Friday, November 23, 2007


A few years ago we spent ten days in Newfoundland, and I fell in love ... with the place and with the people, even the weather. We had happy days, hiking and meeting local people. On a bus ride up to see the old Basque whaling ships museum at Red Bay in Labrador, we passed briefly across one corner of Quebec and boarded a car ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle.

A bus tour took us up north to L'Anse Aux Meadows and the Viking Village heritage park On the way, we passed Annie Proulx's house at Straitsview. (note to the Grammar Police - how do you make possessive words that end with 'x'?)

Nan in New England and I were talking about Newfoundland in comments at Rare Birds ... about books and movies, so I'm listing a few here.

The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
There's not likely to be anyone who hasn't read this book or seen the movie ... both wonderful.

The Divine Ryans – Wayne Johnston – also a movie with Pete Postelthwaite and Mary Walsh

Draper Doyle's life in Newfoundland, circa mid-1960s, is as constrained as it is colorful. Cooped up in one house with various family oddballs, he views the world from the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Kit’s Law – Donna Morrisey

In a harsh Newfoundland outport, 14-year-old Kit tells the story of Lizzy, the steadfast grandmother, and crazy red-haired Josie, the mother. With its partridgeberry patches, moose stew, and endless cups of tea, this is quintessential Newfoundland.

Downhill Chance also by Donna Morrissey

An old-fashioned yarn of love, despair, and family secrets against the backdrop of World War II in pre-Confederation Newfoundland. Morrissey, has been called "a twentieth-century Brontë sister".

The Wreckage – Michael Crummy – early 1940s

Mercedes Parsons is only 16 when she meets and falls in love with hard-drinking Wish Furey. The problem here is that Wish is a Catholic, and for the Protestants of Newfoundland's north shore, Romanism is akin to devil worship

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trading in Memories

Travels Through a Scavenger's Favorite Places

Barbara Hodgson has written about visiting markets, bookstores, cemeteries and courtyards, looking for cast-offs and curiosities "to reveal rich and intimate insights into people, places, and times past." They end up as collages and art pieces in her books and journals. Her introduction is called "Travels in Bric-a-Brac". I've only read the first few pages and can't wait to dive into the rest.

She writes of her travels and scavenging adventures in London, Brussels, Paris, Naples, Budapest, Istanbul, Damascus, Aswan, Marrakech, Tangier, Shanghai, Stanley, Los Angeles, Portland, and Vancouver (her home).

"I have no use for shops where every image is sequestered in a gift frame, where every scrap has been examined for its monetary value; I'm not understood at those places. The streets and anarchic markets that resemble my brain - that's where I go."

In northwest London, she visits Kensal Green Cemetery, established in 1832. "Although Kensal Green has its true celebrities - Wilkie Collins, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace Thackeray - few people aside from mourners or joggers go there."

Above are souvenir offerings from Kensal Green - shards of blue-and-white pottery and specimens from huge patches of weeds.

Monique in Vancouver mentioned this book to me in her comment to Sointula. She sent me a review copy, and I'm so very pleased. I'd previously read two of Barbara Hodgson's books so I knew right away this would be another favorite. Her design and collages are so beautiful and inspiring. Thank you, Monique.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rare Birds

I came to read this book after seeing the movie. Edward Riche has set his two novels on the east coast of Newfoundland. He writes with humor, and it is clear he loves this island.

Dave Purcell (played by William Hurt in the movie) used to work for the Newfoundland fisheries department, but now is proud owner of and chef extraordinaire at The Auk, a fine dining establishment just outside St. John's. Unfortunately, life is not going well for him. He’s drinking his way through his finest wines so the bankers won't get them when they foreclose.

Dave’s closest neighbor comes to the rescue with what he considers an ingenious foolproof idea to invent a rare bird sighting … hoping to have birders flock into the area, thereby filling the restaurant.

Russell Smith of The Globe and Mail said “Uproarious … Rare Birds is a farce that is particularly Newfoundland in its sense of humour, at once slapstick and satire … Comedy is replacing cod as the number one export of the Atlantic provinces.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

The House at Otowi Bridge

Peggy Pond Church was a native New Mexican and lived at Los Alamos for twenty years. She wrote this story about her friend Edith Warner.

I read this book after reading “Changing Light” because of a strong interest in the geographical location and the time of the 40's and the Manhattan Project. It’s now the weekend of Remembrance Day in November 2007 … seems an appropriate time to remember the thousands killed and maimed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Set in the region near Taos in the time of transition of Los Alamos from an isolated boys' school to a nuclear weapons lab
. It's the story of Edith Warner and her life near Los Alamos during the thirties and forties. Peggy Pond Church wrote the story that Edith was unable to finish. She made an attempt, but after the first few pages it sounded to her like the standard adventure: “White woman moves West. Lives among Indians.” Better nothing than that, she thought, and gave it up. Besides the unfinished manuscript and the handful of Christmas letters, a few typed pages of her journal are all Edith felt willing to leave behind in writing.

“This is the story of a house,” her manuscript begins, “a house that stood for many years beside a bridge between two worlds.” It stood, too, in the shadow of Los Alamos, the mushrooming shadow of violent change. More than the story of a house, it is the story of a woman who made an oasis of serenity and beauty in a world that seemed to grow more threatening. Edith died in 1951, the sound of the river was with her to the end.

Her house became a kind of sanctuary for the scientists from the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in the tense years before Hiroshima. When the new bridge brought the road to Los Alamos so close to the house that life there could no longer be endured, some of those men worked side by side with the Indians of San Ildefonso to build a new house for Edith and Tilano.

She made the little house at Otowi (the place where the river makes a noise) into a tea room where she served a thin slice of lemon in the tea with a spicy clove and chocolate cake that was to become a tradition.