québecois are different of course. Selon un sondage, 80% feel it is important to speak French. Yet I have picked up on some slight anti-francisation at the Centre de Formation.

One thing that is unqiue, the passion for language ici. Parfait pour ecrivaine et on qui aime les livres. Vive le Québec! Mon reve est que notre pays va devinir vraiement bilingue.

Bilingue cont'd

Enthusiasms blind me, leaving me to trip over comments such as from the man on the ferry who told me, Quebec is one province I never want to visit, and a woman who described Francophone federal employees in Ottawa as bullies. The editor of the local newspaper on the Sunshine Coast editorialized about the potential danger for the citizenry who have to wait for RCMP notices to be translated into French before being published. I like the fire of the argument but I don't like the heat.

19 janvier
Mais, maintenant je suis ici à Québec encore et je sens bonne être ici. Carleen met me and helped me up the stairs to the cozy, now familiar appartement. Left me breakfast, dinner in the fridge. Une chose que j'adore -- le lumière vient plus tôt que à C-B. J'ai trouvé le froid fortifiant, et le jour prochain j'ai magasiné et fais du yoga tout en français. Ce matin, je me suis reveillé à le son des chasses-neige. C'est tres belle à l'extérieur.

Easy walk a le vieux québec, mais triste que la serveuse Chez Paillard m'a repondu en anglais. Aussi la neige fondue! Slush. I don`t like it.

Dear Russ surprised me with a bouquet and later took us all to the Grand Théâtre de Québec for a concert. To me, Schubert's 9th demonstrated the passionate conductor's skill at drawing out the most from his musicans in this rich orchestral piece, but the Brahm's Concerto for violin and cello had the narrative, the emotional complexity that held me, plus two great players, Darren Lowe and Blair Lofgren.

Oh, and Basterache! Le rapport, finalement. Les nouvelles que j'ai reçu pendant l'automnne fini. Ah, Bellemare. Il essaye,mais qui sait vraiment la vérité?

Love the intensity, the bright eyes and minds of the students I returned to tutoring jeudi. Returning home, across Grand Allée, onto Briand, sparkles of snow enchanted the walkway.

Bilingue III.

15 octobre

Beaucoup de vent, pluie aussi. Un jour vraiment sauvage! Les feuilles pareil les oiseaux vite. Now that the leaves are going, gone, the neighbouring buildings seem closer. Basterache is considering the evidence and writing his report. Cary Price is stopping pucks, gaz de schiste is still in the news, along with les adieux triste pour les quatre jeunes homme qui sont mort dans un accident à Drummondville.

Experience overtakes the time, rather the patience I have to record it. Also, reflections self-organize according to theme, rather than time. Jour-nal. Dia-ry. Day-book. This netbook is handy but bad for the neck.

Already time is going fast. I have been here three weeks, and my progress? Tres bon à parler avec Marie et Mireille. Marie is better at English, and yesterday we walked around la Musée National des beaux-arts for our practice session. The wonderful Riopelle interested me as much as the Spanish work, because je n'ai pas su son oeuvre, and many of the Spanish artists I knew from having seen them at the Prado or the Reina Sophia in Madrid. Un cadre is a frame and there were many with beacoup d'ornamatation. But the more modern works included the wonderful Sorolla, Dali, Picasso. Marie is good at correcting me. Mireille, who is uneasy en anglais comme moi en français, is a natural teacher and she, also like me, has a desire to get to know the other solitude, as per the phrase, Two Solitudes.

Lanugage: seldom think about the platform it provides for communion. I see how immigrants can feel so estranged. Here, people generally are more patient with me outside vieux quebec, and women more than men, with some exceptions. It's the accent that immediately gives me away, and makes for misunderstandings. French requires more nose and throat, je pense.

Marie-Josée said, many quote the title (Two Solitudes) of Hugh MacLennann's book, without having read it. M-J and John met me for coffee one morning. I wanted to thank them for helping me find this place pour rester à Québec. Une couple tres sympathetique. M-J m'a donné son livre de contes, Tokyo Express. Peut-etre je les verrai encore.

Et Annie! La visite de ma cadette! C'était super. Le premier nuit, elle, Pascal et Russ et moi avons eu du vin et h'ors-d'oeuvres, et Russ told a good joke: what is the question to the answer, 9 W? Is Wagner spelled with a V? Nein, W! Fun to walk around the city, along the river, through the neighbourhoods I like. She introduced me to poutine, bought me a café irlandais at the Chateau Frontenac. With her, Pascal and his parents, we celebrated a bilingual Thanksgiving dinner. Or the potential for one. Malhereusement, we spoke English, but I learned much about the culture here and in New Brunsick from Michel and Janette, both literary types,Michel a Radio Canada journalist. Good talk avec ils.

La langue, la langue! Un bon dimanche parce que I conducted myself comprehensibly at Nektar, my favourite coffee bar, and then, after much self-persuasion, initated a conversation with the woman sitting next to me at lecture by Alberto Manguel, full auditorium at la musée de beaux arts. I understood Alberto, too. Oh that felt good. Il a dit que la fête litteraire autour Borges était meilleur que autour Dan Brown. Un festival historique pour Québec and pour Canada aussi. Manguel has always preferred the imaginary, more than the realistic, the importance of the word, of language as symbol. Il me fait à penser. Peut-etre, I really can become binlingue...someday. Meanwhile, the concentration, thinking about words, has to be good for writing.

A debate described, typically, as raucous, as the Charest government pushes through new rules regarding the schooling of children in English. The language debate continues. I wish it weren't a matter of law but of desire, that everyone appreciated the beauty of binlgualisme. Sitting in the gallery of the National Assembly, the afternoon following the forcing of the law, j'ai écouté the PQ's Pauline Marois accuse Charest of abandoning le Quebecois. Could we trust good will, the nationwide recognition of the gift bilingualism is for a country, a person? Reading responses to the issue on the CBC Montreal site makes me doubtful.