I got back from Quebec City last night. We had a beautiful time, despite gloomy weather. We found a lovely and reasonable bed and breakfast hotel on a picturesque street right downtown (it's called B & B a L'Augustine, and it can be found on the net -- highly recommend it), had a fantastic meal on rue St-Jean (a charming street with several excellent bring-your-own-wine restaurants where the Quebecois go, the Old City having been pretty well taken over by the tourists) , walked many walks, ducked into many shops, then took in some remarkable art by mostly Quebec artists at Musee de beaux arts, itself a remarkable building.
In the Musee, it was great to see rooms full of paintings and sculptures by Jean-Paul Riopelle as well as other Quebec artists like Alfred Pellan and Robert Roussil (check out his Mother & Child), but what really blew me away was a masterpiece called Gravity/City/Clouds by Pierre Granche, a sculptor I really knew nothing about. The above link, which only shows the upper part of the scupture, doesn't do it justice: it's quite a big installation, mostly in marble (even the clouds are marble, although standing on "rain" of steel wires,), and the ethereal/apocalyptic city (recognizably downtown Montreal) rests on a tower and platform of crudely hewn marble stairs, only partly seen here, which itself rests on a wheeled wooden locomotive chassis on railway tracks, suggesting that the whole vision is gliding on the rails of industry and machinery... so whimsical, evocative and delightfully weird.
Researching Granche, I discovered that he was a truly major figure in the Quebec arts scene before his untimely death at 49 in 1997, and that he's responsible for a number of major public works in Montreal which I had already seen in passing, such as this, this , and this.
Perhaps though the most quintessentially "Quebecois" poetic moment was rereading Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (1912-43) in a cafe in the Old City. For some reason I was under the impression that this poet lived and wrote in Quebec City, but turns out he spent most of his brief life in Montreal.
Here's a poem of his that nevertheless captures the strange alacrity one feels walking those streets. Of course, it could be about walking anywere, and it turns out the poem was definitely written in Montreal (where one also frequently feels that kind of joy... one reason I choose to stay here!). The translation is by FR Scott. Much of the music, naturally, is lost. The original follows.
I walk beside a joy
Beside a joy that is not mine
A joy of mine which I cannot take
I walk beside myself in joy
I hear my footsteps in joy marching beside me
But I cannot put my feet in those steps and say
Look it is I
For the moment I am content with this company
But secretly I plot an exchange
By all sorts of devices, by alchemies
By blood transfusion
Displacement of atoms
by balancing tricks
So that one day, transposed,
I may be carried along by the dance of those steps of joy
With the noise of my footsteps dying away beside me
With the fall of my own lost step
fading to my left
Under the feet of a stranger
who turns down a side street.
Je marche à côté de d'une joie
D'une joie que n'est pas à moi
D'une joie à moi que je ne puis pas prendre
Je marche à côté de moi en joie
J'entends mon pas en joie qui marche à côté de moi
Mais je ne puis changer de place sur le trottoir
Je ne puis pas metre mes pies dans ces pas-là
et dire voilà c'est moi
Je me contente pour le moment de cette compagnie
Mais je machine en secret des échanges
Par toutes sortes d'opérations, des alchimies,
Par des transfusions de sang
Des démanagements d'atomes
par les jeux d'équilibre
Afin qu'un jour, transposé,
Je sois porté par la danse de ces pas de joie
Avec la bruit décroissant de mon pas à côté de moi
Avec la perte de mon pas perdu
s'étiolant à ma gauche
Sous les pieds d'un étranger
qui prend une rue transversale.