Friday, February 6, 2009

Kelly’s Cross, Prince Edward Island, Canada 2.7.1983 (2): Lupine-Filled Ditches, Lobster Suppers

As to my trip: I left Toronto at 6:30 A.M. on the 28th. Couldn’t sleep, so awakened at 4 A.M., then again at 5:30, and got up. I drove that day without mishap to Rivière du Loup, Québec. Was lost briefly in Montréal, where I ate an apple—my one stop for food.

The stretch between Québec City and Rivière du Loup was gorgeous—or, I should say, part of this stretch was beautiful. The road ran along a river (I suppose the St. Laurent), with little villages and farms all along the valley, and a ridge of mountains in the background. It was very European-seeming—the farms are unusual to me, because long and narrow. I’m told this is so that each landholder can have a river landing, but I suspect it is as much due to a desire for conviviality, since this arrangement places the houses almost as close together as would be the case in a village. Frankly, I think that one loses in this way the chief advantage of country living, that is, seclusion. Must be my British roots. I feel “observed” even in the Québecois towns, where everyone sits on his porch and stares unabashedly.

Rivière du Loup was not a pretty town—or what I saw of it wasn’t. Yet its exoticness made it attractive—narrow winding streets, with houses butt onto them. Churches everywhere, ringing bells constantly.

Was so tired that all I did was eat and sleep. Walked down to a little café that had a menu of cabbage soup, poulet à l’estragon avec riz, and dessert (gateau à la carotte). The place had a nouvelle-cuisineish air, but the chicken was good, tender, and a nice-sized plate. Rude teens on a balcony near the café who peered over as I walked past, making mocking comments in a French they must not have known I could understand.

The second day, I was up again at 5:30, and on my way to PEI. For several miles into New Brunswick, one was still in Québec—villages clustered around a church, poverty, general clutter. With what seems in retrospect a dramatic suddenness, these gave way to exceptionally tidy farms, with houses built in the Maine style (continuous from house to barn). All this both attractive and frightening, because so pristine—I wonder what kind of people can paint and sweep and cut with such manic thoroughness. The French area had been not at all intimidating in this way, though strange to me.

This band of pristine farms did not persist all the way east, however. Gradually, the houses became shabbier, the farms more sprawling, etc. I felt very much at home from this point all the way east in Nova Scotia. My guess is that the neat area represents a band of Yankee intrusion, whereas the area east of this was settled by Loyalists, and is older and more run-down, thin-blooded. Had that feel, for sure.

I reached the Cape Tormentine-Borden ferry at just 4 P.M., and was directed aboard almost immediately. As with any long-expected moment about which one has fantasized, the ferry trip was something of a letdown. The suburban tourists with their raucous voices and undisciplined children were depressing. The brochures advertising waxwork museums, lobster suppers, replica castles, African safari reserves, were appalling. The blight of suburban American unreality has reached even here, and with a vengeance, it seems.

The only interesting feature of the ferry trip was the sea itself. The water was full of jellyfish straggling long tentacles; heard a wife tell her husband, “Look at the jellyfish, dear,” and he, in simulated black leather jacket and tight jeans, authoritatively informed her that they were seaweed, not jellyfish.

The water was very clear—a kind of brown-blue. I thought of all the tragic history this sea has seen, the boatloads of suffering people who have come across it—truly waters incarnadine.

PEI—well, it’s all they say: rolling green hills with tiny patches of fields, red dirt, glimpses of the sea everywhere. The people have an Irish sound, but not so pronounced as Newfoundlanders. They say “oice” for “ice,” and “lawv” for “love.”

The little community, Kelly’s Cross, seems to be all Irish. It’s strange how oppressive I find Irish Catholicism (strange in that I wouldn’t have done so some years back). The priest is a big high muck-muck, to whom all defer, and whom all seek out in the most childish manner.

Have had some sword-crossing with Fr. Kelly already over natural law and relativism. He sees natural law as the presence of the church’s trans-historical word. Won’t go into this.

Since I’ve been here: I’ve spent a hot afternoon in Charlottetown; have walked in the woods and fields behind the house, where I find daisies aplenty, bracken, clover, yarrow; have driven with Fr. Kelly and a friend to the easternmost point of the Island, where Fr. Kelly’s family have a cottage; have picked and eaten wild strawberries. The ditches are full of lupine in every shade of blue, purple, pink, white. I’ve hardly ever seen a lovelier sight.

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