Food, drink and a little literature, just outside Quebec City.
I’m settled in at Casa Mona & Filles, a restaurant on L’Ile d’Orleans, just down the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City, Canada.The salad before me is almost too pretty to eat.Bright red, juicy strawberries, baked brie, homemade dressing with cassis and crisp fresh greens andcrusty French bread on the side.I admire it for a minute, sip my kir—white wine with cassis—and realize, no, it’s not too pretty to eat and I dig in.
The salad is especially tasty because most of the ingredients come from the island, famous for its bounty, its French culinary tradition and a bit of heaven for a foodie— or a history buff, or a lover of beautiful scenery.
Jacques Cartier named the island after the Duke of Orleans, son of the king of France, in 1536.Of course I can always find a literary connection to a destination and this trip was no exception.In a lesser known novel, Shadows on the Rock, Willa Cather depicts life in early Quebec. she perfectly describes the island and it’s role as the farmland that supported Quebec City in the 1600s.She says,“It was only about four miles down the river, and from the slopes of Cap Diamant she could watch its fields and pastures come alive in the spring, and the bare trees change from purple-grey to green.Down the middle of the island ran a wooded ridge, like, a backbone, and here and there along its flanks were cleared spaces, cultivated ground where the islanders raised wheat and rye. …..” All the best vegetables and garden fruits in the market came from the Ile and the wild strawberries of which Cecile’s father was so fond.”
Now, it’s a quick trip over a bridge to get there, but the produce, especially those strawberries remain the same. L’Ile d’Orleans makes a great and relaxing day tour from Quebec City or stay overnight at one the the islands many B&Bs.
One of the myths of the area, is the tragic story of The Lady in White Lady, whose fiancé, a soldier, died in battle. She then put on her wedding dress and threw herself over the Montmorency Falls. Her body was never recovered but to this day there are some people who claim they have seen the Lady in White through the mists of the Montmorency Falls.
Susan Jessop, a lit lover and travel enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada, contacted me to share her book club’s literary travel experiences. Little did I know that I’d want to hop in the car and join them for their next outing. She had so much information, I’m going to share it in two posts, starting with their ideas for inviting authors to attend their meetings, and taking short “lit trips” close to home (from cottages to a penitentiary!). You’ll find their “field trips” inspiring and you’ll want to check out the books she mentions, a nice list of Canadian authors. It’s always interesting to me how people in different regions are reading fantastic books you’ve never heard of. This is how to spread the word about your favorite authors. My next post will feature their really big book club travel tales.
Please tell me a little about your book group.
We are a group of women based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, our nation’s capital city. The group was established in 1996 and still has 3 founding members.The women come from many different professional backgrounds: urban planners, lawyers, museologists, a token engineer (!) and not unexpectedly, a few public servants… We share a love of literature, good food, wine and laughter! The group has always consisted of approximately 10 women, an optimal number to ensure manageable conversation. We think 10 is the ideal number.
What kinds of local trips or outings has your group enjoyed?
The group has done a number of local expeditions that related to books we were reading. The first was to Aylmer, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa to where the book Leaning, Leaning Over Water was set. This book, a “novel in stories” marked the transition from short story writer to novelist for the author, Frances Itani, who went on to international recognition with her later novel Deafening. We drove to several sites along the Ottawa River, our best guesses of the locations in the book. We ended up at a local pub with an astounding international selection of beer, and some locals who it turned out were from the same neighbourhood as two of the book club women who had grown up in Aylmer.
One of our book club participants works at the national Museum of Civilization, and we’ve had a couple of fascinating excursions there. The first was an evening devoted to the famous Klondike poet Robert W. Service, and featured readings of his poetry in a replica of the “Wildcat Cafe” from his adopted home town of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Tracey Riley, a singer and waitress from that café, performed for us, and we were served authentic grub. The museum later featured a fabulous exhibit on “The Bog People.” As part of its lecture series, the museum featured Kathy Reichs, (who is both a working forensic anthropologist and a crime writer) so we read her novel du jour Deja Dead and went off to hear her lecture and visit the exhibit.
For the past 9 years or so, we end our season with a weekend of merriment at one member’s cottage, about an hour and a half out of Ottawa. It’s a great sign off to the book season (we take a summer hiatus). Our host arranged to have a local author, Merilyn Simonds, attend our meeting to discuss her novel The Holding as well as her earlier non-fiction book The Convict Lover, which some of us also read. Since the latter book was set in and around the Kingston Penitentiary, we took a field trip from the cottage and had a fascinating visit at Kingston’s Penitentiary Museum. We met with Merilyn a second time a few years later and visited her garden which was the subject of her book A New Leaf, a collection of anecdotes and meditations focused on that very garden.
Do you ever invite authors to attend your meetings?
We have looked for opportunities to invite local authors that we know (or through a friend of a friend of a friend) or that someone decided to “cold call.” Surprisingly, most authors are flattered and pleased to attend. They sell a few extra books and get direct feedback. We’re always careful to get together a half hour or so before the author arrives to speak frankly about the book (and to make sure we didn’t all hate it!), and that we have a reasonable set of questions to ask. Happily, we have, for the most part, enjoyed those books. We have also welcomed authors: mystery writer R.J. Harlick (whose sister is one of the members) with The River Runs Orange, Terence Rundle West (twice)–Ripe for the Picking and Not In My Father’s Footsteps; David Sacks, author of a history of the alphabet (!) that was issued under three different titles: Language Visible, Letter Perfect, and the less imaginative The Alphabet. We will be hosting a new author this May, Missy Marston and her book The Love Monster and next fall, Ruth E. Walker whose book is Living Underground.
And, on many occasions, we’ve taken our “excursions” by way of the silver screen, pairing books with their filmed versions, usually on video but sometimes in theatres. One member has a sister who’s a film-maker, so we’ve been lucky enough to view some of her films. I should mention too that we have an annual Christmas party (last year accompanied by a karaoke outing after dinner), with a secret Santa gift exchange.
Why take trips? Why not just meet in your homes and keep it at that?
The local trips or discussion with authors brought added context to the discussions and, frankly, were a lot of fun. Didn’t we all enjoy our school field trips a lot more than just the classroom discussion?! The same principle applies here, I think.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.