Not many pulpits around the world were in use today, on what is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, so here’s a photo of the pulpit of Notre-Dame Basilica. The sculptor was Louis-Philippe Hébert, whose work is well known in Quebec. The two figures at the bottom are the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
What a year this week has been.
Typically, the first week of spring is when Canadians celebrate the end of a long winter and begin to celebrate our great outdoors. This year, not so much. Social distancing is our new normal.
I’ve been pondering two things this past week as all travel around the world has been cut short, cancelled, or put on hold.
The first is that it’s humanity’s love of travel and exploration and wanting to connect with other cultures that has allowed the Covid-19 virus to travel the globe as quickly as it has.
And the second is that over the past eight or so days, our personal worlds have shrunk. Mine at present is about as small as it has even been: the inside of my apartment.
What helps me accept all the restrictions placed on our daily routines is not worrying so much about what I can’t control (whether I will get sick), but to focus on what I can control by thinking of myself as a carrier of the virus and acting accordingly. Knowing that everything I do going forward may prevent others from getting sick makes it pretty easy to stay home.
Everyone is joking about how introverts are living their best lives right now. Seriously, though, after so many years of working alone at home, as I do, I’ve often felt like a freak. Now … I just feel ready. That’s because I already have a lot of coping mechanisms to help me deal with isolation.
One change to my daily routine, however, is that I now start the day by listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addresses the country. One reporter referred to him as the nation’s “Prime Comforter.” What I find remarkable is he’s been leading Canadians through these extraordinary times while in self-isolation and while solo parenting his three young children. (His wife is currently in quarantine at home after testing positive for Covid-19 and there is no other adult in their home at present.)
The other difference to my daily routine is that I time my afternoon tea break to coincide with the daily news conference offered by Adrian Dix, British Columbia’s Minister of Health, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer. BC’s top doctor has such a comforting voice, and when she introduces each new restriction, she does so by saying, “This is not forever. This is for now.” Her other mantra is this: “We need to be kind. We need to be calm. We need to be safe.”
The traffic reporter on the radio show I listen to each morning has been working from home this past week. There’s not a lot of traffic to talk about, so she’s taken to reporting on how many dogs pass her living room window during the course of the show. I think it’s important that we all look for whatever makes us laugh right now.
It’s also important that we look for joy wherever we can find it. To that end, here is a photo I took exactly a month ago today, when our world was a much different place.
I have a thing for pipe organs — I may have mentioned this before. The preeminent organ builders in Canada are the Casavant Frères (Casavant Brothers). They learned their trade in Europe and have been building pipe organs for Canadians since 1879. I’ve played a few of their instruments in my time.
In 1891, they built the organ at Notre-Dame Basilica. That work sealed their reputation as world-class organ builders. This magnificent instrument has 7000 pipes and four keyboards and is my photo choice for today, the Third Sunday of Lent.
Last week I showed you what Notre-Dame Basilica looks like on the outside. Today, for the Second Sunday of Lent, I’m taking you inside, where the difference from a grey stone exterior could not be more stark.
None of the European cathedrals I’ve visited come close to the unique wonder of the interior of this basilica. It is said that the priest and architect who worked on the design were inspired by Saint-Chappelle in Paris.
This year, for Lent, I’m taking you on a tour of Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica.
For the First Sunday of Lent, here’s a photo of the basilica taken from Place d’Armes, in the heart of Vieux-Montréal. The statue in front of the basilica is of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, co-founder along with Jeanne Mance of the first colony of French settlers on the island of Montreal.
The first church on this site went up in 1672. The present-day building, designated a basilica in 1982 by Pope John Paul II, was built between 1824 and 1829. The two spires took an additional ten years and are modelled after Notre-Dame de Paris and Saint-Sulpice.
Notre-Dame Basilica is the first church in Canada to be built in the Gothic Revival style. The architect was an American from New York named James O’Donnell. He converted to Catholicism before his death and he is buried in the crypt.
I’ve written before about my summer in Quebec City — and how six weeks is a nice chunk of time to get to know a place. Even so, I was surprised last year during my visit to Vieux-Québec at how familiar the place was.
Still. After all these years.
I arrived from Montreal by train around midday, and the funny little man at my budget hotel offered to outline a nice walking tour for me on his map.
“Non, merci!” I said, smiling. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
He looked up from his map, a little surprised and, I think, a little insulted. But he shrugged, handed me the map, and off I went.
Encircled by its original ramparts, Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec) is divided into an Upper Town and a Lower Town. I chose to stay in the Lower Town, just a few steps from the train station to make my arrival more convenient for me, but it turned out to be a serendipitous choice.
I was close enough to the action, so to speak, but far enough away that I had some enjoyable late evening walks back to my hotel through quiet streets.
The name “Quebec” comes from an Indigenous word meaning “where the river narrows.” That narrowing river is the mighty Saint Lawrence.
The first permanent European settlement at Quebec City was established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. Le Petit Champlain, the oldest quarter of Vieux-Québec, is named for him, and Rue du Petit-Champlain (shown in this next photo) is its main drag.
Vieux-Québec is filled with stone buildings dating back to the seventeen century, with their characteristic French-style roofs.
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, in Place-Royale, is the oldest stone church in North America. It was built in 1688.
At the edge of the Upper Town, Dufferin Terrace lets you walk from the foot of the Citadelle to Chateau Frontenac, and provides a magnificent view over the Saint Lawrence River, the Lower Town, and, on a good day, the Laurentian Mountains.
A sign of the not insignificant role of the Catholic Church in Quebec’s history are the many church spires scattered throughout Vieux-Québec.
And then there’s this grand building, the Séminaire de Québec, which takes you by surprise when you round the corner. The seminary was founded in 1663, and this building declared a national historic site in 1929.
Vieux-Québec is the only walled city in Canada or the United States.
I wrote above about how familiar Vieux-Québec was for me, even after all these years. For my mother, not so much. I happened to be with her on her first time back in Quebec City, some 40 years after her arrival by immigrant ship. I remember watching her as she leaned over the railing that lines Dufferin Terrace, intently scanning the waterfront below us. I could see how much she wanted to recognize something … anything.
Finally she stepped back and shook her head. It was no good; nothing about the port looked familiar to her.
I doubt it was because she was too young to remember — a child’s memories can be quite vivid, and I suspect that her first impressions of a new country were imprinted on her mind. What it does speak to is that there are parts of Vieux-Québec that have changed over the years, after all, and a port that greeted new Canadians for more than 200 years looks quite different from the port that now greets tourists arriving by cruise ship.
Vieux-Québec was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. It is indeed a special place and should really be visited by every Canadian.
Six weeks, if you can. But if that’s not possible, then a couple of days will do nicely.
And there goes another decade.
Ten years ago today, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics got underway. It’s difficult to explain to people who weren’t here the feelings of anticipation we all had going into the Games, and the euphoria we experienced throughout.
We were nervous at the beginning, to be sure. The weather did not seem to be cooperating. A mild, rainy winter meant there was very little snow on the local mountains and the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom weeks earlier than usual. A key moment of the opening ceremonies, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, was goofed up by technical difficulties. And earlier that same day, a Georgian athlete died while on a luge training run. It really felt like everything that could go wrong would.
I believe that many of the nerves we were feeling were simply related to the insecurities we Canadians tend to have about holding our own on the world stage.
But then things started going right. The events got underway, a small army of volunteers in blue jackets (affectionately known as the Smurfs) made sure everyone got to where they needed to be, and Canadian athletes started to win. And they kept winning. I remembered lamenting that I didn’t have enough red in my wardrobe (although I did have a coveted pair of red mittens — an impulse purchase made many months earlier — that you couldn’t get for love or money during the Games themselves).
I was happy to get to a couple of hockey games, but you know what was the most fun about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics? Taking in all of the excitement in the streets, and at the various pavilions and celebration houses around town. The atmosphere was electric. By the end of the Games, the world media was calling them the most successful Winter Games ever.
The photo above, taken in early February 2010, pretty much captures my feelings about Vancouver 2010. Several weeks before the Games started, the international media began arriving in droves. Next came the athletes and their coaches. And then, in the last week before the start of the Games, it was as if the flood gates had been opened and the tourists arrived en masse. They were everywhere.
Welcome world, indeed.
And there goes another month.
I took this photo on what turned out to be the highlight of my month: a weekend in Whistler. It snowed pretty much the entire time we were there, and my friend and I pretty much walked out our door with our snowshoes on and were upon this scene within minutes.
I know, I know. Here I go again, talking about the weather.
For the benefit of my non-Canadian readers (in case you haven’t figured this out yet), talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.
The western part of Canada is in the middle of a polar vortex. I got outside today to tramp through the deep snow that arrived overnight in Vancouver, but in this post, I’m going to talk about the next province over. That would be Alberta, where a lot of my family lives.
They’re cold, to put it mildly. My sister in Calgary was faced with a commute this morning in temperatures of –40° C.
In fact, it’s been too cold all week for the Penguin Walk at the Calgary Zoo. That’s right. The zoo’s king penguins, native to the sub-Antarctic, had a Snow Day. And Calgary today was colder than Antarctica.
I took these photos of the Calgary Zoo penguins almost a year ago, when I visited the zoo on a much balmier day than today.
Some say that no one ever leaves Montreal, for that city, like Canada itself, is designed to preserve the past, a past that happened somewhere else.
— The Favourite Game, Leonard Cohen
I can’t leave Montreal behind without writing a word about Leonard Cohen. Because, even though the man spent much of his life living elsewhere, Leonard Cohen is Montreal.
You can’t avoid him when you are there. Stand on any street corner in the city centre and his face stares down at you. When the news broke of Leonard Cohen’s death in November 2016, an impromptu memorial sprang up on the doorstep of his Montreal home. Vigils took place in the square just opposite. Like a pilgrim, I visited both.
I also read The Favourite Game, his first novel, to prepare for my visit to Montreal last spring. The members of my book club were not happy — none of them enjoyed the thinly disguised autobiography. I thought it was laugh-out-loud hilarious.
I’m still making it up to them.
This was a rough year, on so many levels. Almost everyone I know is counting the hours until 2019 is over. All are hopeful that 2020 will be better. I myself had a pretty good year, more or less. But I find it tough to feel joy and gratitude when everyone around me is hurting and weary and sick. Some people call that empathy.
I call it exhausting.
And that’s before we even bring up the news cycle.
In times like these, some of us turn to prayer, some of us turn to poetry, and some of us turn to music. Leonard Cohen — poet, novelist, songwriter, chanteur — gives us all three.
To close out 2019 as well as my series of posts on Montreal, I’m going to finish with these words:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
May we all see more of the light in 2020.