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Gaspé, Quebec vacation

We’re well into fall and it’s raining today so what better time to start planning next summer’s vacation?

If you’re like me, you dream all winter of your next summer holiday. Will it be by the beach? How will you get there? What will you do there?

With the Canadian loonie so low compared to the American dollar and the political climate uncertain south of the border, the time is ripe to stay home and explore Canada.

Last summer, my family stayed in Quebec and travelled to the stunningly beautiful Gaspé Peninsula. The ultimate destination was the seaside town of Pérce at the very eastern tip of the province, famous for its monolith, Percé Rock, in the harbour.

The Gaspé is a region of Quebec along the south shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River. The peninsula extends to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and ends at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean.

The journey is a 2,000 km return trip from Montreal to Percé on the achingly slow but gloriously panoramic Highway 132.

Six-day Gaspé itinerary

This is how we planned our 6-day trip:

  • Day 1: Montreal to Ste. Flavie. 575 km. 5h35 min. drive time plus breaks.
  • Day 2: Ste. Flavie to Gaspé National Park. 293 km. 2h25 min. drive time.
  • Day 3: Gaspé National Park
  • Day 4: Gaspé National Park to Percé. 300 km. 4h drive plus lunch break.
  • Day 5: Percé
  • Day 6: Percé to Montreal. 975 km, ouch! 10h25 min. drive plus breaks.

The rest-stops on the highway are far between but they’re clean and decent. They’re not modern like Ontario’s ONroute chain of pit stops, but you can get sandwiches and chips at most of them. We brought our own food.

There’s one breathtakingly beautiful town between Quebec City and the start of the Gaspé region in Mont. Joli. Kamuraska sits on the south coast of the St. Lawrence River next to vast mud flats that attract a variety of birds. These flats have been painted by thousands of artists over the years. A lunch-stop here includes a nip into the old-time general store, visiting art galleries and a peek at the restored town church.

In my next blogs, I’ll highlight the accommodations and restaurants that were hits and misses and of course, the attractions. There’s lots to do in Gaspé and most of it is weather-dependent, so bring rain gear and a good attitude. You’re in for quite a trip.

Jamie Oliver can cook anything from zombie brains and alien heads to Chernobyl vegetables

What’s the name of this vegetable? Don’t peek.

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It’s a celeriac. I’ve been told it looks like an alien’s head, a zombie brain, a Chernobyl vegetable and “the thing that was stuck to Spock’s back.” The celeriac was part of our fall organic vegetable delivery a few weeks ago. Someone gave me a Jamie Oliver recipe to try cooking this unique veggie. The recipe rocked and everyone enjoyed eating zombie brains for Thanksgiving. It tastes like celery and cooked, has the texture of a potato. Celeriac is rich in potassium and vitamins C and B-6. Here’s the Jamie Oliver recipe, just in time for Halloween. Let me know how it works out for you.

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Published by Crown. Three-hundred and thirty-seven pages.

 

lacks_bookHenrietta Lacks was a poor, barely-educated African-American woman from the South. Her cells were taken by her physician while she was battling cancer. Those cells live on to this day and are said to be responsible for many medical breakthroughs like the polio vaccine. This biography is her story and the story of her children’s lives after her death.

Lacks, who died in 1951, never gave consent for her cells to be taken and her family has never been compensated for their use. Skloot tells us millions if not billions of dollars have been made by the pharmaceutical industry making more of, selling and testing her cells. Typically, our cells die after a period of time outside our bodies. For some reason, Lacks’ cells never die.

The science is fascinating but her story is tragic. Skloot’s book raises more questions than it answers. Was Lacks’ medical treatment inferior to that of white people’s of the era? Was the reason no consent was attempted, and no attempt made to inform her family, because she was black?  Her offspring suffered greatly as children and continued to suffer as adults. They were shocked and confused to learn about their mother’s cells, known around the world by scientists as HeLa.

We learn, alarmingly, that Lacks may have been the first, but not the last person whose cells have been taken by doctors for research without patient consent. Various American courts have upheld the right of doctors and scientists to use people’s cells without compensation to the donor. The reason is invariably that doing so would stagnate medical research. Skloot does a good job of outlining various stakeholders’ arguments for and against that reasoning.

The author, a science writer, unearths a mountain of scientific practices that continue today and affect us one and all.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Published by Random house. Three-hundred and fifty-five pages.

 

botmjuly1606-720x793More than not bad for a debut novel. This New York Times best seller, alluring and electrifying, will send you rushing to Google to check out the facts behind the real Manson Murders.

The novel is roughly based on the Manson murders in L.A. in the late 60s. Pregnant American actress Sharon Tate was among those murdered by the disciples of a strange sect led by Charles Manson. In The Girls, the female followers of counter-culture commune leader Russell, murder an actress and her young son along with two others, at their home. It’s an attempt to get back at a famous singer. Most of these facts are revealed in the opening pages.

The lead-up to the event consumes the rest of the book. It’s a slow simmering pot of ideals and desires gone wrong. Cline’s writing is not always clear and I found myself re-reading several paragraphs to understand her meaning.

The protagonist is 12-year old Evie Boyd who’s under-supervised by her self-absorbed parents during a long summer. Languishing in boredom in the oppressive California heat, Evie, at odds with her only friend Connie, meets cult-follower Suzanne at a park. Evie imagines Suzanne, older and attractive, to be the embodiment of carefree and spirited youth that Evie so desperately craves to be.

The attraction is immediate and with nothing else to do, Evie seeks out Suzanne and boards a bus that will forever change her life.

The Girls does a decent job of laying out the circumstances in which an intelligent but lonely girl can get wrapped up into exploitation, while willfully neglecting the writing on the wall. Evie has plenty of opportunities to get out but the lure of what she considers acceptance and the attention of a charismatic older man, lead Evie down the proverbial garden path. Only, Evie’s is sprinkled with thorns and pestilence.

Get your teenage daughters to read The Girls. The perils of joining a gang are laid before them and the attraction of unrestricted freedom and charming older men slowly crumble.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Published by Bond Street Books. Three-hundred and five pages.

 

yaa-gyasi-bookThe author captures your attention and makes you want to know what happens to each generation of a family that is unaware the other half exists.

The novel begins with the story of two half-sisters born in Ghana who don’t know about the other. Effia stays in Africa and is married off to a British officer. Her side of the story is about her African descendants. The second half-sister, Esi, is kidnapped and enslaved and brought to the United States. Esi’s story is about her American descendants.

However captivating the narrative, it’s basically a collection of short stories. Each chapter recounts the story of one family member per generation. Sometimes there is only one person born that generation, other times there are many, but we only ever hear the voice of one. The chapters don’t carry forward from the previous. There’s a diagram of the family tree at the beginning of the book, which you’ll need to keep track of all the characters.

At the end of the book. seven generations later, a member of each family tree meet, not knowing they are related. They begin a relationship and end up going back to Africa and stand on the spot where long ago, two half-sisters stood at the same time unaware that the other existed. Effia, in her room overlooking the sea, while Esi is held captive in the dungeon below; the dichotomy that is The Castle.

Though fiction, the story is very insightful into the history of African Americans and their place in America today.The fiction is written around actual historical events.

You’ll be hard pressed to stop reading in the middle of a chapter, so authentic a portrait Gyasi paints.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Four-hundred-and-seventy-three pages, Europa Editions.

story-of-the-lost-child-cover-241The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan chronicles recounting the story of Elena and Lina. Reading the book is like cliff-diving off a high cliff and crashing on the rocks below. It’s a sad ending to a glorious story.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you, but the two protagonists become pregnant and raise their children in the old neighbourhood. One of the two protagonists literally loses her child and begins a slow decent into instability if not madness. A lot of ink is taken up summing up of all the characters and where they’re at in their lives when the book ends in 2006. Lina and Elena are in their 60s, as are the majority of the cast of characters who make up the novel.

Elena is a success but she’s crushed by depression, never becoming the confidant person she could have been. She feels that her career has been marred by that. Elena is a success but she’s consumed by self doubt. Lina too, becomes a success but eventually implodes. Lina disappears, we know that in the first pages of the first novel. Here, we get an inkling as to why; she may have been murdered or simply decided to vanish of her own free will. Not knowing why she’s gone missing is an unsatisfying aspect of the novel.

The series has been a stellar trip about the lives of two remarkable women and the people in their lives. However, the ending is a sad ending to an otherwise at times shocking and always eventful series. I expect characters in their 60s to have misgivings, joys and regrets but Elena and especially Lina, loomed larger than life and their senior years are just plain dull.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein.

Four-hundred and eighteen pages. Europa Editions.

9781609452339Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay reads like a soap opera. You know the entire cast of characters; new and fleeting ones are introduced and they get themselves into dangerous, sad and fascinating situations. You know they’ll get out of the mess they’re in but you don’t know how, so you keep reading.

The third in the four-book Neapolitan series is definitely not pulp fiction, yet it contains lurid and sensational subject matter and its narrative is operatic in scope. The main characters Lina and Elena alone would be comfortable in a Jackie Collins novel; not to mention the characters that surround them. In fact, that may be the broad appeal of the series.

The characters are so richly described and the writing so evocative, that the book is more than typical chick lit about women’s relationships. Ferrante’s talented writing elevates Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay from a light fluffy read at the cottage to literary prose.

The third book becomes more about Elena and how she asserts herself as a person and as a writer, while Lila spins down into a horrible abyss before climbing back up. Characters from the previous two books come together. There’s a reversal of fortune.  At this point, I could give you a synopsis of the novel but I won’t. I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen on these pages and I want to give you the same pleasure.

However, I will tell you that what Lila and Elena go through is almost symbolic of the cultural and social changes that take place in Italy during the late 1960s and 70s, the period the book is set in.

It’s a great read but a thick read at 418 pages. Enjoy.