Monday, August 16, 2010

The Trail of Tears

Long since do I recognize the day or the time. It is enough to place one foot in front of another in an endless pursuit of the distant horizon. Rhythmically, the pains shoot across my buttocks and down alternating legs to ankles swollen and red and throbbing arches. Eyes, once glistening and alert, now arid deserts … lifeless and dull. My people call it the Trail of Tears, but the tears are no more. Only the story remains … and yes, the memory … yes, the memory … and the pain … yes, the pain. They remain.

Yet, again, I revert to old habits. I have begun at the end and proceed to the beginning. Although the real beginning may in actuality be some obtuse alignment of planets and stars and forgone conclusions of free will or destiny. Our plan was basically to drive to Richford, Vermont to spend the night with our friends, Pam and Rich. From there, we would cross into Canada and stop at a favorite bakery in Abercorn. We planned to work our way to Sherbrooke via several tourist stops along the way and then take in the sights of Sherbrooke for two nights. One more day of side trips would put us at North Hatley on the lake for rest and relaxation and some fishing for me. The last day was left open to accommodate more fishing before returning home.

The first day was going smoothly. We zigzagged our way the length of Vermont, stopping only for a quick picture of the bowling ball yard sculpture, and arrived in Richford late in the day. Incidentally, Rich works at a micro-brewery and also makes homemade beers and more recently wines. He couldn’t wait to break open several special beers for me to try and as many new wines. I thought that I said, “I don’t drink anymore”. However, from the look on Rich’s face, I must have said, “Santa Claus is dead” instead. I graciously agreed to taste each of the brews that he presented in the future when someone else opened them to drink. I will not forget that face … it was the Lindberg baby is missing face.

Lots to do that second day … an early start was essential to work it all in. Regardless of my need to be on the road, there were old stores to rehash and new ones to reveal. The 11:00 AM departure merely meant that a couple of stops might need to be eliminated from the itinerary. Even that would be soon forgotten as I stuffed the Abercorn shortbread cookies, one after another, into my gaping maw. We pulled into the parking lot of the bakery … not a care in the world of more consequence than what to eat first … shortbread cookies dipped in dark chocolate … sticky buns … the muffins … or a loaf of fresh-baked bread. The lot was uncharacteristically empty. It was Anne that I sent to the door. I did not allow myself to hear her message. Nevertheless, her mouth formed the words, “Closed on Wednesdays”. I was shameless in my grief.

We drove without speaking. On to the quartz crystal mine, Mine Cristal Quebec. The only one of its kind in Canada. My stomach and I took turns grumbling. The mine would snap me out of it. Of this, I was certain. The mine tour was in French. We had the English version on tape to follow along. The instructions for the tape player were in French. Anne and I had no difficulty understanding every 700th word. Maybe I am being nick-picky. Maybe it is just a matter of semantics. A mine is a hole deep in the ground where cool stuff is found – like gold, or silver , or quartz. This mine, however, was on top of the ground. I call that a “ditch”. On to UFO Land and the real world.

A little background might be helpful at this point. There is this guy in Saint-Adrien who claims to have been receiving messages frorm alien beings for years. He opened a tourist attraction called UFO Land. I say, “When things are going wacky … go wacky. It is the only sane thing to do”. We set our galactic GPS for Saint-Adrien and headed out. On the ride, we switched tours guides from the 2009 version to the 2010 version we had picked up at the tourist info building. UFO Land no longer exits. Apparently, the time for talking was over. On some dark and lonely night, the owner of UFO Land was sucked up on a beam of light into a glowing orb and whisked away … and for me, I too feel like I am receiving messages from an alien source. I flicked on the warp-drives and turned the car around.

Sherbrooke would be my refuse and my respite. We were booked at the Marco Polo B&B and I had selected the African-themed room. I am a suspicious person. It comes from having been a school principal. The last email from the B&B caused a slight rise in my eyebrow, I admit. “My English is not so good like my wife’s”. That said, we were graciously greeted at the door by a beaming, welcoming face. I believe the relevant phrase is “déjà vu”. “Welcome to the Marco Polo. There has been a slight problem with your reservation. You do not have the African-themed room. My English is not so good as my wife’s.” We did not head up the stairwell in front of us. Instead, we veered through the dog gate … though the dining room (lifting our bags over the table to get through the small opening) … though the owners’ den … though the kitchen … and up the narrow stairwell to the Indian-themed room. If nothing else, I am a flexible person. No problem. Life will go on! A mere seed tick in a world of parasites. A few more drops of my life-blood. Indeed, Sherbrooke proved to be a respite. So much so, that for the briefest moment, I thought that it was all over.

There is a natural order of things – chronological being one example. To understand what is next, you must understand what is not next, but was before … before it all began. My original idea was to go to a B&B around Parc Frontenac or Lac Megantic for a couple of nights on a lake. This would enable me to fish while Anne hung out on the beach. Rooms were scarce. I had one … but while I waited for responses from two other potential B&B’s, the room was booked. Instead , I found a place in North Hatley. There were ramifications. I had set my sights on a visit to a salvage artist. It was one of those events that you put the star by in your itinerary notes. Gone. The fishing was in jeopardy. The salvage artist was out of the question. Mentally, I drew a line through the star.

But, on a brighter note, the room I booked in North Hatley was at the Chocolatier B&B. Things were looking up! I put my disappointments aside and sped to North Hatley. Along the way, we did a short side trip to the Miellerie Lune de Miel, the honeybee farm. The brochures were beautiful and the tour sounded fascinating. Reality was slightly different … I never saw the first bee. The closest I came was the bee in my bonnet to leave. We still had a little more time before check-in at the B&B, so we stopped by Rose de Champs, the rose farm. I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been when the 200+ varieties of roses were still in bloom.

No more asides. To the Chocolatier B&B. It was gorgeous … we were greeted with chocolate. No we did not book a room with a private bath as we thought. We shared the bath down the hall. More chocolate si vous plait!

My memory fails me … did I mention the lavender farm, Bleu Lavande? I believe it to be the second largest in North America. No matter. I have seen the brochure and the farm is a sea of purple vistas and an ocean of old lady aromas. It was #2 on my must see list. I received the word from the Chocolatier B&B owner … in a casual aside. Like … “Oh, yeah! They mowed the lavender at Bleu Lavande. There are just rows of stalks now”. The message did not improve with a French accent.

So, there you have it … my Canadian vacation … one that Chevy Chase or John Candy would have been proud to have. There is more of course … like the five times Anne knocked herself silly by running in to my canoe hanging off the back of the car. On a positive note … it never rained … that being said, the canoe never got wet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Apologies to Roy Rogers

Fondue ismaking a comeback. That is one of the reasons that I chose Fondue Folie from the many restaurants in Sherbrooke , Canada to try. The other reason was the variety of menu choices. Here is how it works for the table de hote. First, you select a shared broth. Anne and I chose the beef and onion broth since we thought the other two choices might overpower some of our meat selections.

Step two is to select an entree for each of us. For Anne, it was escargot and brie. Snails ... great start to an eclectic meal. I had never tried tartare. Of the four kinds offered , I thought I would give wapiti a whirl. If you are wondering, that is elk. The taste was interesting, but I must admit I was not to enamoured of the texture.

On to the meats. There was about a dozen options. Anne decided on a seafood and fowl combination since each of us got to make two selections with our meal. She chose scallops and duck. I got to try two meats that I had never tasted before. Ostrich was my first choice ( thought it might taste like chicken ). My second choice was horse ( it did not taste like chicken). I was a little disappointed, however, since the guidebook we had read said they had alligator and kangaroo. But, I coped.

The sauces was step four. We each got to pick four. For Anne, the four included a Caesar sauce, a citrus mustard, Indian curry, and Italian tomato-based sauce. For me, it was a Montreal pepper sauce, a chipote sauce, kiwi and yogurt, and a Dijon mustard. I must admit, the sauces were the stars of the meal.

We were stuffed. Like Trigger. But, it was our job to eat dessert. Dark chocolate fondue for Anne and butterscotch for me with marshmallows and fruit.

My taste buds are exhausted! Roy and Dale ... sorry!