Dressed for The Cold at Quebec City’s Carnival

The winds were blowing and outside from my 15th floor Hilton hotel room, the flags strained, flapping wildly on their poles. Yet outside, long lines of schoolchildren wound their way past five-foot snowdrifts into tunnels that take them to a park where a huge house has been built of ice. All around, flags snap for the big 400th anniversary of the city. It’s 2008, four hundred years since 1608 when settlers first came, and nobody keeps the Quebecois inside, except maybe a Canadiens game on TV.

There is something wonderfully satisfying about walking around during blowing, snowing weather and having made the choice to wear the right clothes. My silk longj ohns from L.L.Bean, my ‘flaps down’ wool hat from Greenland’s Hotel Arctic, and my warm fleece muffler combined with many layers has allowed me to walk these streets in comfort. I love that. I made my way into the center of the city, reading all of the signs in French, and found a cozy cafe where soup was on the menu. In my rusty French, I told the server I’d like ‘la meme chose’ –the same thing–pointing to a tray with a coffee, soup and some crackers on it that another patron was carrying to a table.

Then I inquired about le WiFi…that didn’t translate as well, but the word internet prompted a quick ‘oui oui!’ and a flurry with a little machine that spat out a password and username. Voila! Even though my hotel, dammit, charges $11.95 per day in the room, and $5 an hour to use their business center, I knew I’d score free internet if I ventured out into the cold. No signs share this info, and no other Quebecois seem interested in firing up laptops. They’d much rather talk animatedly, leaning in to get the juicy details.

At a cross walk, a surprise–a little digital clock ticked off the seconds until the light would turn red. Never seen that before, and I also have never seen snowdrifts as big as these. “If they get to three meters, the city has to remove them,” my driver told me. ‘So the city is hoping that we don’t break that three meter level…but this month we’re getting close.”