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August 5, 2022

Percé, its rock and 1,000 seagulls (Travel letter No. 5)

Who would have guessed it? I’m sitting with a large black tea at the McDonald's in CHANDLER. As I was leaving the lovely motel in PASPÉBIAC, I realized that the coffee counter in the main office was closed. So I put the key in the door slot and hit the road without writing, my head full of yesterday’s memories.

On RADIO-CANADA New Brunswick, I hear an affable announcer making a point about points (point sounds like “dot” in French). And I imagine a long line of little dots following each other to who knows where. But no, the woman is talking about the points you get when you buy something at the drugstore. Fiddlesticks! I spill a bit of coffee on my pink slacks; candy pink like the sweater and the socks on my feet. Since giving up serious three-piece suits, I’ve tended to dress in bright colours: pink, lime green, lemon yellow, sky blue and raspberry red. I'm a natural born thinker. I wear the colours of the fruit that decorates our breakfast plates. I have amassed so many of those purchase points. In fact, when I last thought about it, all the grandkids were away enjoying a free holiday.

In PORT-DANIEL, the houses are almost all painted white. What’s going on? 30% chance of showers in PERCÉ, announces RADIO-CANADA, my best travel companion. I don't mind the rain. According to Google, water moistens, washes, purifies and preserves our skin, and improves our concentration, memory and digestion.

Forget the water just for a moment and simply open your eyes wide and see how beautiful the wild lupines are in GASPÉSIE. Purple, pink, white or pale blue, they embellish our roadsides and warm our hearts. I love flowers, but I never got into the habit of buying them. I've always been a committed penny pincher, probably because my mother was one. The poor thing looked for deals on everything even though her husband made a decent salary at the time. Believe it or not, during the pandemic I dug up some wild lupines and transplanted them in my garden bed. And they survived! This year they are as big and as beautiful as their wild sisters.

I drive on and on and finally arrive in the centre of PORT-DANIEL. I am on a bridge surrounded by water when a big storm strikes. To the right, to the left and everywhere, seawater mixes with cloud water, which is coming down in buckets.

Have you ever thought about Anglican churches? Do you know that they are much smaller than big Catholic churches? Painted humbly in white, they look like little cottages where travellers in need can sleep. Is faith measured by the size of the building, or hell by the intensity of its fire? After some 700 kilometres of travelling, it seems to me that almost all the cemeteries on the Lower St. Lawrence are located on the seaside. Would the dead be more at ease there, happier to hear the gentle whisper of sirens, more inclined to dissolve in the saltwater?

Oh! On 95 FM, Gilles Vigneault sings Gens du pays (“People of my country,” often considered the unofficial anthem of Quebec). I stop my car and take in all those kilos of poetry. I am a gens du pays. Talk to me about love, dear Gilles.

In CHANDLER, the ghosts of dandelions evaporate into the sky. Clay mushrooms adorn shop fronts. The cliffs are steep and the sea is often hard to see. My brave Mini is constantly being bounced up and down, like an amusement park ride. I roll and fly, and suddenly the radio tells me that in PERCÉ, 800 walkers have just completed the Ultra Trail Gaspesia 100 trail-running event. I am 30 kilometres from the rock, will I find a place to stay for the night? My foot grows heavy against the pedal. I am hungry. Today I have eaten nothing but apples and carrots. I shoot down a long hill. In the sunshine, around 4 p.m., I finally catch a glimpse of the famous rock, which has been seen, felt and touched by billions of tourists since the dawn of time. The Hotel La Normandie also has a view of her. I enter and ask for a night's stay. From the balcony of the room facing the sea, I can almost reach out and caress this natural wonder. But no! Thousands of white birds protect her. A security perhaps even tighter than that of Pope Francis’?

Ah, if I were younger, I would put on big boots, wrap myself in a sailor's raincoat and venture onto the high seas to watch whales or catch big cod by the belly with a thick transparent line and a giant hook.

If I were more athletic, I would explore the hiking trails of the PERCÉ inlands. I would visit the UNESCO World Geopark: the famous Grotto, the great crevasse and the magic forest.

If I were more adventurous, I would go around BONAVENTURE ISLAND in a kayak. I would climb the rocks until I reached the island’s mainland where I would enjoy a bite to eat.

If I were more curious, I would rent a scuba tank and scour the bottom of the bay to admire its most beautiful agates.

If only time could unfurl, but it cannot. So I wander the streets of PERCÉ in search of a beautiful gull knickknack to hang in my Laurentian sun room. Confronted with a thousand trinkets I’ve already seen, I go back to the B&B to get dressed for dinner. Then, at the big counter of La Maison du Pêcheur, a magnificent white pizza steals the show from the live lobster. Packed with shrimp, scallops and lobster meat, the pizza is a real treat. I enjoy it with not one but two glasses of Pinot Grigio. Even the wild sea couldn’t stop my extravagance!

It's so easy to dream when you've eaten like a queen. I wrap myself in the pristine white of the sheets, and laying on my side, open a book of poetry and let my heart gently absorb the magic of the words.

More next Sunday…