A Debate of Poutine

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Sunday, July 25, 2010

           DAY THIRTY-FIVE:  We wake up, glad to see that we have no parking ticket, having parked near a fire hydrant, and split up immediately into the city.  I follow Shmark and Tristan to the supermarket, as my sense of direction is no better when everything's in French, and after a nice sandwich and apple, I set off.

            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.  Everything is so swarming with tourists, but they’re all speaking French and I’m digging it.  At the bottom of the famous Funiculare is an old man with an ancient wooden box leaning all askew on a wiggly staff, frantically twisting levers and switches to change out rolls of parchment before cranking a major arm like a silent film camera except it’s the opposite: a musical, non-visual instrument that may or may not be called a calliope.  I sit on a granite block nearby to bathe in the whimsy while eating a oatmeal cookie and when a group of girls seem lost and I offer them a look at my map, they look slightly offended and I blame it either on the cookie or on the fact that I’m grabbing them and myself as I do so.  Next time I just won’t offer them a map, then; how rood (by that I mean, how related to a crucifix or a very tiny unit of measure)!

            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.  Really, is it a contradiction of my sexual orientation to want that to play at my wedding?  The bassist, playing the contrabass, is very flashy, his solos a bit over the top, but they are tight together and they don’t speak English.  In the bar last night too, the Django band played “Dark Eyes” and I’m so loving the music in this city.  Even if it weren’t musical, where I normally love, love – LOVE! – wandering alone in cities with my iPod playing as a soundtrack, but I’m certain that Quebec City doesn’t need it.  It’s probably the most charming, romantic place I’ve ever seen, competing with Ljubljana (where earlier I compared Lake Louise to Slovenia’s Lake Bled in a similar sense, I hereby do proclaim that Canada and Slovenia are good), and I forget over and over that I’m not in Europe.  Even the dog shit on the sidewalks smells like the days in Florence.

            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.  I want to try a boudin noir but they’re expensive.  I love hearing French spoken everywhere and it makes me dream of moving here.  Los Angeles is not attractive like Quebec City, but then there aren’t as many dumb snobbish people here, either, so there’s a trade off.  Off to dinner!

            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.  Clearly, the cawcawlimto is an evolutionary error, one that is not long for this fore-ancient world, but look at it this way, Cornbread: even if the T-Rex is dominant in this context, even if the cawcawlimto doesn’t stand a chance, one day the T-Rex will exist in an environment too much for it to bear, and will perish just as the cawcawlimto had generations previous.  Even if more fossils exist of the former, even if the collective consciousness allows no thought for the latter, they are both carbonized and crumbling and equally dead, therefore equal.  Does there not exist value in being the person to uphold that rare, beautiful failure of a bird?  Perhaps one day we’ll wonder how the Tyrannosaurus, or the remnants of the beast, could boast such faultless incisors?  Perhaps someone, an animator, will stumble upon the skeleton of our humble cawcawlimto and be so inspired by its otherworldliness as to turn it into a character that will fill proliferate so greatly – through cinema, comic books, pencils, who knows – as to nearly trump all of its predators in contemporary popularity?  So all of this argues with the importance you place on efficiency, which can be skewed as circumstantial, particularly when framed as “posterity” or “prevalence”, and turns it around.  Even if I bark up a crumbling tree, if it is my heart that leads me that way, I cannot and will not redirect my gaze toward the crowded and mighty oak.  True, in this case, it is also a populated and crumbling tree, that romanticized nostalgia offered by the bejeweled history of Europe, but if there is no right and no wrong, or if success is subjective, and I’m lucky enough to intuit one way over another, I owe it to myself to charge, full force, in that direction.  Certainly you, Ayn Rand Reader, should stand to understand, or perhaps you have misinterpreted that which you have read?  And so I still stand to find effective marketing toward mass-consumption, or the complicit transmission of broad-demographics, while the mark of an intelligent and effective manipulator of society (he or she whose stomach will never empty, whose medical bills will never overwhelm), is a mark on society worth avoiding, or even holding in disdain.  It is something to stoop to, not something to uphold with glib self-satisfaction, this common denominator, and something against which I personally try to fight whenever possible, if I am at all.  Merde.

            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.  And people we want to label themselves smart by appearing intellectual often blindly except what is taught to them by other intellectuals.  I believe, and have always believed, it is only with personal experience and creation that we can begin to understand; from skipping a rock to understanding cultures and economies.  I guess as a bottom line I’d say I mistook your capitalist complaints and love of foreign languages and food and grouped them together in my mind to assume you were one of those who regurgitates 'cultured’ educators who criticize American capitalism without offering any solutions.  You said above it is something you ‘fight’ against whenever possible, all I hear are complaints and not solutions.  If you believe strongly, how about a boycott against fast foods?  Remember our stint in Portland?  Our friend made us bring our own plates to the food carts so that we wouldn’t waste paper plates.  That is a fight, not a complaint.  Also I would guess a Canadian subway sandwich is not worth complaining about when your solution costs 20 dollars Canadian.

            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).  Thoughts on the matter are welcomed in a continued discussion on the comments section, or elsewhere.  Onward:

            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.  He plays with his iPhone, I chat with old Andre, and after a time, the boys return to listen, and Andre’s set is finished when a shlub dressed in white paint and a three-pointed cap comes in with a tour group to dominate the evening with what I can only assume were ghost tales about a grim French past.

            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.  I know – we know – it’s extremely appealing, however, and we find a place to stand on the pier amongst the masses.  What is to follow is really quite difficult to scrawl on this monochromatic scroll, especially with these fingers, but I can tell you that I have yet to see anything like 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.
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