Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Travelogue – parading around

Quebec is famously divided into upper and lower towns by the steep bluffs. But upper town is not flat, it slopes from the St. Lawrence River to the St. Charles River, with a big drop in less than a kilometer. One learns all kinds of interesting things reading the displays beside the city's walls. The Citadel is at the highest point (along the St. Lawrence) and my hotel is close to it. I've frequently though I don't want to walk down this street ahead of me because I'll have to walk back up. Unless, of course, I walk all the way down to lower town and take the funicular up. That could be a long walk.

I got into the Citadel just before the 10:00 Changing of the Guard. The new guard (the ones coming on duty) comes to the parade ground. It gets inspected. The band comes out. The guard about to head to their barracks comes out. Lots of marching around. I was amused that several times one guard or the other was told to take a big step forward. The line becomes ragged. A moment later the men start taking a series of small rapid steps as they reform the line. Maybe nobody will notice. In amongst all this their mascot, a goat, is paraded around.

I'm sure the whole thing could be accomplished a whole lot more easily and quickly if they weren't showing off for the tourists. The show lasted about 40 minutes. A lot going on when each guard is only 14 soldiers. And they were wearing bearskin hats and wool uniforms in the sun on a warm day. The image is very British, contrasting with the shouted French commands. The photo shows both sets of guards and the band.

The show was well attended. Most of the visitors were ready for a tour. This was handled well. English speakers over here, French speakers over there. Then the English group was divided into four parts, each given a tour guide. I'm sure it was well worked out so two groups didn't try to enter the same building at the same time or leave one group waiting.

Our guide was great! She started by saying the Citadel was a working military base and therefore you were not allowed to walk around unescorted. Or, as she put it, if you leave the group you will get a military escort and the tour will become much less interesting – the only thing they will show you is the exit. Later, as she held the door as we entered a building she talked to a small boy, “Do you know you have a monster on your shirt? Careful, he looks hungry.” In this humorous manner she told us of the history of the place. The American military visited Quebec twice, once during the Revolutionary War and once during the War of 1812. Thus the British thought the Americans might attack again, so built the Citadel, starting in 1820. The Citadel has never been defeated, never been damaged in war, because it has never been attacked.

There is a whopping big cannon at the highest point. It can toss cannon balls over 4 kilometers. During the 1890s during winter teams would train to use it. Winter was good because the river would freeze. That meant there were no ships about and when the cannon ball hit the ice it would explode. Except one time it didn't explode. It bounced. Into a home. Then it exploded. Fortunately, the old lady living there wasn't home at the time, though there was more damage than cracked dishes. Nobody was happy. The cannon was made inoperable.

The Citadel is the home of the 22nd Regiment. There aren't 21 other regiments anymore, maybe three others. This one is the only one that is specifically French-speaking. Back in WWI Canada was still beholden to Britain for foreign policy, so when Britain went to war, Canada did too. At the start of that war the Germans took Vimy Ridge in France and caused all kinds of havoc from that position. The Allies lots huge numbers of men trying to retake it. In 1917 the Allies gave the task to the Canadian forces. The venture was entirely planned, staffed, and executed by the Canadians. And they retook the ridge (though with a great loss of life). Because of this victory Canada began to be seen as separate from the British. The Germans were the first to give that recognition. By WWII Canada was making their own foreign policy decisions and made their own decision to enter the war. This regiment also served in Korea, Afghanistan, and about a dozen UN missions around the world. There is a great new museum documenting all this. I'm not all that interested in military things, so I skipped it.

At the end of the tour I asked my guide about the Quebec Act of 1774, which kept Canadians from joining the American Revolution. What did the French-Canadians get that the Americans didn't? The answer was rather simple – the French-Canadians were allowed to remain French. The British told them the Americans wouldn't respect their language and culture. That was enough.

Our guide was originally from Vancouver. I later saw her leading a tour in French.

The tour ended at noon. The Citadel has no food service, so I went back into the city and scrounged for a restaurant for lunch.

Afterward I went back to the Citadel for the tour of the Governor General's residence. I got there at 2:00, in time to see the brief ceremony of changing the guards at the entrance way. Instead of 14 fresh guards we had two. Instead of 40 minutes of marching around we had maybe five.

The tour started immediately after. The Governor General is the Queen's representative in Canada. Yes, this is Elizabeth II, current monarch of Britain and the Commonwealth. She doesn't have a whole lot of actual power these days and her representative doesn't either. He appoints the new Prime Minister – after checking election results to see which party has the most seats. He appoints all kinds of people to various positions, including the head of the military – on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. You get the idea. The GG actually has two official residences, this one and one in Ottawa. It is a fine place to hold gov't functions. One area was built in the mid 1800s. Another section burned and was rebuilt in the 1940s. It is quite modern looking and quite elegant. Alas, no photos were allowed.

The guide for this tour is a native French speaker. He gave this tour in English. Want a job leading a tour? Be able to do it in both languages.

From there I went out of the Old City to an observation tower. It is the tallest in Quebec at 31 floors. This is the view looking southeast to the Citadel.

And looking east into the Old City.

The guide who took us into the residence suggested we avoid the tourist restaurants of the upper and lower town and instead seek out St. Paul street in the lower town. So I did. I found a place offering food at a much lower cost than I've been paying. I got a Caruso Burger – a hamburger and bun with spaghetti sauce (no actual spaghetti) poured over the burger and over the bun. The flavor was heavy on green peppers and the quality was what one might find at an American Coney Island restaurant (lots of these in Detroit).

I did some more wandering around lower town. There are a few displays of unusual public art. Here's one of them:

After wandering I took the funicular up. On the Terrace I watched a street performer for a while. Signs say street performers have a long tradition in Quebec and we are invited to enjoy and support them. I think in this one spot there is a regular rotation of acts.

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