I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Snowy streets

If you're going to be spending Christmas inside a real-life Christmas card, snow is a must. 

Monday, December 30, 2019


This is almost certainly my last sunrise for 2019: Christmas Eve in Quebec City.


“It was of a man looking out over the city he'd founded four hundred years earlier.

Samuel de Champlain.

Bare-headed, bold, stepping forward as though wanting to join them, to be a part of this city that existed only because he had. And at the base of the statue another, smaller, image. An angel, sounding a trumpet to the glory of the founder. And even Gamache, who was no great fan of nationalism, felt wonder, awe, at the unshakable vision and courage of this man to do what many had tried and failed.”
-- Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead

Several of us on the trip were reading, or re-reading, this book because it's set in Quebec City. I love doing that -- reading a Rebus book in Edinburgh, or a Brunetti book in Venice, or Stieg Larsson in Stockholm -- and it was great fun to walk past a cafe where Gamache had stopped for hot chocolate, or to sit in the Château Frontenac reading about his meeting with the Champlain Society there. (He was in a private dining room upstairs and I was in the Starbucks but it was still fun.)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

One more silent night

Silent night

These are some of my favorite pictures -- evening streets in Quebec City.


Most of the birds in Quebec City quite sensibly headed south months ago; I only saw a few and they were high up and far away.

So here's an abstract painted by the snow on someone's car.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Saturday reflections

A city blanketed in snow doesn't offer much in the way of reflections, at least none that I noticed.

But there's a glimpse of sky and trees in the glass above this courtyard entrance in the old city.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Home again

My suitcase full of carelessly packed dirty laundry made it safely back to New York last night, along with its weary owner.

I will post more pictures from Quebec over the weekend, but here's one I like -- one of the huts at the German Christmas market where you can sit down and warm up and have a snack or a hot drink. I love how these two women -- mother and grandmother, presumably -- are staring at the little boy with the enormous pastry.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tire d'érable

One more option for maple syrup lovers -- tire d'érable, a taffy made by cooking the syrup until thick, then pouring it over snow and twisting it around a popsicle stick.

I didn't try it; I have a sentimental attachment to my teeth and would prefer to hang on to them. 

Do take a good look at the hat the vendor is wearing. It looked like a coonskin cap from a distance, complete with furry tail, but it was actually a fox. It creeped me out.

Beurre d'érable

I'm a fan of good maple syrup, but only as an accompaniment to pancakes and waffles and the occasional slice of bacon.

French Canadians LOVE their sirop d'érable. It's served with fruit, it's cooked with vegetables, it's baked into pies. Some of these options are delicious -- maple works well with baked beans, for example. Others are highly dubious -- we had one dessert that combined maple with cheddar cheese, and I don't think those two flavors should even be in the same room together.

But I had never had maple butter before. It's light maple syrup, cooked until thick then whipped until creamy, and it's perfectly delicious in a buckwheat crepe or spread on toast. We had it on mini crepes during our food tasting walk a few days ago, and when I happened to walk by the cafe during one of our free afternoons I couldn't resist having another crepe.

It was enormous. It was delicious. Reader, I devoured it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Joyeux Noël

Christmas trees lining a hallway at the Château Frontenac hotel.

A few weeks ago I would have said I could give old Ebenezer a run for his money in my lack of Christmas spirit, but Quebec City has won me over. I am actually singing Christmas carols! Voluntarily! Where other people can hear me!

I went to Mass at the basilica last night (a 9 pm Mass for those of us who cannot stay awake until midnight) and it was a lovely service with beautiful music and walking back to the hotel afterwards through the quiet streets I was filled with a completely unfamiliar sense of calm. And happiness.

I would definitely spend Christmas here again. It's magical.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas concert

The crowd listening to the choir singing in front of city hall last night. That's the German Christmas market in the background. (It's funny how songs that drive me insane this time of year like Sleigh Ride are downright lovable when sung in French.)

We had a free evening, so theoretically I could have caught up on photos, but I was in a food coma and fell asleep shortly after coming back from the concert. After breakfast at the hotel we did a food walk through the Upper Town, sampling two kinds of crepes, pea soup, smoked salmon, hot spiced wine, and caribou, the fortified wine popular during the winter Carnaval in February. Then we had lunch (vegetable terrine, chicken in puff pastry, maple syrup pie.) Then we went to the Grand Marché where we had various cheeses with bread and croissants.

I did not eat dinner.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Plains of Abraham

It snowed all morning yesterday, turning our walking tour of the Upper Town into a stroll through a virtual Christmas card.

This is the Plains of Abraham, site of the famous battle in 1759. The British army, under General Wolfe, climbed the cliffs up from the river in the dark, surprising the French army under General Montcalm. The battle was quick -- less than an hour -- and bloody -- both generals died -- and when it was over the British had Quebec City, and Canada.

Now it's a park, and a perfect place to go skating or cross-country skiing on a snowy Sunday.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Saturday reflections

A snowy day in Montreal. It already feels like a month ago, but it was only Wednesday.

I have to change hotels today, which will involve dragging my luggage -- that suitcase that I was so desperate to get back only a few days ago and which I'm now regarding with something close to loathing -- up several very icy hills. Fortunately I've acquired quite a bit of pioneer spirit during my brief time in Quebec.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Yes, it's cold

But there won't be anymore sub-zero days on this trip, fortunately. 

I was happy to return to my loft in the late afternoon when the wind picked up and it was getting dark, and the icy sidewalks in the old city were often a little tricky to navigate, but overall it wasn't as bad as I'd expected.

Here's the St. Lawrence, not quite frozen solid but certainly thinking about it. And one thing we don't have in New York and definitely should are fires where you can warm your hands. They're all over the Christmas market and were much appreciated.

Morning in Quebec

It was already dark when I got here yesterday evening. I did go for a walk, but the cold drove me indoors before I'd managed to figure out how to get up to the Old City. (Those fortifications are quite formidable in the dark, especially if you don't really know where you're going.)

I have two nights on my own here before meeting up with my Christmas tour group tomorrow, and I'm staying in a loft that's huge and conveniently located but has no food I don't prepare myself. So I was out early this morning looking for breakfast. And if you have to be walking around in the cold on an empty stomach, it definitely helps if this is the view that awaits when you step outside.

From the train

The train ride from Montreal to Quebec was four hours through leafless forests, icy rivers, and farms with fields of brown stubble poking through the snow.

Most of the pictures I took came out blurry from the train motion and the foggy windows, but I like the retro feel, as though they were taken with a Kodak Instamatic back in the Sixties and have been yellowing in a family photo album ever since.

Urban poetry

Frost on my hotel room window yesterday turned Montreal into an abstract.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Good news/bad news

The bad news is that it's really, really cold. (That's -19 degrees for those of you in Celsius land.) At least it will be above zero when I leave for the train station later this morning, and it's only a few blocks away.

The good news is that my suitcase finally turned up last night, so I will be wearing my boots and fleeces and have hand warmers in my pockets when I bravely set out on that treacherous ten minute journey.

I hadn't planned to do much in Montreal yesterday, and didn't. It snowed all day, and though I was mostly warm enough, I was in a bad mood, fretting over my missing suitcase and the lack of updates from the airline. I went to the Hudson's Bay on rue Ste-Catherine to buy socks and underwear, figuring I could always use them even if my suitcase turned up. I did not plan to also buy a pair of red pajamas with penguins on them but they were on sale and they made me smile, and I figured that in a worst-case scenario they could serve as long johns.

And they apparently have magical properties, because literally a minute after I changed into them last night, my suitcase was at my door.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


A view of the snowy city from my hotel room last night.

My suitcase, sadly, did not arrive with me. As the flight was delayed by two and half hours, I would have thought they had ample time to get all of the baggage onto the plane but this was not the case -- I was one of several passengers who was told that our luggage was still sitting in Newark. I really hadn't minded the delays and the constant gate changes -- well, not much; it was rainy with low clouds and I would have been surprised if we'd left on time.

But the last thing anyone wants when you have finally arrived at your destination is to spend another two hours, first with your heart steadily sinking at the stubbornly empty baggage carousel, then standing in lines, filling out forms, getting said forms stamped by Customs, standing in more lines and finally being sent on your way with a tracking number and a complimentary toothbrush.

At least my sad story got me an upgrade to a better hotel room with a view of the park. I slept in my underwear, but hey, I could see a church steeple in the snow from my bed when I woke up this morning.

My boots, of course, are in my missing bag. Fingers crossed that it actually shows up today, or it will be a mad scramble of shopping before taking the train to Quebec City tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Astronomy Tuesday

Here's a sparkly Christmas ornament -- the Omega Centauri globular cluster. Its 10 million stars make it the largest of the approximately 200 globular clusters that roam the outskirts of our Milky Way.

Image Credit and Copyright: Michael Miller, Jimmy Walker

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday bird blogging

Still cleaning out the year's leftovers before I head back to Canada on Tuesday and start taking more pictures. Here are some deceptively attractive Canada geese in Jasper National Park.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saturday reflections

Another treasure from the In Progress folder -- the Bow Building in Calgary (location of this interesting sculpture). The curved front reflects multiple images of the In Progress building across the street.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Astronomy Tuesday

I love gravity.

I could never see Earth all at once in its entirety, but I can sit here and quite literally feel the whole of its presence as an invisible force.

Our home planet isn’t just a place.

It’s a physical sensation.

-- The CryptoNaturalist

(The CryptoNaturalist is a recent discovery, and I highly recommend the Twitter feed and podcasts.)

This image of a crescent Earth and crescent moon was taken by Voyager 1 in 1977. Not as detailed as the images we've become used to, but a striking juxtaposition.

Image credit: NASA/JPL

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday bird blogging

I found a folder of unfinished pictures from the July Rockies trip. Here's a loon swimming in Lake Beauvert in Jasper National Park.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Saturday reflections

Here's a little color, in that soft December light that I want to hoard like a miser against the long dark days ahead.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Urban poetry

And when I say urban, I do mean New York -- specifically, the Bronx. I took this picture while waiting at a bus stop a couple of weeks ago. It had to be black and white.

Toronto evening

I meant to post this earlier but somehow this week got away from me -- one last look at Toronto.

I'm going to Quebec City for Christmas, rounding out my Year of Seeing Canada. Next year, if all goes well, I will be crossing an ocean or two again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Astronomy Tuesday

I didn't post any astronomy pictures for the first several years I did this blog, and I didn't start regular Astronomy Tuesdays until 2013. Still, that's hundreds of pictures and I don't remember most of them, so the first thing I do when selecting images now is to check if I've run anything similar before. (Not that anyone is likely to notice if I did, but still....)

The first two pictures that caught my eye for today turned out to be repeats.  Then I saw this one, and I knew immediately that it was new, that in fact I'd never seen anything quite like it before.

So may I present: Hoag's Object! This ring galaxy is unusual for the large gap between the old red stars at the core and the new blue stars in the outer ring. Astronomers aren't sure how it originated -- maybe a collision between galaxies, or maybe this was a barred galaxy that somehow lost its bars. And of course, I always love seeing more galaxies in the background; in this image there's even another ring galaxy visible in that dark gap at about seven o'clock.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble; Processing: Benoit Blanco

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday bird blogging

It's rainy -- mixed with a little snow -- here in New York today, so the bright colors of a cardinal are more than usually welcome.

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