I spent most of Labor Day weekend in Quebec City. I had only been there one before in the dead of winter, so it was great to properly see the city and explore its hills without stepping cautiously on ice sheets or avoiding snow drifts.
Quebec City is old, as practically age-of-exploration old. A part of New France from the 16th-18th centuries and only later ceded to the English in the loss of the Seven Years/French and Indian War, it retains its French character and language if not its Catholicity which even the English had agreed to protect after taking Canada from France.
In the course of a few days exploring on foot, on a short run, and in Ubers, Quebec provides a small case study in how to enchant a landscape—how to make a normal place a bit thicker through the accumulation of historical layers, monuments, and remembrances of times past that live in the present.
When you think of monuments, Champlain’s along the boardwalk abutting the Saint Lawrence River at the Chateau Frontenac is probably pretty much a textbook example. It stands so apart from the landscape that it remains a natural gathering place day-to-day, a focal point for the life of the community at the intersection of past and present. Here, a comedic tightrope walker entertains the gathered crowd.
There are simpler and more characteristically modern (muted) ways to honor the figures of an era. This bust (it doesn’t matter who it is) is an example that I walked past from my hotel in downtown Quebec City on the walk up the hill to the old city. If our own time is one in which monumental Champlain-style monuments simply can’t be done, it’s certainly one that could incorporate more remembrances like this one into the facades of otherwise unremarkable buildings.
Then there are the little facades of the homes and stores in the neighborhoods themselves, like this striking little entryway to an old workshop that (as far as I could tell) isn’t functioning despite the lingering signage. The present occupants lose nothing by leaving these memories of an earlier time in place, and visitors gain from an enlivened imagination of the pre-modern diversity of communities before their segregation along live/work/commerce lines. These are monuments in their own right.
There are the dead spaces of any build landscape, like this alleyway. Just past Hotel Clarendon in old Quebec City, this arresting figure commands the attention of passersby simply by its unusual presence where one expects nothing. This isn’t truly remarkable, but it is worth remarking upon as an example of bringing a bit of life to an otherwise dead space. This figure does his best with what he’s given.
Not far is this folkloric alley companion, who one imagines had just arrived having slid down this unfurling ribbon from an entirely different time or place. This creature reminds the passerby that there’s no proper cause for him in our reality, yet neither is there definite cause for our own reality—and with this reminder our walk becomes a bit more enchanted, like a child’s first encounter with any literature where the rote facts of life are as strange and difficult to accept as the enchanted ones.
In ending this little walk through an enchanted landscape we arrive at a table beneath the trees of a little bar’s back patio, where even the bark-stripped insides of the trees find from their interiors the emerging figures of strange personalities—perhaps there to watch over or encourage the drinkers below to drink in a bit more of life than just the most obvious and routine.