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September 23, 2022

A beautiful Sunday in August

Back from my Gaspesian tour and already settled into a daily routine, what else is there to tell you about than the small ups-and-downs of life at home? The life of a retired CEO can easily be mistaken for a quilt that got unceremoniously shrunk in the wash. A few meetings here and there, one or two words of advice from the founder to department directors, a few chocolate-dipped recommendations for my children… That’s how much my former importance has dimmed.

And yet! How many times have I begged angels and even demons for a single day of peace, for one quiet afternoon spent reading, for one midday movie accompanied by some popcorn and cola or a Monday morning when I can sleep in until noon?

The sky has finally fallen on my head. Everything I asked for was given to me a hundredfold. I’m telling you! Do you remember the two merciless bullies I told you about at the beginning of the pandemic – retirement and old age? They came to me holding hands, without any warning. They ruined everything, both the good and the bad. Now I have to be satisfied with the ordinariness of life from one morning to the next.

Thank goodness, writing saved me! Writing has become my vigorous plant that keeps growing and purifying my existence. I need it as much as I do breathing. And when I don’t have a spectacular tale to tell, words wrap little things up in ribbons and turn them into colourful surprises.

And so each Sunday morning, I sit at a table at the café in my little corner of the Laurentians. The constant coming and going of people keeps the mood lively. Almost no one sits down. Just me, always at the same table. The café-bakery is perfectly situated, at the centre of the town’s bustle. Most of the patrons stop here to get bread and pastries to take home. Occasionally a few regulars sit down to enjoy a coffee. Almost all of them wave to me. To them, I am merely the lady who’s always scribbling, not the woman whose name appears on restaurant fronts across Canada. From where I sit, I am a faded former CEO who still feels useful to any reader hungry for some small talk.

Sundays are a very special day for me because my letter is published on the Cora restaurants Facebook page in the morning. Each week, I have to fight the temptation all day to check how many comments I’ve received. I always worry there won’t be many. Truth be told, the higher the count, the sunnier my mood. And so I always wait until Tuesday morning before taking a look. I am dumbfounded each time by how many readers appreciate my words. And, you know what? I have my own ritual when I read the comments. I sit down on the fir-green sofa in my sunroom, a notebook on a small round table next to me to jot down a few notes if needed, along with a large cup of hot black tea and a few delicious Nonni’s Limoncello biscotti that I buy at Costco as a treat.

I am not an author by profession. I have no clue how to invent a story or to write a beautiful poem. But I have hope. Even if my journey as an apprentice scribbler improves at a snail’s pace, it still opens the doors and invites the little details of daily life, distant memories and the unexpected to enter. My paragraphs are still like showers of disjointed words; “the sum of all that I see, hear and perceive,” as the famous Quebec author, Robert Lalonde, used to say.

10:32 a.m.
Like each Sunday during the summer, I leave the bakery around 10:30/11 and stop at the local flea market. It’s an activity that is almost bucolic, thanks to its country setting. It is also the perfect opportunity to get in a good kilometer of walking, usually taken at a leisurely pace. Glancing left and right, and a few times in front of me, I bump into a rather nice old man. We are in front of a stall filled with fresh vegetables of the day. He offers me a few ears of corn for dinner. I take three and thank him. Darn it all! Even at my age, my eyes are still bigger than my stomach. I will eat two and will have to slice and freeze the third one for vegetable soup this fall.

I move on, feeling somewhat contrite, when a golden nugget grabs my attention. A $1 book by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who holds many honoris causa from various universities around the world. She spent her life at the side of the dying and firmly believes that “death is but a transition from this life to another existence where there is no more pain and anguish.” According to her, the moment of death is a unique, beautiful and liberating experience, without fear or distress.

Wow! I was too young when I read her book for the first time. I want to believe in her words such as those written on the back cover: “Dying only means moving into a nicer house….Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon.” Good heavens! I need to revisit this book now that three-quarters of a century is pushing me towards the exit. And if I must leave, I will move to paradise and will write about the sublime happiness of the faithful.

12:06 p.m.
Back at home, I open the fridge. Since I already have three peeled hard-boiled eggs, I decide on the best sandwich in the world, one we have been serving in our restaurants since the beginning: the delicious “Egg salad sandwich” (in French, Midi Dolores). It was created in honour of and named after the mother of one of our first franchisees.

With the apron around my waist, I slice a few branches of celery, two or three green onions, a handful of parsley and the hard-boiled eggs. I mix everything together in a bowl and add two spoons of mayo, salt and lots of pepper. I’ve always preferred black pepper to all other colours. I am not a fancy eater and I often wonder where my creativity came from to invent breakfast dishes that our competitors never tire of imitating. I toast two slices of multigrain bread and finish off my sandwich with two large leaves of lettuce. I add radishes and Nantes carrots to my plate, and I peel and slice a cucumber. I am almost convinced that these daily veggies that accompany my main courses are the secret to my narrow septuagenarian waistline. Believe it or not, since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve lost 15 lb. by stuffing myself with raw vegetables instead of chips, a second serving or extra bites of something fattening.

1:28 p.m.
I finish my tea at the table as I peruse the pages from the weekend edition of Le Devoir. Almost each day after lunch, I fall asleep on the couch in the sunroom while I read. Today, Morpheus might have to wait a little because I am reading a story whose splendid heroine has me transfixed. The author is JULIA KERNINON and the title of the book is LIV MARIA. It’s an exceptional story!

On the back cover, Marine Landrot, from the French magazine Télérama, describes the heroine this way: “Liv Maria’s trajectory has the blinding beauty of ancient tragedies and the frenetic tumult of the contemporary world.”