No place in North America equals Quebec City for its charm, unique culture, and beauty. The only walled city north of Mexico, when you pass through the portal into the city’s historic section, the focus for most visitors, it’s like entering a fairy tale complete with a castle. The century-old Fairmont Le Château Frontenac—with its towering top ringed by steeples and turrets—overlooks the St. Lawrence River and soars over the town, adding to the magical feeling.
But this impressive hotel hasn’t always dominated the old city. Many museums, churches, homes, and scenic lanes date back to the 1600s. These are the structures that define QC and give it so much charisma. The Frontenac is the icing on the cake.
Quebec’s Upper Town (Haute-Ville) is perched on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River and provides views of the countryside for many miles beyond. Accessible by steep stairs or via a funicular car, Old Quebec’s Lower Town has its own historic charms. The Basse-Ville sprang up around the city’s harbor and was the original neighborhood of the city. Homes, shops, and ancient streets sprawled here at the base of the cliffs centering around Place Royale—a square on the site of the garden of Champlain’s Habitation (1608).
The preferred entry to old Quebec City is via the Grande Allee. Time seems to have stood still here. It’s like entering another world, another time, another place, and it works its magic on you. Only Rottenburg, another walled city, has had such an effect on me.
A horse drawn cab is the appropriate way to view this wonderful place. Our driver was a redhead, of Irish descent, but born and raised in Quebec. He spoke very clear English, his words carefully enunciated. He wore a straw hat, and the horse’s name was Dixie. We learned that the animals aren’t overworked. A vet checks them every day, and they only pull a carriage every other day.
On our fire-engine red cab, we wove through narrow cobblestone streets past stone houses festooned with window planters. In the more commercial area, the vividly colored umbrellas at sidewalk cafes competed with the flowers for lending bright patches to the scenes. We also passed the Hotel Clarendon, built in 1870, where we stayed. It’s the oldest hotel in the walled city. Located a little away from the most festive streets, it’s still in the center of the action. Our room had a window overlooking the St. Lawrence, a clock tower, a part of the Château Frontenac, and a park.
If I can generalize, this link between French and English-speaking Canada that our driver represented captures the essence of Canada, with Ottawa the head and Quebec City the heart. Without Quebec, something precious would be lost to Canadians. It’s a touchstone and, Quebec City, which lost once to the British, must not lose again. It has the exuberance, the emotional life, and the sensuality that some Anglos can lack. Quebec City also is the heart in that the Americas emerged out of European sensibility, and that presence is felt here perhaps more than anywhere else.
Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.
My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing. I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all. I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week. We are so fortunate here at the Lake now. The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript. Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.
Here is a synopsis:
Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.
A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.
Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.
In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.
Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.
But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.
Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.