Read other Immigrant’s Postcards here.
Day 3: Wet-weather friends
Since morning, we haven’t accomplished much, other than eating brunch, visiting the observatory, and walking to the bank to draw cash. After a mostly sleepless night, my zombie feet refuse to dance in the rain anymore without a burst of caffeine.
We keep dragging ourselves through the soaked streets of this still-much-foreign city, desperately looking for a café. It’s nearly three in the afternoon on Canada Day, and many cafes and bistros have downed their shutters.
Discouraged, we keep plodding towards our hotel when a 24/7 and “Ouvert” sign flashes before me. We walk in – it looks like a big sports bar – hockey plays on multiple TV screens as I take a seat and put down my drenched umbrella. My husband walks over to the counter to place our order of coffee and baklava.
“Bonjour,” the cashier, a young Francophone, greets him. “Where are you from?” He asks my visibly tourist husband.
“We’re from Ontario,” B says. The answer is less than satisfactory.
“No, I mean where are you from originally?”
“Namaste,” says the cashier, offering a knowing smile and not a handshake but a full-blown namaskar.
He has more to offer.
“Naam kyea haie?” He asks B.
“Bhupinder. Aapka naam kya hai?”
On a soggy afternoon, three people fleetingly enter a spot of friendship over steaming coffee and the sticky sweetness of baklava in a mostly empty sports bar.
We’ve just been to the unabashedly gorgeous Montmorency waterfalls. Soaking wet in the fall’s mists, as we sit back in the dry comfort of the car, my husband tells me of a religious shrine that’s among the region’s attractions.
And so we alight in front of the impressive Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré , moments later. After clicking the customary outside photos, we walk in. The church’s magnificence — in scale, splendour and decoration — enthralls me. I gesture to my husband to take our seats in a pew.
The sanctum is abuzz with activities and devotees keep streaming in. B uses the time to click photos of the stained glass windows, sculpted walls and spectacular ceiling. An elderly man is seen walking towards the pews, talking to people. He soon comes to us and asks B,
“English,” B says.
“Oh. French – not yet?” The gentleman says, the possibility in that question perceptible in his hopeful affection and playful smile. “They are going to have a Mass in five minutes. No cameras during that time, please. You can take all the photos you want after that. Welcome to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.”
When the service begins a few minutes later, we see the same man attired in full priestly robes – he is the Father of the church.
And so we sit through an hour-long Mass without understanding a word of it (all French), yet enveloped in organ music and stirring singing, soft light, burning candles and incense smoke, prayer chants and the Father’s impassioned address from the pulpit.
Is it because we want to take photos afterwards (we don’t end up taking that many)? Maybe. But I believe it’s more because of a priest’s gentle voice and kindly smile.
What we experience can’t be photographed anyway.
Read Part 1