Friday, 25 October 2013

We won't be sleeping in our autumn beds

The colours on the trees may still be bright, but the summer is truly behind us. The last farmers' market will be this weekend (I've been stocking up on yummy veggies and baked goods there, as well as getting to chat to local people). I definitely can't leave the house without wearing a coat, scarf and sensible shoes now, even if it looks sunny outside. It's made me realise how back home, I always try to get away with wearing the bare minimum when it's cold. Over here, you just can't afford to do this - last week I had my first cold and I'm pretty sure it was because of that. Yesterday afternoon the temperature suddenly dropped by about nine degrees and the first snowflakes started falling, but they didn't settle. As I understand it, the next three weeks or so will just be glum freezingness without any snow at all. Winter still seems like a joke that everyone except me is in on, though...

School seems to be getting better and better each week. I believe there is a direct correlation between this and the fact I now have more autonomy in the classroom; the awkward "introduction" stage is over. Yesterday I started my weekly lunchtime English activities. This week it was Halloween-themed. Five students showed up, and it was a lot of fun, although I hope next time there will be more attendees.

Last night, I also went to see Lisa LeBlanc, who plays "trash-folk". She's not actually from Quebec, but is Acadian; that's another francophone culture with a whole different history, and their influence today is mainly to be witnessed in New Brunswick and also over the border in Maine. Anyway, I suppose that lyrically, in her demeanour, and in her level of fame, she's the equivalent of Kate Nash... come to think of it, she kind of looks like her too. She was a joy to watch. This song is awesome, even if you don't understand French. And if you do know French, but not the Acadian variety, it's pretty interesting to listen to lyrically.

All seems good in general. There are difficult days of course, but I push through them. I now have another long weekend, but I don't think I'm going anywhere; after spending far too much money when I went away over Thanksgiving and just being really exhausted the following week, I've decided that trips should be about quality, not necessarily quantity (not that I'm ruling out being spontaneous and stuff). Besides, this would be a good time to get to know my local area even better. There are still places in Rimouski I haven't checked out!

I need to save cash anyway, because next week I'm going to Quebec City for a few days! It's for a mandatory language assistant training. I'm quite disappointed that it will be over Halloween, because that's a huge deal over here and at my school, even the teachers wear costumes on 31st October. When will I have the chance to do that again?! But I hope to rediscover the city, and it will be nice to see everyone again.

Vocab de la semaine
  • Vous autres / nous autres / eux autres
    You lot / us lot / them lot
  • Écouter à la télé
    Still means to watch TV, but it's what people tend to say here instead of regarder.
  • Genre
    "Like" as a filler... you know what I mean. Can also be used to mean "as if!".
  • "Jean dit"
    "Simon says". I learnt the hard way (i.e. after excitedly introducing the activity to a class of kids I'm slightly scared of) that it's not "Jacques a dit" like in France.
  • Un cellulaire
    Mobile phone. In Quebec, portable actually means laptop.
  • Une chum de fille
    Learnt this from Lisa LeBlanc's stage banter! It means a female friend.
  • Fait que
    I've also got Madame LeBlanc to thank for this one. It means "so" (as in "therefore"). And now that I know it, I realise I've been hearing it absolutely everywhere.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

American Weekend

I have just had a weekend that has revealed to me that life really can be a series of beautiful coincidences (or whatever you prefer to call them, varying according to your personal world view). There's going to be a lot of preamble for each one, so sit comfortably, but it will all make sense, I promise.

This was the long Thanksgiving weekend, so it was my first opportunity to make a trip slightly further afield to soak up the last bits of summer. I knew I wanted to return to Montreal soon, it's no secret that I love it there. On a map, I was looking up where I could go from Montreal for a daytrip, just to mix things up a bit. Burlington, Vermont looked really close, and I'd happened to read an article recently about how cool it was. What's more, it was only $58 return on Greyhound. I decided to go ahead and incorporate it into my plans. It would be my first ever trip to the US. Si pas maintenant, quand?
The drive towards the border was already shrouded in mystery. It was about 9:00 in the morning, and fog was lingering over the cornfields and farmhouses. This area of Quebec - south-east of Montreal - is called the Eastern Townships, a bunch of little towns with English names due to it being a place of refuge for American Loyalists in the eighteenth century. It's meant to be one of the prettiest regions of Quebec, and I want to go there properly someday when the weather is nice.

Maybe it didn't hit me as hard as it would have done if I'd gone to the States straight from the UK; I've been in Canada for a month now, so I've already got used to how things generally are on this continent. But still, I just couldn't believe I was there, in this place I'd felt familiar with since I was very young, but still seemed like I had so much to learn about it. I liked seeing the licence plates and mottoes of all the different states. I liked getting to grips with using $1 notes. I liked that when you press the button at the zebra crossing (or "crosswalk") a voice barks "WAIT!" at you. And did you know that state amphibians are a thing? And that Vermont's is the leopard toad?

My first stop was the Saturday Farmers' Market. There were so many organic food stalls. It was so cheap that I felt no guilt in trying lots of it; I tried some Pakistani-Afghan cuisine, as well as being reunited with Tibetan momos. I also drank a delicious local ginger beer. It was the most gorgeous lunch ever. There were also many artists displaying their work. I bought a print from Hilary Glass, who is a very talented illustrator and a nice person to chat to - check out her Etsy store! It was such a friendly, chilled atmosphere, I felt so content.

Vermont is, of course, the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. And there was a Ben & Jerry's store with more flavours than you can imagine. It's on Cherry Street... or should I say Cherry Garcia Street?

The staff there were some of the cheeriest I've ever met! (Would you expect any less, though?) It was a tough call, but I chose Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream.
The photo below makes me insanely jealous of Past Me. I wonder if I will ever experience such unadulterated bliss in a waffle cone ever again.

Burlington sits on Lake Champlain, which is huge; it dips into Quebec too. It's certainly one of the loveliest lakes I've ever seen, so clear and blue. The land you can see across from Burlington is actually New York state! So yeah, this lake gets around.

Here are a couple of other nice places I visited in Burlington:
  • Crow Bookshop, 14 Church Street
    New and secondhand bookshop, with fiction and plenty of interesting non-fiction titles too. I got a book called Slanted & Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture by Kaya Oakes. It was the Pavement reference in the title that got me.
  • Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup, 211 College Street
    This is a nice kitchen with a rustic yet modern vibe. There are piles of pumpkins as you walk through the door, and fresh loaves of bread on display. You can go to the salad bar, or order from a selection of teas and baked goods - I had an iced tea and a strawberry and pecan vegan scone.

On the bus from downtown back to the airport (which is where the Greyhound station is), I got chatting to an older lady. It turned out that she was born just outside Linz, Austria, where I spent half of my year abroad! Another passenger on the bus was listening to our conversation and he was smiling at this thing that had made my day and probably made her day, too.

In some ways, Burlington is what I imagine to be a mini San Francisco. Maybe it was the sloping streets and the hippy vibe. Thank you, Burlington, for giving me such a great introduction to America. This little excursion was significant because coming back to Canada was like "coming home"; indeed, this is the country where I currently reside. It gave me yet another warm fuzzy feeling.

But that's not the end. There's still so much Montreal to tell of.

One afternoon, I was in Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Rue Bernard Ouest, a supercool publisher/bookshop specialising in graphic novels, feeling spoilt for choice with all the great titles. I turned around, and saw a certain Montreal musician whom I admire very much (they seem like they still want to maintain their privacy, which is why I'm not giving their name on this blog). They were with someone, so I was too shy to go talk to them, but I just couldn't believe it!

About three hours later, I was still wandering around Mile End. Long story short, I went into a café and spotted someone I'd met for about ten minutes in a restaurant the last time I was in Montreal. I was this close to not approaching her, as I was sure she would not remember me and it would just be a really awkward situation for both of us. But she did remember me, and she also seemed delighted about our chance reunion. We spoke for ages, we've exchanged contact details, and she's offered me a place to stay the next time I'm down there. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about a beautiful coincidence.

I also got the chance to visit Westmount, a predominantly anglophone neighbourhood, where Leonard Cohen is from. It's a pretty wealthy area. Also, note how the signs say STOP and not ARRÊT ( this even legal?)

Atwater metro station

Heading out of that neighbourhood, into Outremont and back into Mile End, here are a few more places I want to mention:
  • Parc Outremont, Rue St-Viateur
    Lonely Planet describes it as 'one of Montreal's best-kept secrets', and I can't disagree. The houses surrounding it are absolutely gorgeous. Some of them look quite Germanic. The trees and leaves on the ground were so beautiful. I spent a perfect afternoon sitting on the bench, reading.
  • S.W. Welch Bookseller, 225 Rue St-Viateur Ouest
    Secondhand books galore, mostly in English. Some of them are pretty recent releases, in good condition, and under $10. Cool.
  • Crudessence, 105 Rue Rachel Ouest
    A vegan eatery I hadn't tried before, Crudessence has five locations around Montreal. It was pretty expensive but it was good. The emphasis is on using natural, raw and healthy ingredients, and I indeed felt very healthy afterwards; I ordered a pesto lasagne made out of pesto (duh), avocado, tomatoes, cress, and some kind of vegan feta. Eating in vegan restaurants always inspires me to eat better in my day-to-day life.

Finally, I need to mention that this most coveted Montreal achievement has been unlocked: getting people to speak French to me! Last time I was there, even if I spoke French, I was replied to in English. This was most frustrating, but now, it seems that a month in an exclusively francophone area has worked wonders for my confidence. I couldn't be more thrilled about that.

There you have it. I have gone back into this working week with a fresh attitude, all because of the amazing people and places I stumbled across this weekend.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


Before anything else, I need to get something important out of the way. These are my new pyjamas, which I got at Walmart last week... at a cracking $1 for the set! I even asked a member of staff to price check it, such was my astonishment. The top says "Canada Rocks!" in case you can't read it.

Now onto the title of this post: I've been in Quebec for a month, i.e. moisiversaire as opposed to an anniversaire. That feels like just about the right amount of time - I won't say anything cliché like "time is flying". This will be quite a chunky post, full of what I've been up to lately!
Generally, the weather is so good! There is a sudden drop in temperature in the evenings, though; even though I'm just wearing a T-shirt in the day, I have to remember to wrap up after the sun goes down. And I can't get over how lovely Rimouski's surrounding area is. The other day we took the "back road" home and it was so picturesque, with all the clapboard farmhouses and rolling golden fields. We even stopped and took a look at some domesticated reindeer!

Frustratingly, I still feel like I'm in the adjustment period at school, but I suppose I have to accept everything at its natural pace and not rush anything. I did have a day last week where things got too much and the tears flowed (fortunately it was only in front of a colleague), but I think that was going to happen at some point.

I'm really mostly alright, though, and I am trying every day to embrace the positive. For example, it's quite nice that I'm a little celebrity in school. Students say hi to me in the corridor and whisper amongst themselves 'c'est la stagiaire en anglais!'. Hopefully they're not, in fact, making fun of me. The other day, we even went outside for a lesson; the students were taking part in a cross country run, and the teacher and I went to cheer them on!
Something I'm finding a little peculiar is the fact that students and teachers alike are allowed to just take days off school to go hunting! The teacher will ask where someone is when taking attendance, and a classmate will say 'il est à la chasse' - met by a shrug.

Another nice thing that's been going on is the migration of the birds. Every evening, if my window is open, I can hear them. If I look up into the sky, they're flying in an arrow formation. I looked it up and it seems these are snow geese, making their way from the far north of Quebec to the east coast of the US for the winter.

It's been a really good weekend, the perfect antidote to my slightly rough week. Some of the ELAs, as well as our Finnish friend who's studying here for a semester, drove up to Pointe-au-Père. It holds arguably the main tourist attractions in the area: the Onondaga submarine (the only visitable submarine in all of Canada!), a lighthouse, and a museum about RMS Empress of Ireland, a ship that sank 10km off the coast of Rimouski in 1914. It was $22.75 to see all three of these, and it was well worth it, I think.

Here are some photos taken from the top of the lighthouse:

In the evening, another ELA and I went to a fundraising gig at Co-op Paradis, an independent arts venue in Rimouski. Afterwards, we hung around in the bar and shamelessly talked French to unsuspecting strangers. It was fun. More of that to come, I suspect!

On Saturday, my friend Grace, who lives about two hours away, picked me up in Rimouski as she was on her way to buy a snowboard. We spent the day driving around, listening to a cheesy dad-rock compilation CD, and it was really the best afternoon I've had in ages. We then had a potluck with my friends here, which was yummy. Evenings where you laugh so much that you're bent double are great.

And today we went to our first American football game (le football), Rimouski vs. Chicoutimi. We didn't really know the rules so it was hard to make sense of what was going on. It was certainly a novelty, but I had to leave after about an hour and a half anyway and wasn't too gutted, so I'm not sure it's something I would do again. But it was, yet again, one of those bizarre "whoa, I'm in North America" moments. Seeing their funny gear, and people sitting on bleachers, eating hotdogs... it kind of felt like we'd tapped into the psyche of an entire continent. Life sometimes really is like a film.

Don't mind my finger right in front of the lens

Next weekend is that festival of dubious morality, Thanksgiving, or Action de grâce. In Canada, it's on a different date to the US one, and in Quebec, they just don't seem to care much about it at all really. Nevertheless, I'll have a four-day weekend, and I've made some nice plans. This coming week will be all about getting into the swing of things, finally. I got this!

Vocab de la semaine
  • T'es pas game
    You're not game, you wouldn't dare
  • Pas mal
    Pretty (as an adverb), a lot. Doesn't mean "not bad"!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Food in Quebec

Before I came to Quebec, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about how easy it would be for me to find stuff to eat. Two of the national dishes are poutine (drenched in gravy) and tourtière (meat pie to the max). This is a province whose cuisine is heavily influenced by French cuisine, and I mean... have you ever tried to be vegetarian/vegan in France?
So far, though, I've found that it's not been too bad at all. As I mentioned before, I've found places I can get a few of the specialty products I eat at home! I tend not to get meat analogues if I can help it, but I really appreciate that these are available.

This is the first time in a while that I have been bringing lunch to school/work. On my first day, I had lunch from the cafeteria, which consisted of soup, salad and a slice of vegetable pizza. School dinners have a lousy reputation but it was actually pretty good. It cost more than $5, though, and I decided I couldn't be doing with that every day. I quickly devised an easy, quick sandwich that I can make every morning: hummus, kidney beans and spinach. And it's vegan!

And in some ways, Canada - at least, I'm assuming it's the case all over Canada - has proved itself to be better than the UK when it comes to fast food places!
Practically across the street from my school is a Subway. I was feeling lazy for lunch one day, so I decided I'd go there. I was delighted to discover that they had a falafel sub! As usual, you can add or take away cheese as you like, load it with veggies, and there was also the option to go for an avocado filling (for a limited time only). Without the avocado, it was only $4.15, with the 12-inch at $5.00. So tempting, but I went for the smaller one.
Also, the McWrap here is pretty good. The "Mediterranean" one, which is full of vegetables and feta, and tastes very lemony. The "Santa Fe" one is also suitable for vegetarians and it's not bad. Yes, I know this is McDonalds, but if you ever stop somewhere and need some food, it's good to know.

Finally, I use the term "food" loosely here, but... what's this? Screme Egg? Is this now a thing in the UK too? It tastes pretty much the same as a Creme Egg, by the way, only the goo inside is green and not orange. Looks like it should be called the Mojo Jojo Egg.