It’s a neighbourhood café; a little expensive but it smells great walking in and the tables are dotted with a few couples as well as a number of solitary folk like myself, most on their computers or on their phones; a few reading a book. I have brought both. The server asks me where I’d like to sit and my eyes light up at the sight of a little alcove near the back. It is completely empty and she tells me I can sit wherever I choose: I indicate a seat by the window and ensconce myself to do what I do best: daydream and people watch.
I quickly realize that I probably won’t be opening my book. There is a sidewalk just outside the window where I’m sitting. If it were a nice day, the windows would be opened wide and there would be tables just on the other side of where I’m sitting. Today, though, it’s a rainy, cold, rather miserable day and the people walking outside are dressed accordingly: proper raincoats with hoods pulled up; many with umbrellas; and good, sensible shoes (but stylish: this IS Québec City); I had forgotten that city folk living in a neighbourhood tend to do a lot of walking. In the country, you need a car to go just about anywhere: unless you actually work outdoors, raincoats are not a necessity like they are here.
I don’t have to watch for long to get a sense of the area: there are people walking back and forth along the sidewalks on both sides of the street outside. I get an immediate sense of the regulars who clearly know one another: I note a warm smile and a nod from an older woman as she encounters a fiftyish, artistic-looking man with a long gray ponytail; two younger fellows stop to have a brief chat before continuing on their way. When I lived in this city, I always hated how impersonal it was, but I tend to forget that I always lived in the suburbs. This downtown neighbourhood is alive with humanity.
There is a traffic light just on the corner and cars and delivery trucks stop just outside my window with regularity. A few, gazing around from the driver’s seat as they wait for the light to change (it’s a long one) gaze in at me with the same passing curiosity I show them. We don’t acknowledge one another; we just look, and then glance away. I have always loved the anonymity of living in a city.
A young boy – perhaps 6 years old – is walking on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street with his Mom when he stops dead, looking slightly over and up. She takes several steps before she notices that he is not beside her. I can see her gesturing for him to come, but he points up at the traffic light – it’s red – that he has been watching fixedly, clearly indicating that he can’t ‘go’ while the light is still red. Laughing, she beckons to him with a big ‘Oh, come ON!’ sweep of her head and shoulders. The light happens to turn green at the same moment and he skips good-naturedly ahead to join her.
I see a young couple walking toward me on my side of the street and I know without question that they are English-speaking tourists. After having lived 35 years in this place I’m still not sure what gives it away but English Canadians have a ‘look’. Even though I look like my Acadian mother, people here almost always know I’m an anglophone, even before I speak. You can spot an American from even further away. We just look like ‘English-speakers,’ somehow. People just know.
I’ve finished my breakfast and gather my I-pad and my unread book. After I’ve paid my bill, I pull my coat around my neck and brace myself for the cold. Soon I’m scurrying along the sidewalk outside, past the spot where I was just sitting, one more passerby for the people who are still eating to gaze out at as they finish their breakfast.
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com