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August 26, 2022

Sainte-Anne-des-Monts (Travel letter No. 8)

10:47 a.m. I am eating cherries as I drive. The pits fly out the big open windows. I drive and everything is rolling along smoothly. Suddenly, a cherry that has become too soft slips between my fingers and lands on my left thigh, right on my light blue pants. My sky darkens. A fire-red missile has just attacked the peacefulness of the journey. I feel like throwing all my cherries to the seagulls.

11:28 a.m. Since I realized that the double yellow line on the road is the same colour as the Cora Sun, I am no longer alone at the wheel. My Sun is with me. We arrive in the great SAINTE-ANNE-DES-MONTS and RADIO-CANADA stops crackling. I hear very clearly that summer officially arrived yesterday. Darn, summer already! “Radiators are thirsty,” adds the radio. I follow the road taken by tourists with my wheels almost in the water. The bay in SAINTE-ANNE-DES-MONTS is very bucolic. It almost looks like small houses hanging in a Christmas tree. The city is a large municipality. Its church with two steeples is also big, not to mention the huge presbytery. Across from it, the EXPLORAMER complex pulls me like a magnet. I park in front. Let’s go see if I can find a new plastic seagull for my sunroom. No such luck. The plastic seagull trend is definitely over, but I do find a siren made out of fabric and a big unbreakable shark. I hope they’ll get along in the sunroom.

At the Exploramer counter, I feel my stomach rumbling. I question the pretty cashier. She suggests a canteen on the waterfront, a few kilometres away from the museum. I order a lobster roll with a small fries and cola. Here, customers walk in, take a look at the menu on the wall, order, pay the bill and wait until the boss lady shouts their number. Mine is number 132. “Like the highway,” notes the boss. She gets a smile out of me. I ask my tablemate how many more kilometres to RIMOUSKI, and he replies to me with an impeccable French accent. In front of him, a poutine stuffed with cheese curds and shrimp from Matane. I should’ve ordered that! I am still hungry as I leave the building. Outside, a few men talk about the big bonfire for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. That’s right, it’s tomorrow! I completely lost track of time.

1 p.m. I get back on the highway. In CAP-CHAT, a crow hops with both feet on the road’s double yellow line. I turn on the radio. Announcer Eugénie Lépine-Blondeau is telling me about Elvis. Apparently, he is alive more than ever. Will Madame Cora persist in the collective memory? Do satisfied bellies remember where to go?

Elvis became a huge star at 19 years old; I, a small one at 40. It’s a lot less memorable. When I started behind a counter, I wore my long braided hair around my head and a white blouse buttoned up to my neck. Elvis reached people through their ears and quickly found a way into their hearts. I descended into their stomachs and had to work my way back up into their hearts. Either way, I am now an old crooner, satisfied enough with her accomplishments.

Still following the river, I contemplate a long line of wind turbines. I don’t know exactly how they improve the wind’s strength, but they are magnificent. They remind me of beautiful ballerinas in the sky, their heads upside down. Have I ever mentioned that I miss the old cars in which we could listen to CDs? When I was working night and day, I passed the director exam for public companies thanks to the dozens of business CDs I listened to while travelling from one city to the next. When you’re just starting out in business at 40, you don’t have a minute to waste, I’d tell myself. On this trip, if I had a CD player, I might listen to fantastical tales or the great legends of Gaspésie. Or maybe not. No. All things considered, I prefer to pay attention to what nature is teaching me. I prefer to imagine that you are with me, dear readers, riding along in the back seat of the Mini.

I drive, take off, fly and bang! I land in GROSSES-ROCHES. I come to a near stop. I’m in line, bumper to bumper, behind some 20 vehicles moving at a snail’s pace. More road construction! This year, it really seems like the entire GASPÉSIE is getting an upgrade. I have a lot of compassion for heavy truck drivers. Their patience is put to the test so often. But what can you do? It’s the bridges that suffer the most from severe arthritis.

Where are my candies? My throat is dry again. I need to put two in my mouth before I can taste something. The Butter Creams from Super C are the best of the assortment. Lucky moose; after the 50 or so signs I saw while visiting the peninsula, I can attest that not a single one expired. The road construction infuriates me, so I grab two more Butter Creams.

2:28 p.m. I move and drive like I was learning a strange four-wheel waltz. Nearing MATANE, I notice that the mountains have stopped parading. The ground is flat again, the wind chilly. I drive through town and witness the procession of all the big name brands in the country. I turn left and take my spot in the queue to get a hot coffee at Tim Hortons. As I get back into my car, I try in vain to turn up the heat. Darn old age, I forgot how to. Another one of those momentary lapses I experience with increasing frequency. Sometimes I lose my keys, my fountain pen and the book I’m reading or my grocery list. I waste my time messing around with the buttons. I take a few breaths and calm down. Then wouldn’t you just know it, a warm puff of air brushes my nose. I always find what I misplace in the house. For everything else – a name, a piece of information, a way of doing something or an address – I wait. I call my daughter, my granddaughter, a good friend or someone at the office. These small memory lapses terrify me. This is the first time I am sharing this. Could it be the sea air that makes me so forthcoming with both the good and the bad?

I’m almost in SAINTE-FLAVIE where I slept a few days ago. I slow down and park the car in the church parking lot for a few minutes. Just enough time to run across the road and dip my toes in the sea, take a deep breath and realize that in SAINTE-FLAVIE my GASPÉSIE tour has come full circle. East to west, I adored being at the river’s side. From here, I make my way back towards my home, in the beautiful Laurentians.

To be continued next week for the conclusion of my travel letters!