(HOST) When it comes to summer travel "close to home," commentator Dennis Delaney likes to set his compass for points North.
(DELANEY) I find much to enjoy in the countless perks of living in Vermont, but there is one special perk available to us in Vermont’s north – and that is Canada, a foreign country, and especially its very foreign French-speaking province of Québec, known as "la belle province," "the beautiful province," as it surely is.
Recently, my wife and I drove to Johnville, Québec, to a framboisière, a raspberry farm, about an hour north of Derby Line. It’s a jaunt we often make on a welcoming summer day, one always filled with glorious countryside, the rich French language – although sometimes a little quirky in Québec – and different food. For those of us not fussy about calories or cholesterol there’s poutine, a concoction made with potatoes, melted cheese and gravy!
On this particular summer drive, for unknown reasons, the foreignness and beauty of Québec, like a genie, popped the cork from my best memories, and out cascaded much I have treasured about that place.
My father often went to Québec on business, and sometimes he took me with him. I remember well, as we drove along, that whenever I saw a spire poking out from the green forest ahead I knew there was a village nearby. On a map, the southern region of Québec is liberally sprinkled with villages named after Catholic saints – villages with names like Saint Robert, Sainte Agathe, and – my favorite – Sainte Herménégilde, a village of only 700 souls.
I used to wonder who that lady was whose name the settlers chose for their hometown. It turns out she lived in sixth century France when names like Herménégilde were common. She was a martyr. And clearly she was not forgotten.
Maybe many of us Vermonters avoid the hinterlands of Québec because the French language scares us off. Not so the Delaneys; and here’s an anecdote from one of my border crossings:
My son Luc went to a boarding school in Québec, about a three-hour drive from our home in Charlotte. Now, Luc, a normal teenager, did what teenage boys do well: he forgot everything. In fact, you might say he raised forgetting to an art form.
On one drive back to school after a holiday, as we approached the Derby Line border crossing, I asked Luc for his student visa. "Uh…I forgot it," he said.
Not wanting a long drive back home to get the visa, I decided to try my French at the Québec border. So I let loose with "Bonjour, mon vieux; comment ça va?" And I babbled away "à la française." Shocked but pleased, the border agent answered back in French, as if we were old friends; and, with a friendly hand, waved us through.