I’SE COME FROM AWAY
A warm glow suffuses me as I pucker up to kiss him. He stares back at me, cold and glassy-eyed. Despite the indifferent response, I am a-tingle! After all its not every day that one earns honorary Newfoundlander status by swallowing a shot of neat Screech (rum), and smooching a dead codfish.
The traditional Royal Order of Newfoundland Screechers’ dinner ceremony for visitors who have “come from away” is the perfect conclusion to my stay in Canada’s most delightfully idiosyncratic Province—one that has been on my bucket list for several years.
Screech-in dinner aside, however, there are other unique culinary delights that Newfoundlanders offer their guests, at least one of which is a tongue-in-cheek treat—a cod’s tongue-and-cheek, that is. And then there’s a Jiggs dinner. Jiggs was a character in the old comic strip, “Bringing Up Father” but how this relates to a meal consisting of sliced salt meat, cabbage, turnip, carrots, potatoes and a thick glob of peas pudding, is beyond me.
But to go back to the beginning: my two week trip is in the company of a group of active and adventurous seniors drawn from across Canada, and we get acquainted over a welcome meal organized by Senior Discovery Tours and our guide and supremely efficient tour manager, Sandra.
Newfoundland is a land of seafarers, where the Atlantic heaves and broods, or roars along rocky shores below its many tall lighthouses. Gros Morne park is dominated by its plateau-like mountain, and our route takes us along a road, that winds through undulating countryside. We drive by inlets, their waters lapping gently against pebbled shores, and fishing villages with lobster traps stacked against wharfs and boat docks.
For all the Province’s small rural settlements, with their pretty cottages and gardens, life hasn’t been easy for Newfoundlanders. The fishing industry has declined and although other employment avenues have now opened up—the tourism industry for one—the average family continues to live frugally. Nonetheless life is enjoyed to the hilt with festivals and celebrations throughout the year, and hospitality that knows no bounds.
There’s no better example of the Islanders rollicking sense of fun than the party aboard the ‘MV Em-Cat’. As we cruise Bonne Bay in Gros Morne park, our Captain shares droll yarns about our rugged surroundings and then he and the crew grab guitars and a squeezebox and belt out toe-tapping Newfoundland ditties. The popular “I’se the B’y” has us clapping and kicking up our heels!
The lingo is charming. “Where’s y’longs to?” (where are you from?) asks a friendly cashier at a corner grocery store. “I was shitbaked” (terrified) says one of our local guides, as he recounts encountering a rambunctious moose at close quarters. At a restaurant I am told, “Sorry, the place is blocked.” Blocked? Seeing my blank look, the hostess hastily adds ‘Y’know...full. But don’t go away sweetheart— a table will clear soon.”
Equally beguiling are the names of small hamlets. We drive by “Cow Head”, “Blow Me Down”, and even a village called “No Name”. And, where else but in Newfoundland would you find such romantic monikers as “Heart’s Delight”, “Heart’s Content” and “Heart’s Desire” all of which aren’t too far off from “Cupids”, “Dildo” and “Conception Bay”. Shouldn’t there be a “Makin’ Whoopee” too?
The notoriously capricious weather is typical: much of the time we have what one local guide describes as “mauzy” (muggy, sometimes foggy) July weather. There are sunny days where lazy clouds throw drifting shadows across fields, and when the rain comes, it is just a misty drizzle that softens landscapes into dreamy inlets and pale hills. Lovely in a fragile sort of way.
Grassy indentations on a sunlit knoll, mark the ‘footprints’ of houses and workshops of a 1000-year-old Norse settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows and the re-constructed sod-and-timber Viking village at nearby museum, brings the ghosts of the past to life.
The small town of Trinity has winding lanes flanked by cottages and banks of riotous purple fireweed and scarlet paintbrush.
A cliff teeming with tiny Puffin birds, and in the waters, a tribe of humpback whales cavort for our cameras at Witless Bay Reserve.
“The Rooms” a four-floor Museum in St. John’s showcases a riveting exhibition of the Province’s culture, traditions, history and art– and across the street, in the convent of the Presentation Sisters, is an astounding sculpture: the marble Veiled Virgin who gazes at visitors through what appears to be a fine gauze-like veil draped over her face.
16. Veiled Virgin, St. John’s
I can’t wait to return.
IF YOU GO:
Information: Seniors’ Discovery Tours: https://seniordiscoverytours.ca/
1. Smooching a dead cod to qualify as an honorary Newfoundlander
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