Our hotel was on a road called Hill O’Chips. Of course my mind went strait to French fries, a particularly reasonable assumption in Newfoundland, but the name comes from the saw mill that used to be there, and the practice of pouring wood chips on the road for traction, and a good thing too! The hill is on about a 30 degree angle, so you step off each kerb to a dramatically flexed ankle. As a blind person, it’s ok once you’re used to it, but I didn’t move fast. We never encountered cyclists there, or anywhere, which is no surprise. Any north/south street we walked on had the same inclination, and you never had to wonder which way the harbour was. Streets routinely changed names, forked, curved, and met each other at five-way intersections, a definite navigational challenge, even with GPS.
It didn’t take more than 15 minutes in St. John’s to know we’re half way to Ireland in every sense: geography, culture, language, and music. To our ear the accent sounds really similar, and the friendliness felt the same. The warmth and openness felt like Galway, the accent sounded like Galway, and the music made us feel like we were back in Galway.
Newfoundlanders reputation for kindness is so well-earned. We’d been there 12 hours, and felt like we’d been adopted a dozen times. This kindness played out oddly for us sometimes though. People in the service industry: hotel staff; cab drivers; servers, were super friendly and ready to offer help, and gave it gracefully. At other times we encountered a certain vacant confusion. We got way more, “over there,” “that way,” or “Hna?” than usual. Once, in a large milling crowd, we were clearly disoriented, and had to literally bump into someone to ask for help because no one offered. I’m not hinting that it’s anyone’s obligation to step up. It felt more like there were social cues we weren’t understanding, or a piece of the social puzzle we were missing.
Having said that, all the conversations we had with people were lively, fun, and engaging. We talked to knowledgeable people about confederation, the collapse of the fisheries, and the huge transitions here in the past 60 years. It’s definitely a culture that’s undergone huge shifts, and we found that especially represented in the music. There’s a strong regional musical tradition that I’m still exploring.
We ate like pigs, and brought back some real Newfoundland delicacies, including bottled moose meat and seal flipper pie. We walked around the easternmost point of Canada and explored the bunkers where American soldiers staffed cannons in WW2. We held one of the metal links that used to make up the underwater barrier in the Straits, to keep out German U-boats. We did some walking on peaceful trails by the ocean and a small, fresh-water lake. We got out onto the ocean in a tour boat, and in a 250 horsepower fishing boat. And maybe best of all, though it’s hard to say, spent each night hearing incredible live music.
- Tuck and roll: do a bit of planning, then just chill and it’ll all work out, as in, “You’re hotel is really close to all the best pubs, so at the end of the night you can just * tuck and roll.” (Genuine advice from the lovely lady who helped us find our suitcase at baggage claim.)
- The turn-around: the cycle of 6 weeks of work and 2 of play, wherein Newfoundlanders come home from Alberta for a rest.
- Glutch: a sip, as in, “Can I have a glutch of your screech?”
- Paunch or Pench: a word with regional variations, which describes the act of skinning, gutting, butchering, and quartering your kill, for transport out of the forest.
- Bayman: either gender, designation for anyone from a coastal settlement that relies or relied on fishing.
- Townie: designation for anyone from St. John’s.
- Metro Bayman: (possibly invented on the spot by our bar tender, designates anyone who lives in the suburbs.