Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Week of Life

A week ago last night, Jason got home from work a little before 8:00 and could hardly stand still, he was so excited.  I was on the couch, watching The Colbert Report, and he was prancing between the kitchen and the dining room with a huge grin on his face.

"What are you doing?" I finally asked.

"Come in the dining room," he said, and pointed gleefully to an extra envelope hanging from our advent calendar garland.  I took it down and slid out the papers that were inside, stood staring at the flight itinerary in front of me.  All I could see was "Detroit to Quebec City;" the rest of the page was a blur.

"When IS this?" I asked, dumbfounded.

"Tomorrow!" Jason said.  "And my parents are going to be here in five minutes!"

I died.

No, really.  It took me nearly an hour to do anything besides pace back and forth from room to room.  Tomorrow?  When would I make the 6-page Microsoft Word document to tell my in-laws how to live my life?  How long had Jason been planning this?  How was it possible that I never even detected a whiff of Something's going on here, I just don't know what it is?

Somehow, I started breathing again.  I packed.  I wrote frantic notes about homework folders and book orders and insurance cards.  And on Thursday around noon, we got on an airplane that would eventually (after some full-on sprinting the entire length of Concourses A and C in the Detroit airport to make a connection, of course) bring us to Quebec City.  Merry Christmas to me.

It was like being in a snowy village in France or Switzerland with the added bonus that everyone speaks fluent French and English.  "Bonjour," people (friendly without a single exception) greet you.  "Bonjour," you reply, and then you say, "How are you?" and they switch to English without batting an eye.

It's cold there.  Like, -12 C, which is, oh, around 10 degrees F - the kind of cold where, if you take your mitten off for a second to take a picture, your fingers hurt.  I didn't really let that stop me.


We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, which is as close to staying in a castle as I've ever come.  Gorgeous, full of history, and right in the heart of the old city walls:

 The view from our room

We walked everywhere.  We talked.  We went to the Dali exhibit at the Musee Des Beaux Artes.  We went ice-skating at night on an outdoor rink to the sound of Christmas carols sung in French (and, briefly, a group of carolers who stopped near the ice rink to sing George Michael's version of "Last Christmas," which pleased Jason very much).  We bought little spoons for soft-boiled eggs, espresso cups, gifts for the girls, and a tacky Christmas ornament of our hotel.  We wandered in and out of old churches.  We sat in the hot tub while snowflakes fell outside the windows.  We ate a lot of food and drank a lot of beer.

It really was magical, being in a charming, cozy, beautiful city decorated to the hilt for Christmas with snow falling softly and plenty of time to read, walk, talk, sleep, and sit in an old pub for three hours in the afternoon if we wanted to (we did).  

The magic ended, though, when we got stuck there for two extra days.  The snow started at 1:00 Sunday afternoon; our plane was due to fly out at 5:45.  The flight got cancelled, which disappointed but didn't surprise us, and after a round of calling-the-in-laws and calling-the-office, we decided we'd make the best of our bonus night in the city.  We checked back into the hotel, sat in the hot tub one last time (we thought:  ha!  ha ha . . ), and then went out to split a bottle of wine and a pizza at a restaurant we'd wanted to try but had been closed for a private party on Saturday night.  We set our alarms for 4:15 a.m. because the flight they'd re-booked us on was set to leave at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning.  Still time, we thought, for Jason to see his afternoon patients.  

That flight, though, got cancelled, too, and they put us on the 5:45 p.m. flight Monday - a full 24 hours after we were supposed to leave.  We checked out again Monday at noon, camped out in the lobby for the entire afternoon, eating take-out sandwiches and calling the airline repeatedly to check on the status of the incoming plane from Detroit (the one we'd need to turn around and bring us back again) before taking an expensive cab ride to the airport.  Delayed, delayed, and, finally, at about 6:00 p.m., cancelled.

We were devastated.  The weather, which had been a blizzard lasting about four hours, had completely subsided and hardly a single flake of snow had fallen all day; in fact, it was a little rainy and much warmer, and most of the ice and snow had melted.  I spent almost an hour on the phone with the airline, pleading with them to put us on another carrier, telling them we'd go anywhere with any number of connections just to get home before Tuesday morning.  Cincinnati?  Chicago?  Toronto?  We'd drive from there.  In fact, while I was on the phone alternately begging and Being Stern, Jason was talking with the concierge, asking them if we could rent a car this late at night and drive back.  

"No, no, no," they said, before Jason could even finish his sentences.  It would not be safe to drive through the night.  The roads were still very snowy.  It would cost a fortune to take a car into a different country and leave it there.  The road signs were in French.  It would take thirteen to fifteen hours.  I was almost in tears.

"I give you nice room," the man said, for less than what we'd paid on our first four nights.  We checked back in, took the key, rode two elevators up to the 18th floor and found a suite with a jacuzzi tub at the top of the hotel, set the alarm for 4:15 a.m. again, deciding to go to the airport no matter what and insist that someone - anyone - put us on a plane to somewhere on Tuesday.

When we straggled into the airport at 5:15 on Tuesday morning, there was already a line at the counter and our flight was already cancelled.  By the grace of God, though, we finally got them to book us on another carrier and left at 8:00 to fly to Chicago, then Lansing, where my dad was able to pick us up.  So at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, we were reunited with our girls, who we had been missing more than any other time in our lives.  It's funny; we've been gone from them longer than this before, but this time, knowing that they expected us back - and that we wanted and planned to be back - made it so much harder to be away from them.

Two days later, I still feel disoriented, like I lost a week of my life.  Suddenly, the Advent calendar is at "9" and I'm flailing to put my life back together:  get the Christmas cards out, shop for the family Christmas meal we're hosting on Sunday, make the favor bags for Jemma's party on Saturday, order one last Christmas gift on Amazon and pay to make sure it gets here on time, make granola for teacher gifts, bring back overdue library books, wrap the pile of presents that's sitting in bags on the cement basement floor.

Last night, exactly one week after Jason sprang this surprise on me, I went out to run errands right when he got home from work.  When I got home at 9:00, he was asleep on the couch, missing Modern Family,  a pile of unopened mail on the coffee table and a box of charts near his feet.  Life as we know it in all its hectic everydayness is back to normal.  We're looking forward to a festive weekend, more fires and playing in the snow with the girls, and some of the very best moments of the year still to come.  But tucked away in our memories forever, we'll have those irreplaceable moments we shared in December of 2010.  We'll hang our Frontenac Christmas ornament on our tree every year.  We'll say, "Remember when we got snowed into Quebec City that one year?"  It's become part of our story now.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I loved reading this! It definitely sounds like my kind of trip... and I've always wanted to go there. I love that you take so many photos of your food and drinks; I always do that. :)

    I know the supreme frustration of having flights cancelled. It is a terrible and stressful feeling. But you're right, it'll become a funny-ish story to share, and you'll always focus more on the days that preceded it!

    p.s. Your glasses are cute!