Tuesday 4 September 2012--I'm just out the door of the house, schlepping my bag down to the pier, when a fellow in a four-wheeler stops to offer
me a ride. It's the gent I saw with the metal detector yesterday. We both go into Brian's restaurant, and chat over coffee. He's Craig Quinn, nephew
of Ivan Quinn, the local character and civic leader for whom the ferry is named. I wish I had an audio recorder running--in twenty minutes, Craig tells
me more interesting things than I'll ever remember. Great-grandfather shipwrecked in the Magdalens, 18th-century artifacts found in the fields, and so
forth. Here I am about to board the ferry away, and I'm just starting to get into the good stuff. A longer stay doesn't seem like such a bad idea
after all. Truth to tell, I don't get into this kind of conversation very often. I've always been more into places than people--I don't schmooze well.
I know this is my greatest weakness as a travel documentarian. I should perhaps have picked up a partner who is good at that aspect of it. Of course,
there are obvious reasons that I've never done that.
The ferry arrives with a new load of daytrippers, and before long it has deposited me on the docks at Cap-aux-Meules. I decide to hang around town for a little while, in hopes of getting a feel for the place. As I mentioned earlier, it's kind of a strange village. The road is both Route 199, the main north-south highway, and Chemin Principal, Main Street, and there is nowhere that its duality isn't evident. The terrasses of Aux Pas Perdus, Bar Le Central, and Resto Bistro Italien des Îles don't quite make this the Champs Élysées, but that's okay...a little bit of French streetfront charm is better than none. A bit further south, there is more the character of a bland commercial strip. The two traffic lights along here are the only ones in the isles. Services like drugstores and banks may not add much charm to the place, but they are nonetheless appreciated. The last time I was here, the only ATM in the isles belonged to the venerable Quebec institution, La Caisse Populaire Desjardins. My card was not compatible, and it was a lucky thing that a local gent in La Grave--his name was Henri Painchaud--was willing to cash a check for me. Today, I have my choice of ATMs. It's hard now to imagine what it was like to travel in the days before electronic banking.
Boulangerie Madelon is set just back of an intersection with a traffic light. I have a chocolatine and coffee on their little terrasse, and buy cheese from the local Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent. Then I stroll back toward the north end of the village and have a Terre Ferme at Aux Pas Perdus. Drive south, have another beer at the brewery itself, and then walk on the nearby beach to examine the remains of the Corfu Island, a ship belonging to Aristotle Onassis that was the last major wreck in the Magdalens, in 1963. Then I am away down the road along the Plage de la Martinique, the eight-mile beach leading to L'Île du Havre Aubert, the southernmost island in the archipelago. I'm staying here for three nights. My guesthouse sits on the shoulder of a hill overlooking La Grave, the fishing village that was the first focus of settlement in the Magdalens among Acadians fleeing Le Grand Dérangement.
La Grave is still a fishing port, but the old fishermen's shacks along the central strand, now designated a historic district, are occupied by boutiques and galleries. If that seems a bit precious, it's at least worth noting that they're all local businesses--there's no Body Shop or Crabtree & Evelyn here. I stroll into the Café de la Grave, where I spent my evenings on my last visit, and am pleased to find it hasn't changed much. The building is a former grocery, the wooden shelves along one wall now holding a haphazard collection of books, magazines, and knick-knacks. The opposite wall is reserved for local artwork, at the moment sculptures on a guitar theme. The tables and chairs are all mismatched. If it's all a bit too carefully random, the effect is nonetheless pleasingly casual. As an outsider, I'm not qualified to say that this is the most essentially Madelinot place in the isles, but I'd like to think it is.
The place is pretty quiet when I enter, but it fills up as I enjoy dinner and a Terre Ferme or two. By 8:00, it's jammed, and a projection TV-- not a normal thing here--has been deployed. It's election night in Quebec. People come to the Magdalens to get away from it all, but Quebec politics are inescapable, it seems. There is an electric atmosphere in the house as the returns come in. Jean Charest and the Liberals are expected to fall, after nine years in power. I realize at some point that I'm sitting next to Catherine, the sailor, and I discuss the political situation with her in as detached a way as possible--I have no idea what her sympathies are, and don't want to start an argument. As the evening passes, it becomes clear that the Parti Québecois, dedicated to some sort of separation from Canada, will return to power, but with a minority government. My theory that the electorate is less enthralled with the Péquistes than it is fed up with Charest is borne out by the facts that the Liberals finish stronger than expected; the PQ actually loses votes compared to the last election in 2008 (the balance being absorbed by the third party du jour); and Charest loses his own riding badly, bringing cheers from the house. I can't think that the PQ is going to be able to push its agenda in any meaningful way*. It's politics, and particularly Quebec politics, as usual, more about repudiation than advocacy. It is, in any case, an interesting evening in the Café de la Grave.
*Emboldened by their electoral success, hoping to consolidate their gains on the back of a proposed "secular charter" that many saw as xenophobic, the PQ called an election for April 2014. They suffered the worst beating of their existence, as the rejuvenated Liberals (without the hated Charest) were returned to power.