Thursday, February 15, 2007

An Inconvenient Cold

Weather and weddings are changing - sometimes for the better.

We went to the desert southwest for a warmer, sunnier Christmas and got held over by the biggest snowstorm in the history of Albuquerque. Then we went to Quebec City Canada for a wedding during their Winter Carnival. It was "great" and "north" - but definitely not white.

(In truth there was a light coating of powder in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont where we spent the night on the way. And it did snow lightly in the morning as we drove to the border. But the precipitation stopped just as we crossed into Canada. Where, as in the Green Mountain State, there was a thin layer of white stuff on the ground - both along the side of the highways, and on the sidewalks and streets of Quebec.)

It was however damn cold.

We saw no thermometers anywhere during more than ten hours of walking through the European style streets of Vieux-Quebec and never read, heard or saw a local weather forecast. We were however told by several locals over several days that it was much, much, much colder than normal.

Thursday, our arrival day, was the warmest. After checking in at the Hotel Chateau Frontenac, the site of most of the wedding festivities, we set off around two p.m. to explore the immediate area. I had on a long sleeve tee shirt, corduroy pants, a Polartec sweater, a knee-length down coat, thick wool scarf, knit wool cap, gloves, wool hiking socks, and hiking boots. The sun was shining. The breeze was minimal. We were walking relatively quickly. In about twenty minutes I began to get cold. We continued on for about an hour more, mostly to get it to be late enough in the day to justify dinner, found a restaurant with soup thru dessert specials, and warmed ourselves up with wine, vegetable soup, Canadian Meat Pie (Mars) and Pheasant Legs with Baked Beans (moi), and Maple Syrup Pie.

The next day was colder and windy. Mars donned her wool turtleneck and I added another layer of Polartec. We walked across the old city to the ice sculpture exhibition, strolled around grounds of the Parliament Building, and watched the beginning of the snow sculpture competition and some kids' activities. Then we found a purveyor of onion soup for lunch.

Saturday, the wedding day and again less warm and more windy, we took the funicular down to the lower city and hiked the short winding streets and alleys until our desire for Canadian pea soup overcame our love of exercise and photography. We rode back to the upper level and found a restaurant that allowed us to accompany our soup with a shared liver pate.

Sunday was even colder and windier - but still sunny. We headed into the most commercial section of Quebec City and found a bookstore that wasn't open yet. So we wandered some more and found happily ourselves in a totally residential area, which we surveyed and photographed until our bare fingers could no longer stand even that brief exposure to the elements. We returned to the hotel for warmth then headed out again for a different pea soup at another cafe, and the bookshop that was now open. After some indoor hotel reading we returned to the same section of town and dined at a Moroccan eating establishment - our only non-gourmet/non-French Canadian meal of the trip.

We did get to see the Sunday ice canoe races from inside. Our hotel room overlooked the Saint Lawrence River and just down the hall were large windows with an even better view. The five man heavy wooden boats raced across the river and back. The ice, which looked impenetrable in spots, wasn't. And no one had to portage the boats, fall in the water, etc. Even with the body heat that the paddlers generated and the bragging rights and trophies that were at stake I suspect that the thought of a warm indoor bowl of hot chocolate or French Onion Soup had to be at the front of each of their minds.

Monday morning - we were told at the hotel after witnessing a ten-year-old boy street-screaming about his hurting eyes - was thirty-five degrees below zero. Ah, we hardy New Englanders said to each other, but that's just Celsius - the wimpy temperature scale that makes everything look so much worse than it really is.

Mars calculated Tf = (9/5)*Tc+32 (or something like that). "So that's about minus thirty eight Fahrenheit" (actually minus thirty one but close enough to feel the kid's and our own pain). We were now officially cold. So we spent most of the day at the Frontenac, although we did venture out after dinner (more onion soup and meat pie) to check out the international snow sculpture results at the carnival. We lasted about thirty minutes.

This was a "destination wedding", generally defined as when you travel to a special place for your nuptial event. Originally from Ohio and Connecticut respectively, and now living and working in New York City, Quebec City is a favorite getaway spot for Tanya and Steve. Mars and I had never been there so we decided to come early and stay late.

We had however been to other destination weddings. The son of other close friends was married overlooking the ocean at The Eisenhower House in Newport Rhode Island. And our own son had an al fresco wedding amid the hills of the "hunt country" at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia.

There were needless to say, no open-air nuptials on the windswept banks of the Saint Lawrence River.

There was however the Chateau Frontenac itself, described quite accurately by Fodor's as "opulent" and "elegantly furnished" and the planned wedding events that easily merited equivalent adjectives:

* a hot chocolate (and wine and cheese and pastries) wedding guest gathering at the Frontenac on Friday to reheat our bodies after several hours of urban hiking;
* an open-to-all-guests rehearsal dinner (with venison) on Friday evening at an establishment featured on the Today program as a top five romantic getaway;
* and a wedding morning pastry and fruit breakfast at the hotel to prepare us for several more hours of town trekking in the ever decreasing temperatures.

The wedding was held at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (built in 1804 in the style of St. Martin-In-The-Fields in London) just around the corner from the Frontenac. And the gourmet multi-course reception was back up the hill at the hotel.

Monday morning we met Darlene and John, our close friends and parents of the groom, for breakfast and were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of Tanya and Steve for their final meal in the cold climate before honeymooning in Tahiti. They unsuccessfully tempted us with Poutine - a combination of French fries, gravy and cheese - the only local cuisine that we turned down. Even we have some standards - especially after what seemed to be over seventy-two hours of non-stop, top-notch eating.

We've been friends with Darlene and John for forty years - they were our across-the-hall neighbors in the apartment house we moved into when we got married and are our son's Godparents - so we actually knew Steve before he was born. However, as such things go, we've had very little personal contact with him over the years, especially after he went off to college (upper New York), graduate school (Chicago) and work (Ecuador among other places).

But some weddings, especially destination ones, actually let you get to know the participants.
A part of the weekend activities for the male wedding party members were the pickup ice hockey games at an outdoor rink near the Carnival's ice sculpture site. At which we found Steve, his brothers, and a friend on our Friday morning walkabout. Apparently for these guys skates, sticks, and pucks are just as much a part of their travel gear as shaving kits, crisply ironed dress shirts, and well-tailored suits.

All of the wedding party and their friends/partners seemed to be in the business and finance industries with graduate degrees and burgeoning successful careers. I would guess that the combined earning potential of all the people on that altar (excluding Wally the officiant) is somewhat North of the Gross National Product of most small countries - with the dollar amount equally balanced across both sides of the church.

Throughout the weekend, in the firm handshakes, casual conversations, ceremonial toasts and celebratory speeches, I could feel the confidence, ambition, and testosterone - both male and (in the very best sense) female. The bridesmaids walked down the aisle in their aubergine gowns with the self-assurance of a Board of Directors member who knows she has the goods to get the votes. Within Tanya and Steve and their friends there was obvious feeling of comfort and familiarity with each other, and with the affluent ambience of the entire weekend.

At the post-wedding reception Steve said that this was most likely the only opportunity in their lives to have everyone that was important to them in one room at the same time. And to do it in one of their favorite places was even more special.

As for the overabundance of snow in the southwest desert and the lack thereof and excessive cold in Quebec - they'd probably tell you to blame Al Gore for that. In any event they did get to Tahiti before the temperature dropped and the water rose there.

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