Sunday, August 7, 2011

Taisy and Company - Picton, Day 7

Today I mustered the courage to face some correspondence I’ve been sidestepping since the outset of the Picton project—a series of French letters written in rural Quebec and a large hatbox stuffed with mail.

I can usually work my way through French text, but I was stymied by 25 letters written in the mid-40s through 60s in Clova, Abitibi, Que. (a former forestry town that now serves as a fishing outpost).  I tried to read them on several occasions, stumbling over the unfamiliar, until tonight when my father-in-law, who was raised in rural Quebec, identified they are written phonetically in a real French-Canadian patois.

Now that we’ve cracked the code “ Bonjour ma chaire bonne petite maire, comman alle vous” and the like won’t stump me again!

As for the hatbox, I made some headway this morning after I counted and stacked the letters into smaller groupings. There are 340 in all and I’ve read less than a ¼, still I feel it is doable by the close of this residency on Tuesday. My hesitation with the hatbox runs deeper though.
Again, I’m confronted with the question of whether I should split a collection, (in this case the largest single donation to Voices). Can I ensure privacy and protect the donor’s identity if I don’t divide the hatbox contents amongst the existing categories? Is it more important to respect the spirit in which a donation was made?

In the end I decided to keep these collections as they have come to me. Together the letters in “Bonjour de Clova, Abitibi” provide a glimpse of life in a town that no longer exists.

Another glimpse into rural life in Quebec can be found in “Affectionately, Taisy & co.”:

“We spent the holidays very quietly. No one came, and we went nowhere. As you perhaps know our road is isolated at this end, and life as we see it goes by on wheels beyond the fork.”   

 I think I will eventually divide the letters in “Orbiting N” (working title) into categories, but only within the confines of the hatbox, where they can quietly tell their story and still be part of the whole.

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