The travel section articles delight me, because I can read about so many pleasant places I do not care to go. I'm spoiled, because when we wish to experience the differences of foreign parts, a hundred yards over the boundary from our State of Maine we find everything they have in Paris and more, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. The people in County Beauce, Quebec, speak better French than is used in France, tossing off words like snowplow, hotdog, friedchicken, pingpongball, flashlight-battery, ticket, and many others about which the Academy has been backward. This makes things easier for the tourist, and more fun. I asked our waitress the time and she said, ''Now!''
We rode up that way lately to get a supply of maple syrup. Long ago the timberland owners in Maine's St. John River Valley marked off ''sugaries,'' and for tap-hole fees the privileges are available to Canadians who come across the line by families for the harvest. Native Mainers, down-state, seldom see any of this maple syrup, since it is moved in sixty gallon steel drums into Quebec, to become produit du Canada. This small deceit is repeated later when much of the crop is moved in bond through a Sherbrooke cooperative into Vermont. The United States Customs at The Derby Line keeps records of the tonnage. Some of each spring's crop is packed in twenty-ounce tin cans to be sold in local stores and roadside stands. The quality is superb, the price is right, and we have the dividend of an overnight visit to Hotel Arnold. That's ar-KNOLL. From our usual room we look across the valley of the Chaudiere River, down which Benedict Arnold floated his army in 1775 for the assault on Quebec City. Hotel Arnold is in Ville St. Georges, Beauce County, Quebec Province - the home of the jarrets noirs. St. Georges is but thirty-five miles from Maine.
In early times, the farmers of Beauce County would go into Quebec City to market, and they were distinguished by the black farm mud of Beauce on the shanks of their horses. Children taunted them with Voici les jarrets noirs! For generations this was insulting and resented, but in recent years Beaucefolk have accepted their difference with pride, and a gold medal on a chain around the neck will identify the authentic ''black-leg.'' Meantime, to the rest of Quebec Province the jarret noir remains the odd one, the butt of folk stories, a sort of Gallic hillbilly. Only a Beauce waitress would say, ''Now!'' Her name was probably Charlie. And so on. She was pretty; she gave us good care; the lamb chops were perfect.
What to see? Tourist attractions. London has the Tower; Paris the Arch. Windmills in the Netherlands; castles along the Loire. For us, M'sieu Andre Guay cleaned his four-acre supermarket in the Carrefour St. Georges. We had never seen a supermarket under nettoyage, and, after inquiry, learned this is because the job is usually done at night, or on Sundays and holidays. Only a Beauceman, we were given to understand, would clean his store and keep it open at the same time, an unnerving kind of courtesy to his customers. The cleaning is done by a squad of about thirty, which starts at one end. Goods are taken from shelves, piled in baskets. The shelves are wiped, washed, dried, touched with paint if needed, adjusted, arranged, and the goods put back. Besides our syrup, we wanted some Australian raisins, some Oka cheese, Habitant split yellow peas, a pain-long, and things like that not always available at home, so we moved through the store, along with the cleaners, in the manner of a Marx Brothers movie. I asked for M'sieu Guay, to suggest he advertise his next cleaning, bring tour buses, and sell tickets. But he is a corporation and was not available.
Another entertainment arranged for us had to do with building a bridge. A crew of thirty-five men stood idly by to watch a great crane position a something in the riverbed below. We didn't know what the something was, but it came on a great flatbed truck to be picked off by a derrick, swung into space, and lowered. The show lasted forty-five minutes, with traffic backed up for miles. It was great to watch that huge something picked up so neatly. Triumph of mechanics over mass. When the thing was down and the chain unshackled, a man picked the thing up and set it on a cement base.
We came home the next day.