Thursday, September 10, 2009

Newfoundland - the Friendly Province

A benefit from our car troubles upon entering Newfoundland was that we had immediate contact with local people who are not engaged in the tourism industry. The impression has been that uniformly, everywhere, people have been ridiculously good-natured, helpful and kind to us. "Whar ya fromme?" starts many a conversation. Now everywhere in Canada people have been good to us, but Newfoundland seems to take it to a different level. It's almost weird and takes some getting used to. It almost feels like we are in some kind of 'Truman Show' where someone is following us around and putting people in our path to show us around.

Last night, we arrived at a tourist information centre too late. We were standing in the parking lot looking lonely and lost for 15-20 seconds before a man got out of his car and announced, "You need information now do ya? I know everything there is ta know about dis place." (I'm sorry I can't type the combination Newfoundland & Irish accent) His name was Michael O'Riley and he told us the best outfit to take us whale-watching (O-Briens - alas, no whales), and where we could camp for the night. "Ya know about campin' in Newfoundland don'tcha? Ya don't pay for the campin' in Newfoundland." He first told us, then drove us to a good camping spot where, "the cops'll look after ya and make sure nobody hassles ya." Yes, the cops in Newfoundland will look after you if you are illegally camped somewhere and make sure no yahoos ruin your tranquil evening.

I had expressed concern that I hadn't had a shower for several days and was looking forward to one. Michael O'Riley just said, "Well there's the pond right there, you can just jump right on in no one will stop ya." Jack said something sarcastic about the ice forming around the edges, and Michael O'Riley responded quite seriously, "Oh no, the ice left long ago. It's got to be a good 4 to 5 degrees in there by now." And he was right. It did feel like about 4 to 5 degrees, but it was wonderful to have clean hair again. Jack stayed in the van playing with his i-phone. Then later he fixed dinner for me as I sat shivering in the back of the van with wet hair. (My desperate search for heat resulted in a new all-Canadian cocktail: Maple wine mixed with Crown Royal. Yum.)

These people for the most part have little reason to be upbeat. "When the cod left, that's when everything else went," we were told by a restaurant owner who was waiting her own tables. Yet everywhere we go people are quick to laugh and give some optimistic advice. They are cheerful and always joking around with each other.

I think the secret is that they don't take themselves too seriously. How can you paint all the rocks in your landscape in 64 crayola colours, or install plastic flowers in the garden without having a tongue firmly in cheek? Or the red plastic roosters mounted on each and every fencepost around a 2 acre property. Or the entire miniature village complete with miniature clothes-lines with miniature laundry drying in the wind.

Or the plywood cutouts of dogs, cats, cowboys, moose. Or the whirligigs of old-men rowing in the wind, of Canada Geese flying, of characters waving, of anything that you can imagine whirling, well, whirling. Although at a small graveyard we did see a grave that caused me to pause. It was for two brothers who had died in a boating accident in full view of their brother on shore. A tragedy for the family and for the small community. The gravestone was sober, but the entire area was covered in Astroturf, had two fanciful wooden boats and a solar powered miniature lighthouse. Whoever did that had to be able to see through their own tragedy to the sense of humour of the deceased.

If you have had an unfriendly encounter with a Newfoundlander, I don't believe it, and if Michael O'Riley was laughing with his friends about the BC hippies out on highway 10 swimming in the pond, well I don't want to know about that either.

But if I were a Newfoundlander, I think my inner curmudgeon would eventually come out. I think I'd start complaining about the weather and saying, "My tomatoes won't ripen, and I wish the hell that the tourists would stop taking pictures of the damn laundry."

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