People Places

One language at a time, s’il vous plait

May 24, 2017

My much-too-quick jaunt through Canada continued on Monday, when I drove about 70 miles east from Quebec City to the little town of Les Eboulements.  In Cornelia’s and Emily’s day, the name “Les Eboulements” referred to two villages that resided on the same hillside.  Today the former lower village is known as St. Joseph, while the upper village is Les Eboulements (“Falling Rocks”).

I mention this only because Cornelia and Emily talk about staying in Miss Mary’s log cabin located halfway between the upper and lower villages.  This is, coincidentally enough, pretty much where the hotel I stayed in is located.  It is immensely satisfying when I manage to be that spot-on in treading in the girls’ footsteps, so that little factoid seemed worth mentioning.

But it occurred to me after I wrote my Quebec City post that as I travel to the same specific places as the girls, I have this compulsion to share all of the minutest details from Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, sort of like rattling off baseball statistics or movie trivia.  Hopefully I will manage to keep these Cliff Claven moments to a minimum in my posts, and save the majority of these captivating tidbits for my book.  That will be something for you all to look forward to.

In the province of Quebec, French is the first language, but most folks also speak English.  Thank goodness for that!  Only bits and pieces from my high school years of French have stayed in my head.  Further complicating matters is the fact that for almost a year, I have been studying Spanish.  When I made the decision in January to take the trip this summer, it seemed like a good idea to brush up on my French, so I started trying to study Spanish and French at the same time.  This turned out to be a bad idea, as all I seemed to be doing was jumbling the two languages in my brain.  So about a month ago I stopped with the Spanish and have been focusing solely on French.

Even with that, what I discovered during my time in Les Eboulements, where I was called upon to use my French more often, was that, not only am I peppering my French with Spanish words, it turns out that when I’m unsure of how to say a word, I tend to pronounce it as if it were Spanish.  So I’m speaking French with a Spanish accent, and it’s all a big mish-mash coming out of my mouth.  Well, at least I got to have this trial run at French before I start driving through the rural areas of Normandy and Bordeaux in July, and have to stop and ask for directions.

But back to Les Eboulements.  While the girls waited, literally, for their ship to come in, Cornelia and Emily spent about a week in Les Eboulements (June 5th to 12th, 1922… oh, wait, you don’t need to know that, do you?).  Cornelia wrote this about the place:

“It was unspoiled by trippers then and I hope it still is, for the country was incredibly beautiful, the houses quaint and the natives charming.” – Cornelia Otis Skinner

While there don’t seem to be any traces of Miss Mary’s log cabin, and it’s clear that some of the old houses have given way to more modern ones, Cornelia and Emily would be pleased to find that the enchanting little hamlet they visited in 1922 is in many ways exactly the same today.

The auberge (French for “inn”) where I stayed – L’Aunthentique Auberge de Charlevoix – is owned and operated by a warm and welcoming family.  Matthew (or is it Mathieu?) greeted me as if we were old friends, and we talked about his years as a tour guide, and how he brought groups of Canadians to Venice Beach (talk about culture shock!).  Joanne, who spoke very little English, was very sweet and patient with my French, and we managed a few brief but pleasing conversations.  And in the mornings, they prepared the most divine breakfast, with cheeses made in nearby Charlevoix and crepes added to a generous plate of eggs, tomatoes, sausages and roasted potatoes.  If that wasn’t enough to recommend the place, directly across the street from the auberge is the town chocolaterie and ice cream shop.  Just as it had been with Quebec City, it was crushing to have to leave here.

While I was here, one book-nerd item that I managed to check off my list was sorting out the story of the Seigneur and his manoir.  I will spare you a lot of the story, but this is the man whom Cornelia felt was partially to blame for her contracting the measles.  The girls talk about meeting this man at his home:  “The manoir, the Versailles of Les Eboulements, was a sweet old rambling frame house.”  I didn’t try to track down the descendants of le Seigneur, whose name I learned was Edmond de Sales Laterriere.  But after a bit of searching, and driving past the place a few times, completely oblivious, I located le Manoir.  The sign “Camp Le Manoir” should have tipped me off.  Turns out, the house was sold in the 1940s to the Freres du Sacre Couer (Brothers of the Sacred Heart – look at me with that French, eh?), and with the addition of a few cabins, the Brothers have turned the place into a camp for kids.  So not everything is exactly as it was when Cornelia and Emily were here.

All too soon, it was time to head out and return to the States, but first I stopped in and picked up some wildly tempting chocolates to take to my next interview (more on this in my next post!).  Even with a 500-mile drive, I am proud to say that the box of chocolates made it all the way to Hartford, Connecticut without being touched.  But the other box I bought for myself was gone before I got to Baie Saint-Paul.

Below, the Versailles of Les Eboulements in 1925 (source: National Archives of Quebec), and as it is today.

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