Quebec libre, 2011

Quebec City

I hope your summers are off to a fine start. In Quebec City, it’s lovely late spring weather–not too hot, but warm and sunny and just right!  (Well, today was pretty hot actually, and a cold front is going to blow through tomorrow, but we’re always ready for that in the true North, strong and free.)  The tulips, crabapples, and lilacs are just flowering here–so it’s especially floral and picturesque.

The fun thing about Quebec is that it’s (in the words of one of my traveling companions) a “free city,” especially in the tourist centers of the upper and lower cities inside the city walls.  It’s got a relaxed and playful vibe–people walk around in everything from skins from the waist up (men, anyway) to suits and more formal wear.  The teenagers and young adults of the city were sunning themselves and showing off their tats on the walls of the city.  The historic parts of the town are tres touristique, and there are more tacky T-shirt shops than ever, but hey–everyone has to make a living, right?  Being a francophone Canadian means that one lives in a very small country, and not everyone wants to get rigged up like a Musketeer to go to work. 

Ursuline chapel and museum

It’s great to be back in the archives, but I’m left with the challenge of taking haphazardly-kept records that span a century (or more) and turning them into something I can analyze. I feel weak and stupid again, but it’s also fun to think big.  Researching this book is kind of like being handed a stack of sporadic grocery lists–those that survived two devastating fires, that is–and describing and analyzing everything that went on in a kitchen over a century or so: all the meals, all of the people, all of the celebrations, all of the tragedies, etc. You know, the stuff someone else might actually care enough to read about.  I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to do some serious old-fashioned social history if I’m going to figure out this monastery.

The big find of the day?  An obituary of a nun who died of le scorbut, which is scurvy, a disease that it usually suffered by seamen, slaves, and others who don’t have access to fresh fruits and veggies.  Three guesses as to how you die of scurvy inside a convent when no one else is dealing with malnutrition, friends, and the first two don’t count!

20 thoughts on “Quebec libre, 2011

  1. Any indications of a lime shortage on those grocery lists? Were they getting tropical fruits from the French West Indies to the St. Lawrence Valley?

    O.k., the next one counts. Step up to the plate, somebody!


  2. You get something with similar symptoms that’s unacceptable to talk about out loud?

    Or some bread and not much else sort of fasting, but you’d have to do it for a good while, no?


  3. Heh. Jonathan and Bardiac have it right, I think: she was a hunger artist is my guess, and starvation was her particular ascetic practice. They had a fruit orchard within their walls.

    This is an unusual case, however. The obit also says that this “maladie” prevented her from working for more than 14 years, which just isn’t very helpful to the community. The Ursulines were (and are still to this day) running a girls’ school, and they had serious work to do. (Cool grotty detail: the disease “rotted her head and then the “entrailles!” I think this is congruent with how we know scurvy manifests itself–teeth falling out, etc.)

    The big news about the Ursuline school is that they’re now admitting garcons. This just started in the 2010 school year–and just in 2 of the lower grades. Still, it’s a pretty big change from the previous 371 years of operation. . . )


  4. Interesting that they are admitting boys now. Back in the dark ages when I attended a private Ursuline grade school they started admitting boys in the lower grades also. I was probably in the 6th or 7th grade when this occurred. Must be their modus operandi. Haven’t been to Quebec since 1997. Biggest memory is flipping a delicious chateau briand in the lap of my “little black dress”.


  5. When did the nun die? That makes a difference since the symptoms of scurvy are similar to other diseases and definitive diagnoses were tricky prior to the era of bacteriology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


  6. KC–she died in 1750, but I think they were pretty clear on the causes of her death, as they also note that she refused for days at a time to eat or drink anything. Scurvy was a pretty common disease at this place and time (I have seen evidence of mission Indians suffering from it in the Jesuit Relations, and those Indians were starving.)

    What other diseases were you thinking it could have been?


  7. Oh, H-Ann, you make me long for my archives days! I loved summer, when “real” scholars would spend days doing “real” research (as opposed to genealogists who plunked their campers in the parking lot). NOT knocking the geneas, they brought the bread and butter, but the Ph.D.’s made me look at my collection in a whole new light…

    Now I push codices on lowly undergrads, sigh….


  8. Oh, I love Quebec City. Hope it’s not as cold as when I was last there in June (wish I’d brought a coat and gloves as well as my sweater and jackets)!

    Glad you’re getting your research back on. I always feel stupid and slow the first few days I work with manuscripts of any sort. It takes a while to retrain the eye and brain to decode properly!


  9. Mrs. Eduardo and I honeymooned in QC. Stayed at the Frontenac. Wonderful.

    Drink lots of Canadian wine from the Niagara Peninsula … awesome. Inniskillan, Jackson Triggs, …


  10. there are cancers that can mimic scurvy if they go untreated. however, the link of starvation –> scurvy is pretty strong, so unless there’s an anomalous symptom in the description, I’d assume she was eine Hungerkünstlerin.


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