July 14, 2008
For the past two and a half weeks J and I have poked about the backroads of Nova Scotia in a rented car, striking out towards the far extremities (aka Cape Breton) before allowing the gravitational well of Halifax to pull us slowly back. Our experience confirms that it is impossible to approach a large urban centre from one direction — Halifax from Truro, say, having watched the Fundy tidal bore complete its upstream pass on cue — hoping to deflect off the city’s periphery in a new direction — in our case: towards Lunenberg and Nova Scotia’s Southern Shore — without becoming completely lost in a maze of indistinguishable city streets (the confidence instilled by Google Maps is both false and cruel).
We have learned that:
- lobster is king in Nova Scotia; it is simultaneously the province’s official crustacean, its mascot, and the requisite souvenir (the airport duty-free sells it packed for travel, fresh or cooked). Every dish from chow mein to chowder has its lobster variant, and most towns offer some form of Community Lobster Supper (typically: a whole cooked lobster, accompanied by soft drink, coleslaw and potato salad, a roll with butter, and strawberry shortcake) where visitors are humiliated by being forced to wear silly plastic bibs which do absolutely nothing to pervent one’s being squirted by lobster viscera and other fishy liquids.
- every inhabitant of Cape Breton has mastered at least one of: the fiddle, the mandolin, the piano, the accordian, the guitar. At the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou we caught Eddie Cummings & Stephen Gillis one night, and Jerry Holland (flddle) & Marion Dewar (piano) the next (the pub offers excellent food to boot).
- pockets of the province persist in behaving as if the present still lay a century or more ahead. Visitors to the fortress at Louisbourg mingle with inhabitants dressed in period costume, who completely inhabit their characters: colonial French citizens about to be attacked by British forces later in this, the spring of 1745. As an alternative, Sherbrooke offers a complete village which carries on as if it were the late 1800s.
It was wonderful to get away from the responsibilities and routines of “normal” life for a while, and take the time to read:
- The Bookshop (Penelope Fitzgerald)
- Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)
- The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
- Late Nights on Air (Elizabeth Hay)
- Lyubka the Cossack and other stories (Isaac Babel)