Saturday, June 06, 2015

Newfoundland Top Twelve: All the Best

Newfoundland, +1.5 hours from Boston.
Image courtesy of  YYT Photo and Design
Since our last trip to Newfoundland, much has changed—new eateries and music to be discovered, for example—yet the unyielding wind and the waves and the wonderful people anchor this place in our hearts.

From the Air Canada flight, when my wife spied “the Rock” from above for the first time in six years to our last night in Newfoundland, when we shared an elevator with a couple from Ottawa (they thought we were from Ontario, too), I present the Top Twelve highlights from our latest Canadian espionage adventure:

1.      Signal Hill
A snot-knocking wind whips my face, and my jeans billow. I am alive and well. In front of me and below, on a descending trail that skirts the ocean, walkers and runners become specks. I imagine successful journeys and shipwrecks. Alan Doyle’s “Laying Down to Perish,” a haunting song about surrendering to the inevitable, sticks with me long after I’ve left what some still call “the Lookout.”

2.      Breakfast and “Launch”
Rocket Bakery & Fresh Food on Water Street: We enjoy the logo and vibe, and the quiche of the day, the porridge or a breakfast croissant, and the coffee. We have breakfast there, but not “launch.” We enjoy our mid-day meals at Nautical Nellies, also on Water Street. The Pear, Bacon and Goat Cheese salad do Newfoundland proud, as does the Patrice Bergeron lookalike who serves our food and chats about hockey and Boston.

3.      Newfound Music
Walking along George Street on a Sunday evening, my wife and I hear someone singing “Boston and St. John’s.” We look at each other, intrigued. Who’s covering this Great Big Sea Song? We walk into Green Sleeves, past the singer on stage. David Whitty covers “Galway Girl,” a revamped version of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” and some clever and catchy original music. He ends his show with Elton John’s “Your Song.” On another night at what at least one local calls “the Snotty Cuffs,” Rob Cook (from the band BUMP) has me “Feeling Groovy” and does a splendid job of covering Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.”

4.      Lighthouses
I smell the pine trees on either side of me as I walk from the makeshift parking spot to the towering bold red edifice in Ferryland. At the Cape Spear lighthouse, I climb the same steps the Cantwells—lightkeepers for 150 years—climbed. I witness the outermost layer of wallpaper (there are more than 60 layers) in their house, now a historic monument, on this most northeastern point in Canada.  

5.      Dinners
The YellowBelly Brewery & Public House serves a delicious Meatball Trio appetizer—parmesan meets polenta—and the Four Cheese & Chicken Caesar pizza pacifies our taste buds. Best of all is the gracious server from Corner Brook, NL. Best place for authentic Neapolitan pizza: Piatto Pizzeria on Duckworth Street. We watch the pizza man prepare our dinner and we talk about his fondness for Salt-N-Pepa. Let’s just say that it’s “very necessary” for us to return there for a VPN Margherita.

6.      Desserts
Newfoundland Chocolate Company: Ur cracked if you don’t walk a few blocks from downtown to learn Newfoundland expressions, which are wrapped around the chocolate bars, or to try a treat named after a St. John’s street. Shockin’ good chocolate. Or, if you prefer old school candy and a retro-nerd atmosphere, then the Freak Lunchbox is for you. Sing along to “Karma Chameleon” and say “Yo, America,” to A.L.F.

7.      Beyond St. John’s
Drive west along the Trans Canada Highway to the Bay de Verde Peninsula, which separates Trinity Bay and Conception Bay, and then continue along the Baccalieu Trail to discover Newfoundland’s strong tie to Portugal. The Bonavista Peninsula, home to ex-Bruin Michael Ryder, fleets of icebergs and a heavenly pea soup and ham sandwich, lift my sagging spirits. We drive back to Clarenville and enjoy the enthusiasm and breakfast (molasses muffins and bakeapple jam on brown bread, yum) at the Island View Hospitality House.

8.      On the Radio
VOCM, 590 AM, is a great way to learn about what’s on the minds of locals and to hear the Newfoundland accent. Local citizens talk about issues—Muskrat Falls, the Fishery, health concerns—and politicians from all parties chime in. And there’s a healthy dose of folks who call to solicit support for charitable causes. Many callers sign off by saying “all the best.”  There’s also music for the drive: I hear a Journey song on the way back to St. John’s

9.      Old Reliable Music.
Larry Foley has been on the music scene for two decades, and he still mesmerizes with his voice and lyrics. He’s a must-see act for those who love traditional Irish music or the “Gulf of Mexico.” So we do see him perform, at Shamrock City.

10.  Finding it at Fred’s
My wife and I walk past the array of Newfoundland and Labrador musicians featured—from Ron Haynes to Great Big Sea to The Once to Hey Rosetta! Steve and Tony recommend artists and help me with music history (stuff I’ll use in the historical novel I’m writing). We buy the latest from The Fortunate Ones, The Bliss.

11.  Icebergs
Ever stare at an iceberg for an hour? That’s what we did at Cape Spear. A bit of ice slides off one drydock iceberg that at first looks like a jet plane and then morphs into a bunny rabbit alongside a shoe. The bergy bit lolling to shore transfixes me, and I wonder about the behaviour of icebergs: Most of them are calved from glaciers off the western coast of Greenland, a place I reckon 90% of us won’t see in person, and these behemoths evolve. If we’re lucky, we can see the surface level juts, peaks and fissures, but we can’t possibly know the pain and sorrows hidden underwater, the sentiments that can cause an iceberg to scour the ocean floor; we can’t easily see the beauty beneath, that which can propel the arctic creature to its next destination…until it dies and melds with the ocean…and its hydrogen and oxygen disperse and circle back to its creator.

12.  Guitar Buddy
An older fellow wearing a white scally cap strums his acoustic guitar as he sits on chair on Water Street. A block away from George Street, where the more popular performers are guaranteed a job, this fellow is paid mostly in loose change tossed into his guitar case. He grins as his left hand forms G, D and A chords and his right hand keeps the rhythm to “Looking for Love.” I smile back at him and join him in song and spirit, unfettered by fear. My newfound friend, whose name I don’t ask, broadens his smile and brightens my day.

Until next time, all the best.
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