It was our intention to celebrate our 22nd anniversary with a decadent (for us) weekend in Québec City. We’d use our inherited Aeroplan miles to fly in from Ottawa for a Friday night dinner, spend two nights in a posh auberge, eat and drink what we wanted, where we wanted, cost be damned. Our flight was at 6:15 pm and I fully expected to be seated in a French restaurant looking over a fancy cocktail list by nine o’clock.
When we arrived at the airport, we learned that our flight had been cancelled due to a snow storm and that everything going through the Montreal corridor would likely be cancelled as well. My wife phoned the hotel and learned we were already on the hook for the first night but could cancel the second. We could redeem our flights and we’d only be down $325. I wanted to go home. It seemed like we were throwing away good money after bad and my spirits had sunk to a point where I felt it was time to cut bait. Our only other option was to fly west to Toronto and then back east to Quebec City, arriving well after midnight. I would have passed on that and taken the loss, but my ever-resilient wife was determined to carry on. It was a perfect distillation of the difference between our personalities. I’m half-empty and she’s half-full but in the end we usually fill up the glass.
So we celebrated our anniversary in the airport bar with our airport wine as we looked out upon the falling snow while we waited for further flight information. Our flight eventually did take off but we nearly missed our connection and we had to run to the point of near-exhaustion the length of a really big airport to just make it. When we finally entered our hotel room, the time was 1:08 am. And our luggage didn’t make it and it wasn’t even our anniversary anymore.
By noon the next day, we still didn’t have our one shared suitcase and so we carried on. We put on the same clothes we’d worn the previous day, brushed our teeth using the toothbrushes provided in Air Canada’s travel kits and went to lunch anyway. The luggage eventually did come later in the day and so we showered and changed and the rest of the weekend went pretty much as planned.
In the long run, none of this matters. It was disappointing but what can you do? And this perspective was made crystal clear to me over the next twenty-four hours by the city itself.
I’d never been to Québec City before. I think we drove through there in the middle of the night on the way to the Gaspé when I was a kid but I’d never seen it. It had a profound effect on me. As expected, the restaurants were great, the food delicious, the hotel top-notch. But what struck me more than anything was the permanence of it. I haven’t been to Europe so I’d never seen such an old city. Only decades after the Plymouth Rock pilgrims were dying of winters in friendlier climates, the pioneers of New France were erecting four-storey stone buildings that still stand. The first Anglican Church outside of England still stands. There’s a cannon ball lodged into the roots of a tree. There were doorways too small for me to enter upright. The historical importance of a handful of square blocks was breath-taking.
And then there were the cliffs. When you visit, it quickly becomes obvious why this city sits here. Looking down the St. Lawrence River from the height of the city is awe-inspiring. The fur trade, the military and the Church. It’s all still there. And the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. It never felt so vivid to me. In the school history books, it seemed like it would be a great expanse. Only grand things were preserved by history, so I thought. But it’s only the size of a few football fields. Now it is filled with tourists and cross-country skiers but I think I can still understand how this smaller-than-I-thought flatland could be the spot where much of the history of this nation was decided. Or started.
We finished our weekend with martinis at the Chateau Frontenac, enjoyed the spirit and conviviality of the people and the shops and then we made our way home. Of course, we had more flight delays and de-icing delays and connection problems but none of that seemed to bother me as much. I think it was because when one witnesses something of seemingly historical permanence, the impermanent things tend to melt away. It’s humbling. And then all that’s left in the moment is the important stuff. And my wife, by my side, was more important than anyone or anything else I could imagine.