Friday, 22 November 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Fifty-Six: Blend

On Valentine's Day, I have dinner with Denis, the Quebecois neighbour, and with no bilingual buffer, I am compelled to practice my ailing French. Ever the gracious host, Denis practices his English quite a bit more. He is a chef of French cuisine and refined experience, so I know I’m in for something memorable. It is an evening of courses, of themes and of wine, of cheese, homemade bread, delicate layers of flavour and music, and oil painted walls like gigantic canvases. Manners. Tradition. Courtesy. Culture. Communication. Documentarian by trade, he says, Communication is in my blood. Many generation, many variation. We discuss politics—it is impossible not to in Quebec, and religion, and passion, and logic, and...chickens.

We ate the rooster, which comes with a long explanation involving respect both life and limitations, but suffice to say I won’t recommend it. However, if you’re in a moral pinch or a struggle to survive, a few chanterelles blended in cream sauce go a long way. Still, Five hour, he says. Five hour I should have liked to cook this. Je m’excuse. But the rooster serves more as an appetizer anyway, to the cheeses and fruit and salad and bread and chocolate and wine.

"Des poulets" are a central point in our dinner conversation. The chicken, says Denis, I learn a lot of things here in this country (by which he means, out here in the country) from the chicken. He laughs. They are fantastique. No. I'm serious. Here is why... C’est l’equilibre en francais. En anglais, qu’est que tu dits pour ca? ah–

Equilibrium, I say. Balance.

Oui c’est ca. Vraiment. L’equilibre de poules. C’est un microcosme, ca. They are a female society, the chicken. and they work very well together. Always, always, they respond as a group. Together.

Though I want to, I have not yet asked Denis if he is a separatist. He votes separatist. but there are slight differences that I do not understand. It is here, in linguistic subtleties over dinner, that Quebec exists, and during a discussion of Stephen Harper and the proposed commemorative battle at the Plains of Abraham, I decipher Denis.

It is ridiculous, he says. Absolument. Qu’est que c’est? Eh? Quoi? Hey. Do you know what happened after that battle? It was a war. Do you know what happened? They left Quebec (city), the English, and burnt every farm in sight. They piss on the people. Hey, this is war, I understand. It happen today somewhere right now. Je savais ca. Mais, Come on. We celebrate this? Tabarnac. Understand. This is not why I want a sovereign Quebec. I don’t think, "Fuck you Harper; fuck you Alberta; fuck you English." No one is better. You are brainwash; we are brainwash. Each different. But my culture, we are lost. You see? We need to work, for us, to some common goal. as with the chicken. You know. They are connect. Always together they work. Is this for us to learn. This simple life. We must. Hey. This crise economique, you know what? We are too much luxury. Too much independent. We cross to the U.S. for gas and what else. Vivre la Quebec? Hey, we do not care for the other. We are too much remove from what is it we are. Not technologique, Ou des ordinateurs. No. Les chanterelles. Les poulets. You. Me. We are this. La vie. It is the fault of us (by which he means , it is the struggle) to be free. To choose. I believe we have to build something for a long time. Les Quebecois. Together. Everywhere the community. Everywhere the chicken house. Me. You. Each of ourselves. The soul, it strives, non? It want to work. We cannot continue to steal. We cannot continue to want so big. We must make for our self the simple life. I believe that. It is work. Yes. To awake the conscience to this. But hey, you know, with the chickens, what is that they say, you cannot make the omelette—

—without breaking some eggs, I say.

I get the feeling from Denis that he has broken his share of eggs, and that even in saying so, now over Valentine’s Day dinner, he tries to reconcile this with himself. He lives alone here, and has since he moved from the city three years ago. He struggles with depression. He hikes the woods. He keeps chickens. A cat. He paints. He cooks. He works in film, though in a lesser role and to a lesser degree than he used to I think. He engages briefly and bitterly in an attack on the Quebec Film Board’s funding directives, but quickly abandons it with apology. He maintains a friendship, to some degree or other, with his ex-wife who still lives Montreal. He tells me it’s very good for him to have company on this night.

He teases me about the notes I am taking and tells me I should record instead. But it’s not always what we say that I write, Denis, so much as interpretations. You say chicken, I think of Napolean, passion, war, love. Or earlier you said, "In this travel we must know our limits." but I was uncertain whether you said travel, like journey, ou travaille—work, like what you do with film. Both are. The same but different. That's what I love.

Ahhh oui, he says, ca c’est la poeme, ca.

Exactement, Denis.

he says. We must create for ourself what we are.

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