Newfoundland: Sea, Solitude And Song
There’s something about Newfoundland, Canada, that gets under your skin.
I think it comes from the disarmingly warm and open people.
And it comes from the aching loneliness of the surrounding sea where Lilliputian villages snuggle against the craggy faces of mighty cliffs.
“Give us a song,” the dark-haired beauty called out from the doorway of one of the many Celtic pubs and taverns in St. John’s, Newfoundland’s energetic capital.
The young men sitting around the table smiled at her, and the patrons hoisted drinks and called for a song.
“Give us a tune,” she laughed boldly, tossing her hair carelessly.
The hand-held drum vibrated slowly.
The flute played its thin, haunting melody.
The fiddler stirred the crowd.
And a song was sung, a melody of lovers who this time triumphed over the unforgiving sea and the starkly beautiful land.
This Canadian Atlantic province is not for the tourist rushing from one photo op to another or shopping for couture in designer shops, though those can be found.
It’s a destination to in-gather your thoughts; to marvel childlike at the taciturn men with laughing ways and easy quips readying boats for weeklong fishing trips.
It’s a place to respect and acknowledge the survival skills of villagers living in six or seven homes perched precariously on the edge of the sea.
These self-reliant people are fiercely independent but unfailingly eager to help. They’ll always offer a tale or two over a pint or just a chat by the side of the road.
Newfoundland’s arts and culture deeply reflect the values and experiences of these ordinary lives. There’s nothing elitist about them…nothing precious or unapproachable.
In the nearby cellar of the Anglican cathedral, lots of Jane Marple look-alikes serve tea and crumpets in the crypt.
These blue and white haired ladies took a decrepit church basement and gaily painted its vaulted arches and catacombs.
They added tables in the coves and covered them with colorful china and cloths. With lots of “Here you are, mi Luv,” and “OK, Dearie,” they serve homemade pastries, scones, jams and non-stop conversation.
They have stories to tell.
Many of them live in the brightly colored homes of St. John’s, the deep blues and reds and greens echoing the color of the boats bobbing in ports, defiant splashes of life against a brooding sky and dark sea.
For a population of only 530,000, Newfoundland has more art galleries, pubs, festivals and celebrations that would seem reasonable.
Mostly they celebrate the summer and the blessed end of winter.
They celebrate with jigs, dinners and jazz best captured by Newfoundland artist, Christopher Pratt.
Pratt brilliantly mirrors the distinct geography and culture of the island.
His work is the grand narrative of the snow, the sea and the land of Newfoundland.
But his personal style and technique carry the images of snow swept roads or isolated communities well into the realm of the universal, stirring those archetypal emotions of loneliness and beauty.
• Visit the perfect little harbor of Quidi Vidi (15 minutes from downtown). Find the small tipsy tavern, have a local beer and if you’re lucky, a story or two.
• In Portuguese Cove (about 20 minutes from downtown), have lunch at The Ferry Last Stop Café. It’s one of the most imaginative cafés on the island with creatively presented cuisine.