Newfoundland 1996

I have returned from Newfoundland, an odd place for a vacation, until you realize that Gomorrah (Las Vegas, where I was "living") is 100 degrees in the shade on a daily basis. Newfoundland was in the low 50s, a soft and fragrant air that was a blessed relief. Even the water was a delight, and they even showed me the lake it comes from when I commented on it. The climate is harsh, and from the air, the island looks like a large, rough rock, with little puddles in the depressions. The fir trees are short, maybe 15 feet maximum, and a lot of The Rock is actually bare rock. The island was scraped from south to north when the glaciers retreated, and left the place largely bare and scarred in that direction. The island is divided into several peninsulas, which run south to north, and virtually the whole population lives along the coasts, in little settlements/fishing villages, many of which can only be accessed by ferry or boat. Even in the 90s.

It is steeped in Irish history and tradition, and the accent fairly reeks of it. (Typical high school remark on why so and so was wearing a turtleneck sweater today: He's got more Hickies than than the St. John's phonebook.) The mood was set right from the airport, when my cab driver radioed in:

Driver: Dis is Keet (Keith). I juhst waented yer to know I foinally gaht moyself a jahb.
Dispatch: Dis is good news, moy son. Congratulations.

Everyone in Newfoundland is Moy Son, the same way southern women call everyone Hon.

St. John's is the most photogenic town I've ever seen. Because it is poor, the houses are made of wood clapboard, and the insulation is inadequate. So they have to paint every year. And because the weather is so dull, the way they express themselves is in a blizzard of colors. The cost of the paint is the same. But the result is spectacular. Every color of the rainbow is represented, and some that the Lord himself, even in his worst drunken fit of depression never could have hallucinated for a house. It is a treat for the eyes.

Click a picture to see the full, rich, Newfoundland color

St. John's NFLD Public housing
St. John's harbour Even public housing is colorful

The provincial bird is the puffin, which is about 10 inches long and has a fabulously colorful beak. The no smoking signs in St. John's show the silhouette of a puffin with a red circle and slash. Only in Newfoundland, my son.

The town itself sits in a small harbor, framed by large bluffs that shield it from the Atlantic. Icebergs pass by the entrance. I managed to photograph one, which has been passing by for a year now. It is much smaller than some of the pictures I saw, and has split in two, but its pure white against the gray rock and the steel blue sea is another great sight.

St. John's homes Walking through a fishing village
Colorful homes A fishing village

The restaurants were tiny, friendly, and fabulous. I ate of several animals beyond your normal barnyard specimens. Moose, caribou and rabbit were of great interest to me for example. Unfortunately, as one restauranteur told me, the only spice Newfoundlanders seem to recognize is salt. The basic flavor is fat (disguised with the appellation "scrunchions"), and the basic result is bland. Nonetheless, I dined on superb crepes and galettes, moose stroganoff, and soups like I've never tasted. You just got to seek them out, my son.

I took a side trip to St. Pierre, which is owned and operated by France. The town holds about 6000 souls, and not a traffic light to deter your movement. I walked from the airport to the hotel. The time zone is one half hour ahead of Newfoundland, even though the island is virtually centered south of NFLD, and only about 30 miles offshore. The French, you know. Something about a different drummer. European cemeteries are usually interesting, but this one was strange. They have family vaults - but they're vertical. They are the dimension of one coffin, but 20-30 feet deep. They are poured concrete, based on solid concrete footings, which are then backfilled to ground level. Apparently, they just stack 'em to the busrting point. And of course, exceptionally gaudy headstones.