Sunday, 25 November 2007

On the end of the biking season

I believe I biked to work for the last time this year on Monday. Snow was an issue on Tuesday, and has been ever since. This is my street on Wednesday morning.
While it is possible to bicycle in the snow, it has difficulties and dangers that I can't be bothered with. Snow becomes both ice and slush. The former is a hazard as both a slippery surface and as road debris. The latter often hides the former. In addition, the presence of salt in slush, means that any buildup of slush on one's bicycle brings corrosion to expensive parts.

There is also the matter that at some point, it becomes far too miserable to bicycle in the winter. At least, in Québec winters. I concede that Vancouver winters are much more bike-able .

My friends and colleagues had been asking me: "When was I going to put my bike away for the winter?" I always tell them, when the snow comes. This is not a fixed date. It can be anywhere from mid-November to early December. Admittedly, if my bike suffers some form of major breakdown shortly prior to the first snow, I tend to throw in the towel early. This year, the end of biking seems slightly early, but such is nature. Besides, I rather enjoy snow.

Also, I have had something of a banner year for cycling having gone on my first truly major cycling tour this May in Spain, a glorious adventure. I was reminded of it earlier today when I went to see Elizabeth, the Golden Age. Part of the movie was shot in El Escorial, a palace/monastery built by Philip II, Elizabeth's former brother-in-law. This was one of the places I visited on my trip. In addition, I understood the overzealous catholicism driving the Spanish in the movie better because of my experiences. Finally, before the movie, there was a trailer for a thriller called Vantage Point, set in Salamanca, another sight from my trip. I am almost tempted to go see it just for the setting!

Anyway, this blog is more about what is to come than what has been. As what has been, has been good, here's to hoping what will come, will be great!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

On plans, baroque and otherwise

A friend of the family describes us as having a tendency to have baroque plans of actions, usually a response to juggling various people in need of being picked up at different places and times. This can result in references to "plan 32B".

With regards to my proposed trip, I am going to start numbering the various options for no other reason than to see how far I get.

Plan 1. Proceed via the Eastern shore of New Brunswick and North Sydney.

Plan 1A. The same but break the trip into two sections at about Le Bic.

Plan 2. Bike to Rimouski, Ferry to Blanc Sablon, then across to Newfoundland, bike to Deer Lake.

Plan 2A. Same as above but end in St John's, (likely to have more flights).

Monday, 12 November 2007

On uncles, blood and otherwise

One of the tricky things in writing this blog is trying to figure out just how honest I can be regarding persons featured in it. In one of the first posts, I mentioned a pair of uncles in Nova Scotia I am hoping to avoid. I didn't go into much detail about why I don't wish to stay with them. While not writing about them, it got me thinking about how I see my uncles. Of my blood uncles (i.e. the brothers of my parents), none are people I would like to spend much time with. A couple, I would prefer to avoid. Of my Mother's and Margo's sole brother less said the better.

Of my father's four brothers, one (the eldest) kept himself almost entirely aloof from the rest of the family for most of my life and I had very little connection with him. I won't have the opportunity to form any sort of relationship as he died a few years ago. I think I learned more about him at his funeral than while he was alive. Of the rest, their competitive Roman Catholicism gets quite obnoxious. The second oldest is what I think of as an American republican conservative Catholic. Very different from the very relaxed, 'normal' Catholicism I grew up with in Quebec.

Two examples: over ten years ago, I was in the second uncle's car going to a family wedding with the uncle and my father. It was early June. As we were driving through Montreal with the Tour de l'Île in progress beside the highway, my father and my uncle became embroiled in an argument about the Shroud of Turin. At some point, they decided that they shouldn't be arguing on their way to a wedding and that they should say the rosary together in order to make peace. My uncle reached down from the steering wheel and pulled out a rosary from a dashboard storage compartment. I don't even know how to say the rosary let alone own one. I wouldn't even dream of having one in the car, "just in case."

A second example was the time I was staying with said uncle in Boston. The night before my first day visiting the sights of Boston, he gave me a laminated card of some saint connected with the Knights of Malta and told me it would protect me in the big city of Boston. I responded with a chuckle and a good natured "Yeah, right," until I noticed that my uncle was deadly serious and he wasn't having a joke. To me, such things are (and were) superstitious nonsense. Not to him, it seems.

The third uncle is the one who set up shop as a peasant farmer after retiring as a university history professor. While his Roman Catholicism isn't as superstitious as his older brother's (I don't think an historian can maintain much faith in the mumbo-jumbo of Catholicism), he nonetheless can be rather obnoxious about it. He also is somewhat obnoxious in treating any guests as potential labourers on his farm. "Here, why don't you get up at 6AM and do [something agricultural] to my strawberry plants. You could probably do two rows before you have to leave for your ferry."

The fourth and youngest uncle is the Roman Catholic priest. Nearly ten years ago, my mother and I spent the night with him at his parish in Kingston, Ont. While we had breakfast with him, I don't think we exchanged more than a few sentences in a row with him as he was always getting up to deal with something, usually quite trivial.

All in all, my blood uncles are not people I would travel great distances for. On the other hand, of my uncles-in-law (i.e. the husbands of my parents' sisters) are mostly good eggs. My uncle Chris is your quintessential absent-minded scientist type: a brilliant, warm if somewhat introverted and slightly distracted human being. According to my aunt Margo, I thought he was a good guy even before she married him. That was in 1981 and they are still married. My criteria back then was he was fun to play Lego with. He is largely the same person I saw all those years ago, though my expression of my regard for him has changed. A good human being, but not one you should ask to speak a language other than English. ;-)

An interesting contrast with Chris is my uncle John (my father's side) who I like to think of as a fussy little English gentleman. (Chris is also English but from a very different background.) What makes this odd is he is married to a large, boisterous (and possibly mad, but in a good way) Canadian woman (i.e. my aunt Izzy). I don't quite understand how their marriage works, but the fact is that the two of them are still very obviously in love after 40 odd years.

The other two uncles-in-law, I have less to say about. One is a rather remarkable South African (of East Indian descent) academic, currently teaching somewhere in the U.S., possibly Syracuse, N.Y.. The other is rather unremarkable Québécois academic. (I have a friend who had him as a professor. He said my uncle was a rather boring teacher.)

Anyway, the tricky thing is how does one dance around the character flaws of one's relatives when writing such things? I don't have much of an answer and this whole post doesn't say much about biking to Newfoundland. Except for the mention of the Tour de Île, which played a role in getting me biking in a serious way.

Monday, 5 November 2007

On the synchronicity of timing and how to avoid it

I don't like the travel section of my Saturday newspaper that much. Too much about where to go on what is usually an expensive exotic vacation that sounds attractive but ultimately isn't my cup of tea. However, this Saturday it had a significant article that was very relevant to the planning of my trip. To be precise, it was an article about next year's 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City. (How time flies. I remember going to see the tall ships' parade for the 375th anniversary!)

I had completely ignored the fact that my proposed trip would coincide with Québec City's quadricentennial. I had known about it, but I hadn't put two and two together until last Saturday. Now that I know, I don't know how to incorporate this event into my planning. On the one hand, it would be fun to participate in the festivities to some degree. After all, centennial parties don't come that often and, as a historian, it would be fun to bear witness to it all. On the other, I don't enjoy crowds. Nor do I enjoy the often paternalistic and nationalistic flavour such celebrations often take in this province. Compounding the matter is the fact that these festivities will increase the cost of lodging in Québec city and surrounding areas, or at the very least make it imperative to book well in advance. This in turn requires the Montreal to Québec City leg of the trip be much more planned than would otherwise be.

Apparently, July 3 is the official day when the international dignitaries (including the French prime minister but not the Queen) will be present. This is very close to the traditional, start of Summer holidays in Québec of St-Jean Baptiste / Fête Nationale (24th of June) and Canada Day / Moving Day (July 1st). I don't know if I want to be involved in all this or not, but these events cannot be ignored in planning the trip. Another holiday to be taken into consideration is the Québec Construction Holiday, namely the last two weeks in July. My ideal timing would be to not be on the tour in the Province during this period, especially not near the start or even worse near the end of the period.

However, it might be a good thing to take my vacation during this time as the cataloguing side of library work slows a bit in the time. One of the reasons for this is that my library's book binder shuts down for a number of weeks in July. (I catalogue French books. A majority of them need to be bound before my library can circulate them.) If I could plan it so I am out of the province duringJuly, maybe it would easier for me to get the full four weeks in a block.

Anyway, there is still plenty of time to plot, plan and ponder. Not to mention pontificate.