In 1991, aged 32, I went overseas by myself for the first time. I felt both bold and scared as I headed off on my Grand Tour with a round-the-world fare. Air travel was expensive then – it cost me $4,000 (which is about $9,000 in today’s money) and you can buy a similar ticket right now for less than that. So it was, as they say a big ticket item and I was resolved to make the most of it. I’d just received a property settlement, and all cashed up, I
I planned to make use of my 6 stopovers and the full 12 months.
But in the end, I only visited Canada, the UK and France – and of the six months I was away, nearly five were spent in Canada. Because?
Because I found I just loved Canada. Adored the place. I went from coast to coast, travelling on trains, buses and ferries, seeing more of that huge country than I’ve seen of Australia. I’ve been there three times now, and I am planning to go again sometime.
I had the great good fortune to have someone to stay with at the start of my solo adventure. David was an actor, and lived in Montreal. I scarcely knew him, but he was a good friend of my older brother. And he loved showing off his country (and he loved to drive), so we took off on lots of road trips, tootling around Quebec and the Maritimes in his beat-up and chronically unreliable van. I remember a Mohawk pow-wow, a spooky ancestral mansion set all by itself at the mouth of the mighty St Lawrence, a gannet colony on a rocky island, a thousand-strong Indian religious gathering, icy white landscapes of frozen lakes and rivers, a ceilidh in a seaside village in Nova Scotia.
But some of the best times were spent at home. In Montreal, or at his cabin at Sutton near the Vermont border in an area known as the Eastern Townships. It’s a place of many little towns and villages with English names like Hatley, Dunham, Orford and Sutton. That’s because in the late 18th century, during and after the American revolution, there was an influx of British, Irish and Scottish Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain.
All of this is by way of introducing the crime novels of Louise Penny. Her hero (and he is indeed a hero) is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. After investigating a crime in the Eastern Township village of Three Pines, he finds himself repeatedly drawn back to the place. Me too. That’s because Three Pines is a fictional version of Sutton. It’s where Louise Penny lives. And when I read, I can see the landscape, hear the English-accented French and the French-accented English, smell the croissants and pastries at the bakery, browse in the bookshop, walk through the pine woods, gaze at the lakes and mountains, shiver in the snow, watch deer and squirrel, and keep a close watch out for bears.
The Armand Gamache novels are not only cracking reads (there are 18 so far, and I only have 2 unread) but for me, full of nostalgic Quebec pleasures.
More at Louise Penny’s site