Adventures in the Beauce(1979): Part 2:
lobster-boys, eau-de-porcine, an eye-full, and imbroglio in the Beauce
Mid-February and I was back in Montreal puzzled about how
to subsidize the nascent business without funds. I approached the problem creatively and ‘voila’ - registering students were asked to mail in cash deposits of $25. Then, I located a bank that didn't require a lot of paperwork to open a business account. The Caisse Populaire, on Blvd. St-Laurent was called St-Enfant Jesu, and, although I was a secular Jewess, a bank named after baby Jesus gave me hope and optimism. On the basis of my art/teaching reputation, a good mailing list, a decent-looking brochure, and some radio interviews - students began to register. Their deposits provided the ‘liquidity’ I needed to pay mounting expenses and the hiring of four other artist/teachers.
By early May I was ready to move to St-Joseph and made a ‘to-do’ list:
- rent accommodations for myself, teachers and students;
- build easels and set up the studio;
- locate picturesque landscape venues;
- convert my growing pile of ‘liquidity’ into traveller’s cheques(thanks baby J), and hope the centre of my venture would hold.
Initially, my office was the bar of the Motel in Vallée Jonction(Mlle Motel kindly took phone messages), and my transportation was Mario-Bob-taxi-service. I soon discovered that the Beauce was a region of extreme conservatism, and no one wanted to rent an apartment to a single woman, probably American, who might be a danseuse of the highway variety. The words of N echoed in my brain: Accommodations? Pas de problème. St-Joseph est fait pour la tourism. Finally, I rented a 3-bedroom furnished apartment on main street, on top of the Chuckwagon Restaurant. The apartment was light, clean and had a homey odour of fried chicken.
Next on my list were student accommodations. I discovered that the concept of B&B was not understood in the Beauce in the 1970s - in fact, there were none(B et B quoi?). Accommodations? Pas de problème. St-Joseph est fait pour la tourism, echoed in my head. So, via Mario-Bob, I visited farms and explained the idea of hosting students, checked out spare bedrooms, and arranged fees. We also visited motels in the region that were not dedicated to danseuses déshabillés. I was learning about tourism in an alien environment and also, that the key to good business planning is not to panic.
I needed to prepare the studio and hired a local carpenter to build easels and tables(merci Mme Poulin). Chairs were rented(merci Mme Poulin), and finally, someone made me a sign(encore, merci Mme Poulin). By the end of June, Les AteliersBeauce-Arts opened its doors alongside its neighbours: the local branch of AA(confidentiality maintained by outdoor fire escape access; a doctor of sorts who treated patients orally with spotlight therapy; a small appliance repair man who bred canaries behind his shop, and a mattress salesman looking for a wife(I declined).
Prioritizing my business requirements, I searched for the best ‘frites’ in town. I found them at Chez Wallace(local vernacular = chez Wallace la glâce). Mme Wallace served at a long counter upon which she rested her ample bosom. From that position, she could slide to the left or right depending upon where she needed to be. M. Wallace, formally dressed in a dark suit, tie and white shirt, busily plopped potatoes into a wall-mounted slicer. There, I discovered poutine Italien(not yet well known) and moved my ‘office’ from the Motel to a corner table chez W.
The diner was a meeting place for the local chapter of ‘Satan’s Choice’ whom I would describe as men of short stature but tough demeanour. In mid-May, they stripped down to black briefs, helmets, boots and gloves, while their skin turned lobster-red, until they achieved a tan by late June. Hence, I referred to them as the lobster-boys, and after a couple of weeks, they were friendly and salut-ing me and surprisingly, one of their ‘blondes’ signed up for a painting class. The general population of St-Jo was also beginning to accept me, the Americaine, noting my hard work and entrepreneurial manner.
Four events stand out:
eau de porcine:
The Beauce is truly a beautiful region of small industries, and large pig farms nestled amongst rolling hills. What I did not know but discovered during one of my evening strolls, was the downside of ‘grunter’-agriculture. As I walked around admiring the magnificent scenery, I was suddenly enveloped in a cloud of odiferous ammonia that made me gag - then miraculously, it passed and I could breathe fresh air again. I filed the experience away but was reminded of it again, in early July. My first painting group requested farm animal subjects, so I took them to a locale receptive to visitors. The group fanned out in different directions finding areas upwind of the smells. Circulating my usual fashion, I was ready to advise if needed. I did notice that one student seemed to be missing, but figured he would turn up later.
The morning progressed smoothly, and it was only after the ambulance arrived and the first responders administered oxygen to the missing participant(nose polyps = lack of smell capacity), that I realized liability insurance might be a good business move. Blessed is he who recovers and forgives, after choosing to paint near a pool of pig urine.
I asked the lobster boys to recommend outdoor painting venues, and one suggested Les Chutes Callwell. So Mario-Bob (uncharacteristically silent) took me to visit a dramatic waterfall with large rocks at its base and numerous shallow pools overflowing with clear water. Perfect I thought, and took my second week of students to Les Chutes where they too were astounded at the beauty of the place.
I have since learned, that in conservative rural Québec, any non-conformist behaviour is usually conducted at ‘known’ venues shielded from judgemental eyes. While we were settling in for work, I noticed a couple of heads peering out from behind large rocks, and some surreptitious movement in the surrounding woods. Then, a young couple arrived with some kids and a pooch. Nothing odd here, except - all these souls were naked. Fortunately, most of my students had sketched nude models(including two teaching nuns who had followed my workshops in Montreal), and unfazed, incorporated the nude figures into their landscapes.
At lunchtime, we stretched tired limbs, took out our food, and in a short while - everyone: students, the young family, the out-of-the-woods, and behind-the-rocks folk were sharing lunches and looking at the artwork. My lasting image was of a nude man - standing, and offering grapes to a seated nun. I gained respect for female religious orders that day, because that cool sister reached out for the grapes, kept smiling and definitely did not lower her eyes.
where has everyone gone?
Classes were full, and the first two weeks of teaching had been a definite success. Then came a unique Québec phenomenon*: a two-week construction holiday in July. In Montreal, the mass vacation simply meant the city went quiet, but in the Beauce, I discovered all, and I mean all commerce closed down and many locals left for beaches in Maine. Not one restaurant remained open, and my students and teachers all faced a two-week famine…. Once again, Mme Poulin came to my rescue. She efficiently organized some local farmers to deliver homemade meals to the studio and Villa Chuck. Another emergency was avoided.
*While I am on the subject of unique Québec experiences, let’s not forget May 1st moving day. Why anyone at the end of their rental lease, and wanting to relocate, was obliged to make the move on the same day, remains a puzzle to me. The communal moving day sparked ubiquitous traffic jams, a penury of movers with exorbitant prices, as well as situations of stressed-out tenants when the mass relay was blocked. While frustration reigned in Québec, the rest of the world was astonished.
imbroglio in the Beauce:
Early one morning in August, I heard N calling my name from outside Villa Chuck(fearing the business might tank I didn’t install a telephone). There was an emergency at City Hall, and since I was the only English speaker in St-Jo my services were needed immediately. When I got to the town hall, I met two imposing tourists - Italian women from the Amalfi coast. They were lost in Québec and trying to find their way to Maine. One barely spoke English and the other, only Italian. It seemed they had paid deposits to a travel firm in Italy, associated with one in the Stati Uniti d’America, to arrange stays in B&Bs from Maine to California. They produced a list of addresses and phone numbers they had been given, and asked me if I would call the first location and make sure they were expected; and then, check with the second place on their list, and finally, could I explain, per l'amor di Dio, how they had left Montreal heading south, and ended up in Saint Joseph de Beauce? So I called the B&B in Maine, and no, they were not expected, and sadly, no deposit had been paid. I called the next number, and then all the others, and not one of the homes had received deposits or reservations. The two women were thoroughly scombussolato and sconcertato, and asked us what they should do after being so completely fregatoed by this shameful scam. N suggested we visit the local travel agent in the mall to see if alternates could be arranged, and he drove us there in his Cadillac.
There, a plan of action proceeded with varying parlances:
The obliging travel agent who spoke hardly any English relinquished his desk to one of the women who called the agency in Italy and yelled at them, while the other translated into English-Italian for my benefit;
I repeated salient details in Québec-French to N and the agent;this agent called another agent in Québec City, and explained the situation to him in Beauce-French;
the Québec City agent(originally from France) researched American lodgings for each state the women wanted to visit, repeating the details carefully in his formal Molière-French, to the Beauce agent, who took notes;
I was then asked to make the phone calls to the US in Canadian-English;
one by one I called the US and negotiated the lodgings, repeating the information in English to one woman who translated specifics into Italian for her companion’s approval;
Once approved in Italian and translated back into English for me, I would convey a ‘yes’ to the Americans;
the whole process was repeated for each booking with N and the Beauce agent periodically interjected with suggestions and opinions;
our international back-and-forth-ing, lasted a couple of hours until new B&B arrangements were made and both agents were paid for their time.
Finally, the women invited us to lunch(not Italian poutine), and by 4 pm were heading west towards Maine, under the raised eyebrows of St-Christofalo.
My business venture was a success and led to a second summer in St-Joseph and simultaneously at the Domaine Forget Music School in St-Irénee, Charlevoix, where the renamed Ateliers Beaux-Arts ran for 12 subsequent years.
Stay tuned, for the July post....
the younger Nash painting at les Chutes.....
"GRUNTLINGS" painted by Rebecca Dufton