Friday, July 23, 2010

What I did on the weekend -- Part 2: How do you say "Curse you, Mapquest!" in French?

So, we went to Québec for the weekend with friends. And we had a great time. The end.

That would be the Coles Notes version of the weekend, or the correct answer when someone at work asks, "So, what did you do on the weekend?" just to be polite. But you know me. When have I ever answered anything in less than full essay format with pictures and footnotes? Never, that's when. But in the interests of not boring you silly all at once, and stretching this story out for a couple of posts in hopes of reversing my terribly sporadic posting history of late, here is Part 2 of the story -- How do you say "Curse you, Mapquest" in French? (Part 1 can be found here.)

So, bright and early the morning after the B52s, Josie and I loaded up the kids, dropped the key at the neighbour's place so she could look after the cat, and hit the road exactly on time. This was huge. This is unheard of for me. (If you'll allow me to digress a bit, when it comes to traveling, especially estimated time to actually leave home, I work on Alison Time, which is Eastern Standard Time + anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours....ish.) And we were planning on meeting Jen and her family in Québec. We've managed a quick vacation with Jen for the past two years, and here's my batting average:

2008, Toronto. I plan to leave at 5 a.m., getting to TO by 9:30 or 10 a.m. I actually leave at 7:30 and then have to drive around the city of Belleville en route looking for an open pharmacy because Leah has inexplicably spiked a fever. We arrive at 11:30 a.m.

2009, Charlottesville, Virginia. I plan to leave at 5 a.m. and it's a 12 hour drive which should put us there around 5ish. I actually leave around 7 a.m. and it takes us longer than expected due to roadworks and a traffic jam due to a burning 18-wheeler, and we arrive around 8 or 9 at night.

So, you see, I don't have the most sterling reputation for punctuality. But having Josie there to wrangle the kidlets and help do the last-minute chores helped immeasurably. And we managed to get about 5 minutes away from home before Rachel realized that she'd left Daffodil, her stuffed bunny, at home. So we turned around, and retreived the bunny. Whew, still only 10 minutes behind schedule.

I had looked up a route to get us to Quebec City that bypassed Montréal and was about 5.5 hours long. And then I typed the route into Mapquest and printed out the driving directions. (Maps? We don't need no steenking maps!) We left at 9 a.m. Simple math tells us that we should arrive around 2:30 p.m. But oh how the gods laughed at us. I am fated never to be on time, at least when Jen is involved.

Most of the trip was uneventful. I did turn onto one wrong highway -- well it was the right highway, but in the wrong direction, but we needed to stop for gas and ketchup chips anyway, and use the bathroom, so it was more of a refueling stop than a mistake.

But as we neared the outskirts of Québec, the clouds gathered close and darkened. The wind sprang up, and it started to rain. Lightly at first, but with increasing intensity. Did I mention that we didn't have a map, only driving directions? Do you know how hard it is to navigate using driving directions in a strange city with lots and lots of one-way streets? And lots and lots of roadworks and traffic lights on the flash cycle? And stop signs every block along a main road that we seemed to be the only people stopping at, nearly getting rear-ended a couple of times?

The rain just got harder. And it was coming down (across?) pretty much horizontally. Thunder and lightning were crashing and flashing (respectively) and I was white-knuckled on the steering wheel while Josie was reading the directions and we were both trying to read the ridiculously small lettering on the street signs. We didn't need a map, we needed an ark.

It was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened. We missed a street sign and became lost. Using my Infallible Sense of Direction ™, I attempted to circle around and get back onto Rue St-Paul, and back onto our driving directions. Because unlike a map, which you can use to figure out where you actually are and where you need to go, driving directions just tell you where you should be, you poor stupid bastard. And circling around works much better in a place with fewer one-way streets, I'm just sayin'.

So, soon we were irretrievably lost. Well, we knew that we needed to be in the Old City, which is at the highest point in the area, and has the oldest buildings. Surely it wouldn't be too hard to drive around, heading upwards? In traffic? In a monsoon? Surely not? Um, nope, not too hard. Just slightly impossible.

Fortunately Josie is the ultimate travel companion. Nothing fazes her, and we were laughing our asses off and cracking wise about the whole situation. After my Infallible Sense of Direction ™ took us down the same dead end (sans issue) for the second time, we parked at a corner where we could see both street names and called the hotel. And were promptly put on hold for 15 minutes. Instead of muzak to listen to on hold, the hotel had promotional messages looping in French and English. And each time the French voice started up, I thought I was talking to a real person and would launch into my halting French to ask directions, only to find I was talking to a recording. Finally we got a real person on the line. I told him we were at the corner of St-Foy and Désy and that we needed to be at the hotel. Jo got on the line with him and he talked us in.

Except that Josie wrote all the directions down with him on the line, and had hung up before we actually reached the hotel, and we ended up circling a fountain in front of the Chateau Frontenac a couple of times before realizing that we were lost again. I pulled over in front of the SAQ (the Quebec version of the LCBO) and hopped out. I went in, and in my very best French, said to the man behind the counter, "Je m'excuse, Monsieur, pourriez-vous m'aider? Nous sommes perdu. Nous cherchons l'hotel Clarendon." He smiled and said, "You're almost there. You need to go one more block that way, turn left and you can't miss it." I thanked him and went out to the car.

"How did it go?" asked Josie. "We're fucked," I replied quietly, so the girls wouldn't hear, "He said we couldn't miss it, which always means I will never be able to find it in a million years." But five minutes later, we arrived, unloaded the luggage and more importantly, the cooler with the beer in it. The valet swooped down to whisk away our car, and we went in to try to sort out the rooms. Jen had been texting/emailing Jo's Blackberry for arrival updates and had found out and let us know that Josie was not booked in for that night, but for the following two.

I don't remember what time it was exactly, but it sure as hell wasn't 2:30.

Tomorrow: We have an ecstatic reunion with our friends and walk about 275 km, most of which is uphill.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I did on the weekend -- Part 1: Ribs, beer and awesomeness at Bluesfest

So, we went to Québec for the weekend with friends. And we had a great time. The end.

That would be the Coles Notes version of the weekend, or the correct answer when someone at work asks, "So, what did you do on the weekend?" just to be polite. But you know me. When have I ever answered anything in less than full essay format with pictures and footnotes? Never, that's when. But in the interests of not boring you silly all at once, and stretching this story out for a couple of posts in hopes of reversing my terribly sporadic posting history of late, here is Part 1 of the story -- Ribs, beer and awesomeness at Bluesfest.

Prologue: (see, I told you I never tell any story the short way) Back in April, when the Ottawa Bluesfest (an amazing two-week-long outdoor music festival every July that I have never attended despite living in Ottawa for 13 years) announced its lineup for this summer, Becca called me and told me it was high time that I actually attended a show with her, and she suggested the B-52s. I decided she was right. And since the show was the night before the girls and I were leaving for QC, and my friend Josie would be staying with me that night, and since Josie is also a big B-52s fan, we all decided to go together.

On Thursday, Becca and Josie came up from St. Catharines and Burlington, respectively, and we ate lots of barbecued ribs and chicken and drank beer (in stinking hot temperatures) at my house and then headed off to Bluesfest to catch some acts. The Moody Blues sounded pretty good from our vantage point by one of the beer tents (never let it be said that we don't have our priorities straight) where we caught the end of their set. Then we wandered over to another stage to check out Andrew Bird, whom Bec had seen before and wanted to see again.

While Josie and I both agreed that he is a virtuoso musician, and the many, many people watching him perform were very, very appreciative, we realized that his music was not our glass of beer cup of tea, and Bec soon escorted the old people (Josie's words) to the main stage and settled us safely there (with admonishments not to go anywhere else so that she could find us again), waiting for the B-52s to start. She left to catch the rest of the Andrew Bird set and Jo and I marveled at the strange assortment of humanity there, including a really large woman dressed in a pink and champagne corset and tutu outfit (complete with a tiara), and a really, really drunk guy in a battered straw fedora and a red Hawaiian shirt covered in chili peppers who looked like he'd just been paroled from a Jimmy Buffet concert.

The concert was amazing! The crowd was dancing and singing, and the band looked and sounded like it was the 80s all over again. I couldn't say it better than this review from the Bluesfest site:

Last night LeBreton Flats was transformed into a giant go-go dance party as surf-punk New Wave staples The B-52s took the stage to headline day three of the Ottawa Bluesfest.

As the city endured soaring temperatures during the hottest day of a relentless heatwave, the B-52’s rollicked through a set that never slowed down, keeping the crowd on their feet and dancing despite a humidex reading that stayed in the forties until well after the sun had gone down.

There’s a certain quirkiness inherent in the call-and-response between pre-rap quasi-singer Fred Schneider and the harmonious pair of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson that permeates the B-52s sound. And while the ultra-distinctive vocal stylings have always set the band apart from the rest of the New Wave scene, it was the jangly open-tuned guitars and some remarkably tight drumming that kept things moving last night on the MBNA Stage through hits like Deadbeat Club, Roam, and the ultra-lounge party smash, Love Shack.

Bec joined us again just in time to hear Funplex, which was my fave song of the night and the three of us watched the rest of the set. We danced and sang, and at one point, Becca took a picture of Josie and me with the band in the background. The pix have yet to be uploaded, as Becca forgot her USB camera cable in Ottawa when she headed home. But fear not! Through the magic of MS Paint, I am able to recreate the picture of Josie and I at the B-52s:

Don't we look happy? We were.

After playing Love Shack, the band left. But not for long, in response to the crowd's yelling and clapping, they came back for an encore and played Planet Claire (and I'm embarrassed to say that for all these years I thought it was a synthesizer on that song, and it isn't, it's Kate Pierson's voice! And she can still do it perfectly.) and finally Rock Lobster. We all knew it was coming. The crowd went nuts. (Well, as nuts as an Ottawa crowd will ever get.) And then we filed out of the Bluesfest grounds with the rest of the crowd. As we were being swept towards the exit by the crowd, someone started mooing, which cracked me up, since the scene was sort of like a herd of cattle being driven into trucks setting off for the slaughterhouse a barn.

We ended the evening with sangria at my place before heading to bed. It was a great kick-off for the weekend.

Tomorrow: The trip from Ottawa to Québec and why maps are a Very Good Idea.

Monday, July 05, 2010

*UPDATED* Why I like to spend time with my kids: they're funny

On the subject of the relative cost of items one might wish to purchase:

Leah, talking about the car my mum won with a $10 raffle ticket: *I'd* like to win a car for $10. You can't even buy a hermit crab for $10.

On the subject of what one might like to eat for breakfast:

Me: What do you want for breakfast?
Rachel: I'll have some of that crispy stuff the locals call "toast".

On the subject of intellectual property law:

My conversation with Leah as she worked on a cat-themed costume for Superhero Day at school:
Me: Who are you going to be anyway? Cat Woman?
Leah: No! Cat Woman is copyrighted. I'm Kitty Girl.

On the subject of anatomy:

Rachel, swimming in next door's pool: It's way deeper than our pool, I can't even touch bottom with the palms of my feet.

On the subject of tween pop idols:

Leah and I watching a Justin Bieber music video on YTV between programs:
Me: So, do you think he's cute?
Leah: Justin Bieber? Seriously??? [rolls eyes] What am I? Six?

On the subject of the appropriateness of names in popular culture:

Rae, playing with Leah's Star Wars action figures: Why is the hairy guy partners with Han Solo?
Me: You mean Chewbacca?
Rae: Yeah, why is Chewbacca Han Solo's partner? He shouldn't have a partner.
Me: Why not?
Rae: Duh! Han *Solo*[meaningful look from under raised eyebrows].....So...Lo? [looks at me all disgusted with my obvious stupidity]

On the subject of proper evil overlord etiquette, when one has not quite heard the lingo correctly:

Rachel and Leah, in the pool during a water fight with pump squirters:
Leah: Oh no, I'm out of ammo!!
Rae: Bwhahahahaha [excellent evil laugh]. Now you will pay! Now. You. Will. Feel. My. Raft!