Friday, September 5, 2008


What a wonderful way to ease the summer into September - a leisurely trip to Montréal. From New York City, we took the slow-paced Adirondack train line via Amtrak, winding up through the Catskills , bending through the Adirondack Mountains, sliding along the shores of Lake George and Lake Champlain. It would have been more of a romantic trip had it not taken almost 11 hours and had the trees started to dress in their autumn best.

Still, for all the beautiful areas "envahi par les touristes" that we delved into, it was wonderful to retreat to a place where poetry was the rule of the day. We called the Hotel Nelligan - named after Montréal 's native son and one of its most important poets, Émile Nelligan - our home for a few days. In the lobby, a portrait of the poet and a copy of his "Le Vaisseau d’or" or "The Ship of Gold" (his most quoted, as I've read) hung nobly, and an excerpt of the poem blended softly in a frame on the wall in our room above the fireplace. With even the levels of the hotel reflecting names such as "Poésie" and "Sonnet," a person could not forget the hotel's inspiration.

As your average (no, not ugly) American, I had not heard of Nelligan before our trip, and we did not select our hotel based on this theme. So, who was Nelligan? I'm still doing research (and if anyone familiar with his work or history can add anything here, please do)...but from what I know, I admire how such a young man suffered the duality of his circumstances but chose to be a leader in the movement to renew French-Canadian literature. He was institutionalized when he was only 20 years old, but had left a legacy that continues almost 70 years after his death.

I both appreciate and am perplexed by Québec's struggle to define its culture and heritage and desire to earn independence from "British association." But, when I read words from poets like Nelligan, the desire is clear and the beauty is profound.

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