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Quebec City – Museum Break

Usually my Museum breaks in cities are timed to rainy days. London for instance has a million museums, which is good because it will rain (and rain some more for emphasis). Those first trips to London was where my practice of museum days being rainy days began. Well, there’s been plenty of snow here in Quebec, but no rain. When I saw the forecast for today, I said close enough. Clear skies but (and I know it gets worse) but I’m labeling this as miserably cold. It hovered around zero Fahrenheit all day. With a wind it felt even colder. This sounded like the perfect day to spend some time inside!

I started looking for museums. I’d seen plenty listed but nothing that I’d heard you just have to see ‘fill in the blank.’ Looking through the list, I saw that the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec was relatively nearby and it had an interesting exhibition that ends soon on the Caillebotte brothers, a painter and a photographer from the late 19th century in France. While I’d never heard of them before, it looked interesting and the museum’s permanent exhibits are supposed to be good and (despite the temporary exhibition) more dedicated to Quebec arts, so not something I could theoretically see elsewhere.

The walk to the museum was cold but not awful. I got to see the Plains of Abraham, a huge park. There were only a few others out, mostly cross country skiers, but it was sunny and pretty. I however would have required far more layers to just stand there and take photos. Moving was good, moving kept me warm!

About the time I began to wonder if I was just aimlessly wandering the museum finally appeared. I got my tickets, checked my coat and went first to see the Caillebotte exhibit. I think even if you don’t particularly care about the artistic side of it, it was interesting from a historic persepective. Their work was alongside the impressionist movement (in fact, Gustav was a patron of the impressionists). And both the paintings and photos document a France and way of life long gone. It was sad to read that the waterside scenes painted were now industrial and you could see it documented, those first ebbs, in their work. I even saw old photos of places in Paris I recognized without reading the captions. Very nice exhibit and I’ll definitely read up on both brothers more.

I took in the abstract artists because they were in the same wing. After I finished there, I looked at the time and suddenly realized it was triage time. I could not see the whole museum today. Too late of a start.. curses! If it had been Wednesday, they are open later, but not on a Tuesday…

At any rate, looking over the museum floor-plan, it was the Inuit art that most interested me, so off I went (other end of the building of course). And now is when I have to say that I honestly don’t know the details of the Inuit society but the first panel entering the room had a description of the Canadian government settling them into villages in the middle of the 20th century. And way it was worded just bothered me. From the surface, it sounds much to me like good meaning people interfering in a culture that had survived for thousands of years in a harsh environment. The Inuit need for money to survive in this new world of villages, etc. led to programs to sell their art. It’s definitely a topic on which I’ll read further, but that first panel I read about the Inuit’s lost way of life just colored how I saw everything else in the room. The art was beautiful but sad to me.

It was on that note I left. I probably could have squeezed in one more gallery before closing but I was tired and hungry having skipped lunch. Not to mention the sun was a vanishing blip on the horizon. It was not as if I was walking through hungry bear territory in the dark, but I knew on a day this cold, dark meant colder still. So, I bundled up and shoved off. And on this point I have to make a comment. I don’t know where I read that the art museum was an easy walk from the old city (where I’m staying), but I’d agree in nicer weather. I’m almost against the walls of the old city that face the direction of the museum and it was quite a long walk in the cold and wind. So plan accordingly if you are here in winter like I am!

About half way back, I stumbled upon another Chez Ashton and decided it was a good opportunity to eat since I could warm up before finishing the rest of the cold walk back. I’d also promised a friend that I would try poutine, a Canadian fast food phenomenon that apparently started here in Quebec. I had read about it a couple of times, and I have to say personally french fries with gravy and cheese curds is not encouraging. But at this point, I’ve seen so many people eat it that I was sure it wasn’t some crazy thing you get the tourists to eat. So, here was my chance… I have nothing bad to report (so far – Ha!). I can’t say that I understand the great fondness for it, but it was not disgusting and I’m a very picky eater. Poutine filled the spot on a cold and blustery day, filling and warm. Maybe that’s why it’s so big here?

I’m not sure stopping was the best move, though, because it had been dark about half an hour or more when I started back for the hostel one more time. Along the way, I had remembered a few things I needed to stop by the market next door to get… That idea didn’t last long. That would have meant passing the front door of the hostel. By the time I got here, I was moving fast. I mean, for the first time since I’ve been in Quebec, people weren’t passing me by! I was speed-walking on almost empty streets. Everyone I met walking was, like  myself, a bundle of clothing with barely a porthole for the eyes. The only reason my nose was even out was because inside it fogged up my glasses too much. I don’t remember the last time I was so happy to get inside.

And while I report these miserable conditions, I have to say that I saw people walking with skates and skis and they were still playing hockey in the park around the corner! So, there is an element to what one is accustomed at play here. The streets were definitely not so crowded as before, but people were still out on the streets in Quebec. It would definitely take me time to reach that level of acclimatization, more than I have in my remaining time here. Tomorrow is more of today from what I read earlier, so there may be another museum day in store for this thin-blooded southerner. We shall see!.

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