Chapter 63: Bienvenue Au Quebec
It was early afternoon by the time I saw a sign that read "Bienvenue Au Quebec" indicating that I was leaving the Providence of English Ontario. I was anxious to use my recently acquired French language skills. I had practiced on a few occasions with the French speaking people I had met in California. But always they would revert to English, saying that they wanted the practice. Now it was my turn to practice in an all French society. My first real-time participation was at a gas station just outside of Montreal.
"Je besoin de Essence." I said to the attendant, speaking slowly and utilizing my best accent.
"Quoi?" The straggly older gentleman asked.
"Je besoin de Essence." I said again, rolling my tongue in the manner instructed by my French teachers at university.
"J'ai ne comprend pas!" He said, scratching his balding head.
"De essence--de essence!" I managed, pointing to the pump.
"Oh--you mean gaz!" He remarked, accentuating the z sound.
"Yes, gas, je besoin gas!"
This would represent only the first time of many when language or pronunciation created a basic communication abyss. I remember thinking to myself, 'Who would think they would call it gaz?" I would also learn with time that French Canadians embraced a special affinity for their language and culture, which goes back even before the battle on the Plains of Abraham that decided hundreds of years of subjugation to English rule. Now the French were the power majority. Language became the sword of execution and culture an emblem of recognition. In time I became aware of many things about Quebec French society. However, being an American was not considered the same as English Canadian, and found warm embrace almost everywhere I went just for trying to speak French.
Monique's address was somewhere in Terrebonne St-Adele. Once in Montreal, I asked another gas attendant in French where I might find Terrebonne St-Adele? He provided me with directions far to the east of Montreal to a county named Terrebonne. Once there, another English speaking gas attendant only laughed, giving me instructions on how to connect with the 640 west, then the 117 north to the city of St-Adele. To this day, I am unsure why I thought St-Adele was in Terrebonne, unless, Monique was using the word 'terrebonne' as an expression (which literally means 'good earth') to describe the loveliness of her dwelling. It was past midnight by the time I rolled into my friend's driveway. The A-Frame house was dark, the large glass windows staring vacantly into a pale forest of Birch trees bathed in moon light. Parked in the drive were two beautifully restored older model cars: one a silver Bentley, the other a dark blue Rose Royce. As expected, no one was home; the key placed in the mail box just where Monique said it would be. Although exhausted, I spent one of the most idyllic moments of my life in a bed located on the top loft at the apex of the plated glass front window looking through a tangled maze of naked branches in this remote region of a strange new world.
The next several days were peaceful enough. I bought enough provisions to last a week, setup my Olympia electric typewriter, and settled into the routine of finding my inspiration. In the beginning, I was less creative than I hoped I might be, preferring at times just to recline in a comfortable chair and gaze out the window with CHOM FM broadcasting musical scores in the background. Halloween night was a special presentation of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. As a child, I loved to listen to this H.G. Wells classic about Martian invaders, as well as other book classics made into audio books produced by Bell Camp Records. I even had in my collection then. The classic fiction by H.G. Wells, and even a copy of Orson Wells' original live radio broadcast on Halloween night in 1938, which caused social panic to a rural population unfamiliar with the nineteenth century book classic. Those recordings were more audio stage productions; whereas, Jeff Wayne, along with David Essex, made a powerful modern musical medley, rich with base and never-before synthesized Sci-Fi sound effects, and a riveting narrative by the famous actor, Richard Burton. I stayed up until almost midnight, my imagination snared in this musical recreation of one of my favorite stories, abandoning all other pursuits. This night of sound extravaganza remains memorable to this day.
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