All in all

2009/07/10

A confession.

Back in Toronto now, I realize that it’s been easy to write about the little things we have seen, the food, the attractions, even the disappointments but, here, despite trying, I’ve not done justice to Newfoundland.

our picturesOur words and pictures can’t really record what it’s like — what you will see if you experience this place for yourself. 

big picture

It’s not just about scenery.  It’s about what it does to your spirit and your mind and your heart to be surrounded by wild space and the wild sea.   It’s about warm people who’ll chat and make you a meal or a cup of tea as though you were their guests instead of their customers.  It’s about the earth and the sea and how it has nurtured us and how we are spitting in its face.  It’s about a thousand years of human determination to live on this rock and how the rest of us in Canada aren’t paying enough attention to what Newfoundland is fighting for now.

It’s easier to bullet point the notable moments and hope that, for the rest, you’ll find out for yourself. 

We’ll remember

  • The fog, the fog.  A part of almost every day.
  •  Wonderful restaurants:  The Norseman near L’Anse Aux Meadows, The Lightkeepers in Rocky Harbour, The Daily Catch in St.Lunaire.
  • The tidy saltbox houses in tiny little communities clinging to the edge of the rock on the Atlantic and Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  •  Driving in Corner Brook, where we were constantly lost, despite a map and a GPS.  A town with fire hydrants marked by tall poles with flags — because there’s sometimes 15 feet of snow in the winter according to Mayor Charles Pender.*
Fire Hydrant in Corner Brook
  • The whales who were almost too close, the icebergs, imposing beyond belief.
  •  On 430, the somewhat angst-making “moose” signs, and the attendant advice not to drive at dusk, dawn or during the night for fear of colliding with one of these huge animals – and dying.  There’s “death toll” signage on the highways periodically.  Three when we arrived on the island; five by the time we left.  Nonetheless, we’ll remember “our” handsome, curious moose.
  • The cylindrical garbage cans at the front of every home, shaped to defeat the winds.
  • The roadside gardens, eking vegetables from every inch of tillable soil.
  •  Bird’s Nest Bed & Breakfast in Deer Lake.  Gordon, the gentleman proprieter, will pick you up in the evening after you drop off your rental car at the airport, take you to your comfy, clean – if tiny –  room then give you breakfast at 4:50 a.m. and drive you back to the airport the only direct flight from Deer Lake to Toronto, which leaves at 6:20.  Yes, you have to be there at 5:20.
  • Dark Tickle, for chats. native berry products, traditionally made, and a tea room.  Try the Screech Tea.  
  • Glynnmill Inn in Corner Brook.  Good accommodation, if a little tired, in a heritage property, beautiful surroundings and the pleasant and very credible Carriage House Restaurant. Moutain Range Cottages in Rocky Harbour, damn near perfect.  Grenfell Heritage House Suites in St. Anthony, on the way to being a very good hotel.
  •  The Railway Exhibit in Corner Brook.
  • The Marine Research Station in Norris Point.
  • Thistle’s Place, Millbrook Mall, Corner Brook.  You can get a real expresso, good food and fine service … among the best in Corner Brook, actually.
  • Woody Point especially The Lighthouse Restaurant and the Discovery Centre where you can sit in armchairs and admire another extraordinary view. 
  • Fisher’s Point in St. Anthony.  In fact, St. Anthony period.
  • Gros Morne.  Spend as much time as you can – it may be the most beautiful place on the planet.  Certainly the most beautiful I’ve seen so far.
  • Potatoes.  You’ve got to love them because, in some of the tinier places, it’s potatoes with the spectacularly fresh and well-cooked fish and seafood or no veggies at all.
  • The artisan craftsmen and women:  In spite of haunting tourist information sites for two weeks — and doing a lot of advance research — we didn’t run into the Craft Council of Newfoundland Studio Guide until we were leaving the island.  There were at least six or eight studios we would have visited along the way – had we known they existed.   We did manage, on the last day, to visit Gillams/New York artist Robyn Love who spins and knits art installations and is travelling Canada this fall and next spring with her Knitting Sprawl project about knitting and the suburbs.  More about that later at KnitNet, www.knitnet.com

* We had an email from the Mayor about this and other things.  A CBC radio producer spotted our blog comments on Corner Brook and invited us to be interviewed for the morning show.   We were – by the charming Dorothy King —  and the Mayor was asked to comment.  Here’s the podcast address of the interview.  I’m hoping we don’t sound churlish. http://www.cbc.ca/podcasting/pastpodcasts.html?62#ref62

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 This is what I’m hearing: If a word starts with a vowel, add a “H” at the beginning. If a word starts with an H followed by a vowel, omit the H sound. When you talk about the letter, call it an Hay-ch. You can substitute a D for the odd TH as well.

 Now you’re talking Newfoundland.

Or at least you would be if you add “girl” or “boy” to every declarative sentence, as in “Hit’s a beautiful day out d’ere, girl.”

Lovely.

Don’t be surprised if, when you order tea, you’re asked if you want “fresh milk, canned milk or cream” every time, because, I suspect, canned milk is a great tradition based on earlier necessity.

That said, we were surprised to find that in St. Anthony, and, indeed, at the even-further-north Norseman restaurant, we found many fresh veggies along with fresh meat as well as fish in the restaurants and grocery stores. Much further south, in Rocky Harbour, it’s a very different story. The vegetables, what few there are, are so past their prime, you can’t believe they’re for sale. All meat is frozen in big chest coolers. A lot of it looks as though it’s been there for years.

Fortunately, on something of a whim, we’d bought and froze fresh meat in St. Anthony and brought them down with us. Damn good thing since our plan has always been to eat dinner in so Phil can do his caveman-cook-meat thing and we can relax at the cottage or suite after a day of touristy things. If we had to rely on food supplies in Rocky Harbour, it would have been impossible. Even so the end of our Rocky Harbour stay, we were down to frozen peas and tinned cranberry sauce!

The reason, we reason, is that St. Anthony is a regional centre but Rocky Harbour is less than two hours from Corner Brook….place of big shopping.

Interesting that we see precious little in the way of landscaping around the salt-box houses up and down the coast. Is life really too hard to plant flowers and shrubs or is it that it’s so windy so much of the time, they wouldn’t survive? The only spot of colour is often the washing on the line.

The houses themselves are picture book perfect as are the views.  Maybe when you have all that ocean and mountain to look at, you don’t have to tart it up with flowers.