Over eight decades, my grandmother's beauty continues to develop. It's legendary. I call her Nanny. Still do, as she's always with me.
The Fairmont Hotel in Quebec City is my gorgeous grandmother.
I take the train to Quebec City from Montreal. As I pull into town, I see the towers of the Chateau Frontenac as exclamation points punctuating the sky. The entire hotel seems to greet me like I'm coming home for Christmas.
Welcome to the most photographed hotel in the world. The Frontenac's been strolling down the red carpet, smiling at paparazzi since 1893. About the time my grandmother's parents were married.
Before I swing into the lobby, I admire the ample boardwalk that runs along the hotel like a thick strand of pearls down a fine neck. The front desk clerk smiles at my request for a room in one of their turrets, as if she's Nanny making my favorite dish. (Fried okra, fyi.)
The hotel is impressive. And massive. Yet the halls hug me as I walk to my room. I get excited.
I swing open the door to ma chambre, daring to make an entrance befitting the grandeur. I have a turret! I wonder aloud if room service can send up some serfs.
As I stride across the room I note the furnishings: meticulously maintained and updated. I have friends that travel with scarves and knick knacks to makeover their hotel rooms. At Le Chateau Frontenac, I simply open the curtains. I redecorate my mind with the incredible view of Old Quebec. I swoon, caught by the récamier which awaits like a sentry. Or a serf.
I move to the turret and scratch "Sit in a turret" off my bucket list. Time to reflect on a fantastic Fairmont memory I had in Dallas in 1977.
The Venetian Room. Fairmont Hotel. A special occasion place. I pulled on my light blue, corduroy, three-piece suit. Never in style and fairly worn out. My one suit. My mother took me to see Tina Turner. I didn't know much except she used to be Ike & Tina. I didn't know she borrowed shoes for that show until the movie about her life came out in 1993.
The room was magnificent. So was Tina Turner. I sat like a wide-mouthed baby bird, hungrily watching her shake her sequined tail feather across the small stage, almost flying into the wings. She was blazing hot. She made herself sweat. She made the whole audience sweat. I bet after that show she breezed into her hotel room, kicked off those loaner kicks and fell onto the bed, happy to have a such a wonderful nest.
I leave my turret to descend onto the fairytale streets of Quebec City. The only remaining fortified town in North America. I run along the ancient wall that rings the city. I take the whole experience in, from the stiff guards at the Fort to the double-jointed street performers. I devour poutine. I consume enough gelato to fill the St. Lawrence River. Soon I can float back to Montreal like a beaver pelt.
After a day parading around the charming, cobble stoned stage -- I return to my hotel. Amenities abound in the room. I'm James Bond stepping into the complimentary black slippers. I shake the tiny box I find on my pillow after turn-down service. I'm relieved the ticking is only caused by cellophane protecting a delicious maple cookie, flavored from local trees. A weather report is left for me, too. Knowing it's going to be a nice day will help me sleep.
In 1900, an "in-room safe" meant a mean man stood by his wife's jewelry all night. Today, open the drawer on the night stand -- voila.
I turn the shower to a water-saving setting. That feature makes the white-tiled shower super chic. I appreciate the toilet's low-flush option. Of course I re-use my towels and don't have my sheets changed daily. I'm not Jackie O in the White House taking a nap. I want generations of tourists to enjoy this planet and this property.
The next day I explore the hotel. I need to get to know it well as this is my home now. I clasp my hands behind my back and stroll through the lobby. It feels natural. I nod approvingly at the towering flowers stocked in the lobby. More visitors mill about the common areas than are staying at the hotel. All are welcome -- everyone's a guest -- the hotel is in the hospitality business.
They have three restaurants. I read the intriguing menus, peek in the windows. I long to return and dine at each. Foie gras is illegal in my California. Shall I wrestle with my conscience when presented the quack quandary by Le Chateau's well-seasoned Chef Stephane Modat? I'm a sucker for an accent.
I discover the warm, steamy, splashy indoor pool. Need gym clothes and exercise shoes? The hotel provides them to their President's Club members. It's free to join.
I step out onto the rooftop terrace. I'm met with a a view to a thrill. Spiky, fanciful rooftops abound as the sugary, baked meringues crowning Quebec's cake-like architecture. I love cake.
From up here, I survey the kingdom. The crepuscule hour exhales golden and purple lights across the terrace. It's easy to think of my grandmother's sunset and her tinted hair. I grabbed armfuls of her anytime I could. However, when she was padded by luxurious mink it made the embrace cushier. I want to visit Le Frontenac in Winter. She's aging gracefully, frozen by ice, not Botox. I've ridden a dog sled in Alaska, twice. That's not a bucket list item. It's on my "do often" list and I want to do it in Quebec. Do the mushers speak en Francais to les chiens? I want to tier sur la neige which might sound kinky, but it's rolling maple syrup in snow for taffy. I want to wear my fur hat.
I'm on this trip with the love of my life. Nous allons? he gently asks. After three days in Quebec my Franglish corrects back to French. Oui, mon cher.
We board the train for Montreal. En route, the engine rattles my gaze outside. Flashes of green, red, brown. I'm reminded of a dirt road in Texas, and the possibilities. My stay at the Frontenac shifts from the present to a lovely memory.
In her final years, as my grandmother fluttered the prettiest eyes I will ever see, she passed on a calming message. I'll always be around.
Beauty is forever.