MY LIFE - A sobering experience

MY LIFE - A sobering experience

I have just returned from a lovely eight-day vacation and am somewhat surprised to find that getting back, both mentally and physically, feels like coming down off a bender. Not that I drink, nor have I ever had the experience of having to sober up after going off on a bender, but had I done either, this is how I think it might feel.

The only real-life experience I can relate it to would be when I flew home from Hawaii more than 30 years ago. Flying out was okay. Flying back home was brutal and it took several days, maybe even a week, before my head cleared and I was back to what passed for normal. Classic jet lag.

No jet involved this time, though, nor had I crossed any time zones.

It reminds me of a story my sister Bev told me years ago about having been checking out at a local store that has long since disappeared. The girl at the register was saying how tired she was. She went on to explain that she had just returned from a vacation and was chalking it up to jet lag.

“Oh, where did you fly to?” Bev asked, only to be hardpressed to keep a straight face when the girl said she had traveled to someplace like Connecticut by bus. “Yeah, that Greyhound lag is a son-of-a-gun,” she thought.

Kind of the same thing here, only it was by car and although I did most of the driving, it wasn’t so much the traveling part that’s the cause of my discomfort. I suspect it’s more the mental reshuffling. Going from a carefree, laissez-faire frame of mind to suddenly crash landing back into reality. That and the fact that it’s not like I’m 65 anymore. Heck, it’s not like I’m 75 anymore either, although just saying that gives me frissons!

No, I think it’s the fact that after eight days of not being responsible for much of anything I have returned to real life with a vengeance. Laundry to do, bills to pay, cooking, shopping. The list … and the beat ... goes on. But it was fun while it lasted.

My daughters and I packed up and headed north on our long-anticipated trip on June 22. Barbara drove up from New York and together we drove to New Hampshire to pick up Kathy, then with the car packed to the rafters we made a run for the border.

We had three days in Montreal, most of it spent in the old part of the city with a brief foray underground to browse around the famous “underground city” that turned out to be just another mall.

Our hotel was at the edge of Vieux Montreal, consequently everything was within walking distance.

I wanted my daughters to see and feel the place from whence their Bouchard roots had sprung. The fact that since my last visit, much of what I remembered of the Vieux Port, the waterfront area, had been razed and replaced with what amounted to a tree-lined boardwalk came as a shock. La Place Royale that I so fondly recalled only had one side to it and the old monument dedicated to the original colonists who had arrived on these shores in 1614 had morphed into a much larger granite version of its former self. Fortunately, the names of Augustin Hebert and his wife, Vivienne Duvivier, the direct line ancestors in my Bouchard grandmother’s line were still listed there. I had so wanted my daughters to see that, although I’m not sure they feel as deeply invested in it as I do.

We walked, we admired the old architecture, we shopped, we rode the gigantic ferris wheel, and we ate our way across the area for three days before packing up and heading northeast along the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec City.

Montreal was nice, but it was in Quebec City that I really felt it.

Call it my roots, my Frenchness, the fabric of my being, the source from which my family sprang. It was me and I was it, as were my people across the ages. The language they spoke was the language of my childhood although I never spoke it back then, and it pleased me no end to have been able to speak it everywhere I went while there now.

As in Montreal, our hotel was on the very edge of the old city and we walked everywhere. We took the famed Funiculaire (a giant elevator pitched at a scary angle down the front of the cliff) from the Upper Town to the Lower Town, where the original settlement had been established until they moved to the top of the cliff where they could more easily defend their territory. We walked the cobblestone streets, browsed the shops, and then on that first day there, wound our way along the ancient streets and up a series of steeply pitched hills until we eventually arrived back up top where we had begun.

I had read about the “cas-cou” (breakneck) staircase, described as a scary alternative to the funicular, and was determined to have a go at it. Major disappointment! It turned out to be a tremendously long, winding, plain old wooden staircase that was not scary at all, just exhausting to navigate. We used it to go down, letting gravity do much of the work, and sprang for the $3 ride back to the top.

We had four glorious days there, eating ragout au boulettes (but sans “pattes de cochon”), tourtiere (meat pie), raclette (melted cheese), and croissants, as well as a very fancy expensive meal that turned out to be more than half made up of raw meat for which I was a good sport but still gag at the thought of. And then a final breakfast of crepes au fraise, a one-day stopover in the White Mountains, and we were on our way home.

Next stop, hopefully, will be Normandy, France in two years.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.