Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Hergé Exhibit at the Musée de la Civilisation in Québec City

I knew years ago that going up to Canada for the celebrations on July 1st, this year, would be a major priority for me, even if it was to the exclusion of any other trip, if need be (and that is what appears to be likely right now).

So, clearly being in Ottawa would be the main thing to do. However, when we heard about how the Hergé Exhibit would be in Québec City, with many things borrowed from the Hergé Museum in Belgium, it became an absolute priority as well.

Still, we almost did not go.

Indeed, if I had known for sure that we were going, I likely would have opted for Friday, June 30th, because going to Ottawa on that particular day wound up being virtually pointless. Frankly, I should have known, too. There were road closures everywhere, and massive traffic jams like the worst ones that I have experienced in the New York/New Jersey area.

Luckily, Ottawa is not that big of a city, and three or four blocks will likely allow you to get out of these kinds of traffic jams, because before too long, when you experience traffic like that, all you want to do (or maybe all I want to do, maybe it's just me - but I doubt it) is get out of that traffic jam. If I knew then what I know now, we would have gone to Québec City on that day, and enjoyed the day there, visiting the Hergé Exhibit at the Musée de la Civilisation then, and made a point of going to the Canada Day festivities in Ottawa's Parliament Hill on July 1st, and the We Day concert, also on Parliament Hill, on July 2nd. 

However, we did not have the benefit of knowing all of this beforehand. We thought that the events in and around Ottawa would be at least a bit more accessible. Also, who could have known that the rain would be so relentless throughout those first early days on the trip. Not even entirely sure if the weather was any better in Québec City during that time, but at least the Hergé Exhibit was an indoor activity that we could have partaken in while it rained. Then again, as it were, we wound up running into the Musée de la Civilisation because of a sudden, heavy rainfall on Sunday, July 2nd just the same. Still, had I known then what I know now, indeed things would have been different, and our visit would have been two days earlier. 

All that said, let me now express gratitude for the trip nevertheless. We were in Ottawa for the most important event, which was the daytime Canada Day festivities, and the memories from that, despite the very rainy, soggy weather, were pleasant. Hopefully, we will both remember this event fondly for many years to come. The older I get, the more it feels that the focus should be on positives, and that recognition and expressions of gratitude are far more important than yearning always for more, or focusing on regrets for what might have been. We managed to get into an event that many people, apparently, were not able to attend, including one family that traveled all the way from British Columbia (all the way on the other side of the country) were not able to, so we need to be appreciative!

Plus, ultimately, we got to see the Hergé Exhibit as well, literally the very next day. Ultimately, this trip has to be counted as a success, then.

The reason that both my son and I wanted to go to this exhibit so badly was that his most famous work, Tintin, is something that we both grew up on.

My son got into Tintin, not surprisingly, because of me. We have read several of those books together, and it warmed my hearts months ago to see him reading one Tintin adventure on his own. Tintin came to mean something special to him, and whether or not he means the same to him as he does to me is irrelevant, because now, Tintin means double what it did in the past, simply because this cartoon character and his adventures also now is something that helped my son and I bond together more closely, for which I again express gratitude.

Now, the reason that I really got into Tintin was because he was a link to France for me as a boy, like few other things were.

You see, early on in my life, my family, including myself, lived in France. Being the youngest member of the family, my own memories of this time are admittedly vague. The main memories that I have are choppy and, frankly, do not make particular sense. There are certain moments with friends or family that I can recall. One time that I snuck off with the parents of friends of mine to visit a zoo while not telling my parents (still not sure why I did that). Memories like crossing the road when I should not have, and of a Peugeot car approaching seemingly too fast. A wall at the school which seemed enormous to me at the time, but which I could easily traverse by stepping over it years later, when I visited as a fully grown adult. Memories of two pet turtles - one for my brother and the other for me - crawling along the floor and to our small porch. And one thing stands out probably more than any other, the cartoon character Goldorak, which is one of the Japanese Shogun Warriors. In English, he is called Grendizer. If interested, go ahead and look it up, Google him.

In any case, this was back in the late 1970's. The next time that I would visit France would be during the summer of 1982, and by then, I had lost all of my former French language skills during the move to the United States. There was jealousy and a desire to understand when I heard everyone during this trip speaking French. And to the extent that I could, I tried to pick up on it in methods that hopefully helped, including comics. Not least of these were the Tintin comics, especially the ones that were on sale at the bookstore about a block and a half away in the suburban town of Taverny, where my aunt and uncle and their family lived, and where my brother and I stayed most often during those summer trips to France back in the 1980's. 

Being seemingly the only person in all of France who could not speak any French (at least that is the way that it felt at the time), I took comfort in being able to understand Tintin, as well as the other comic books that caught my interest. Of course, comics are illustrated, which helps someone to understand more or less what is going on, even if that person does not speak the native tongue. However, I did look at the script, and that was the first time that I really came to understand just how similar French and English were. There were certain words that I picked up on, and even some expressions that I learned through those comic books, and Tintin was probably my favorite of the French comics, and one of my favorites overall. 

Slowly but surely, I obtained more and more of the Tintin books, while leafing through the ones that I did not have, usually at that little book shop in Taverny. And when we came home after all of those summer trips in 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1989, I would bring home more Tintin books. When I leafed through them, I would remember France, and it would feel suddenly very close. Sometimes, it made me miss France, and sometimes, when I missed France, leafing through these books would make me feel closer to it. 

My love for the Tintin comics remained through the years. There were other comics, as well. I loved super hero comics, especially Marvel. But those generally did not remind me of France nearly as much, because those were American, and I knew it. Even the ones in French did not remind me nearly as much of France. There were, of course, the Asterix and Lucky Luke comics as well. But Asterix was supposed to take place in ancient times, which were more difficult to relate to, and did not remind me of modern France. Lucky Luke was supposed to be an American cowboy living during the days of the Wild, Wild West, so that did not so much remind me of France, either. 

I even remember picking one Tintin book up specifically. Perhaps what stood out was that it was in English, and is one of the very rare Tintin books that I actually owned in English> There were others, but they were in softcover, with maybe one other exception. But I distinctly remember finding an English copy of "The Secrets of the Unicorn" while we were visiting Annecy, in the French Alps, during our 1987 visit to the region. Later on, in the Italian Alps, I would also obtain a rare find - a jumbo Goldorak figure, which was one of the things that I had been searching many years for. I still have both of those things, as well as other momentoes from that and other trips to France, right to this day. 

So, that is why Tintin means as much to me as it does. Over the years, I came to understand more about Tintin, as well. In college, I learned that Tintin wa sperhaps not so innocent as I had previously believed, and that the first two books were almost like propoganda, demonizing the Soviet Union in the first book, and then being filled with racist stereotypes and essentially advocating colonialism in the second one. It made me feel bad to learn that Tintin, or rather his author, Hergé, had a different, not so innocent or pleasant, side to him. 

Yet, I still love the comics, because Hergé acknowledged this mistake. Like everything else, Tintin, and his author, Hergé, are not perfect. Much like France itself (and the United States, for that matter) have some skeletons in their closet. But much like France and the United States, that does not completely devalue everything about these things, either. 

And so I keep my interest in and love for Tintin, and passed this interest and love onto my son. In time, he will come to understand this darker, more sinister side to Tintin, although I have not read either of those first two books to him. Perhaps someday, he will read them, but he will do so on his own, most likely. And also, I fully intend to discuss this chapter in Tintin's history with him, to help him understand what it meant, and what it means today. 

However, I meant it that Tintin still has value to me, and that I still love and enjoy reading those comics - these days with my son. This character was perhaps the main inspiration for another character (not a French one) whom I also love, Indiana Jones. That is because Steven Spielberg read Tintin comics as a boy, and his Indiana Jones was an adventurer and world traveler modeled on Tintin.

Indeed, I can personally attest to the fact that Tintin's adventures around the world can inspire not only a desire to travel for oneself, but also to get some kind of ideas of what certain other parts of the world, even faraway parts, might be like. It was with Tintin that I personally grew more familiar with eastern Europe, with the Incan Empire and the towering Andes mountains in South America, with the tallest mountains of the world and the Buddhist culture of the Himalayas, with the Arabian peninsula, with China, with petty dictators in small Latin American nations, and with various other parts of the world, as well. Indeed, it was with Tintin that I, as a kid, got a taste of traveling. That, coupled with my grandfather's stamp collection, gave me my first real taste of what the world might have to offer.

Also, my father was a cartoonist. He enjoyed the art, and has pursued it fairly seriously, on and off, throughout his life. He appreciated what other cartoonists did, and that certainly includes Hergé, who was one of his favorite cartoonists.

So, yes, Tintin still has value, and yes, I intend to continue reading them and, when possible, visiting exhibits like this one when available.

To anyone interested in Tintin, in Hergé, or in cartooning more generally, or perhaps in certain aspects or combinations of any of these, this would be an interesting exhibit to visit and/or learn about. Personally, I was very glad to have gone, and would recommend it to anyone!

Below are some pictures from our visit to the exhibit:

The Hergé Exhibit in Québec City 


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