blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Flamboyant dreams

The juxtapositions you encounter in dreams are more peculiar than anything in real life or even in fiction. Of course they fade away the moment I come round, so I forget the details, but before I woke up this morning I was dreaming first about a war memorial in a supermarket and after that, wearing a golden dress with a black hat, I was driving a shiny, black, open-topped car through the concourse of a railway station.

Now I was in a supermarket yesterday, having visited the VIA-Rail station (on my bike! in the rain!) to claim a refund (not needing to meet my mother at Toronto any more) and there's a prominent war memorial in the village—Schabbach—of the film series Heimat, that I've been watching again while doing the ironing, but goodness knows why those particular clothes and the car were in my subconscious. What an exhibitionist I must be. If I were a professional writer I'd keep a pen and notebook beside the bed to tap my dreams for all they were worth the moment I woke up, as Graham Greene did, but I'm too lazy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Zoom no more

Like Rudyard Kipling, who wrote:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
(...) If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same; ...

my sister says I've got to emulate the forbearance of the Stoics and not let myself get too agitated over such things as yesterday's collapse of Zoom Airlines that has suddenly put 600 people out of work and 60,000 passengers, including our mother, in a costly predicament. However, I can't help wondering whether Zoom's bankruptcy might not be followed by others, now that the fuel prices are climbing; even as I write this, comes the latest news that Alitalia has become insolvent as well. I feel rather divided about this. In one respect I think it's good that every frequent traveller is being forced to consider the lavishness with which we've been using up the world's fuel supplies. The increasing risk and nuisance of taking cheap flights teaches our let's-have-it-all society a lesson. On the other hand, from a more personal point of view, Chris and I didn't anticipate this trend when we decided ten years ago to make ourselves at home far from the rest of our family. It could become increasingly difficult to visit one another in future, and I have the feeling that we aren't the only ones thinking such thoughts.

Anyhow, in the immediate future, my sister has managed to book Mum onto a flight with Air Canada, taking off not next Monday but a week next Wednesday, and not from Cardiff to Toronto but from Heathrow to Montreal.

I shall be at that airport to meet her.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Another mishmash

Since our holiday it seems another load of juxtapositions has been piling up in a chaotic manner.

Last Saturday was the Flying Club's volunteer appreciation event, Chris winning a trophy for coming first in the Spot Landing contest, and participating in the flour-bombing contest with PTN's passenger door removed. He didn't come anywhere near winning that one because his bomber, Pete, entangled in the headphones that blew off his ears in the slipstream, had dropped not only the "bomb" but also his glasses, causing a bit of a distraction. Bill radioed up to ask if they could fly over and drop another pair of glasses to help with the search for the first pair (eventually retrieved unharmed from a taxiway).

Straight after this came our volunteers' annual Cricket Match during which I was out for a duck, same as last year; I redeemed myself by bowling someone out in the second innings and had I done it again during the last over, our team would have won, but their last man "in" managed to score the winning run off my bowling. The vast majority of the other participants had never played cricket in their lives before, but appreciated their initiation. Chris was groundsman, instructor, umpire, scorer and commentator, and now I'm commissioning him to be our sports reporter as well, since he is the only person who has any idea of who was playing or of what was happening and we need a report in the next edition of our Crosswinds magazine.

After the sun had set and all the cake gone, we lingered outside the clubhouse to look through the telescopes some amateur astronomers had brought along to observe the moon's craters and four of the moons of Jupiter.

We flew to the St Lawrence again the next day, to the closest part, at Iroquois. Knowing that there's a bathing beach at the eastern end of that meadow-like airfield (the surfaced part of the runway only 23 feet wide) I'd brought a swimsuit with me, which meant that after lunch seven of my friends had to wait around on the shore while I indulged myself by swimming back and forth in river water nicely warmed by the sun. Well, they should have brought their own swimsuits along.

Back to our music-making this week, Chris and I have been working on Borodin's cross-rhythms in an arrangement for clarinet and piano of the Notturno from his 2nd string quartet; we've also been singing/playing renaissance duets and the usual Schubert and Schumann song cycles.

To celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day I attended a reception on the Indonesian Ambassador's lawn (on a hilltop in Rockcliffe overlooking the Ottawa River). The young children of the Embassy, dressed in traditional, regional costumes, came forward in ones and twos and made a solemn bow to the distinguished guests and Excellencies present, having sung the Canadian and Indonesian national anthems in chorus.

This afternoon Chris and I took an interest in The Greeks, visiting the exhibition of this name at Gatineau's Museum of Civilisation (or Civilisations, plural, as it is called in French and ought to be called in English). Having read several books about the history of the eastern Roman empire, Chris was particularly interested in the Grecian-Byzantine artifacts and the information given about Greece's four hundred years under Islamic jurisdiction.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fellow blogger, writing in French

I've discovered a marvellous blog about Natashquan, written by someone who lives there. Click here.

Pictures of Ste Flavie

Ste Flavie, Gateway to the Gaspésie, was the last overnight stopping place on our flight home from Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon and Labrador; in fact we didn't find it easy to tear ourselves away from the water's edge and ended up spending two nights at La Gaspésiana. As it says on their website, "Come and sleep to the sea's murmurs." The sunsets at supper time were worth experiencing, too.

I already blogged about this place both when we arrived there and in the subsequent post, so all I intend to add today is photographs of Chris enjoying these surroundings and of Marcel Gagnon's sculpture. The last picture is a painting by his son, Guillaume (who talked to us, as did Marcel), posted on a board next to the pier, which looked greyer and more deserted than in his memory or imagination that morning, just before we set off to Mont Joli airport for our flight to Trois-Rivières.

My story of our nine day flying trip is now as complete as can be. If you want to read it in chronological order, start here, and on reaching the end of the page, click Newer Post to read another episode.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Return to Natashquan

We have returned to Natashquan three times; our first visit there was in the year 2000, when we tried to fly further northeast but had to turn round in the air just short of Chevery because of a dangerous weather system. This set-back was one of the reasons why we aimed for Newfoundland and Labrador from the same direction this year: our aim being to land beyond the End of the Road this time. Once again, we stopped at Natashquan both on our way out and on our way back; it's an appealing destination and the airport supplies fuel. Above is a photo of the River Natashquan seen through the low broken clouds as we descended towards it from the east on our homeward journey.

Lunch on both visits this summer was at the Bistro de l'Échourie on the beach, that doubles as a community centre, dance hall, theatre and tourist information place, displaying, for example, pictures of the cloudberries (chicoutés) that grow nearby. It used to be a Youth Hostel. Another place worth finding is Le Bord du Cap, the former General Store run by the Vigneault and Landry families (a good three-quarters of the villagers' surnames were either Vigneault or Landry!) that's now a proudly run museum telling the villagers' stories, in particular the rise to fame in the boîtes à chanson of Quebec City of their most charismatic inhabitant, their Homme de Paroles and Quebec separatist, Gilles Vigneault, who called Natashquan his "tendre berceau de la poésie québécoise" and whose recordings (like this one) are to be heard un peu partout dans le village.

For more than three centuries after Natashquan was first discovered by Jacques Cartier, the place was a camp site for about fifty families of the Montagnais, who traded furs here and gave yearly thanks for the return of the salmon, setting off all together in canoes to fish up-river once the ice broke. It was the chief man and he alone who decided when to depart and where to rest on these expeditions. Natashquan wasn't settled by white fishermen until the 1850s and not until 1882 did Alfred Vigneault open his shop that he bequeathed to his adopted son, Emilien Landry, in 1935, who took the business from strength to strength, opening a branch in Aguanish and so on. In 1982 a centenary celebration took place, with all the neighbouring communities invited to participate. It is not easy to supply such a remote part of Canada with groceries, even nowadays, as I realised when the airport staff told me how it took them four days to plough the runway on one occasion this winter, during which time the village had no fresh supply of milk, fruit or vegetables. Route 138 is too long to plough in its entirety and the port is typically iced-in till May. In the old days, the important people in the community, other than the fishermen, were the lighthouse keeper, the priest and the nuns who ran the village school and acted as nurses. A doctor from Havre St Pierre would only visit the place once every three months, so people had to be self-sufficient. We saw the dog sleds (known as cométiques) that transported men and supplies in winter, as did the small schooners, the goélettes, in summer. There was no road built through the village until 1951 and no road to the village from elsewhere until 1996.

Once we'd finished exploring the museum and crossed the bridge to the rest of the village, we continued our walk along the road and came upon the Pas du Portageur, as I mentioned in another blogpost, last week. Here are some of the pictures we took. Can someone identify those blue berries?

Hungry after our hike, we finished the day at the Restaurant John Débardeur that has a sea-going theme, the waiters and waitresses all in naval uniforms, and its name a reference to yet another chanson by Gilles Vigneault, the words and music of whose chorus is printed on the table mats:

John Débardeur charge et décharge
Les caboteurs, les cargos et les barges.
Toujours à terre, jamais au large,
Ça c'est l'affaire de John Débardeur.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The romance of boats

These photos were taken at Blanc-Sablon, Brador and Natashquan (in Quebec) and on our ferry crossing to St. Barbe (Newfoundland).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Little huts

These huts were photographed along the Labrador coastal drive, near the harbour at West St Modeste.

From the front windows of the place where we slept at Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon, mysterious fishing huts could be seen on the shore. I went out to take pictures of them before supper one evening:

And in Natashquan, the galets—the cluster of huts where they used to salt the cod (the men's job) and hang it out to dry, to preserve it (the women's job)—are a constant source of fascination, no longer in use but now officially recognised as a "site historique" by the government of Quebec:

Click on each picture to enlarge it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A selection of holiday snaps

These were some of the landscapes we saw on our outward journey down the North Shore of the St Lawrence. Sometimes we felt as though we were flying over the surface of an alien planet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Place names around the Straits of Belle Isle

West St Modeste, the Labrador fishing village where, after asking three times, we found one of the very few public phones on that coast, was not its original name, but a corruption. It used to be Saumaudet, named by the Basque whalers who first established a settlement there, as well as another one in what is now Red Bay (the furthest place reachable by surfaced road). At least that is one version of the history. The Labrador Coastal Drive website has a different story. The names of these places and the islands and coves around them are fascinating, reflecting a proper mixture of inhabitants. We visited an Info centre in Blanc-Sablon that had an exhibit on this theme. If it weren't the Vikings, a millenium ago, it seems that the first Europeans to discover this area, at the beginning of the 16th century, were Breton fishermen. Later on, Channel Islanders and west country Englishmen arrived, some marrying women from Newfoundland of Irish stock, and a few of the persecuted Acadians, driven out of Nova Scotia, also ended up here, not to mention the nomadic aboriginal tribes who had been coming and going for thousands of years.

The French word for bay, or “cove”, keeps cropping up: L'Anse, although the modifier that went with it was sometimes misunderstood by people who weren't familiar with French. The famous Anse aux Meadows, for instance, was originally L'Anse aux Meduses (Jellyfish Bay... we saw some jellyfish on the beach at Lourdes de Blanc Sablon ourselves). L'Anse Amour, where we lunched at a picnic spot, used to be L'Anse aux Morts. The lighthouse on the headland there is the tallest in Atlantic Canada. It's seen its share of fatalities, although it could have been worse. HMS Raleigh, with 750 men aboard, was swept into the path of an iceberg that “got in the way” off Point Amour on a foggy night in August (yes, August!) 1922. All but 11 of the men were rescued. We found their memorial in a tiny graveyard, and met a young Labrador man who told us more: “It must've been an unlucky current” that carried the ship off course, he said. “Before they realised where they were to, they'd hit a shoal... The men went out in dories and stuff to help her in.” To our surprise, he also mentioned that few of the local fisherman can swim, though the whole of their lives is, or was, centred around boats for bringing in the salmon, seals and cod. In L'Anse Amour, most of the surnames since the 1700s have been Davis, as is clear from the stones in the graveyard, this family having been granted the land cost free in gratitude for their life-saving and hospitality. The piano on board the Raleigh was rescued too and is now to be found in the living room at the Bed and Breakfast.

St Barbe, on the Newfoundland side of the Straits, was named after a martyr honoured in Roscoff, Brittany. L'Anse aux Diable is devilish hard to navigate, and the name Forteau, if you're from the Channel Islands, means “strong currents”. In 1855, the typical church congregation was 15 people in the morning and 6 in the afternoon, so we learned from a priest's letter that is now in the little museum near L'Anse Amour that's run by the Women's Institute. The letter also mentioned the black flies and the “pungent liniments” the settlers used in their attempt to deter the flies; they had to fumigate their houses with tobacco smoke and wear “crape veils” which didn't get rid of them either. It was probably the women who had to deal with the infestations. While their men fished, the women left on shore became doctors and midwives, teachers, tailors, carpenters, merchants ... The priest, who was the most educated person around and “ran the town”, would have helped; churches doubled as schools and town halls. We saw a little home-made altar and couple of faded wedding dresses, very simple in style, but which used to be dyed blue, a special colour for weddings. Everything, of course, was home-made: hooked mats, saws, bear traps and skates (their blades screwed onto a pair of worn-out boots).

We drove past a Fish Interpretation centre at Brador (La Brador from Labrador, or vice versa?) which was closed, just as well, as Chris was making jokes about Babelfish, but at Brador we did observe the fishermen joshing one another over a truckload of fish they had just caught, their voices carrying across the water in the bay. Then we drove on past the Brador Falls along the scenic road past Rivière St Paul towards Old Fort Bay and back. Jacques Cartier was the first explorer to chart this coast. His crew discovered an island full of puffins then as now and named it the Ile aux Perroquets (parrots) because they thought that's what they were.

The reason why we had to make a phone call from Labrador, by the way, was to find out whether our grandson Alexander was OK after a hernia operation in England. He was, and our daughter was very pleased to be able to tell us so. The only cellphone coverage in this part of Canada is through Telus. If you come here without a Telus account, hard luck.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We're back

Here's a picture of our journey, with the markers showing the places where (since last Wednesday) we have pressed our Spot device to reassure our next-of-kin that "PTN is OK." Click on the picture to see it enlarged. From Rockcliffe to Rockcliffe, via Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon in the far east, we have altogether flown 1726.3 Nautical Miles, i.e. 1985 statute miles, or 3176 km.

Thanks to Chris' good decision-making, our last leg of all was as exciting and pleasurable as any of the others. We took off after the storms had gone through, walking across the apron through puddles of rainwater to climb back into our 'plane and then watching the Strikefinder light up with little dots from the clouds still storming away between us and Quebec and over Montreal. As we bypassed other dangerous clouds on our way over the Laurentians, near St Sauveur, we could hear from the pilots' radio chat that Air Canada flights were being diverted on their approach to Trudeau International to "avoid the weather". Meanwhile we were sailing along between 3000 and 4500 in easy VFR conditions under the bases of much smaller clouds; it wasn't even choppy over the hills; the sky was bright and benevolent and the forest lakes and rivers (our old friends the River Rouge and Petite Nation River) glinted up at us. Rockcliffe Airport and the fountain at the Gatineau Casino could be seen from miles away. Too bad that I'd run out of space on my camera's memory card so did not capture any visual record of this.

We're at the house now after a burger from Tony's barbeque, the traditional way to relax after a long flight to Rockcliffe Airport, and at last I can start to post a few photos from the rest of our wonderful holiday.

More tomorrow!