Friday, 20 December 2013

Wintry walk at Parc du Bic

Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately. First of all, I have news: I'm going to be working in a different school next term. I did have a few good times and learnt some valuable lessons in the other school, but I had to finally accept that overall, I just wasn't happy. I am extremely grateful that I was able to transfer rather than have to quit the programme altogether, which would have been upsetting. To new beginnings!

Also, it got cold. Like, really effing cold. Let me introduce you to the concept of wind chill: even if the thermometer says it's "only" -18, say, it can feel like around -30 because of the wind. It truly is hellish trying to walk to places. Needless to say, I have taken out my puffy winter coat and I don't think there's any going back until about March now. It's also snowing nearly every day, and there's a lot of it. It's not so much the snow itself that stops you from getting around, as there's an efficient déneigement (snow-clearing) system; it's more the whole package that makes you want to hibernate.

Last weekend, I went for a walk at the Parc du Bic just outside Rimouski with another assistant and a new Québécois friend. I wrapped up, but I was still really cold! The trail was "hikier" than I'd expected, but I really enjoyed it. It was the loveliest winter wonderland adventure I could have asked for. My hat and scarf froze, as well as my hair and eyelashes... I don't think I'm going to bother wearing mascara for the next few months! And my snot froze too, which was quite a peculiar sensation. I took so many pictures of the extraordinary winter scenery, but I'll just put a few here.





This walk, followed by a lovely warm meal at Le Bercail - a restaurant/café/venue in Rimouski - really reminded me why I applied to come here.

Winter break begins tomorrow! First I'm off to Mont-Tremblant, one of the most famous ski resorts in Canada. I'll be spending Christmas there with 15 other British assistants. It'll be my first Christmas away from home and I am looking forward to the experience immensely! However, right now this has been taken over by worrying about the logistics of getting to the chalet, as it seems a bit in the middle of nowhere.
After that, I'm visiting friends in both Chicago and Minneapolis over New Year. How exciting is all this? The thought of it is truly what's been keeping me going over the past month in particular.

To finish off, here are some phrases to help you survive winter in Quebec:

  • It's freezing: "Ça caille!"
  • A standard greeting: "Fait pas chaud, hein?" 
  • When asked if it's cold where you come from: "Le plus froid que j'aie ressenti en Angleterre était -10. Il neige une fois par année. C'est comme ça -" [make gap of about two inches between your index finger and thumb] "- pis les écoles sont toutes fermées."

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Best books I read in 2013

This is not in any sort of order. Treat it as a list of recommendations from me to you.
  • Kim Thúy - Ru
  • Maria Semple - Where'd You Go, Bernadette
  • Leonard Cohen - The Favourite Game
  • Angela Carter - The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
  • Etgar Keret - The Girl on the Fridge and Other Stories
  • Alison Bechdel - Fun Home
  • Nicolas Dickner - Nikolski
  • Percival Everett - Erasure
  • Art Spiegelman - The Complete Maus
  • Dorothy Allison - Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature
  • James Baldwin - Giovanni's Room
  • Sherman Alexie - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
  • Haruki Murakami - 1Q84
  • Chad Harbach - The Art of Fielding

Albums of 2013


This is going to be a short post in comparison to last year's. It is nice to keep a record of which albums/films/etc. you liked best over the past 12 months, but I find that these lists sometimes go overboard and become more like something to prove how cool and up to date you are.
                                  
I suppose I still did make an effort to listen to a lot of albums this year - especially from January until August, when I had access to Spotify - but my meagre list this year has made me realise something: I don't take music as seriously as I once did.
I don't know if that's something that has developed since I moved here. Up here, seven hours' drive from the next major city, I don't get to go to a lot of concerts. For example, I had been really hoping I would get to see The Dismemberment Plan last month in Boston, but being car-less, the tiny amount of time I would have spent down there wouldn't have justified the cost and time of transportation. I also haven't actually checked out their new album yet. I've just had other priorities over the past few months, and so I've mainly been listening to things I already liked. 
And then there's the fact that some people would find it impossible that I could listen to a "serious" or "cool" band, then listen to One Direction an hour later. They think there is an actual argument in that. I'm so over it.

Anyway, here is my little list. It's all stuff from artists I really liked already.

1. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
2. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
3. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
4. Owen - L'Ami du Peuple
5. Los Campesinos! - No Blues
6. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
7. Jagwar Ma - Howlin’
8. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle
9. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
10. A Great Big Pile of Leaves - You're Always On My Mind

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Snow in Quebec City




German Christmas Market. You weren't allowed to take your cup of Glühwein outside the premises because that constitutes public drinking! Note piles of snow.


I ate a yummy tofu burger at a restaurant called Le Hobbit and was served by, well, a hobbit.

Snow depth




My first polymer $5 note! I only recently saw my first $10 one, too. $20 and $50 ones are pretty common.

My ride didn't show up, so I ended up getting the train back to Rimouski last minute. Around here, that's absurd. In fact, it wasn't even from Quebec to Rimouski; it was from Charny, which is on the other side of the river, and two other passengers and I had to get a taxibus there. The station at Charny was cute. There was one person working there, who offered free tea and coffee. While waiting for the train, I watched Occupation double with the other passengers. Getting the train was really strange. I'd already done it last year from Montreal to Quebec, but this time was a bit different; it felt more antiquated. I had a lot of shopping with me so I wasn't that comfortable in my seat, but somehow I did get to sleep. The train kept stopping to let freight trains pass, and it went pretty slowly too. Still, it was an interesting experience and in the end I appreciated it as a sort of adventure. I arrived in Rimouski at 2am and walked home in the snow. Despite the price and the speed, I would travel with the train here again if it was planned in advance and I wanted to make a real trip out of it!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 afterthoughts



For the past five or six years, I've wanted to take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). The aim is to write a 50,000-word novel draft within the 30 days of the month of November. That's an average of 1,667 words a day. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality; there's plenty of time for editing during the rest of the year. The aim is just to get you into the daily habit of writing.
However, those past few years encompassed my A-Levels and university - a period of my life where my eyes were already stinging from having to be in front a computer screen for most of the day - so I always put it off. As this is my first year where I'm not a student, I thought it would be an ideal time to do it.

My main reason for participating this year was just to prove something to myself and get something done. My parents will affirm that I've been writing stories ever since I could hold a pencil. I always scrapped them along the way, frustrated because I could never find a way to fashion my ideas into something cohesive. I did have phases where I would really get into writing, spilling over with inspiration and wholly convinced that this was it, this would be my novel. I was most content during these times. Before long, though, something big would always come up in my life and I would soon have to abandon it.

Come inside for exclusive NaNoWriMo secrets! For easier reading, I'm going to do it in the extremely self-congratulatory format of an "interview" with myself.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Y'a d'la neige! (and other stories)



Hey, look, I know it's still November. But I finished my novel early! How cool is that?! A post specifically about my experience with that is in the pipeline.

So, apart from that, what else has been going on this month?

As tough as it is to admit here, I've spent most of November gripped by an ugly combination of anxiety and culture shock. Or something really negative, anyway. It has made life very difficult. I had a couple of Skype dates to people from home where I basically just whined and got very upset. I listened to more UK music than usual (not that I never listen to it usually, just that most of my favourites seem to be American or Canadian), which I think was a sign of a subconscious yearning to hear accents that sounded more like mine and references to stuff I grew up with that's specific to where I grew up. So yeah, in a way I am still trying to haul myself out of that. It's difficult, but keeping positive, grateful and busy is key. I have faith that I will be doing well again once the Christmas holidays roll around.

It might sound shallow but I also feel down because my skin sucks right now, and it has done so pretty much ever since the moment I stepped off the plane. It must be down to the change in environment and routine, but I've been doing some research and found something called "face mapping"; if your spots are concentrated in a certain part of your face, there's something lacking in your diet or lifestyle. Mine are almost exclusively on my chin, which allegedly indicates a hormonal imbalance, so I can't really do anything about it. Just great. However, I'm currently trying to make a transition by avoiding dairy at all costs, eating more iron-rich vegetables, and not popping the spots (don't act like you've never done it). Also, I've heard Omega 3 is good, but it can be quite hard to find in a non-fish format; the girl who lived in my apartment before left me some chia seeds, though, which I've heard are good for that. Just want to be a babe while I'm here, you know? I'll keep results updated here.

Oh, and as you can see from the photo at the top, the snow has officially arrived in Rimouski! We got a bit in early November, but it soon melted after a couple of days. Then on the 23rd November we got our first load of proper snow, and I guess that's how life is going to be for the next few months! I'm sure the novelty will wear off at some point, but for now it's making me excited for all the stuff you can do in Quebec in the winter. The only thing I'm not looking forward to is the extreme temperatures. The coldest I've experienced in my life so far was about -15°C in Latvia in December. That was horrific, so I wonder what's in store over here...?

Well, here's a selection of cultural stuff I've done since I last checked in:

  • I checked out an improv night. It's a very Québécois thing, I'm told; it's almost a sport. There are two teams of about five people, and they're given a topic that one member of each team has to represent in a sort of comedy sketch for, say, three minutes. Some of it was funny in a way that transcends language barriers, but in other parts the humour verged on politically incorrect (I hate that phrase, by the way; as if it's not "correct" to treat minorities like people?). At any rate, it's probably not something I would go out of my way to attend again...
  • A friend and I walked 5.5km to the Maison Lamontagne (it wasn't as close as we thought...). It's a historically significant house - built back in the days of New France - and one of the oldest in Quebec. I found it really interesting to read about how the face of architecture here has evolved over the past few hundred years.
  • I went to the training session in Quebec City, which was basically a big reunion of the British, German and Mexican assistants, and we met the anglophone Canadian assistants for the first time (well, not all of them - there are around 70!). I'm not sure how much information I actually absorbed as it was all crammed in very tightly, and I just found the whole thing incredibly exhausting. But there were some really cool moments, such as the evening when we all had to dress up in plaid shirts and were transported by yellow school buses to a cabane à sucre on the Île d'Orléans. There were music and sketches from different teams of assistants, which was a lot of fun! We also had tire d'érable which is maple syrup dripped onto snow and you dip a stick in to make a lolly! I had planned to stay in the city after the training for a few more days, but I got ill and had a bit of a bank crisis so I decided it would be better for me to go home. There will be other opportunities to re-explore, though!
  • Us Rimouski girls made a day trip to Rivière-du-Loup, a city about one hour west of here, where we met up with the assistants there and visited Noël au Château, Canada's largest Christmas market! We didn't stay in RDL too long but it seemed like a cool place.
  • My responsable plays hockey, and I got to tag along to one of his games all the way in Dalhousie, New Brunswick. It was actually my first hockey game, which was very exciting. It's weird to have to wear a coat while you're watching a sport indoors! I loved how it seemed to be a real weekly community drawing in everyone from Dalhousie, as well as members of the nearby Eel River Bar First Nation.
  • I attended a slam poetry night, where I met a couple of new people. I understood quite a lot of the poetry, which I felt pretty proud of myself for. It was a fun night.
  • Also, dubiously "cultural", but Target opened in Rimouski at last! It's just opened its first bunch of stores all over the province. It's another one of those stores that, like Walmart, I always hear about on TV and stuff and so when you see it in real life it's kind of surreal. My friend from British Columbia thought it was pretty small, but I found it huge! I came to buy a few things that I needed, but it was hard not to get distracted by everything else in there (and I mean it has everything). It also contains a Starbucks, which I'm pretty ambivalent about, but I guess that's exciting news for people who don't want to travel four hours for Starbucks.

I realise that literally no-one but me cares about this, but I've been taking a different lunch to school... was getting a bit bored of the hummus and bean sandwiches. There's a whole foods store in town and I found this vegan cream cheese there that is so addictive. I've been putting that on bagels. It's absolute bliss. That, an oatmeal bar and a banana make up my lunch. Makes me feel pretty healthy, and feeling healthy makes a remarkable difference in my mood.



I think these are meant to be for people going on hikes and stuff but WHATEVER, EVERY DAY IS AN EMOTIONAL HIKE

As a treat for winning NaNoWriMo, and also because I missed out on it the last time (see earlier on in the post), I'm off on a solo trip to Quebec City this weekend. It's going to look so pretty in the snow. I will, of course, produce photos.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Friday, 25 October 2013

We won't be sleeping in our autumn beds

The colours on the trees may still be bright, but the summer is truly behind us. The last farmers' market will be this weekend (I've been stocking up on yummy veggies and baked goods there, as well as getting to chat to local people). I definitely can't leave the house without wearing a coat, scarf and sensible shoes now, even if it looks sunny outside. It's made me realise how back home, I always try to get away with wearing the bare minimum when it's cold. Over here, you just can't afford to do this - last week I had my first cold and I'm pretty sure it was because of that. Yesterday afternoon the temperature suddenly dropped by about nine degrees and the first snowflakes started falling, but they didn't settle. As I understand it, the next three weeks or so will just be glum freezingness without any snow at all. Winter still seems like a joke that everyone except me is in on, though...

School seems to be getting better and better each week. I believe there is a direct correlation between this and the fact I now have more autonomy in the classroom; the awkward "introduction" stage is over. Yesterday I started my weekly lunchtime English activities. This week it was Halloween-themed. Five students showed up, and it was a lot of fun, although I hope next time there will be more attendees.

Last night, I also went to see Lisa LeBlanc, who plays "trash-folk". She's not actually from Quebec, but is Acadian; that's another francophone culture with a whole different history, and their influence today is mainly to be witnessed in New Brunswick and also over the border in Maine. Anyway, I suppose that lyrically, in her demeanour, and in her level of fame, she's the equivalent of Kate Nash... come to think of it, she kind of looks like her too. She was a joy to watch. This song is awesome, even if you don't understand French. And if you do know French, but not the Acadian variety, it's pretty interesting to listen to lyrically.

All seems good in general. There are difficult days of course, but I push through them. I now have another long weekend, but I don't think I'm going anywhere; after spending far too much money when I went away over Thanksgiving and just being really exhausted the following week, I've decided that trips should be about quality, not necessarily quantity (not that I'm ruling out being spontaneous and stuff). Besides, this would be a good time to get to know my local area even better. There are still places in Rimouski I haven't checked out!

I need to save cash anyway, because next week I'm going to Quebec City for a few days! It's for a mandatory language assistant training. I'm quite disappointed that it will be over Halloween, because that's a huge deal over here and at my school, even the teachers wear costumes on 31st October. When will I have the chance to do that again?! But I hope to rediscover the city, and it will be nice to see everyone again.


Vocab de la semaine
  • Vous autres / nous autres / eux autres
    You lot / us lot / them lot
  • Écouter à la télé
    Still means to watch TV, but it's what people tend to say here instead of regarder.
  • Genre
    "Like" as a filler... you know what I mean. Can also be used to mean "as if!".
  • "Jean dit"
    "Simon says". I learnt the hard way (i.e. after excitedly introducing the activity to a class of kids I'm slightly scared of) that it's not "Jacques a dit" like in France.
  • Un cellulaire
    Mobile phone. In Quebec, portable actually means laptop.
  • Une chum de fille
    Learnt this from Lisa LeBlanc's stage banter! It means a female friend.
  • Fait que
    I've also got Madame LeBlanc to thank for this one. It means "so" (as in "therefore"). And now that I know it, I realise I've been hearing it absolutely everywhere.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

American Weekend



I have just had a weekend that has revealed to me that life really can be a series of beautiful coincidences (or whatever you prefer to call them, varying according to your personal world view). There's going to be a lot of preamble for each one, so sit comfortably, but it will all make sense, I promise.

This was the long Thanksgiving weekend, so it was my first opportunity to make a trip slightly further afield to soak up the last bits of summer. I knew I wanted to return to Montreal soon, it's no secret that I love it there. On a map, I was looking up where I could go from Montreal for a daytrip, just to mix things up a bit. Burlington, Vermont looked really close, and I'd happened to read an article recently about how cool it was. What's more, it was only $58 return on Greyhound. I decided to go ahead and incorporate it into my plans. It would be my first ever trip to the US. Si pas maintenant, quand?
The drive towards the border was already shrouded in mystery. It was about 9:00 in the morning, and fog was lingering over the cornfields and farmhouses. This area of Quebec - south-east of Montreal - is called the Eastern Townships, a bunch of little towns with English names due to it being a place of refuge for American Loyalists in the eighteenth century. It's meant to be one of the prettiest regions of Quebec, and I want to go there properly someday when the weather is nice.

Maybe it didn't hit me as hard as it would have done if I'd gone to the States straight from the UK; I've been in Canada for a month now, so I've already got used to how things generally are on this continent. But still, I just couldn't believe I was there, in this place I'd felt familiar with since I was very young, but still seemed like I had so much to learn about it. I liked seeing the licence plates and mottoes of all the different states. I liked getting to grips with using $1 notes. I liked that when you press the button at the zebra crossing (or "crosswalk") a voice barks "WAIT!" at you. And did you know that state amphibians are a thing? And that Vermont's is the leopard toad?

My first stop was the Saturday Farmers' Market. There were so many organic food stalls. It was so cheap that I felt no guilt in trying lots of it; I tried some Pakistani-Afghan cuisine, as well as being reunited with Tibetan momos. I also drank a delicious local ginger beer. It was the most gorgeous lunch ever. There were also many artists displaying their work. I bought a print from Hilary Glass, who is a very talented illustrator and a nice person to chat to - check out her Etsy store! It was such a friendly, chilled atmosphere, I felt so content.

Vermont is, of course, the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. And there was a Ben & Jerry's store with more flavours than you can imagine. It's on Cherry Street... or should I say Cherry Garcia Street?


The staff there were some of the cheeriest I've ever met! (Would you expect any less, though?) It was a tough call, but I chose Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream.
The photo below makes me insanely jealous of Past Me. I wonder if I will ever experience such unadulterated bliss in a waffle cone ever again.


Burlington sits on Lake Champlain, which is huge; it dips into Quebec too. It's certainly one of the loveliest lakes I've ever seen, so clear and blue. The land you can see across from Burlington is actually New York state! So yeah, this lake gets around.



Here are a couple of other nice places I visited in Burlington:
  • Crow Bookshop, 14 Church Street
    New and secondhand bookshop, with fiction and plenty of interesting non-fiction titles too. I got a book called Slanted & Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture by Kaya Oakes. It was the Pavement reference in the title that got me.
  • Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup, 211 College Street
    This is a nice kitchen with a rustic yet modern vibe. There are piles of pumpkins as you walk through the door, and fresh loaves of bread on display. You can go to the salad bar, or order from a selection of teas and baked goods - I had an iced tea and a strawberry and pecan vegan scone.

On the bus from downtown back to the airport (which is where the Greyhound station is), I got chatting to an older lady. It turned out that she was born just outside Linz, Austria, where I spent half of my year abroad! Another passenger on the bus was listening to our conversation and he was smiling at this thing that had made my day and probably made her day, too.

In some ways, Burlington is what I imagine to be a mini San Francisco. Maybe it was the sloping streets and the hippy vibe. Thank you, Burlington, for giving me such a great introduction to America. This little excursion was significant because coming back to Canada was like "coming home"; indeed, this is the country where I currently reside. It gave me yet another warm fuzzy feeling.

But that's not the end. There's still so much Montreal to tell of.

One afternoon, I was in Drawn & Quarterly, 211 Rue Bernard Ouest, a supercool publisher/bookshop specialising in graphic novels, feeling spoilt for choice with all the great titles. I turned around, and saw a certain Montreal musician whom I admire very much (they seem like they still want to maintain their privacy, which is why I'm not giving their name on this blog). They were with someone, so I was too shy to go talk to them, but I just couldn't believe it!

About three hours later, I was still wandering around Mile End. Long story short, I went into a café and spotted someone I'd met for about ten minutes in a restaurant the last time I was in Montreal. I was this close to not approaching her, as I was sure she would not remember me and it would just be a really awkward situation for both of us. But she did remember me, and she also seemed delighted about our chance reunion. We spoke for ages, we've exchanged contact details, and she's offered me a place to stay the next time I'm down there. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about a beautiful coincidence.

I also got the chance to visit Westmount, a predominantly anglophone neighbourhood, where Leonard Cohen is from. It's a pretty wealthy area. Also, note how the signs say STOP and not ARRÊT (...is this even legal?)



Atwater metro station

Heading out of that neighbourhood, into Outremont and back into Mile End, here are a few more places I want to mention:
  • Parc Outremont, Rue St-Viateur
    Lonely Planet describes it as 'one of Montreal's best-kept secrets', and I can't disagree. The houses surrounding it are absolutely gorgeous. Some of them look quite Germanic. The trees and leaves on the ground were so beautiful. I spent a perfect afternoon sitting on the bench, reading.
  • S.W. Welch Bookseller, 225 Rue St-Viateur Ouest
    Secondhand books galore, mostly in English. Some of them are pretty recent releases, in good condition, and under $10. Cool.
  • Crudessence, 105 Rue Rachel Ouest
    A vegan eatery I hadn't tried before, Crudessence has five locations around Montreal. It was pretty expensive but it was good. The emphasis is on using natural, raw and healthy ingredients, and I indeed felt very healthy afterwards; I ordered a pesto lasagne made out of pesto (duh), avocado, tomatoes, cress, and some kind of vegan feta. Eating in vegan restaurants always inspires me to eat better in my day-to-day life.

Finally, I need to mention that this most coveted Montreal achievement has been unlocked: getting people to speak French to me! Last time I was there, even if I spoke French, I was replied to in English. This was most frustrating, but now, it seems that a month in an exclusively francophone area has worked wonders for my confidence. I couldn't be more thrilled about that.

There you have it. I have gone back into this working week with a fresh attitude, all because of the amazing people and places I stumbled across this weekend.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Moisiversaire

Before anything else, I need to get something important out of the way. These are my new pyjamas, which I got at Walmart last week... at a cracking $1 for the set! I even asked a member of staff to price check it, such was my astonishment. The top says "Canada Rocks!" in case you can't read it.



Now onto the title of this post: I've been in Quebec for a month, i.e. moisiversaire as opposed to an anniversaire. That feels like just about the right amount of time - I won't say anything cliché like "time is flying". This will be quite a chunky post, full of what I've been up to lately!
Generally, the weather is so good! There is a sudden drop in temperature in the evenings, though; even though I'm just wearing a T-shirt in the day, I have to remember to wrap up after the sun goes down. And I can't get over how lovely Rimouski's surrounding area is. The other day we took the "back road" home and it was so picturesque, with all the clapboard farmhouses and rolling golden fields. We even stopped and took a look at some domesticated reindeer!

Frustratingly, I still feel like I'm in the adjustment period at school, but I suppose I have to accept everything at its natural pace and not rush anything. I did have a day last week where things got too much and the tears flowed (fortunately it was only in front of a colleague), but I think that was going to happen at some point.

I'm really mostly alright, though, and I am trying every day to embrace the positive. For example, it's quite nice that I'm a little celebrity in school. Students say hi to me in the corridor and whisper amongst themselves 'c'est la stagiaire en anglais!'. Hopefully they're not, in fact, making fun of me. The other day, we even went outside for a lesson; the students were taking part in a cross country run, and the teacher and I went to cheer them on!
Something I'm finding a little peculiar is the fact that students and teachers alike are allowed to just take days off school to go hunting! The teacher will ask where someone is when taking attendance, and a classmate will say 'il est à la chasse' - met by a shrug.

Another nice thing that's been going on is the migration of the birds. Every evening, if my window is open, I can hear them. If I look up into the sky, they're flying in an arrow formation. I looked it up and it seems these are snow geese, making their way from the far north of Quebec to the east coast of the US for the winter.

It's been a really good weekend, the perfect antidote to my slightly rough week. Some of the ELAs, as well as our Finnish friend who's studying here for a semester, drove up to Pointe-au-Père. It holds arguably the main tourist attractions in the area: the Onondaga submarine (the only visitable submarine in all of Canada!), a lighthouse, and a museum about RMS Empress of Ireland, a ship that sank 10km off the coast of Rimouski in 1914. It was $22.75 to see all three of these, and it was well worth it, I think.


Here are some photos taken from the top of the lighthouse:



In the evening, another ELA and I went to a fundraising gig at Co-op Paradis, an independent arts venue in Rimouski. Afterwards, we hung around in the bar and shamelessly talked French to unsuspecting strangers. It was fun. More of that to come, I suspect!

On Saturday, my friend Grace, who lives about two hours away, picked me up in Rimouski as she was on her way to buy a snowboard. We spent the day driving around, listening to a cheesy dad-rock compilation CD, and it was really the best afternoon I've had in ages. We then had a potluck with my friends here, which was yummy. Evenings where you laugh so much that you're bent double are great.

And today we went to our first American football game (le football), Rimouski vs. Chicoutimi. We didn't really know the rules so it was hard to make sense of what was going on. It was certainly a novelty, but I had to leave after about an hour and a half anyway and wasn't too gutted, so I'm not sure it's something I would do again. But it was, yet again, one of those bizarre "whoa, I'm in North America" moments. Seeing their funny gear, and people sitting on bleachers, eating hotdogs... it kind of felt like we'd tapped into the psyche of an entire continent. Life sometimes really is like a film.

Don't mind my finger right in front of the lens

Next weekend is that festival of dubious morality, Thanksgiving, or Action de grâce. In Canada, it's on a different date to the US one, and in Quebec, they just don't seem to care much about it at all really. Nevertheless, I'll have a four-day weekend, and I've made some nice plans. This coming week will be all about getting into the swing of things, finally. I got this!


Vocab de la semaine
  • T'es pas game
    You're not game, you wouldn't dare
  • Pas mal
    Pretty (as an adverb), a lot. Doesn't mean "not bad"!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Food in Quebec

Before I came to Quebec, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about how easy it would be for me to find stuff to eat. Two of the national dishes are poutine (drenched in gravy) and tourtière (meat pie to the max). This is a province whose cuisine is heavily influenced by French cuisine, and I mean... have you ever tried to be vegetarian/vegan in France?
So far, though, I've found that it's not been too bad at all. As I mentioned before, I've found places I can get a few of the specialty products I eat at home! I tend not to get meat analogues if I can help it, but I really appreciate that these are available.

This is the first time in a while that I have been bringing lunch to school/work. On my first day, I had lunch from the cafeteria, which consisted of soup, salad and a slice of vegetable pizza. School dinners have a lousy reputation but it was actually pretty good. It cost more than $5, though, and I decided I couldn't be doing with that every day. I quickly devised an easy, quick sandwich that I can make every morning: hummus, kidney beans and spinach. And it's vegan!



And in some ways, Canada - at least, I'm assuming it's the case all over Canada - has proved itself to be better than the UK when it comes to fast food places!
Practically across the street from my school is a Subway. I was feeling lazy for lunch one day, so I decided I'd go there. I was delighted to discover that they had a falafel sub! As usual, you can add or take away cheese as you like, load it with veggies, and there was also the option to go for an avocado filling (for a limited time only). Without the avocado, it was only $4.15, with the 12-inch at $5.00. So tempting, but I went for the smaller one.
Also, the McWrap here is pretty good. The "Mediterranean" one, which is full of vegetables and feta, and tastes very lemony. The "Santa Fe" one is also suitable for vegetarians and it's not bad. Yes, I know this is McDonalds, but if you ever stop somewhere and need some food, it's good to know.

Finally, I use the term "food" loosely here, but... what's this? Screme Egg? Is this now a thing in the UK too? It tastes pretty much the same as a Creme Egg, by the way, only the goo inside is green and not orange. Looks like it should be called the Mojo Jojo Egg.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Pretty trees

It's nearing October, and after a drizzly week it's become very warm this fin de semaine in eastern Quebec. This means a lot of fall foliage (sorry, "autumn foliage" just doesn't alliterate) which is still a total novelty for me; it seems to get brighter and brighter each time I see it and reminds me I'm very lucky to be living in this part of the world at this time of the year. Here is a handful of photos I've taken of the lovely leaves.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

School: a learning curve

It's only been a week, but I can already say with a fair amount of certitude that my time as an ELA here in Quebec is going to be a totally different experience to when I was in Austria. There, apart from certain uninterested students, it wasn't too much of a struggle and I could easily walk out of a lesson feeling like I'd achieved something. This, on the other hand, feels like more of an uphill journey. But I'm glad that I have previous experience working in a foreign school at all.

I'm also finding it challenging to keep up with the fast pace of conversations. I keep reminding myself that I've only been here a couple of weeks so there's no way I would be an expert in Quebec French, but it's hard not to feel disheartened. I am lucky to be living in a relatively urban place, so there are plenty of activities to join (which admittedly I keep putting off, the shame). The thing about being an ELA is that you may only be working 18 hours a week, but there is so much work to be done in other areas. You've got to rely on yourself to pull yourself back up on the horse again; I know that I am the only one who's responsible for what I get out of this year. It's a sobering realisation.

On a more optimistic note, I am enjoying some of the ways in which the school differs to European schools. There are no formal breaktimes before or after lunch, although there are 10-minute gaps between each period to travel between classes or go to the toilet, which I would have much preferred when I was at high school. There are lockers (we just had pegs at school), and announcements are made over the speaker.
This week I have basically just been introducing myself in front of the class, and subjecting myself to questions from the students. I've been asked four times whether I have any kids - I guess when you're a teen, 22 seems really old! And just from interacting with the students when introducing myself in their classes, I have gleaned that there is a rivalry - perhaps even a beef - between the school's football players and hockey players! By the way, they call it le football, and they call British football le soccer. A few more funny moments:
  • Saying a random sentence in German in front of the class (at the teacher's request) and having them try to guess what language it is;
  • Being asked countless times whether I've met One Direction;
  • 'If you have McDonalds in England, how is there no poutine in England?'

Other things that have happened this week:
  • Some friends and I went out to a local student night. 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman!' by Shania Twain played, and by the end of the song every person in the room was doing a line dance (us included - that goes without saying).
  • I saw my first moose... albeit a dead one. After school we were driving down the highway, when my mentor pointed out a moose carcass on the back of a pickup truck. Its legs were sticking in the air, it had been decapitated and there was a bloody orifice where its head had been, yet the weird thing is I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't brought it to my attention. Hunting season has begun, and even though I personally have certain reservations against killing and eating animals, I acknowledge that it's part of the lifestyle here and I'm morbidly curious about it.
  • On my phone I discovered a tip-calculator feature... the answer to all my prayers!
  • Just as I was beginning to think they didn't exist round here, I finally discovered the section in the supermarket with the tofu and veggie sausages. There's also a whole foods shop selling that kind of thing a short walk away from my place, which I'm thrilled about. 
  • I was given a TV! This is really good because it means that I can immerse myself into French by having it on in the background while cooking or something. Even if it's just something like Un souper presque parfait (Quebec's Come Dine With Me) or terrible game shows, it makes me feel like I'm improving with minimal effort.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Parc national de la Gaspésie

Not even one week after stating my goal to become more outdoorsy, I went and made a step towards achieving just that. Along with some other assistants, I was invited to join a trip last weekend to the Gaspésie National Park; more specifically, to hike the Chic Choc Mountains, which mark the northernmost point of the International Appalachian Trail. The park is four hours' drive east of Rimouski, but seemed longer, somehow; towns that I'd hitherto considered to be neighbours were so far apart from each other. People aren't kidding when they say distance is a totally different concept in Canada.

Actually, I was this close to saying no to the trip. For one thing, me - a girl who grew up in The Fens - hiking mountains? You're having a laugh! I have never owned a pair of walking boots, nor were they exactly on my priority shopping list when I arrived here. Also, I wanted to spend the weekend in Rimouski to get some errands done and to be fresh and ready for my first week at school. But I also sensed, somewhat, that if I didn't go on the trip I would feel some regret.

We arrived at the campsite on Friday. The scenery was already very atmospheric and evocative of Twin Peaks (other people said Twilight, also a fair comparison). And I saw chipmunks scurrying about here and there!


On Saturday, the original plan had been to hike Mont Albert, but seeing as it had rained heavily the night before, this was deemed unsafe and we went up Mont Olivine instead. It's smaller by about 500m, but to be frank, that was already more than enough for me. As I ascended the steep mountain with some of my more sprightly companions zooming ahead of me, at times I wondered if I should have given my parents my insurance policy details because it felt quite likely this was where I would meet my end. To keep my spirits up, I hummed the very appropriate 'Land of the Silver Birch' to myself, a song I'd learnt all those years ago at Brownies. Here are some photos from the way up:

My poor trainers will never forgive me (this is before the muddiest part of the trail)

The route was neverending and I fell over a couple of times, plus it rained a lot, but the view was ultimately worth the trouble. It was mistier than we'd hoped for, but still "malade" ("sick") as the guides kept saying.



After that, we relaxed in a cabin for lunch, then it was time for the inevitable descent. In some ways it was an ample reward for the way up there, as we saw some more striking scenery. In other ways, though, it was even worse than the way up; treading downwards over slippery rocks, being sprayed with mud, and getting lost in infinite forest at dusk while it rained heavily were not exactly highlights of the weekend. By the time we got back to the campsite, I felt like bursting into tears. The initial high of reaching the top of the mountain had long since worn off and I hadn't brought many extra dry clothes with me, so a miserable evening looked to be in store. But then we ate a really nice dinner, sat by the fire and played card games, which had me going to bed in a much better mood.

Lac au Diable, at the foot of Mont Olivine

The next day was a lot more chilled out, which I was grateful for. We took a bus trip across the park - it's huge, the previous day we'd only hiked a tiny, tiny part of it! - to Lac aux Américains. The weather was much nicer that day, which made the water so clear and beautiful.



As my friend Vindya pointed out when we arrived back in Rimouski, this was the first time that we would be coming back there as our home. For this reason, I'm really glad that I decided to go in the end, as I think it finally helped me settle in if only by relativity; for one thing, it really made me appreciate my bed. It was also great to be able to just chuck all my dirty clothes into the machine as soon as I got home, a far cry from last year at university when I would have to let them accumulate enough to justify spending £3.20 on washing and drying (as well as dragging it down three flights of stairs to the laundry room).

I loved being in nature, but I had been right: hiking is really, really not for me. I'm glad that I gave it a go, though, because now I have solid reasoning about what I like and dislike. And it paves the way for trying other new things!

A week has passed since I went on that trip - I have been doing some work, I promise! I will elaborate on that soon.