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Quebec

When I describe our place in Quebec, few people can fathom our unplugged life. No television, telephone, cell calls or texts, no computers, newspapers or mail service, no stores nearby, no need to get in a car. Yes, we have a roof, beds, bathrooms, running water, comfy couches, electricity.

We’re not camping.

gidvalIndeed, certain services at Club Pythonga are downright luxurious: blocks of Ice, cut from the lake during the winter, are delivered to the cabin daily. The ice keeps food and drink cold and in the evening, we take a chunk of ice, smash it into rough cubes, and use it in our cocktails.

We don’t keep a lot cold: there’s a central kitchen, and everyone who’s “in camp” eats together, breakfast and dinner, at the dining hall or at picnic tables outside.

It’s truly a vacation when someone else is cooking.

Shared meals create a time when families and generations come together. (At its August peak, Pythonga draws 100 people.) Sure, the teenagers sit at one table — not texting! — but when one gets up for another helping, he’ll stop and chat with someone else’s grandfather, or tease one of the high-chaired babies.

What does it mean to spend a few weeks unplugged?

During the day it’s easy to spend time sunning or reading or hiking or swimming. At night, after dinner, what’s there to do? Some nights we look at the stars. Others we play hearts, or Scrabble, or poker. The kids play a card game called Spoons: it’s fast, and loud.

Mostly, we visit.

Visit? Typically it’s an invitation to come by after dinner, to sit on a screened-in porch or inside by a fire, drink and talk and maybe look at photos from the day’s outing. We talk about books, bourbon, who’s catching fish and how he’s doing it. The Pleiades, and whether they’re the source of this summer’s shooting stars. Isaac’s inner-city 8th graders, and what they should read. The future of newspapers. Heath care.

Like the kids, we get loud; we laugh a lot. But outside, it’s quiet, and when we leave a cabin for our own it’s so dark we need a flashlight to find our way.

We have everything in this life of ours; some weeks the greatest pleasure is doing without.

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My daughter accuses me of doing nothing at our summer house in Quebec. Ha! I practice yoga after breakfast, kayak late morning and swim fast to the island and back (about a mile) late afternoon.

alexball2In between: I read.

I read small books and big books, fiction and nonfiction, old books and those newly published. I read for hours at a time. If it’s hot, I strip down to my swim suit. surface dive into the black water, take a few strokes, float …and go straight back to my chair and my open book.

I guess that’s nothing to a ten year old. To me, it’s bliss. To read a “big” book without interruption, in the sun, beside a clear water lake.

Recently, these have been my favorite “big” reads, all consumed on that dock:

  • Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow, Vintage, $18.95. Sounds forbidding — and is, at 832 pages — but this is one of the most intimate biographies you’ll ever read. I learned more about U.S. business than from any text. Sounds dry? It’s not. A big life, a grand read.
  • The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, Vintage, $17. Want to know how Al Qaeda began? I did. Wright is a gifted storyteller, and his research astonishes. I even read the endnotes. A friend tried to read this going to and from work on the bus. Impossible. It is a complex read, and we know the ending. This one deserves your full attention.
  • A Star Called Henry, by Roddy Doyle, Penguin, $15. A few pages into this epic, Greitja Morse stopped by the dock. “Ohhh,” she said knowingly, as though speaking of a former lover. “Doyle is so hard to give up.” Henry Smart comes of age, and plays a part, in the Irish Rebellion. A rollicking read. Doyle’s masterpiece.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, Riverhead Trade, $14. My then 18 year-old-son read this in a single day on the dock, then slammed it down: “This should be taught in every U.S. high school.” A 21st century must-read, about Dominicans in the U.S. and back home. End is perfect, brutal, heart wrenching.

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