A Debate of Poutine
Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
74Trip End Sep 01, 2010
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Beneath the freeway is a sort of Triplets of Belleville community, each home all angular and colorful, shingles askew and jutting into the sky, painted with fantastical murals of Renaissance architecture and demonic wizards poking their head out of the forests of Narnia. Amongst all of this are clouds of yellow and blue, those iconic tents from Cirque du Soleil, who will be giving free performances throughout the summer, and tonight as well. Nice.
I head through Vieux-Quebec, the original town founded in the early-1600s as part of Nouvelle France, to see the Fairmont-owned hotel, all fortlike and colorful and looming, jutting with spires into the grey sky
I stroll a little ways past the huge tourist line – though in a square there’s a middle-aged wedding – and I find a young man with a deformed face playing his guitar with a certain combination of light innocence and despair and my heart so totally breaks, but I don’t have any money to give him and I hate myself for ever feeling sad, especially for having felt aimless in this city at this point. As I’m writing this I think of him gratefully.
I get to the Old Port, along Rue Saint-Paul, to find all those cafes and boulangeries and antiquaries that charm the hell of me. My ears tingle when I find a tiny square with the city wall behind it, topped with onlookers, flanked by a very tall mural displaying a typical day in the old town, populated by the city’s famous citizens of the past. On the stage is a jazz trio and they’re playing – oh my GOD – Duke Ellington’s "Prelude To A Kiss" and Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”, which is so beautiful that I want to dance by myself
I’m wasting my trip writing in this journal every day, but I love doing it, so I’m not wasting anything, but I’m in the bus writing while The Beard plays cyclical nonsense on his guitar with the broken string and everyone listens to Mitch Hedberg. Here we go out, now, for dinner, so I’ll finish later. I saw an antique trumpet today and I asked the guy how much it was because Cornbread wants one. Here we go out, now, for dinner, and for Cirque du Soliel
Dinner was Subway tonight. Tristan values these things, these absolute negative aspects of society, and as I chew my Pizza Sub, I size that up. Is he to be despised for valuing that which undermines all good, is he to be discounted for his contradictions, or is he to be valued for exercising that which he likes without compromise or apology while being a good, moral person? All of this based on a sub sandwich; Quebec City, particularly the Rue Saint-Paul in the Old Port area, offers so much in the way of traditional and attractive cafes, both modern and rustic, trendy and classic, that choosing Subway for me is like standing before a thousand thermal pools of all different temperatures and solutions, then choosing to take a swim in a bucket of piss. But then that bucket of piss is only $5.50, while the pools are around $18, and we’re all living in a bus, exhausting any savings of which we may be lucky enough to have to speak, so I can’t complain; at least it wasn’t McDonald’s.
Hickory Rick is a whiner. Perhaps it should be mentioned that at Subway there was less people speaking English than in any of these expensive restaurants. If economy seems to always triumph over beauty in the long run perhaps our romantic fascinations with Europe are misguided interests in the past, these places having avoided the latest waves of economic progressions, riding only on the remaining momentum from century-old dominance and imperialism (the very thing Hickory Rick does not like about America). Their way of life may appear as an ideal in the minds of those that don’t like competition and stress but in our world this is unsustainable and will only lead down a path of disrepair. The only true hero left in Quebec is poutine (this devil’s advocate philosophy brought to you by an Ayn Rand reader). Poop.
Merde. While it is true that my affectation for all things European, or even just foreign, may be irrational, that those things with which I align my dreams are synthetic and romantic and unsustainable at best, one cannot pin a pragmatic defense against a person whose values transcend (or skirt, even) the intellectual, the functional, the tangible. Were I but a bastion for the obsolete, the artillery on a sinking ship, my role as protector in this argument can be observed as going obsolete as well, and even if such fate is deserved in view of a sort of battle of the fittest, is it not valuable to members of society to keep such a battle alive? On a Jurassic street of beings, there are nine that are universal, and universally efficient, one gangly and out of place: nine Tyrannosaurus Rexes, so dominant and prevalent in this prehistoric world, and one fragile cawcawlimto, the last of its kind, a flowering and fluorescent avian with predilection to feed on the plaque of its predators
As with most arguments this one is perhaps mostly a story of misunderstanding. My argument was against complaints and general negative energy. You have spent your time defending the mythical cawcawlimto, in defense of the overlooked and less aggressive entities in this world while my argument was quite simply an attempt to make you see what had appeared to me to be an undue contempt for the aggressor. Is it your right to hate the tyrannosaurus rex just because he is dominant? This also stems (as we discussed) from my own personal distaste for intellectualism without intellect. It seems to be in vogue to hate on capitalism and therefore America with a blind eye. I’m not claiming to be in possession of the answer I quite simply know when I’m looking at bullshit
Cornbread is right and mostly fair with his accusations, and we did indeed spend the night of the thirty-sixth day discussing this at considerable length, so I don’t feel the need to defend or discuss much more. Maybe I’m a hypocrite, maybe he’s a hypercritic, but it doesn’t matter for tits because life is too good to worry about any of it (and, after all, these are just microscopic bubbles in the brain and little else)
After dinner, we walk along the cobblestones of yesteryear, bumpy and uncomfortable yet charming and characteristic, and follow the dulcet reverberations of a Cort holding court in the very square in which I had enjoyed my Gershwin earlier this very day. Here standing underneath a tweedy fedora is a lonely troubadour named Andre, and from behind a throat covered in gray and hard-earned stubble plumes a leathery voice that projects up and over the old city walls, soaring on the wings of pure passion. We close in on this and applaud alone amongst the passersby and he, finally attended to on this evening, approaches in French, then English, with a broad, warm smile. He and I chat a bit about his music, a lot about Los Angeles and the weather within versus Quebec and the beauty within, and he plays on, now directed mostly at us. After each song he bows gracefully with a robust merci, then comments with accented humor about this or that, introducing us to a song called (“Bozo”?) by (Felix Lelaurant?), a famous Quebecoise who looms in the adjacent mural, silently strumming his guitar, but who had died on the morning of 8/8/88 at 8:08. “If you flip this number onto its side, it becomes infinity,” he muses with a wistful grin. Cornbread and The Beard go grab a gelato while Shmark plays with the shadows, taking pictures amidst a playground of aesthetic gold, while Tristan and I wait on the park bench
We head back toward the water, traversing ruins of old 18th-century taverns and watchmakers, passing two cast members in ghastly makeup who, seemingly on their break, lean against an iron railing, quietly necking. They see Cornbread and I smiling at them, and it’s hard to tell who feels more out of place, but we all acknowledge something good in the night, and we leave them to their duties.
We’re trying to get to Charest Est, on which boulevard the Cirque is to take place, but are sidetracked by a giant explosion of light and sound. A policeman is chatting with two cute girls at an intersection that cuts right into the madness and when he’s done, I ask him in my tatterly French if this itself is a sort of Cirque du Soliel, but he laughs and says, no, monsieur, [something complicated in French], and I feel like an idiot for even addressing him in a language I don’t know to begin with when he surely speaks English, but nevertheless I don’t know what he calls it
Earlier in the evening, The Beard was to marvel at this industrial complex on the bank of the water, a white collection of cylindrical stacks jutting into the sky, sized like two cruise ships stacked on top of one another, shaped like a cast iron space heater from yore, and while at the time I could only think, “oil refinery”, tonight I cannot stop the flood of recognition and cognitive stimulation. With scores of projectors and a minefield of high-definition speakers surrounding us all along the port, it’s a public showing of some mass media meal combining the deep red wine, the light and flaky entrée, the hearty main course and verdant side dish, the rich and colorful dessert (oh what a flambé!) and a good shaking of absinthe aperitif. I wish you could have seen it, really; I don’t know what more to tell you, except that when I find out who is responsible for it, I’ll pass it along your way. Michel Gondry, The Books, Jib-Jab, your grandmother who is constantly making collages and quilts, it’s hard to dish out who it may have been, but nevertheless we’re all too stunned and grateful to worry about any Cirque dul Soliel show or the beautiful blonde waitress that had invited us there.
The night ends with a plate of poutine that Tristan refuses to try because it has cheese curds in it (“I know I won’t like it, so why is it worth even trying?” Not a bad defense, admittedly.) and a very liquid visit to the toilet (I’m referring to the fact that I had really bad diarrhea), and by the end of the night, we’re watching a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia while putting up the cots before falling asleep as quickly as ever. I am going to miss this city, though, without a doubt, and am so happy to have seen it at all.