Posted on August 22nd, 2016
Quebec City felt like Disney World felt when I was a kid. My cynical side only saw a series of tricks; some massive money-making scheme to build a pretend French-like town that could easily separate tourists from their money. How old could the buildings really be? This was Canada! (I learned later, quite old actually, but still not THAT old). When we first arrived at our hostel-like-hotel the overly friendly concierge/owner/chef laughed a lot while he pointed out local restaurants to us on a map. His loud bark followed each suggestion and my boyfriend Jose and I became increasingly unnerved by the sound. It was so piercing. After this initial meeting, where he suggested a restaurant called “The Hobbit” (this name was literal- it was actually decorated as if it were a hobbit hovel), we decided to figure it out on our own and took to sneaking down the back stairs in order to not pass the front desk each time we left. We quickly discovered that he lived in the hotel, in an apartment directly underneath ours, and that we were going to hear that laugh echoing for much of the trip.
I am largely a pill when it comes to doing anything outside of our apartment. I generally prefer to be prostrate, wrapped in a feather duvet, a hearty glass of red within reaching distance, reading or writing in my bed. At the end of these non-physical intellectual experiences I will sometimes, not too often I swear, take a Valium and watch television on one of our two flat screens. Did I mention I insist on the air-conditioning being on full blast the entire time I’m in the apartment?
I take credit for coining the term “comfort queer,” an identity I proudly formulated after standing in the rain for less than two minutes at the Pride parade last year. While the rest of my people danced and sang in the rain, I snuck off for brunch at Balthazar’s. I ate duck-liver pate. It was my own version of Pride. Thus the comfort queer was born.
Canada was a good idea, I thought. A way for us to have a vaguely European experience without the cost of going to Europe. We talked about potentially doing some “lite hikes” and doing more “outdoorsy” activities. Jose had his car with him and said we should leave for a while, go to an island near the city where there would be vineyards and beaches and woods to hike in. I had, shockingly, an attitude about the plans. I can be superstitious about anything that seems too idyllic or good, and something about wineries on a beautiful summer day struck me as the type of experience I just could not actually enjoy. Other people enjoy these things. People in movies! It just felt too adventurous. There was wine at The Hobbit right up the street! The guy with the ominous laugh told us so!
The day literally could not have been any prettier if it was a conscious entity trying to be pretty. We listened to French pop-songs the whole way out and Jose, who of course had learned “a little French” before the trip, translated them for me. The island, Île d’Orléans, was as idyllic as I had imagined, terrified, it would be. Hills sloped into small farms where people actually appeared to be out tending to said farms. People rode bicycles beside the cars as if this was their everyday mode of transportation. I even let Jose put the sunroof down, the warm wind batting my hair around as we drove onto the isolated stretch of Quebec. I kept pointing to any small house I saw for sale and exclaiming that if Donald Trump wins we should just move there. I could see it working. Jose could drive into Montreal to earn money while I raised our brood, with the assistance of an au pair, on our small home on Île d’Orléans. When he got home each night there would be freshly baked bread and the kids will have all been bathed and instead of television we’d play board games on the living room floor.
I get a little wrapped up in my own head sometimes.
We arrived at the first vineyard. An entire stretch of hills led straight into a river that flowed from a massive waterfall, visible from the porch of the winery. Our waitress’s husband was from Mexico, like Jose, and talked with us about how she was learning Spanish (something I was pretending to do). This small little detail she revealed, her study of Spanish, and my immediate reaction of feeling inadequate under its glare is the type of interaction/reaction that has derailed many seemingly nice experiences for me. My immediate defense mechanism is to somehow find cynicism in the entire experience. Two rosés in, however, and I could not muster a single sinister thought. She was so bright and kind. I asked her for tips on learning Spanish. I acted like a non-monster-well-adjusted human being. It felt nice. I wasn’t even mad that we had the only table in the sun, although the comfort queer in me kept an eye out for any possible sign of someone with a shaded table leaving so we could pounce on it immediately.
She brought poutine with chunks of succulent duck meat on top. I felt content in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I looked across the table at Jose. He was smiling into the sun, soaking up its rays. I thought about how he managed to be so calm and happy, even in the face of my sometimes unrelenting attempts to keep him at a distance. I could speculate here on why I feel the need to arm myself with defenses against love, but I have had years of therapy to work on that and mostly what I felt in that moment was grateful. Jose had done the research to find this island, something I would never have done. He had taken the initiative to take me off the beaten path. It wasn’t a “lite hike” but it was something different. We were outdoors, and I appreciated him.
Next we drove to a secluded beach where you could see Quebec City from a distance. It didn’t look like Disney World anymore. It looked like a beautiful hill covered in castles. I took pictures of Jose with his pants rolled up, wading into the water. Geese were walking around the rocky beach. He kept looking back and smiling and I smiled back because he kept running at the geese and something about the sun and the rosé and his smiling face just made it all seem so lovely.
We drove back from the beach and got ice-cream smothered in warm milk chocolate. It was turning out to be a ridiculously decadent food day, one that would typically have me in whirls of anxiety about the amount of calories I was eating, but I felt calm. Vacations when I was a child had not generally been peaceful. What I remembered the most about our family trips was the fighting. How quickly it would come on, seemingly out of nowhere, and how an entire day could be soaked up by that. I did not have an overly tragic childhood, but my immediate reaction to moments that feel too good, too pleasurable, is to believe something could go wrong. I trusted Jose’s steadiness. I knew what to expect and he knew how to travel, how to eat well, and how to enjoy himself.
On our way off the island we drove past a fromagerie. Jose asked if I wanted to stop and I initially answered no. I was not hungry, what would be the point? Then the spirit of the day seized me and I said let’s go back. We had already passed it and he said we did not have to, it had already been a nice day, but eventually I convinced him to turn around. We ate fried cheese, probably the last thing we needed, on wooden benches outside. On the drive back we listened to French pop-music again, passed the waterfall we had seen from afar, and headed into the darkening city.
When we got back to the hotel we went up to the roof. The sun was setting and stars were slowly beginning to dot the sky. We hugged and watched the sunset. “Today was fun,” he said and I could only say, “It was.” The lights of the city slowly twinkled on, a crisp, unseasonably cold wind blew up onto the roof and I couldn’t think of a single thing to complain about.