What I expected when I came to Québec City, Canada this week: French gingerbread village vibes; hordes of retirees in orthopedic shoes (for ease of hill-climbing); enough maple products to give a mid-size city diabetes; a time to unplug from the news cycle; gentle mockery from baristas as I failed to pronounce croissant aux fromage correctly for the umpteenth time; poutine, poutine everywhere.
What I did not expect: a city at the absolute epicenter of the the geopolitical scene.
I got to Québec on Tuesday night and went for a walk around Vieux-Québec as the sun set. Early sights of the city were not encouraging—a sudden rash of bankruptcies seemed to have struck the tourist-dense neighborhood. A chocolate shop in the cobblestoned Old City boarded up its windows, as did an electronics store nearby. The next day, even more shops had followed: nearly every store on the block, in fact, had nailed thick plywood boards over its windows. I googled “Quebec economy bad,” saltily remembered the A- I had earned in my economics class, and went back to Instagram.
My editors wanted me to go to Château Frontenac, a castle-like hotel perched above the St. Lawrence River and holding the world record for “Most Photographed Hotel” (cool!!!), and so I went. Blending in seamlessly with a South Korean tour group, I attempted to enter the hotel, as we Researcher-Writers have been taught to do. Three heavily-armed security guards stepped in our way. Maybe it was a large group issue, I reasoned, slipping away from the tour and heading for another entrance. Guards there, too, blocked my path. Slightly deterred, I joined an American family of four pushing a luggage cart and managed to sneak my way into the castle. Feeling like Mario facing the final boss battle, I tried to walk up one of the ornate staircases, but—you guessed it—a guard turned me around with a stern non. “Security guards = god complex,” I wrote in my notebook. As I left, several large black vans were pulling away from the hotel’s entrance.
On Thursday, I woke up to a text from my dad. “I think Trump is headed your way,” it said. For my father, a hobbyist Trump tracker whom the DNC would do well to employ, this was a typical enough text (he had most recently suggested that I buy this shirt for my travels). He followed up: “G7 meetings are in Quebec tomorrow.” Wait, what? The Group of Seven—representing the seven largest economies in the world—was coming to this province? Seven of the world’s most influential leaders would convene in La Malbaie, a small resort town outside of Québec City, to discuss the biggest issues facing our world? I would have to clumsily explain the G7 summit in a Let’s Go blog post? And most alarmingly: residents of Québec City were advised to prepare for riots? I promised my dad that I wouldn’t get tear-gassed my first week on the job, and decided to avoid the protest march route.
Moral of the story: For the love of God, at least LOOK at a newspaper when you’re traveling.