Quebec is fantastic. We are in a beautiful area of the city... it's very hilly but we are only a block or two above a main shopping district. We're surrounded by cute cafes and pubs, as well as a couple galleries and plenty of stores. It is REALLY cold here, and the artic blast is cold enough to melt your face off.
Our first morning here we had breakfast in a cafe that was filled with the most delicious pastries I have ever seen. They also had really good coffee, and basically it makes me loathe most alledged "bakeries" in the EL area. There is no comparison.
Today and yesterday we volunteered at a local soup kitchen. The first day we cleaned the entire "drug and alcohol" ward [awful, it smelled like vomit] and today we cleaned the main area where people congregate before meals are served, as well as the "smoke room" [also awful, liquified smoke running down the walls]. Both days we also served dinner. The first day, half of us were in the back kitchen doing the dishes. My job was to take the newly sanitized [and scorching hot] dishes out of the washer, dry and sort them, then stack them to be taken back out for serving. Today, the same half of us served food in the line. I served soup, and I was the first person they talked to as they came through the line. It's been a challenge not only to remember French but to be able to listen well enough to understand any of it. People speak a lot faster than any of my teachers did, but everyone is very nice and I think they appreciate that I am trying. I'm able to understand and speak well enough to communicate and to be polite, at least.
Last night we went ice skating in the center of town on a little rink. Of course, people here take ice sports so seriously that it has it's own little zamboni to clean the ice. The city is beautiful at night, all covered in snow and twinkling lights and warm store-fronts. There are also carriage rides which I'm crossing my fingers for.
We've met a lot of really wonderful and interesting people, not only those helping us but also locals and the people served by the "soup kitchen." It's actually a very big building with separate men's and women's wards, and an area for people to take classes and learn the skills necessary to re-integrate into society and the workforce. Today we had some free time so we walked to a nearby train station and big beautiful old church [now I know why Catholics are so fervent... they have the most opulent churches I have ever seen, with giant, well-marked boxes for donations to the church, and tiny concealed "poor boxes"... nice]. On our way back to the soup kitchen we walked through a mall because it was unbearably cold, and as we left we encountered five police cars and a man being arrested. It was someone all the students recognized, and we had talked to him earlier as we worked. Sad, but at least this way he is guaranteed a warm place to sleep tonight.
We also met an old man with a very kind face, full of character, who told us of his Inuit heritage. He wants us to visit a musuem down by the ferry port? But anyway, today I asked if I could take his picture to remember him, and I don't think anyone realizes the extent of the lonliness a lot of these people feel. He also has a homing pigeon. I didn't know that until we had said our "au revoirs" and I was ready to go to my serving station, that I noticed a moving plastic bag at his feet. I asked what was in it and he told me all about homing pigeons and how you need to talk to them and tell them who you are before you take them far away, otherwise they won't return. I took a picture of him with the pigeon, too.
Tomorrow and thursday we are going to be in an "old folks home" of some sort... apparently we'll be making bonbons and decorating for a St. Patty's day party. Friday is a free day, so we're probably going to a museum or two and then sightseeing a bit. My intention is to eat pastries until the moment we leave, as there is no suitable comparison that I can think of back home. The hot chocolate is also better here, and last night we ventured out to a pub where I told the waitress I would like "un biere Quebequoise" so she surprised me with a local dark beer which was also good. So basically most things here are superior, except maybe the weather, because it's too close to the Artic Circle.
That's all I can think of for now... we spent 8 hours in the soup kitchen today and I think I'm in need of a shower to get rid of the tobacco drips and soup splashes.