Thursday, August 21, 2008

Canada & USA: Nouvelle France & New England Road Trip (Toronto to Quebec & Maine And Back Via the Niagara Falls)


There is nothing like the kick of poignant nostalgia when travelling in what once used to be mighty empires and awe-inspiring sovereigns nowadays cut to a more modest size. The grandeur of Egyptian pyramids now stranded amidst the desert or Mayan temples overgrown by the jungle makes you wonder of the drive and authority behind their construction. Recognising traces of yesteryear in today’s trivialities can unravel a dramatic historical yarn of rivalry, ambition and bloodshed.

New France stretched in its heyday from the arctic Hudson Bay to sultry New Orleans. But Ancien Régime in metropolitan France scoffed at its own “few acres of snow” in the New World and never gave it much time of the day. Unloved and neglected, a colossal colonial dominion started disintegrating under English and Spanish attacks. Like of a southward drifting iceberg, piece after piece kept breaking off until all left was just St. Pierre and Miquelon, a token speck of the Euro-zone off Newfoundland coast little known even in France.

The rest vanished without a trace steamrolled by a young and energetic American culture. The chance to make coq au vin and crocque monsieur world’s lunch staples was lost to the burger and two veggies gastronomy. Rustic etouffé and delightfully Gallic wrought-iron balconies still survive in central New Orleans but hardly anyone considers France the Old Country there and the language is all but extinct.



Against all odds, the descendants of ‘tall and blond Gauls’ are however alive and well in the St. Lawrence River’s estuary. Besieged on all sides by a continuous Anglo-cultural assault, Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec sustains a vibrant economy and an active cultural life. There has even been a constant talk of independence last few decades: in the 1995 referendum Quebecois secessionists lost only by a razor-thin margin.


Unlike its northern neighbour, New England broke up up with the Mother Ship and went her own merry way to expand as far as to the South Pacific islands and the Russian Arctic Border. Like an old mother gaping in amazement at her giant son, wondering how ever it came out of her womb, Britain is keen on maintaining a special relationship with its former colonial offspring. France, on the other hand, always seems uneasy to give a hug to her long lost bastard child.

As the global warming is slowly but surely clearing up the Arctic ice, we may be not that far away from the time when gaily lit-up cruise liners will be taking throngs of aloha shirt wearing margarita-swillers on tours around Canadian islands. Until that day or until the Russians build a bridge to Alaska or the Germans resume flying their zeppelins, airplane is the only way to go to Canada. No-frills Air Transat flies straight from major European and American cities to many destinations in Canada. straight to Quebec’s largest city, Montreal. It is a kind of sub-polar Paris with great cuisine, grand French-style buildings, cobbled streets in the historic quarter and 32 kilometres of underground shopping malls to enjoy retail therapy throughout the year.


Tip: If you feel bad about renting cars on your vacations, cycle everywhere when home like yours truly does. It will be your contribution to offsetting China building a power station a day.

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