The last non-bob-related thing I did before FROST.BOB III was to attend the Thursday meeting of Infinite Circle, the UW "alternative spirituality" club. There I got to participate in an extensive debate on the correct way to light candles. Some people had deep religious objections to using matches; others had deep religious objections to butane lighters. Both sides appeared to be completely sincere, but I have to admit that I'd find it easier to take this crowd seriously if they didn't also have the habit of discussing their LARP game at the club meetings, so that when they mention the name of a random deity I'm never 100% sure whether it's a reference to someone's actual religious beliefs, or to something out of the LARP game. I kept expecting to hear that matches were better because they don't explode on a critical hit roll. Jack Chick would have you believe that all fantasy role-playing is a plot to suck you into Satanism, but I'm pretty sure the truth is far more sinister: the pagan club is actually a front for LARP recruiters!
Incidentally, on the 15th when Infinite Circle actually had the Esbat ceremony that we did planning for on the 6th, the decision made on the 6th after all the discussion (namely, to light a taper with a match and use that to light the other candles) was not followed anyway.
I walked home, did my final packing, set the alarm, and slipped into bed. Little did I know, as I lay there waiting for sleep to claim my soul, that I lay on the brink of what would later be designated the
CURSED FROST.BOB OF DOOM SANS PANTALONES!
list: Things That Happened To People At Or Involving FROST.BOB III
Also, I know of three people and there were probably more who either didn't attempt to make it at all, or bailed early in the planning stages, on account of employment difficulties. I came off lucky. The worst that happened to me was that I had to miss an anime club showing that weekend, including the Hellsing episode with the hot girl on girl action. Fortunately, I have that one on DVD already.
I woke up bright and early on Friday morning. Well, dark and early. It was four in the morning, which I figured was how early I'd have to get up to make it to the bus stop on foot in time for the early bus. I scarfed down a banana, pulled out the drag handle on my suitcase, zipped up my parka, and got my deathmarch on.
Why, I was later asked, did I get a bus ticket instead of a train ticket? The train ticket wasn't that much more, was it? Actually, the train and bus cost about the same. The bus has the advantage of running more frequently, and bus tickets are very flexible, but the train is a lot more comfortable. Last time I went to Québec was a school-related trip to Montreal, and at that time I took the bus and resolved to take the train next time. The truth is, I forgot completely. When the time came around to buy my ticket to FROST.BOB III, I just automatically thought "Oh, ticket to Québec", and went to the bus station and bought a bus ticket. It was a stupid thing.
The bus to Toronto left at 0530. That leg of the trip was uneventful, as was the transfer to the bus to Montreal. Despite its shortcomings, I basically like bus travel. The world feels big from a bus - you travel across the countryside and wow, there's like a whole LOT of it. It just seems to go on and on forever. As someone who grew up with scientific notation it's easy for me to say, oh yeah, six billion people in the world, and I have no problem doing math with numbers that size; but when I ride a long-distance bus it really hits me that the world is a big place and there are a lot of people in it.
Looking out the window, I noted that the "National Sports Fun Centre" doesn't sound like much fun. I only saw the sign, not the NSFC itself, but I imagine it as a joyless cinder-block building, filled with bilingual Fitness Canada exercise-instruction posters curling at the edges, and gym teacher types muttering interpretive speeches in tax-sponsored monotone. I think I'll also skip the "Cobourg Jail Attraction"; I saw them open for Minimum Security at the Budokan, and they sucked.
I saw a Fighter Jet On A Stick, and because I'm not one of these US Military-Industrial Complex people I can't actually tell you what kind of fighter jet it was; and I saw a VW Bug impaled on a pin-like light standard, ready for inclusion in some lucky kid's collection. I saw a sign advising that one should not spray or mow because of "wildflower planting", and I wondered how they could qualify as "wildflowers" if they were planted. It is possible that at this point the sleep deprivation was affecting me.
I ate my lunch (a ham-filled burrito) in Kingston at 1030. Made it to Montreal about 1400, just in time to get on a bus to Québec City. Note that I say "a" bus to Québec City, not "the" bus to Québec City - because I wasn't at all sure it was really my bus. My ticket was for "Coach Canada-Trentway", and it was an Orléans Express bus. But the driver seemed willing to honour my ticket, and the bus was leaving right then so I didn't have time to make a careful decision, so I figured, okay, it must be that Coach Canada is affiliated with Orléans Express. Or else Orléans Express is a front for the anglophone slave trade in Québec, and they don't really care what kind of ticket you have if they can just convince you to get onto the bus to be driven to the holding pen.
The Orléans Express bus was a lot nicer than the Coach Canada bus. For one thing, it had electricity. Several little 120V outlets at each seat. I had no safe way of testing whether they were live, but it sure looked like they were there for you to plug in your laptop computer if you had one. Also, although each pair of seats had a fold-down armrest separating them, apparently in Québec (unlike Ontario) it just Is Not Done to actually fold the armrest down. That would be, like, all cold and unfriendly and stuff, whether you have ever met the cutie in the other seat before or not.
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
"Pardonnez moi, madamoiselle. Aimez-vous joindre le club 'Deux Metre d'Hauteur' avec moi dans la toilette d'autobus maintenant?"
"Pardon me, miss. Would you like to join the 'Two Metre High' club with me in the bus toilet now?"
I arrived in Québec City at about 1800. Checked into the hotel, encountered a large catbear at the front desk as I was checking in, then went up to the room I'd be sharing with smarry (who had not yet arrived), and had a bath. I encountered Yong-Mi in the hall as I was emerging from my room, and AJD in the lobby using the Web terminal. Yes, they have a Web terminal in the Chateau Bellevue lobby now. Apparently they also have Ethernet in many of the rooms, although since that hadn't been advertised, nobody thought to bring the necessary cable to use it.
Kate showed up, with other people. I'm not generally going to try to itemize exactly who was where when, because I've found that that's difficult to get right and takes a disproportionate amount of time. So anyway, people showed up. We did the meet'n'greet thing with friends old and new, and then deathmarched to a place Kate knew where they served beer with stuff in it - such as coriander and cranberries. We drank there until it was time to go to Aux Anciens Canadiens (With Elderly Canadian Persons) for late dinner. I think it was during this phase of the evening that I was briefed on the FROST.BOB III secret recognition signal:
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
"Il faut enlever les pantalones aussi."
"You must remove your pants also."
At FROST.BOB II two years ago, I ate too much dinner at With Elderly Canadian Persons on the first night, and I didn't have room for dessert. I resolved not to do that again, because I wanted to try the sugar pie that merde raved so much about, or something similar, but I'm sure you know what I did this time. That's right. I ate too much of the "country plate" (which included meat pie, meatballs, mashed potatoes, preserved tomatoes, and something that the waiter identified (to dhalgren, who had asked - I was content to just enjoy the mystery) as "fried fat"), and I could barely manage a little bit of sorbet afterward. While eating the sorbet I was able to participate in the New Enhanced In-Person Edition of the old traditional Nerdsholm "what is the different between sherbert and sherbet?" discussion slash comedy routine. (Oh, and speaking of slash, and of poutine... well, we'll leave that for later.)
When I first encountered Kate on this trip, she was tense and anxious because she didn't know what was up with jsam. When we finally established contact she wasn't much less tense or anxious, because it turned out that what was up with jsam was that he had slipped on the ice and broken his wrist and been hospitalised. As the rest of us were going to dinner, she went to the hospital to bail him out, and the two of them arrived, with a large envelope of X-rays, during dinner.
After dinner we trudged out to look at the snow sculptures. There was a decided lack of boobage this year; no naked Russian ch1x0rs with nipples erect in the cold. The tentacle action was only a pale substitute. Some of us were gratified, however, at being able to see the Kenyan rhino. Apparently it was a big human interest story - the snow sculpture team from Kenya (that well-known haven of snow sculptural activity) had only been able to raise enough money to send one member to Québec, so he was trying valiantly to make a good showing all by himself while back home the rest of the organisation were trying to raise enough to send another snow sculptor. They actually succeeded, and the second Kenyan was at that point en route. Or something like that - I got the story second-hand.
It turns out that smarry doesn't snore near as badly as waider. I dreamt that I was attending a FROST.BOB. In the dream, Kate and I and an indistinct group of other NH/TB people were debating what to do next. Then I woke up, had breakfast in the hotel lobby, and then Kate and I and an indistinct group of other NH/TB people debated what to do next.
The group split, and the fragment containing me went outside, found a place to have coffee and real croissants, and then photographed feminist graffiti.
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
"Pas de baises sans orgasmes."
"No fucking without orgasm."
Lunch was pizza, another activity repeated from a previous FROST.BOB. I had a four cheese pizza and was slightly surprised that it really was a pizza with four cheeses on it - only - without, for instance, tomato sauce. But it was good anyway. After a leisurely lunch we strolled back to the hotel to catch the tour bus Kate had arranged, for a sightseeing trip to the Île d'Orléans.
It turned out that dhalgren had been fantasising, ever since the last FROST.BOB two years ago, about my little green notebook and the idea of writing in it. Okay, whatever. I let him fill a page and a half and this is what he wrote:
ALL-DAY FREAK FEST!! OUR DRIVER'S EYES ARE MAD WITH RAGE + I SUSPECT HIM OF CHRONIC AMPHETAMINE AND STEROID ABUSE. YET IN HIS MANNER THERE IS A CURIOUS WARMTH. MUST INVESTIGA THIS PREFERABLY WITH BEER - THE BALDHEADED [page break] PHREAC-FEST??? [cartoon of an unhappy face] KID IS STARING AT ME. HAS HE EVER CONSIDERED OPENING A PLANETARIUM? IT'S HOT IN HERE MUST OPEN WINDOW AND JUMP OUT....
There's a ring road around the perimeter of the Île, and we bounced along it while the driver pointed out interesting sights, many of which were farms founded by various ancestors of his. Roughly half the population of the place were (or so he claimed) our driver's distant cousins. We stopped at many points to take pictures, and sustained ourselves with dried fruits that I think Ben Soo had sent from Chinatown or something: dried mango, dried spiced lemon peel, and dried cuttlefish.
After circling the island, we rode farther along the river bank to the cathedral of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, which is both historic and scenic. I picked up a brochure that attempted to answer the question "Why pray to Saint Anne when we can go directly to God?" I'm not sure I fully understand the answer, but it seems to boil down to "Prayer is an activity best shared, so you should pray along with your family and the saints and angels instead of all by yourself." You pray *with* Saint Anne, not *at* her.
The time for religious revelation having passed, we re-boarded the bus and rode to the Chutes de Montmorency - also known as the Extremely Dangerous Icy Frozen Waterfall of Death! Indeed, because the temperature was higher this year than two years ago, we weren't allowed (too extremely dangerous) to walk out on the ice at the base of the falls. We had to content ourselves with the view from above, walking out on the new bridge which is, as all attentive children know, Perfectly Safe.
Returning to the Manoir Montmorency, we sat down to puzzle over the dinner menu. Some of our group had to have the concept of "table d'hôte (supplement)" explained to them; in one case, several times. For the continuing edification of readers, here's how it works:
This really is not such a difficult or unusual scheme. The Harvey's hamburger chain works exactly the same way, minus the special French names for the ordering methods. You can order a burger, fries, or a Coke, individually; that's à la carte. You can order those three items together, and then you get a special, lower, "combo" price; that's table d'hôte. You can make substitutions, some of which are free. For instance, you can have onion rings instead of fries at no extra charge. Other substitutions are not free, but are still cheaper than ordering the same items separately: for instance, you can upgrade the fries in a combo to poutine for like a dollar extra or whatever it is (I never do that, which is why I don't know the exact amount) and the result is still a better deal than ordering the hamburger, poutine, and Coke individually. That's table d'hôte (supplement).
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
The word sounds like but actually means animation animation people jumping around going "whoo!" colporteur a songwriter peddlar or hawker défilé defile parade poutine the Russian president fries with gravy and cheese curds procureur pimp lawyer
Anyway, when all the shouting was over, I had signed up for foie gras, green salad, and a "frivolité des eaux" (Frivolity of Waters?) consisting of salmon, monkfish, and arctic char with vegetable accompaniments; all excellent. I think there was dessert, too, but I don't remember what it was; and coffee, and companionship, and so on. Afterward, we rode the tour bus back to the city and went to have another look at the snow sculptures. On the way back we wanted to drink caribou, but - woe of woes - all the open-air caribou bars seemed to be closed, it being by this time well after midnight. Cold and unwillingly sober, then, we returned to the hotel to sleep.
On Sunday morning, my shower was barely lukewarm. I muttered a warning to smarry about there being an apparent shortage of hot water, then went down for breakfast. The hotel lobby was full of strangers; apparently a tour bus group coming through or something. That explained the previous night as well as this morning: they must have drunk all the caribou before we got there, as well as using all the hot water, darn them! I ate a bagel and listened to the conversation at the next table, where one of the tourbusistas was explaining loudly to two others that *of course* she and her boyfriend hadn't slept together for months after they moved in with each other; they shared a bed only for sex.
Most everyone else seemed to have either already left, or to have specific plans of their own. Smarry and I ended up together, and we went for another look at the snow sculptures, had maple on a stick and waffle on a stick, slid down hills on inner tubes, and climbed the walls. The stairs going to the top of the city walls were closed for the winter, but it was possible to just walk up the snow anyway.
You may have heard of a practice called "ice fishing", in which men build little shacks out on frozen bodies of water and sit inside drinking strong liquor. Well, at the Carnaval they have a different take on it: a large swimming-pool-like tank is stocked with live fish and frozen over, and then very small children, supervised by very large grizzly-bearded men, drop fishing lines through holes cut in the ice and attempt to catch fish. The fish are dragged flopping up into the light and bashed over the head, and (presumably) cooked and eaten although (possibly) taken into a crudely-made log building and sacrificed on a makeshift altar to Bonhomme, the God of Carnaval. This activity is known as "Pêche blanche à la Pourvoirie de Bonhomme" (Ice fishing at Bonhomme's Outfitter Cabin) and is every bit as surreal as it sounds. My guidebook claims that it takes place right next to "St. Hubert's Snow Bath", the illustration for which shows small children wearing Speedos and frolicking among the snowdrifts, but I don't remember seeing that; perhaps I blanked out the memory.
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
"Pourvoirie" ("outfitter cabin") is completely different from "pourboire" ("tip or gratuity").
Someone had said something about meeting back at the hotel for noon, and I thought the idea was we would meet at noon, go have lunch, and watch the ice canoe races at 1330; but as we were reaching the hotel just before noon, we met a group headed by Kate coming in the opposite direction. They smiled and waved but didn't stop to chat, and when we arrived at the hotel lobby, nobody was there. Pretty soon Yong-Mi came down and said she was still doing homework, but that Kate had said for everyone to meet at the statue of Louis XIV in the Place Royal, lower city, at 1300.
The next hour was spent exploring the lower city, bumbling in and out of head shops, twisty little alleys all different, and the ferry terminal, looking for the statue of Louis XIV in the Place Royal. We didn't stop for lunch. We found an empty pedestal with no statue at all, and for a while it looked like maybe that was the place and Louis had been removed to get his wig re-powdered or something. Part of the difficulty is that the lower city is so *small*; if you take a few steps, you are on a completely different block, and so it's hard to stay synchronized with a map. But around 1300, smarry and I were camped out in front of a bust of someone who looked French and aristocratic and we figured that was close enough. In twenty minutes, during which we discussed among other things the origin and physical significance of the number pi, nobody else of ours showed up.
So smarry and I went down to the river hoping to catch up with the others. The population of Québec (the city if not the entire province) seemed to be lined up five or six deep along the riverbank hoping to catch a glimpse of the canoe race, and smarry and I walked slowly from one end of the line to the other, looking at people's parka-clad backsides ostensibly to determine which ones belonged to our group. We didn't find them. By the time we reached the starting line the crowd was even thicker and the race was about to start; we pushed near the front and got a quick glimpse of a boat as it zipped past. Then when nothing happened for several more minutes, we decided it was time to call Kate on her cell.
We slogged through virgin half-metre snowdrifts to the payphones (a testament to the penetration of cellular in this market - clearly nobody had used these phones in a while) and called Kate and she attempted to describe where in the mass of people she and her party could be found. It was almost within shouting distance of the pay phones. We walked over there and the group was whole again.
So we all watched the ice canoe races for a while. It was fun, but not as much fun as it might have been because of the high temperatures; if it had been colder, there would have been more portages, but as it was, the racers stayed in their canoes almost the whole time. (For those who tuned in late: the ice canoe race is conducted on a partially-frozen river containing big chunks of floating ice. The crew paddle to an ice floe, hop out, carry their canoe across the ice, then climb back in and paddle away on the other side.)
After watching the ice canoe race for a while, we went looking for lunch. We somehow arrived at the decision that fondue was what we wanted, but the Swiss restaurant I wanted to go to was closed for renovations and Kate said that the crêperie (which advertised fondues of cheese, chocolate, and "Chinese") was a crappy restaurant, and after trudging too long around the city, we could not find any other place to eat fondue, and Yong-Mi was getting stressed out because she still had homework to do and wanted to spend her time either doing homework or actually having Fun instead of merely engaging in non-productive Fun-seeking behaviour, and everyone else was getting touchy too because we still hadn't eaten, and really what we ought to have done was to stop and eat something other than fondue (Kate suggested beer and mussels, and in retrospect we probably should have taken her up on it) but in fact what ended up happening was that we landed back at the hotel again. Yong-Mi disappeared upstairs leaving word that she would go with us when we knew where we were going but not a minute before, and the rest of us were left to argue in the lobby.
Eamon offered a compromise solution: he had a brochure for a nearby restaurant that looked good to him, and we could all go there and he'd take the flack if anyone didn't like it. Most people seemed willing to accept that, and Kate signed off on the restaurant as being not a total rat hole, so we went there and it was pretty good. By the time we sat down to lunch, it was 1600. Most people had the house speciality, prime rib. Eamon spent much of the meal bragging to all who would listen about his househusbandly skills, with occasional comments of approval from k.
After the late lunch, people scattered in small groups. My group went and looked at the snow sculptures and the ice castles, slid down hills on inner tubes, and shopped for souvenirs. I bought some frightening Bonhomme shot glasses. On our way back to the hotel, we were accosted by a man who had some sort of sob story to tell, all in French, about being either a fire fighter or with the Salvation Army or something, and with papers to prove it, and being sick and in need of assistance, and so on. It wasn't clear just what he wanted from us, although money would have been a reasonable guess. He became quite upset when jsam, who was the only member of our group who would admit to speaking even a little bit of French, wasn't able to keep up with his discourse.
LET'S LEARN FRENCH!
"J'ai mal, j'ai mal, j'ai mal, j'ai mal!"
"I'm sick, I'm sick, I'm sick, I'm sick!"
Back at the hotel, dhalgren offered each and all the chance to suckle from the milky tit of humour, but it proved unpopular. More generally favoured was a trip to a pub for beer. So we went off to the same Irish pub we visited at FROST.BOB II, which is actually a sort of multiplex pub in having several enterprises under one roof. We were asked which one we wanted - from the pub on up to the "eight service" restaurant. I wondered a little bit what the eight services would be (1. food; 2. wine; 3. coat check; 4. sensuous massage; 5...?) but it turns out that that just means they serve eight-course meals, and having had a large lunch at 1600, I for one wasn't ready for an eight-course meal right then. We went to the Irish pub component of the enterprise, down in a different room of the same dungeon as last time.
Someone asked the waiter if the music in our cell could be turned down or off, and the staff must have taken that as indication that we wanted to be left strictly alone, because it was like pulling teeth getting served. When someone would give a waiter an order, he would immediately leave, so we'd have fun trying to find another waiter to take someone else's order. The food and beer, however, were good, as was the conversation. I was down at the end of the table with Kate, dhalgren, and catbear, and we covered moral philosophy and GST fraud. I had a pint, some smoked salmon, and creme brulée with maple in it.
On GST fraud: there's a Federal tax in Canada of 7% on goods and services (thus, the Goods and Services Tax) and under some circumstances if you are a business selling to foreign customers, you can get it refunded. There are very few checks and balances in the refund system; you basically just fill out a form telling the Government how much to pay you, and they cut you a check. So some people have been scandalously abusing this system (asking for refunds on tax that was never paid) and critics are in a flap. This story is relevant because the restaurant had apparently cribbed its billing procedure from the Federal government. At the end of the meal, the waiter came around and asked us all what we had had so he'd know how much to charge us. As far as I could tell, he had neither inclination nor ability to verify that we told him the truth, although, of course, we did.
Monday morning, I got up at 7:30 and went down to the lobby for breakfast and to read the French newspapers. I can't actually read French very well, but I can sort of fake it (I probably *read* French better than I can write it, speak it, or understand it when spoken) and it was interesting to see the hard-to-quantify, but definitely-noticeable cultural differences in what gets reported and what's emphasised. Others started to drift down, but I had to leave pretty quickly in order to get my bus, so I said some fast goodbyes and headed out.
I had a pleasant walk to the bus/train station and got on the bus to Montreal, leaving at 1000. The driver just waved me on board, without even pretending to look at my ticket. My transfer at Montreal at 1320 was hampered slightly by all the couples smooching on the bus platform; the line would move forward a step or two and then the beautiful girlfriend (wife, business associate, concubine, or whatever) of the man in front of me would run up to kiss him passionately for the fifth time and we all (or those of us who weren't being smooched ourselves just then also) would wait for them to finish and then she'd slip away and then I'd think we'd be about to board but now, oh, there's another couple necking in the middle of the line and holding everything up, and so on. I would have had better humour about this if I hadn't been (or felt like) the only young man left unsmooched in the entire line-up.
At 1600 in Kingston, starving, I reminded myself that I was back in Ontario by eating a stale cafeteria turkey sandwich that would probably have been a hanging offence in Québec. With a 45-minute layover at Toronto, I sloped off to Subway and had another, more satisfactory, turkey sandwich. By 2130 I was leaving Toronto, by 2230 I was passing the Midas Muffler in Cambridge (where they advertise free blinker fluid top-ups) and after a transfer to the city bus in Kitchener, I made it home about midnight.