“Parlez Vous Francais?”


In the spring of 1969, a good friend and I took a road trip to Quebec. At college, there were three full weeks of what was called “reading period” to  allow time to study for end of the year exams. That year the reading period was in May for the late May exams. My friend and I had one course in common, and we each had only one other final. At that time, a full load was four demanding classes, but two of ours did not have finals scheduled.

Reading period was usually extremely intense. That year was even more nerve racking. Students had gone on strike at Harvard to protest the Viet Nam War and had occupied University Hall. Harvard had called in the Cambridge City Police, an unusual cooperation between town and gown. Tension on campus was high and everyone was expected to have a stance about the political situation. Sally, my friend, and I were ready for a break and decided to hit the road in my beloved Ford.

Sally was from Montreal so she suggested we start there, then drive out the Gaspe(forgive my English keyboard) Peninsula, then drive a loop through New Brunswick, Maine and New Hampshire back to Cambridge. This sounded wonderful, so we set out. We had the settlement money from the Cambridge Small Claims Court which we figured would be sufficient. We had no other plans.

In those days, Quebec was solidly French and few people spoke any English. We each had schoolyard French, so we muddled along all right. The rock above is in Perce, a lovely town on the north side of the peninsula. We had lunch in a little hotel there, then drove on. Gaspe at that time was very isolated and not designed for tourists. Each little town announced itself around a bend with a church steeple. Outdoor bread ovens abounded. We stopped at one farm and bought some from the housewife using our broken French. We spent that night in the car, stretched out on the very comfortable seats.

Driving further on the route, we stayed at Acadia National Park, which was warm for May and we studied for our mutual exam at a picnic table. Later we bought lobster from a Maine pound and ate it by the ocean.

By the time we returned to Cambridge we were rested, well prepared for our exams and had a perspective of a larger world than that of the insulated university. What more could you ask from a road  trip?

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