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Byline: Alan Solomon
STE-AGATHE-DES-MONTS, Quebec _ Yes, the leaves change color in Wisconsin and Michigan and Vermont and New Hampshire.
Fall puts on a great show in Indiana and Iowa, and in Colorado and Ohio, and in Arkansas and Illinois and Minnesota and even in Arizona, if you know where to look.
The truth is, come September and October, leaves go from green to yellow and orange and red just about everywhere in North America except the Great Salt Lake Desert and parts of Los Angeles.
So why here? Why come to the Laurentians?
Because it's French. The rest is just details.
A few of the details: The Laurentian Mountains _ les Laurentides _ are a range north of Montreal. In less than an hour by car from that lusty city, you're in the heart of them.
Now, calling the Laurentians "mountains" is a stretch. The tallest, Mont-Tremblant, rises a mere 3,175 feet _ slightly higher than your average Ozark _ and can be scaled by unaccompanied children. So we're not talking Rockies here, or even Smokies.
"People come not because the mountains are that big," says Jacinthe Charbonneau, born in Montreal, now with the Laurentians Tourism Association office in St-Jerome. "For that, they would go to British Columbia or they would go to Europe."
Quaint little villages? Laurentian towns and villages, with rare exceptions (Ste-Marguerite comes to mind), are more functional than cute. Before tourism fully took control, this was lumber and mining country _ most farms flopped _ and today, aside from the obligatory trinket shops, most rues Principales here could be Main Streets in Pennsylvania's coal country.
Sorry, mon amis, but except for some neat old churches, towns in the Laurentians ain't Vermont.
Yet there's a feeling here, a good feeling _ and much of it comes from a genuine sense you're not in Illinois anymore. It hits you with the first bonjour and carries right into the tummy.
Wait until you sink those cuspids into a tender morsel of foie de veau et sauce campagnarde at Chez Gerard, a wisp of a corner diner in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, and you'll never again wrinkle your nose at the very mention of calves' liver.
Or wait until you experience that Pernod-laced snail at Le Sauvignon in St-Sauveur-des-Monts.
Or the incomparable lamb dish created by Chef Anne Desjardins _ mere words cannot capture what she does with lamb _ at her absolutely marvelous restaurant, L'Eau a la Bouche in Ste-Adele.
"We speak French and have a French tradition," Desjardins says, with the appropriately delicious accent. "We've always had a tradition on food."
Now, for most Canadians, this French thing is no big deal _ except among a few militant anglophones and francophones, but that carries us onto political and cultural ground that's none of our business.
For us, presuming we can get past the lunatic "freedom fries" syndrome, it's a treat being surrounded by jovial French-speaking women and men in a …