Les Quatre Profs

Les Quatre Profs

Monday, June 28, 2010

Les Arts de la Rue

Upon arriving in Quebec City we noticed all kinds of people who performed in the streets of old Quebec. Musicians, dancers, pantomimes; you name it, it exists here. You also find all sorts of artistic statues smattered throughout the town. Our USM student group that will be travelling to Quebec next summer will even be attending a circus workshop. The street arts and the circus truly play a part in Quebecois culture.

Furthermore, it is not surprising that artists would feel welcome here since Quebec is the hometown of two famous, former, street artists, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier, who founded Le Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Last year for the 25th anniversary of Le Cirque du Soleil, Laliberté and Gauthier offered a free show to the people of Quebec during the summer season. This show was so popular, that it will run for free for the next five years during the summer months! As you can guess, we decided this was a must-see. If you’ve already seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you already know how difficult it is to truly describe; however, I will do my best for those of you who have sadly never had this unique experience. The Cirque is a mix of circus acts, street arts, and music from around the world put into a multimedia and artistic performance. One is transported into a mystical world where people have superhuman strength and can move with their bodies in ways one cannot even dream up. The Quebec show is not only special because is free to the public, but it also takes place outdoors under the freeway interchange; a place that is normally banal and desolate. The show was a definite trip highlight.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


And now… the entry you have all been waiting for… how Neelie and Alison became Canadian stars!!

Just to recap how this all came to pass: Neelie was filming Alison as she was acting out a skit for her students. (As fellow teachers, you can just imagine what this looked like!) From a distance, two men and their camera crew yelled out to us. Immediately we assumed that we were being scolded! But “au contraire”!! As hosts of the hit Montreal morning show, “Des Kiwis et des Hommes,” they were genuinely curious as to what in the world we were doing. A conversation ensued, and as things were wrapping up, we asked if we could interview them. Delighted at this idea, they agreed. (In retrospect, this was naively bold of us to have asked for an interview. The American equivalent to this might be asking Regis and Kelli for a school interview… on our flip cams. Needless to say, they were extremely professional… and amused.)

We got a call a couple hours later from the director of the show asking us to return to the market the next day. Drawn to our story, they wanted to do a short segment about us for the national Quebecois holiday, St. Jean-Baptiste. The focus of the show that day was the celebration of the French language in Quebec. Two Americans discovering Quebecois culture and language would fit perfectly.

We arrived at the studio (which overlooks the market) at 11:30 the next day and were immediately whisked upstairs to get our hair and makeup done. While backstage, we learned that none other than Michel Tremblay would be the featured guest! (For those not familiar with this name, Michel Tremblay is the most important and prolific contemporary Quebecois playwright.)

As our segment was one of the last to be filmed, we had the opportunity to tour the set and truly get a glimpse into the production of the show. A local international school started things off by singing “Gens du Pays”, the Quebecois equivalent to “America the Beautiful.” This was followed by Michel Tremblay’s interview and a cooking demonstration.

Finally the big moment arrived. The crew escorted us to the market’s bookstore, where we were told that Francis, one of the show’s hosts, would show us several maple syrup recipes. Then… Lights, camera, action! The cameras were rolling, and Francis, bemused, shared with the Quebecois public how he met us making videos at the Jean-Talon market. He then invited us to share a bit of our story and we happily obliged. At the end of the segment, Francis offered us a gift- a local cookbook of maple syrup recipes along with a can of maple syrup.

And that, my friends, is how we became Quebecois morning show stars.

Pam, Carolyn, just a warning: this show may well be the beginning of a new career path for us. We hope to be back next year at USM… to sign autographs. But one never knows…

(Note: Although the video was not posted on their website, we have been promised a recording of the show which we plan to share.)

La Mère des Quebecois

“Je me souviens” (I remember), the official motto of Québec, can be found everywhere- on license plates, on buildings, on postcards, on street signs. The Quebecois will not be forgetting any time soon. So what exactly are they remembering, you ask? The answer to this question is fairly nuanced, but what it really boils down to is their history, their heritage and their culture, all of which are very closely intertwined with the French language.

* A couple facts:
  • 80% of the people in the Quebecois province consider French to be their first language.
  • 95% of people in the city of Quebec speak French as their first language
We find that everywhere we go, people are surprised to find a group of Americans who speak French fluently. We enjoy giving our country a new face that perhaps the franco-Canadians haven’t seen. But it is also disheartening that such a phenomenon is so rare- four French-speaking Americans! But, après tout, we are hopeful that our students will one day become ambassadors who also reach across linguistic and cultural lines to connect with people on a meaningful level.

Interestingly enough, it is not just the Americans who are viewed here as monolingual. It is also the anglo-Canadians. Even the English-speaking population of the Quebecois province has been so resistant to learning French that several people have told us, “Francophones (French speakers) here are bilingual, and Anglophones (English speakers) are monolingual.”

(Partly in response to this resistance to the French language, the Canadian government passed Law 101 in 1977. The purpose of this law was to make French the official working language of Quebec. French is the official language of the schools as well, and it is the mandatory language of instruction. However, if a child’s mother or father went to an English-speaking school in Canada, that child has the right to attend an English-speaking school.)

The French Language has become our fifth companion, going ahead of us and paving the way into the lives of the folks we have met here. Let me explain… Say that you and I have a mutual friend; let’s call her Françoise. In fact, Françoise isn’t just a friend to you; she’s actually your mother. She’s done some really great things, and you are really proud of her. And just like any good son or daughter, you would defend her to the end.
One day, you meet me, and right away you figure out that I know your mom, Françoise. And not only do I know her, but I have been profoundly touched by her and have a great appreciation for her. And I am in town just to learn more about her and where she is from. I want to explore the streets where she grew up, meet her family, and then go back to my city and teach people about her. And just like that, we have an instant friendship. Our common ground is your grand source of pride.

L'érable partout!

After being here for several days, we have come to understand why the maple leaf is the emblem of Canada- it is everywhere! One of the first things that Neelie asked when we arrived at our hotel in Montreal is “Where can I find maple ice cream?” As we were told, it is was not exactly hard to find. I, being the sweet-tooth that I am, have eaten at least one maple-flavored confection per day, including a maple muffin, maple ice cream, a maple truffle, maple fudge and white chocolate-covered maple butter.

In the spring, a popular pastime for families is to visit “les cabanes à sucre” (sugar shacks) on maple farms. Here, you can watch as the collected sap is boiled down to syrup. While doing so, you can also enjoy many the culinary delights made on sight, including:

- la tire d’érable (maple syrup drizzled directly onto fresh snow. Eaten with a stick!)
- Maple syrup pies
- Maple fudge
- Maple ham
- Oreilles de crises (small fried pastries)

Sounds like we will have to return in the Spring so that we can get the full experience!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Quelques notes sur... le transport

So far, we have used several modes of transportation to get around town. In Montréal, an underground metro system facilitates travel within the city. Interestingly enough, each metro station in the city was commissioned to a different architect, so each station is a little different. In addition, quite a few of the stations are part of the “Ville Souterraine” (the Underground City), and rather than walking through long, dark tunnels within the station itself, you’ll find yourself in wide hallways lined with shops and boutiques. This is quite handy during the harsh winter months!

In addition to the metro, we took the bus to and from the airport, where we rented a car to drive to Quebec. Brett also took advantage of the bike rental system in Montreal, as he mentioned earlier. And all four of us toured Île d’Orléans by bike. Here in Quebec there is a free mini-bus (Econobus, because it runs on electricity). There is also a funicular right in the heart of the city, a welcome sight to travelers like us the other night. Old Quebec sits on top of a giant hill, and after dinner we found ourselves exhausted… at the bottom of the hill. Thank you, funicular!! But our most popular mode of transportation has definitely been our feet!

Music and Such

Wednesday evening, we all had a beautiful dinner of wood-fired pizza outside on Rue Ste. Catherine, a very lively street in the middle of what people call the Village.
Everywhere we go, people seem to take to our group, finding us either bizarre or comical, especially because of our high energy and loud French conversation with overtones of American English. At every turn we do not hesitate to talk to people or ask questions, since a large part of the trip is to help us to understand our surroundings, both culturally and linguistically.

Speaking of the language:
An interesting thing about the French in Quebec is that when new words are added to the lexicon, they are usually calques of English words. A calque is a literal translation of a word. Here are some examples:

Watermelon – melon d’eau (melon of water)
cell phone- telephone cellulaire
You’re welcome (after someone says thank you)- bienvenue (welcome)
a place- une place

Quebec French is also a very productive language. They will take a verb in English such as watch, and add an –er to the end to signify the infinitive and voila! you’ve got watcher (pronounced wachay)!

After the meal, we were all going to a music session at a pub in the Centre-ville , since I really wanted to connect with a couple of musicians. Renee, Neelie and Alison were going to meet me there. In the end, altogether too tired to venture out after an exhausting day, they decided to stay in and play one of the French word games that Neelie had bought that day.

I decided on the other hand to continue on with the evening.
I walked into the pub and went to the bar to order a drink. As I am talking to the bar tender ( in English, being the English part of Montreal), I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around to see a woman I had met in Paris three years ago when I taught flute at the Irish Association in Paris. She had been living in Montreal for three years. What a small world! She brought me over and introduced me to the other musicians. It was a great session and the best part is that I met a man that is doing his doctorate in ethnomusicology on a certain kind of dance tune in the Quebecois tradition. He apparently is also a very prolific composer of Quebecois tunes. WE talked and played music until later than I really had planned. By midnight, it was time to go, since I was to get up at 6 the next morning so we could get to the airport to pick up our car that would take us to Quebec City.

How would I get back? I wondered. Oh yes! I would take the Bixi. Earlier that day I had tried out the relatively new rental bike system that Montreal put in place to make the city a greener place. It’s incredible! There are bike stations all over the city and it’s automatic. You insert a credit card and away you go. You get a code that allows you to unlock a bike. IF the bike is back to another station –any station in the city- in 30 minutes or less, it’s free. If not, you are charged. There is also a $5.00 fee for 24 hour unlimited access, which is really nice. Montreal is amazing by bike and has loads of bike lanes separated from the cars by cement barriers. IN any case, it was a full day and mighty difficult getting up at 6! Luckily there was a café open at 7:00 to get a stiff espresso…


Friday, June 25, 2010

We See Nothing

The last three days have been so jam-packed with francophone experiences that we have not even had a chance to write about them. Since “les filles” have all gone to see a free Cirque de Soleil performance, I decided to stay back and reflect on some of the highlights of the week.

On Wednesday, we all split up: Alison and Neelie went one way (more on this later) and Renee and I the other. Since hearing about a place called the Insectarium, I had no other desire but to be there. Of course not everyone is fascinated by what basically boils down to an insect zoo. The real draw for me was an insect tasting, which would challenge all of our culinary faculties. So, Renee and I embarked on the trip: Metro Berri-Uqam (University of Quebec at Montreal) to one of the Biodome stops. As we climbed the long escalator that leads to the outside world, images of beautiful plants, insects and the Olympic stadium filled our heads. (The stadium, the Biodome, the Insectarium and the botanical gardens are all basically in the same place.)

When we reached the top of the escalator, there was a long hallway that lead to the inside of the stadium. We opened the doors to the stadium and realized that it was completely quiet and empty. It seemed strange to us that there should be no action inside an Olympic training facility and stadium, but what did we know?

We walked outside.

As we ambled along, the sky overcast, the air rather heavy, I had a real urge to use the little boys’ room. None in sight, so we kept walking. We chatted about this and that (always in French of course, since we had promised ourselves a complete immersion experience). As we neared our destination, we realized that it too seemed quiet and empty. Did it open later than we had thought? Were we the first ones here? Great! No long lines…

I really had to use the bathroom, so we walked into the doors of the Biodome and ran smack into a table not unlike those used at a school bake sale. But behind this one was a security guard.

Guard: Bonjour / hello (all of the customer service and tourism people automatically say both, just another indication of the linguistic politics of this country)

Renee: Are you open?

Guard: We’re closed today tomorrow and probably the day after.

Renee: Because of the holiday?

Guard: No. everyone’s on strike.

Renee: That’s not very convenient for the tourists.

Guard: That’s the point.

Brett: Is there a bathroom I could use?

Guard: Sorry…

Brett: Where is the nearest one?

Guard: I don’t really know. Maybe the café down the road.

And that’s how Renee and I didn’t see anything that morning.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

L'Arrivée! (June 21 & 22)

After a really easy flight that seemed like nothing in comparison to a flight to French speaking Europe (France, Belgium, Switzerland), we arrived in the very cosmopolitan and international city of Montréal. The first impression an American has here is “this looks like home” and yet we can see the French influence in some buildings’ architecture, and French is spoken and seen everywhere. We feel at ease and at home here, but it’s even better because we get to speak French all the time.

The accent of the spoken French is quite different here from the French spoken in Europe, and some vocabulary is completely different. The accent difference is much like the difference between a Texan’s speech patterns in comparison to that of a Wisconsinite. Some of the word differences we noticed are ice cream (la crème glacée in Québec / la glace in France) and lime (la lime in Québec / le citron-vert in France).

People in Quebec are warm, welcoming, and helpful, which reminds us a lot of the Mid-West. People offer helpful information or simply stop to chat a bit. They are often pleased to have met Americans who have not only taken the time to become fluent in French, but who are so curious about the Quebecois culture and way of speaking French.

This city of approximately 1.6 million people is truly diverse. On every street corner, you will find one, two or even three restaurants of different ethnicities. We have been tempted by cuisine from around the world: Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, West Indies, France…you name it, you can eat it in Montreal! As you can imagine, the population is truly international.

Today we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Jean Talon market, where we had the opportunity to film interviews with merchants, shop keepers and shoppers. We were able to taste regional specialties such as maple syrup products (ice cream and tart), locally grown strawberries, and Quebecois goat cheese (chèvre) and sausage. By strange chance, Neelie and Alison came upon the hosts of a show called “des Kiwis et des hommes” (Kiwis and men), who were intrigued to hear about the purpose of our visit to Montreal. In fact, they were so intrigued that they invited Neelie and Alison to be guests on their show. We’ll report more after tomorrow’s filming…

One interesting feature of Montreal is the “mountain” that lies in the middle of it, overlooking the city. We visited Mont Royal today and after eating the delicious market food, we thoroughly enjoyed a hike which led us to the summit and a panoramic view of the city.