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September 2, 2022

Rivière-du-Loup, headed to Montreal (Final travel letter)

I finally arrive in Rimouski at 5:20 p.m. I’m starving! I follow the river and, when I reach Hôtel Rimouski, a hundred graduates in their prom suits and gowns are roaming the lawns and sidewalks. Two small cruise ships are moored at the dock. The adolescents get onboard. I am so hungry, my stomach rumbles. I leave the waterfront and turn onto St. Germain Boulevard. I park and enter the “Spaghetti House” restaurant, an institution since it opened. My belly satisfied, I decide to drive to RIVIÈRE-DU-LOUP (literally “wolf’s river”). Quick, I need a coffee to keep me awake! The sky is still very bright. The road is beautiful and the wolf awaits.

8:10 p.m. Do I have any cherries left? I’ve eaten all the hard candy and my throat is dry. I cross the bridge over to RIVIÈRE-DU-LOUP. I look right, left. I look everywhere searching for the wolf and a place to spend the night. I finally find lodging, but no wolf! At $200 per night, even the outskirts in GASPÉSIE are pricey. Perhaps that’s why so many RVs are on the roads. Food and lodging for less, but monthly payments throughout the year. To each their own package.

After soaking in a hot bath, I finish François Rabelais’ biography. I fall asleep in an oversized and super comfortable bed. I wake up very early, around 4:30 a.m. according to the hotel clock. I have a single thought in mind, the last sentence pronounced by Rabelais before his passing on April 9, 1553: “I GO TO SEEK THE GREAT PERHAPS.” I repeat this sentence nonstop until I come to the conclusion once again that nobody knows what awaits us afterwards.

I put my clothes away, turn the Keurig on and pour myself a black coffee. I write for about two hours until I clear my head and leave the hotel. Anxious to lie on my favourite couch in the Laurentians, I jump at Highway 20’s invitation to head home. My foot heavy on the pedal, I drive on the long tail of a siren who swims faster than all. The harlot dares to carve up farm land. She disturbs the villages, the wind’s direction and the moose’s trails. When I reach LA POCATIÈRE, thousands of baby fir trees try to grow, glued to this villain. I need gas. It is already too late to take the exit when the big yellow Shell emerges from the clouds. I have to concentrate like Tom Cruise in his F18. The words PETRO-CANADA appear on a sign. I miss the exit again! I did read the sign, but immediately forgot the exit number as I read it. Damn old age. A kind-hearted friend suggested I get a chauffeur. Not going to happen. I love to drive!

“Everything that happens is not without consequence,” says Boucar Diouf as I tune in to RADIO-CANADA. Seven million years ago, mankind stood up and discovered back pain. I, for one, have pain in my left knee. I often imagine that the muscles in this leg are knitting a steel scarf around my kneecap. According to Boucar, 1 billion people live with back pain. How many have bad knees?

Highway 20, also named Jean-Lesage (a former politician), has such a serious demeanour. It never learned how to waltz with the landscape or twirl with the mountains in GASPÉ, or brush against a beautiful lake, lost in nature. It is the straightest road in the Gaspé Peninsula. Dearest readers, can you keep a secret? For goodness’ sake, please don’t tell anyone that I take notes as I drive, in a notepad placed on my right thigh. I know! My kids must never read these travel letters or they will take my car keys away from me. I seem sweet and kind, but under my hawk feathers, I’m a bold one who’s not afraid of danger. I am only afraid of snakes, eels and everything limbless that slithers on this earth.

I nearly died as a young mother. I was mopping the floor in the kids’ room. I came across a big brown grocery bag in the closet. I open the bag, and in that instant, I experienced the worst moment of my entire life. I see a dozen young snakes tangled together in the bag. My heart stops beating. I exit the room, close the door, take an armchair from the living room and place it against the door of the snake room. I had to stop them from finding their way into the rest of the house. Seriously, I thought I would die of fright!

11:20 a.m. I still have some cherries left. I eat a few. The pits fly out the window. The soft rain transforms into a storm. I close the windows. A miserable pit hits the glass, reverses direction and falls directly on my white shirt. The HORROR! I promptly stop eating the damned cherries. There are only 4 or 5 left and I throw them to the crows. I hesitate and then open a pack of CLOROX disinfectant wipes. Will I make it better or worse if I attempt to clean the cherry’s red blood that has settled into the stitches of the white knitted top? “When in doubt, let’s refrain,” my late mom whispers to me.

MONTREAL, 160 kilometres. I drive and, suddenly, the only things my eyes see are the many dark brown spots on the two hands holding the steering wheel. What are those? Small parcels of old age roasting in the sun? I never cared for my skin despite the 3 or 4 jars of cream I receive every Christmas. I much prefer getting new books, but my daughter is forever hopeful I will improve my personal appearance. She insists every time she finds a blackhead on my nose, a new wrinkle on my neck, or worse, the damned red pimples on top of my forehead. Sometimes, I would like to be someone else, a magnificent woman. A Lise Watier, for example. So sweet, so noble and so beautiful. I’m certain she can never get old.

The 20 clears up and so does the sky. I try to sing a little. My heart flies to Iceland, where a few of my favourite authors live. These geniuses of the page know how to dress their sentences with beauty and masterfully strike a judicious balance between the human spirit and our physical shell.

1:29 p.m. I bite into a carrot, swallow vitamins and it takes the edge of my craving for food. Which bridge onto the Island of Montreal has the least traffic? It’s Friday and urban dwellers are escaping the city, I suppose. I grab a “cream of coconut mint” candy. The mint part of the candy tastes good, but the coconut has no flavour. Disappointed, I bite down on the candy and, miracle, I discover the delicious coconut cream. Such is life! We meet someone, we chat a bit and, most often, we part ways. We throw away the candy. But when we insist, when we shatter the first impression, we often discover the delicious, the marvellous. Are we so disposed to hiding the best in ourselves?

This small, unique heart of goodness inside each of us is our treasure, our vessel of tenderness and generosity. Take very good care of it; take very good care of yourselves, dearest readers. Take care of this vessel of love at your core that animates your existence. This is the grace that I wish upon you with all of my heart!



P.S. – You needn’t worry, more stories to follow!