Septuagenarians on the Road #5

Auberge Ripplecove, Ayres CliffThis account is taking as long as the trip itself.

We had just crossed back into Canada after an hour’s stay in the United States and close questioning by the Canadian border officer. (

By 4:30 pm, we are checking in to the Auberge Ripplecove, our 5 star accommodation for the night and considerably more formal than Auberge Ayres Cliff. The lounge is well appointed. The man behind reception desk, resplendent in a dark suit. But he slips out from behind the counter to carry in our bags. Our room is just through a small  lounge with fireplace, lake view and a buffet large as one wall, a carved mythic piece of furniture, which will take some study when I have time. We are on the first floor with a garden view. Lake view costs more.

ripplecove interiorChintz and checks and stripes and even plaid and all in soft green and earthy tones. And very softly lit. There is a television set hidden in an armoir but there can be no viewing from either of the two double beds and, in any case, we seem to have given up television.

While Georgia unpacks her two Gladstone bags, I wander off to the bar downstairs to fill the ice bucket and get hot water for tea. There is a coffee maker in the room, one which suits my sister, a Kreug that takes those little packets of coffee and turns out one cup. No more simply pouring water in one end and collecting hot water at the other. Plus le change plus …le aggravation. Now the gentleman at the bar is preoccupied with his computer screen and evidently has not noted my arrival. I observe -him, the deck outside, the lake, the couple drinking martinis. I clear my throat. I ask for hot water and ice. He bustles off. I wait some more. Eventually he comes back. Period. He addresses the urgent need of a newly arrived woman for a rare brand of scotch which proves hard to find. Something about “chopped liver” swims to the surface of my mind, but just then a wait person of the female persuasion arrives with a tray, laden with an ice bucket, a white china teapot and a mug. “Shall I take it up for you?” she asks. Of course I decline, only to discover it is rather heavy for these skinny 70+ arms. We, my sister and I, are not slipping easily into old age. Too independent? I wanted to explore the hotel. That’s why I didn’t call room service and it seems impossible that this small tray could be beyond me. Short on graceful acceptance of decline?

I have been here at least three times before, but only for meals. I came here first in 1979, all that long ago. I had brought my new man to meet my Nanny and we were staying at the cheapest motel on earth but eating expensive food. We came to dinner here with a teacher friend from my previous  (married) life and her husband. We had left Belle my Newfie dog tied up outside the motel. The next year, same motel, same dog, but the friendship with Nancy had cooled, so we booked our own table. Then 30 years later, I brought Georgia here. I remember the pictures of Archie and Elizabeth Stafford who built the inn in 1945 and had to bring in electricity to ‘this remote corner of the Eastern Townships’. Could be. Didn’t seem all that remote to me as a child, but I knew Hereford, now that was remote. They didn’t get electricity up that hill until 1948. Apparently, the place has suffered a fire and been renovated twice during the 30 years I stayed away.

We take our mandatory rest, a little fraught with memory after our excursion and my realization that I had forgotten I stayed in Hotel Ayres Cliff as it was then, in 1997. Let’s be frank. There were a few idyllic memories here in Les Cantons Est, but there was a darker side, not just of poverty, some of which I have described in my e-book, Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar.

It’s time to get out of the jeans for tonight’s dinner. I actually wear a dress with large red poppies. Something tells me  not only to wear the black cover-up but also to take a shawl. I’ve even stretched to stockings and tasteful heels. Georgia has accented her filmy navy outfit with fuchsia wedge heels (which she can barely walk in) and bag. She ends up with a compliment from a French woman. I end up freezing.

Turns out the preoccupied bartender is the Maitre d’ and he translates my last name into French and then explains he has made a joke. Our table is next over from the tables near the windows looking out on the lake. I seem to always get this same table.

So this is a real treat for me and I’m paying as part of the birthday tithe. Ordering from the French only wine list sets me thinking. I mean that the wine is French, the only kind of wine my Belgian brother will drink. I’ve lost any knowledge I had 30 years ago with that man I brought to Nanny’s. Literally, it was his knowledge. So I more or less take a stab and order a certain chablis. I can see why Rob has that snobbish attitude. The taste is finer and more subtle than the in-your-face Ontario chardonney I was drinking in the room.

The first course is a tiny portion of pressed duck breast and black pudding with figs and pistachios involved. Then I have scallops, while Georgia has strawberry gaspacho. She reports it is like starting with dessert. I have tiny lamb chops with beans and carrots for my main course, while she has lobster, shrimp and scallop. The portions are small but even so, I leave one chop. I don’t want to end up awake as I did in Kingston. Of course we have dessert, mine white chocolate enfolding caramel, hers pistachio cake. And then -surprise- a macaroon.

I haven’t paid attention to the ritual of service, the arrival of cutlery in little white pouches,  to be placed just so. Maybe it was that worldly long ago man that got me used to ignoring such ostentation. He always had a conversation steaming ahead, which he more or less dared a hapless wait person to interrupt. Georgia, it turns out is not so sanguine. The stuffiness bothers her. So far as the food goes, she likes it well enough, but says she doesn’t have a refined taste. I want to say, me neither, for I never caught up to that long ago man or to my own brother, but I let it go. I do absolutely love such food.

The sheets are lightly starched and crinkle like tissue when we turn, but in the end, we co-ordinate our turns, being awake for the nonce anyway, and get a good sleep. And so farewell to our $326 room. A groundsman carries our bags to the car and he and Georgia have a good gab.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERANow, I confess, I left out the bad part. When Georgia leaned over to deal with the cooler, she put her lower back -tightened by too much driving and weakened by the Everest stairs – into a total and utter spasm. It is fused, solid and agonizing.

She protests she is at her best in the morning but I drive.

You don’t want to go with us all the way back up 15, ouest to 30, over the river, back on 20, into Ontario and onto the 401. You don’t want to redo the squalor of those roadside fueling stations for cars and people. See even I am losing my positivity. You would prefer just to arrive back in Kingston at the Lasalle Travelodge -$126 plus US exchange on Hotwire. (Don’t ask. A Canadian hotel paid for in U.S. dollars?)

This is the winner according to my sister, my crippled sister. Having requested a ground floor room, we discover that I can park just outside the sliding door and easily get the bags in. The room has just had carpet replaced and been redecorated, Georgia notes and the linens are up to her standard. There is a fridge and a good, old-fashioned coffee maker. I am not so enthusiastic. The whole place, especially the restaurant, still looks like the 70s, cave-like and dark to me. (It takes a while for me to workout that Cavelier Room is not a mis-spelling, but the actual middle name of René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle who once had command of the Louisiana Territory but started his explorations here in La Salle, a suburb of Kingston.)

By now we are so knackered- and injured, we order room service for dinner. I don’t hold out much hope for the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and I am not disappointed. The beef is not bad, if too well done, and there is no Yorkshire pudding.

In the morning, looking for a vending machine for water, I stumble on the hot tub and indoor pool. This proves just the thing to loosen up Georgia’s lower back and a pleasant break for both of us.

We arrive back at my home in the west end of Toronto in the rain around 4:30 pm, load Georgia’s bags into her Corolla and she is off home to Mississauaga.

We have concluded that we will fly to Montreal next time, rent a car and drive the hour and a half. And, while I would love somehow to be able to spend four days at Ripplecove, its formaiity has put Georgia off. She didn’t feel comfortable there, so we will seek another place, and one less challenging than the Auberge Ayres Cliff.

There is another question, however. Do I want to go back? I balance the beauty of the mountains and wooded slopes against the drag of the church yard. All those people gone beyond recall with so much left to say, so much laughter still ringing in our ears and so much grieve left unresolved. Only us left, two young people in disguise as septuagenarians. It was ever thus. My 87 year-old grandmother was still a kid, wading in the river.

What I think is I could enjoy a pool like the Travelodge’s, access to excellent food like the Ripplecove’s, an evening on the patio at Auberge Ayres Cliff, in other words, a 4 or 5 day stay in a room with a view of hills and unstarched sheets. Just enough comfort to solace my soul.